Asana, Pranayama, and Yoga Practice

Discussion of physical aspects of yoga (on and off the mat)

Asana Practice and Digitalis

During last night’s yoga practice, we were exploring how advanced yoga postures such as headstand drop-overs could have therapeutic applications. If the practitioner is able to do the poses preparatory to the pose (for headstand drop-over to be accessible in a healthy way, the yogi should be able to do dwi pada vipariti dandasana and, of course, sirsasana, in good, easeful, steady alignment), then the pose can be integrating and healing for the shoulders and strengthening for the neck. For those with little cervical curve, really working to lengthen the side body, integrate the shoulders, and radically melt the heart (which is what is necessary to get into the pose), can help develop the cervical curve. Done out of alignment, the headstand drop-over risks the shoulders and neck–the very parts of the body that would be healed and strengthened if the pose were done in alignment–are at risk of injury.

Four or five years ago, I was at an advanced intensive with John Friend where he likened advanced asana practice to digitalis. Digitalis, which is a beautiful flower, is one of the most poisonous plants in the garden. Taken the wrong way, it can make you very sick indeed. Properly distilled and administered in just the right dose, digitalis is one of the most powerful and curative heart medicines available.

When we approach asana, especially the more physically challenging postures, with great respect, care, and discernment, we can not only benefit from its extraordinary healing and life-expanding powers, but revel and delight in dancing in our bodies. If we approach asana without honoring ourselves and the power of the practice, however, we put ourselves at risk and we fail to realize the benefits that are possible.


Web Version of October E-Newsletter

Dear Friends,

Much of the conversation for the past few days has been about the weather.  Some people have talked about how much they hate the heat and how excited they are about the coming of cool weather.  Others are lamenting the passing of summer.  When it was this temperature six months ago, the same conversations arose, but mostly in reverse.  Right now, of course, it is perfectly and delightfully temperate.  Neither heating nor air conditioning is needed to have a healthy indoor environment, but because it is our nature to compare, it feels cold, just as the same temperature had us throwing open the windows and dancing for the joy of it being warm last spring.

For me, the dialogue about the weather and the observation of my own reactions to the change of season is a perfect invitation to look at how perspective influences perception. One of the benefits of a steady and ever more refined practice is that it helps us feel a sense of awe and openess in the face of whatever comes and not be swayed by our history and personal inclination, allowing us to celebrate life more deeply and spectacularly.

Upcoming opportunities to cultivate a sense of wonder (this Fall’s theme):

The fall Willow Street session is underway.  There is still time to register and drop-ins are always welcome.  Join me Saturdays in Takoma Park for Flow at 8:45am and Gentle/Therapeutics at noon.

William Penn House classes continue on Tuesday nights at 6:30pm with a wonderful and dedicated group of friends and neighbors.  All levels welcome.

More experienced yogis will have a great opportunity to expand their practice at:

Hanumanasana:  Nemesis No More, Saturday, October 16, 2010, 2:30pm-5:00pm, Willow Street Yoga Center, Takoma Park.  $35. Are there poses which make you cringe or yearn to have a break from class? One of the great fruits of yoga is “thinning the kleshas,” learning to feel aversions less powerfully and to better experience our intrinsically joyous light no matter what the world presents us. Enjoy an afternoon of exploring and delighting in a full-spectrum of standing poses, arm balances, and hip openers that might lead you to – dare we say it – a greater appreciation, if not downright enjoyment, of hanumanasana and will definitely bring you a delighted gratitude for vipariti karani (legs up the wall). For students Level I/II and up.  To register on-line, please visit or just drop in on the day of the workshop.

Will you be in town for Thanksgiving?  Want to share the love and gratitude?  It’s the:

Eighth Annual Thanksgiving Day All-Levels Yoga Fundraiser for Oxfam. Thursday, November 25, 2010, 10-11:30am.  $25. On Thanksgiving Day, join me at Willow Street Yoga Center, Takoma Park, for an all-levels fundraising class to benefit Oxfam.  Stretch your body and embrace your own generous spirit as we give thanks for our families, friends, and bounty.  Friends, family, and out-of-town guests of all levels of yoga experience, including first-timers, are welcome. To register on-line, please visit or just drop in on the day of the workshop.

I’ve been getting lots of positive feedback about the updated subscription feature for the blog.  Give it a try, by clicking here and entering your information,  if you haven’t already and make it even easier to join the discussion.

Look forward to seeing you soon.

Peace and light,



The Search Continues (based on some dreaming)

In 2000 or 2001, shortly before I started practicing Anusara yoga, a teacher who regularly played music in class, played for us a recording of Alice Coltrane singing a tantric chant to Siva and the Goddess Bhuvaneshvari.  I only heard the chant once while we were in savasana — corpse pose/final relaxation.  Although I only heard the chant once, for several months afterwards, I found myself having a recurring dream that I was wondering in a neighborhood that looked like the one where I grew up and went to high school and chanting the full chant.  At the time I merely found it curious that I seemed to have learned the sanskrit just by hearing the chant one time.  I have since learned that the recording may have been done right near my high school; that is where the Coltrane’s had a recording studio.  I also learned that the chant was a tantric chant.  At the time, my teachers were coming from a classical yoga perspective.  Did I actually learn the chant by osmosis?  Was having the very vibration of the chanting near where I lived and studied the catalyst for me, as a receptive being, discovering a path of tantric yoga?

I have found other recordings of the chant.  One is Atman’s “Dancing to the Goddess” on the Eternal Dance CD, which is an electronica version.  The other is Ragani’s “Om Mata” on the Best of Both Worlds, which is a very nice kirtan/pop version.  I have several of Alice Coltrane’s recordings, which are great jazz, if you aren’t familiar with Alice Coltrane as a fabulous musician in her own right.  Recently I searched again on the internet to see if the bootleg had become available.  There was nothing on YouTube (though some good Alice Coltrane things to watch).    I bought Alice Coltrane’s “Radha-Krsna Mana Sankirtana,” which was originally recorded in 1977 (when I was in high school) and reissued in 2005, as I thought that was a promising source.  It has some good things on it, but no luck finding the recording I wanted to hear.

The chant goes like this:

Samba sadasiva, samba sadasiva, samba sadasiva, samba shambo.

Om mata, om mata, om sri mata, jagade mata.

Om bhuvaneshvari, sri bhuvaneshvari, hari parashakti, devi bhuvaneshvari.

It is a chant to the benevolent, auspicious one within, the radiant goddess, the creatrix of the world.  Bhuvaneshvari is one of the ten wisdom goddesses.

Please advise if you have access to the Alice Coltrane or another recording of this beautiful chant.


The Great Game: Afghanistan

I am writing this from the terrace area of the Shakespeare Theater, in between parts two and three of “The Great Game: Afghanistan.”. It is a testament to the quality of the writing, acting, and production that we still feel ready for the third set of plays. What “The Game” emphasizes, whomever authored the segment or what moment in history is being emphasized is that we are all connected and that if we do not learn from our history, we are destined to repeat ourselves and so suffer.

I am certain that there is little that I can do as an individual to prevent history repeating itself in Afghanistan (though I write letters to President Obama on occasion). I can, however, pay attention to the lesson here with regard to my own, individual life. I can strive to unravel and dissolve old patterns from my history and to create new patterns that will better serve me. In asana practice, I seek therapeutically to realign the physical body and the energetic body so that old pains and struggles do not continue to interfere with my living as fully, joyously, and expansively as I can in my body. Through meditation, I seek to know the true joy of being and to have the light of consciousness illuminate how I respond to people and events. When I can do this, I have the choice not to create new hurts and problems that are just like the old ones.

What I know from my own practice and life is that not repeating history is hard, but it is what gives the possibility of living in true freedom. Is it enough to work on just my own self not repeating history? Do we need to try and bring shifts to larger patterns to truly be of service? I do not know the answer to the latter question, but I do know that the duty to try and shift myself is not just for me, but extends beyond me, like the ripples extending out from a pebble thrown into a pond.


September Newsletter (web version of e-newsletter)

Dear  Friends,

Even in this hot, dry week, three weeks before the formal start of autumn, the harbingers of seasonal change are coming.  When I sit to meditate in the morning, it is still not quite light out, the scent of the leaves starting to change is evident when the wind blows, apples and winter squash are gradually replacing the summer fruits at the fresh farm market.

Fall tends to be a busy time of year for us as a culture, and my calendar is chock full with work, workshops, plans to visit friends and family, volunteer work, and the offerings of our great city, but it is always important to take time to pause and enjoy the sweetness of being.  It is just when things are at their busiest, that it is most important to carve out the time for some yoga.  I’ll be doing lotsof my own study and practice to make more joyous offerings for you.

William Penn House on Tuesday nights continues to be a welcome haven for regulars of all levels and more occasional visitors.  Drop in and join us any time.  More info on my website at

My Willow Street classes of the Fall session start on Saturday, September 25th — flow (level 2+) at 8:45 am and gentle/therapeutics at noon in Takoma Park.  It is always great to register for the full session to help get the benefits of the regularity of class every week, but drop ins are always welcome.

If you have been curious about the gentle/therapeutics class or have friends you want to introduce to the class, please join me at noon on Saturday, September 18th, when the class is offered as part of Willow Street’s free class week.  More information about free class week and the regular session and workshops are available on-line at

Mark your calendars for upcoming workshops:  Hanumanasana:  Nemesis No More, Saturday, October 16th and Thanksgiving Day Fundraiser for Oxfam, both at Willow Street Yoga, Takoma Park.

Hope to see you soon in person and virtually with the blog (it’s now way easier to subscribe to the blog; just a few clicks from the home page) and on Facebook.  As always, feel free to email me with any questions, comments, or just to connect.

Peace and light,



What If?–Part II

Yesterday I asked about setting an intention to be blissful in every thing we do for a day. Having the intention is a good start (I might not even have thought of such an intention without my yoga practice). What I really want is to be able to manifest that intention. For me, I know that it is important for me to live more consciously and with more subtle discrimination (viveka) if I am to come close to living such intention.
A rare few live in bliss without effort. For the rest of us, that is why we have the practices. So we can practice moving into and resting in bliss.


What If? (an Invitation)

What if for a whole day you did every single thing with the intention of becoming blissful? If you have them, taking care of pets or kids or elders? Every thing that you did at work? How you went from one place to another? Every morsel of food and drink you selected, prepared, and ate? All your errands? Your getting dressed and undressed? Your correspondence?

Would you even need to “practice yoga” by doing postures or meditating if you were living yoga–fully unifying the day to day with the conscious intention of experiencing the full bliss of consciousness at every moment?

Why not try it for a day and see what happens? And then let us know.