Thursday, April 26, 2007

Attainment Yoga

After reading Regina Clare Jane's posts about her awful workshop experiences (with an instructor who has actually been to South Africa and is returning soon, I believe), I feel I need to have another vent about attainment yoga. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may have noticed this theme already: Yoga is not about being the best, buffest, baddest yogi ever. Not in the physical sense, not in the emotional sense, not in the spiritual sense.

I also (briefly) got caught up in the scary yoga trend . Handstands (although we now all know what a very bad idea that was for me with those wrists!), flashy backbends that caused me get the idea. What worries me is this: if we are saying yoga is union of mind, body and soul through the breath, why would we need strong adjustments to take us into poses our breath didn't lead us to? That is to say, if today you go into a split and can't maintain a comfortable breath, why not come out and do the pose another day when you are looser, more relaxed? Or maybe you don't need to do it at all.

If yoga is bad, or makes you feel like you are not good enough right now, then it is no longer yoga, it is an offshoot of physical or gym culture that looks a bit like yoga. Just because a computer-generated apple looks like the real thing, doesn't mean it is!

I am puzzled and quite worried that yoga in our society has become nothing more than a set of exercises to keep you in shape, and maybe allow you to contort in ways you couldn't before. I remember reading somewhere that before the resurgence of yoga in the last century, it was mostly practiced by Hindu holy men, and since they were practicing it only for spiritual purposes, they practiced about 40 poses. In total. Imagine that.

I know one yogini who has a personal trainer at the gym to keep her in shape. Now I have no problem with that, as long as she doesn't feel she has to do it in order to look a certain way because she is a yoga teacher. I have felt this pressure and suspect many of us do. This, also, is not yoga - it is just another layer of avidya, wrong knowledge, keeping us tied to our dukha (suffering). So if it doesn't make you feel better, or at least not worse, chances are it is gym culture in yoga's clothing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Have a look at them wrists. Now you may think I am putting you on, but that really is the furthest that I can rotate my forearm in. If you look at Michelle, on the right, you will see that, with a big smile, she gets a range of movement I could never dream of. I have been testing everyone since the penny dropped that this could be causing my wrist pain, and I have yet to see anyone who is as limited as me in this particular area.

It's just a little unfortunate that I didn't figure this out, or get told, earlier. I mean, I have only been struggling with wrist pain for a decade! So why would it matter? Well, I basically can't get my hands flat on the mat in any arm balances, including downward dog, upward dog, caturanga, vasisthasana and so on and on. The only way for me to flatten my palm into the mat is to round my shoulders - OK in downward dog, impossible in upward dog. Hence, the pain. This is why it got worse with my Ashtanga practice; because there are just so many of those poses, and I was grinding into the bones of my wrist to try to make them happen. Ask Paul Grilley, it is a bone thing, not a strength or flexibility thing!

It is a relief to know why, but dealing with the loss of something is always a little tricky on the ego. Goodbye forever, handstand. Hello again, forearm balance and dolphin!

One of the other side effects of the ongoing pain is this: I am nervous about attending group classes because I am afraid of being forced past my body's limits. It has happened a lot in the past. So for now, most of my asana practice is at home. And for those of you who come to my classes, if I show any signs at all of becoming one of those teachers, please tell me! Or beat me over the head, that'll get the message across.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Walking inwards

Labyrinth (p6291017), originally uploaded by uzvards.

My godmother recently walked a labyrinth at The Edge, Hogsback. She found it really transformative, and shared these interesting tidbits with me:


The path

Life’s journey, unfolding creation


Unity, surrender to wholeness

Concentric circles:

Time and space and often the seeker’s place in either

Inward turning spiral:

Creating the vortex of power, generative force, leaving behind, relinquishing and forgiving.

The Centre (also called the Rosette)

The Mother of all things; love; timelessness; the point where reason meets imagination, the empirical meets the mystical, dogmatic suffocation is transformed into spiritual liberation

Outward turning spiral

Integration and empowerment; manifestation; finding, healing, discovery and renewal

Braided edges

Ariadne’s Thread of love that encompasses the seeker and keeps him/her safe


Change; discovery; spiritual evolution


For many centuries the labyrinth has been used as a pathway to spiritual discovery and fulfillment. The labyrinth is used as a means to enhance prayerful attitudes, intimacy, meditative states and spiritual focus. It can be used by anyone of any belief system.

The labyrinth has been part of human consciousness for about 5000 years with the oldest recorded labyrinth being a stone-carved relief in Sardinia dating back to about 2500BC. A labyrinth patterned building dated about 1800 BC can be found near the pyramid of Pharaoh Amenemhet III in Fayum, Egypt. A coin unearthed in Syria and dating back to 1300BC has a labyrinth pattern pressed into it.

The labyrinth has a protecting and nurturing nature. Homes, seafaring ships and Cathedrals often had a labyrinth carving or painting, usually on the mast head or over the front door to keep all within safe. Through history, the labyrinth has been used for marriage and commitment ceremonies. Couples recite vows in the centre of the labyrinth then emerge together to mark their new life.

I love the idea of a labyrinth as a form of walking meditation. Sometimes the sitting quietly kind just isn't what you want! I am also going to try to learn to knit (!) My long-suffering mom is going to teach me. Same results, different method, because sometimes, after teaching yoga all day, a girl just wants to drink tea and knit.

On another note, I love the internet: it gives me access to info I would never even be aware of otherwise: check out this class from the late, great Indra Devi that I found on - wait for it - emusic!

By the way, I have noticed several typos and mistakes in my recent entries. Sorry! I promise to check more carefully from now on.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Time to think about the fish-food

My husband showed me this article in today's Sunday Times.
Maybe we should consider not eating the fish to extinction? I have been vegetarian for my entire adult life and generally don't feel the need to push my views onto others, but this is just shames us as humans:

SA looks to China for fish as catches fall

‘It’s very scary. I’m going all over the world to find fish for us’

Fish from China is destined for South African shores due to a sustained drop in fresh fish supplies.

Several of South Africa’s largest seafood retailers confirmed this week that they were talking to foreign trade partners to ensure fresh fish for the domestic market.

This follows reduced catches of South Africa’s favourite fish, hake, at a time of rocketing fish demand both locally and abroad. The weaker rand has also prompted big companies to export a greater proportion of their dwindling catch.

Instead of hake and chips or kingklip with rice, locals could soon be eating frozen pollack, a North Atlantic alternative to hake.

Other fish heading for South African shores — in processed frozen form — include hokie from Argentina and Chinese alternatives, such as ling.

Leonel de Gouveia, co- partner of Cape Town fresh-fish chain Texies, said several stores had run out of fresh hake over Easter. De Gouveia’s company is sourcing foreign fish.

“We’re dealing with a couple of importers looking at various alternatives to hake. Many people have gotten used to hake. It’s almost a right that fresh hake is part of the whole food experience,” he said.

He said consumers were sensitive to changes in fish supplies: “As owner/operators we take the bullet from customers. There are complaints about it,” De Gouveia said, adding that chicken was being added to the menu at several Texies stores.

Ocean Basket chief executive George Nichas, whose outlets countrywide account for about 40 tons of hake every month, said the combination of dwindling catch volumes and soaring demand meant kingklip was now more expensive than prawns — bought from the Far East.

“It’s very scary. I’m going all over the world to find fish for us,” Nichas said.

Industry sources said the local wholesale price of hake was about R25/kg compared with overseas prices fluctuating between R40 and R50/kg.

Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk recently cut the national hake Total Allowable Catch (TAC) by 10% to 135 000 tons.

South Africa’s biggest hake wholesaler, Irvin & Johnson’s chief executive Francois Kuttel, said he was optimistic that hake would recover if authorities stuck to a proper management plan. If not, alternatives would have to be sought. “Hake is certainly not the only fish out there. Various other people have found other species to be acceptable here,” he said.

Back - and breathing easy!

Hello everyone!

Thank you for your comments while I was away - they have now been posted and read (at least by me.)

I really enjoyed my break, and now I am just about ready to rejoin the world. The most interesting thing about this week was how my breath started to to stretch and ease as I relaxed. More about that in a moment, but first I want to let you know, if you don't already, that Mark Whitwell has started a blog. Both he and his assistant, Juliana Monin, are adding posts. I have not yet been fortunate enough to meet Mark Whitwell in person, but his book, Yoga of Heart, had a profound effect on me because it is one of the only that has validated how I experience yoga and how I feel it should be taught. Lucky us to have him adding his voice to the blog-o-sphere!

Now, back to the breathing. If you have time, play with this idea:

As you inhale, allow the breath to enter, rather than pulling it in. As you exhale, release the breath, rather than using force.

Small shift in awareness, big change in effect!

And since this post is all about breathing easy (inspired by Regina at Yoga Spark), here is and interesting piece from Yoga Journal's online 'Ask our Expert' section:

Peaceful Breathing

I have a student who says that practicing the Ujjayi pranayama during the asanas actually creates tension for her. She feels anxious doing the belly breathing and can't wait to come out of the poses. Since this is having the opposite effect than intended on her nervous system, I suggested she just leave this practice aside for now. Do you have any explanations and/or suggestions?
— Gautam

Read Aadil Palkhivala's reply:

Dear Gautam,

Ujjayi pranayama is not belly breathing. Belly breathing is not yogic breathing, but a variation used for people who have excessively shallow and high breathing in the upper thoracic cavity, so that they may learn to move their breath lower into their lungs. (Remember that there are no lungs in the abdomen, so to refer to "breathing" there makes no sense technically, although such phrases are common.)

In martial arts, "belly" breathing is done because the aim is the cultivation of the lower vital force for combat. Yoga does not promulgate combat; hence we breathe in the chest cavity, where the Soul and the wisdom of the heart dwell. Our aim is to expand the potential for access to the Divinity within.

Ujjayi pranayama is the smooth, deep breath with the "S" sound on the inhalation and the "H" sound on the exhalation. For this reason, it is also called "So Hum" breathing. This breathing, if done peacefully and NOT forcefully, will soothe the nerves of your students.

Have your student breathe in her lungs in a smooth and gentle manner (without lifting her collarbones or shoulder blades), making a gentle “S” sound on the inhalation and the "H" sound on the exhalation, and she will feel peaceful again.

Recognized as one of the world's top yoga teachers, Aadil Palkhivala began studying yoga at the age of seven with B.K.S. Iyengar and was introduced to Sri Aurobindo's yoga three years later. He received the Advanced Yoga Teacher's Certificate at the age of 22 and is the founder-director of internationally-renowned Yoga Centers™ in Bellevue, Washington. Aadil is the director of the College of Purna Yoga, a 1,700 hour Washington-state licensed and certified teacher training program. He is also a federally certified naturopath, a certified Ayurvedic health science practitioner, a clinical hypnotherapist, a certified shiatsu and Swedish bodywork therapist, a lawyer, and an internationally sponsored public speaker on the mind-body-energy connection.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

In praise of Maya

No, I don't mean the veil of obscuring illusion, but rather Maya Prass, the wonderful South African designer.

I recently acquired a(nother) pair of her trousers and was reminded of why one should support local design. She doesn't use organic cotton, probably because the only organic cotton available in SA is imported from India, and the high environmental cost of transport kinda cancels out its enviro-kudos. She does, however, employ her own machinists, have her fabrics hand-printed, and generally produce a fantastic product locally, making jobs in local industry. And the garments really are beautiful. Even if you don't think you are gorgeous, you probably will in one of these little ensembles:

This is my last post for a week or so while I dry out my signapses (wish me luck!) so I hope you all enjoy Easter, if you celebrate it, and have a great week!


It strikes me, as I read my way through other yoga blogs, that most yogis and yoginis are the kind of people who care about environmental issues. I think the natural side effect of feeling more 'in yoga' with the world is a keen desire to protect and preserve what we have.

I am about to take a week-long media fast: no cellphones (yippeee!!), no email (gulp) and no internet (gasp), so I thought I would kick it off with two posts - first, a roundup of my recent enviro-yoga experiences.

Areas I am pleased about:
  • My husband and I live in an apartment - less resource-heavy than a house
  • We drive a Smart car and a Vespa, rather than two gas-guzzlers
  • We are both strict vegetarians
  • Most of our food is local, organic and fresh (almost no processed food at all)
  • We recycle all paper, plastic and glass. No need to do tin/aluminum since we don't consume things that come in those packages
  • We use energy-saving bulbs everywhere we can
  • We switch all appliances off at the plug when not in use (well, mostly we do...)
  • I wear no leather, and my husband wears only those leather items he already owns
  • Most of our household cleaning and personal toiletry items are free of harmful chemicals, and none are tested on animals
  • We try buy clothing and gifts from small local producers, rather than 'The Man'
  • We have a water-saving flush on our toilet
  • We mostly buy second-hand books, or go to the library. Mostly...
  • We get our music from the incomparable emusic
  • We take our own bags to the grocery store
Areas that need improvement:
  • I would like to drive less - but hey, this is South Africa - as I have mentioned before, the public transport is kinda fatal, accounting for a large proportion of our very very high road death statistics, and walking...let's just say I don't even walk the three blocks to my local mall. My husband would kill me himself if e found out I had! Save the criminals the effort
  • I would like less packaging on my food - do apples really need plastic wrapping?
  • We should both spend less time online. Ahem
  • I would like to buy more things second-hand or vintage. But I am lazy. And it takes a whole lotta scratching to find the good stuff
Things I have learnt along the way:
  • Just because it is organic/chemical free doesn't mean it is of decent quality. The worst were these:
    • Wensleydale Farms - great idea to send a box of organic produce to your door every week. If it gets there. And if you don't expect the client to keep a tally of what they owe you, never sending them a bill. And if you actually send what you said you would, or at least some of it.
    • Esse Organic Skin Care - thank you so much for the lasting legacy of allergic reactions and previously unseen on this face pigmentation. Obviously not properly tested.
    • Enchantrix - great for dirty, smelly laundry. Even after it's been washed. Also good shampoo for the worst scalp inflammation I have ever seen. On me and my husband. In fact, the quality of this stuff is so poor, I am astounded that they are still in business.
  • There are some good options out there - let me save you the trouble of going through all the nasties above:
    • Mary-Ann's household cleaners and food products. All do what they say, and our bedlinen is still white.
    • All of the Savvy Kids products. God bless them, I say. We use their shower gel, conditioner, and peanut butter. Best peanut butter I have ever tasted.
The biggest lesson I have learnt is that the changes you make need to fit comfortably into your life. Do the best you can, but don't go so far that you feel deprived or depressed. You can't sustain that kind of change. At least, I can't.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

RSI Wrists

I have RSI. It all started ten years ago with my first job, and my first stints of sitting for long hours in front of a computer. Before long, I was wearing wrist guards on both wrists, and sometimes the pain would make it hard to sleep. According to Deborah Quilter, these are bad signs.

When I started practicing yoga, things improved dramatically, but when I started practicing Ashtanga, it all went downhill again. In fact, during my (Ashtanga) teacher training, I constantly had tennis elbow in my left arm. A few months later, on my honeymoon, I would ask my husband to hold my wrist instead of my hand because the pressure made the aching feel a bit better. Now I don't think the problem was with the practice, but with how I was going about it. To me, it wasn't a 'proper' practice unless I did every vinyasa, every asana, injury or illness be damned. I am not quite sure where I got this silly idea, but I think some of it was from that teacher training course, where another girl, who didn't follow the rules with quite as much ardour as me (yes, I did practice on a sprained ankle every day for two weeks), was cold-shouldered. She wasn't up to standard. Eventually I looked for a gentler, more intuitive way to practice.

But the thing is, after a decade of wrist abuse, I still experience pain. If I drive a lot, and I do, the pain gets worse. Most days I drive for about 4 hours, and then spend a few more in front of the computer (blog, anyone?). And I demonstrate far more yogasanas than I should. Poses like caturanga get me the most; I have tried to correct my alignment so my wrists are directly under my elbows, but the thing is, my wrists don't extend to that angle. Never have. Looks like they never will. They are a little broken. Poses like peacock have never been in my realm of possibility because, although I am muscularly strong enough, my wrists just cave when I try to bend them that way. Embarrassingly enough, I have tried, quite a few times!

I am really struggling at the moment - I have got my shoulder girdle, arms and wrists to a healthier state than they have been for years, but I am beginning to realise that maybe, just maybe, caturanga is never going to be a good idea for me. I really like caturanga, I really like the kind of sun salutes that involve caturanga. But they hurt. If not during the practice, then (usually) afterwards. So I now have to face that my ego is the problem here, and that hurts! I mean, me, not do super flashy sun salutes any more? Puh-lease. Isn't it awful when you catch yourself not practicing what you preach?