Welcome to Karen’s Yoga Blog!

Thanks for visiting! I am delighted to share my thoughts and discoveries about the art, science and philosophy of Iyengar Yoga. Visit this blog for ideas about practice, notes from workshops with senior Iyengar Yoga teachers, and reflections about how yoga can help and support us in the art of living. You can also check the August 2008, 2010 and 2016 archives for entries about my visits to the Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute (RIMYI) for yoga study with the Iyengar family in Pune, India.

May your practice flourish to benefit all beings!

Namate,
Karen

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Fresh Experiences

Some years ago, I read an interview with B.K.S. Iyengar, who was in his nineties at the time. The interviewer asked him why, after all he had accomplished, did he still feel the need to stand on his head for 20 to 30 minutes every day. He was in his nineties after all. Why didn’t he just take it easy?

I am paraphrasing Mr. Iyengar’s answer, but my memory of it is something like this: “I continue to practice because I am still learning. I am still having fresh experiences.”

This simple yet profound answer impacted me deeply. A man nearly one hundred years old said that he was still having new feelings and still learning in a pose he had been doing for over seven decades.

Over and over again, B.K.S. Iyengar reminded his students to avoid practicing in a mechanical manner. He asked us to be awake and aware in each moment, so we could develop sensitivity, discrimination and discernment. What a gift to be reminded that we can have fresh learning experiences every time we practice, if we have the discipline to be fully engaged and the openness to be fully present.

The next time you do Downward Facing Dog Pose, you  might look around for some aspect of the pose that has been escaping your attention. Do you do the pose in the same way every time, with the same list of check points and the same priorities? Could you search for new dynamics or relationships in the pose, whether between body parts or between body, breath and mind?

Sometimes we need a teacher and a class to help guide this type of self exploration, so join us for Green Tara Yoga Online Classes. Even through the online medium, a class can take you along a slightly different path, and open up new possibilities for the next time you practice on your own.

How can we learn to do even a very familiar pose with nuance, open mindedness and curiosity? Each time we bring ourselves back to the present and take a soft, full breath, we might feel that we too can continue to have fresh experiences in our yoga practice every day, whatever our age.

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Beyond the Pairs of Opposites

In the Yoga Sutra II:47, Patanjali writes that when the effort to perform a posture becomes effortless, then the infinite being within can be reached. The next sutra says that the practitioner will then be beyond dualities, and no longer troubled by the pairs of opposites. Can we even imagine what it would be like to be completely untroubled by the ups and downs of life? Especially at this tumultuous time, what would it be like to be unaffected by success and failure, pain and pleasure, gain and loss?

This idea may so far from our everyday experience that it seems like a philosophical abstraction. How can we bring Patanjali’s wisdom down to earth? One way is to work with our asana practice and look at the poses we like and dislike. Some in depth practice with an open mind could reveal that our preferences are not as solid as we might think.

Consider a pose that you like and ask yourself, why do I like it? It is because the pose comes easily for you? Is there some particular aspect of the pose that feels good to your body, or some way in which the pose soothes your mind?

Start looking at the pose from a fresh perspective. Is there something about the pose that does not go so well for you? Perhaps that part of the pose has been hidden, as the mind lingers on the aspects of the pose that you find pleasurable.

This is not looking for problems, but opening the mind to look at the whole picture of the asana in a new way.  One way to find out where your attention may be needed in the pose is to use a timer.  Time the pose and find out how long you can hold it comfortably. Then gradually challenge yourself to longer timings. The weak links of the pose will reveal themselves as you extend the timing, and give you new avenues for exploration.

Now examine a pose that you don’t like, and ask yourself, why don’t I like it? Why is it hard for me? Do I really dislike the whole thing, or there some part of the pose that could engage my curiosity?

Then deconstruct the pose in some way. Do just the arms, just the legs, or just the trunk. Be creative and playful with props and support. Instead of going for long holding, try the “touch and go” method of moving in and out of the pose smoothy and rhythmically, allowing the body to gradually learn the new movement pattern the pose presents. Search for some previously unnoticed part of the pose that you can get interested in.

Once our poses are not in such defined categories of “like” and “dislike” we can approach them all with an attitude of interest, intelligence, and the wish to keep learning.

The current health crisis means that we can’t always do things according to our preferences. I might like going to the movies, seeing live theater and going to parties, but I have to let go of  those “likes” right now, and try other things. We would all like to be able to have live classes in the studio, but for now, the available option is online classes.

When this crisis began, I could not imagine that we would still be closed in late July, but that is the reality. If you can, please help sustain Green Tara Yoga through your Donation or by attending Online Classes.

As you practice the art of yoga, may you experience the unity of mind and spirit that is beyond all preferences.

Namaste,
Karen

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Finding Joy in the Ordinary

Our current times are anything but “ordinary.”  We face upheaval on so many fronts simultaneously. I recently heard an author on the radio refer to this type of drastic and disorienting change as a “life quake.” There is a longing to “get back to normal,” even as we face the realities that we can’t return to normal just yet, and that new norms will have to be adopted for some time to come.

While so many aspects of life seem extraordinary and chaotic, there is also a sameness to our days. Most of us have minimized going out of the house for any reason. Social interaction and entertainment have ben severely curtailed. My life used to be punctuated by activities I looked forward to: a weekend away for yoga training, a visit to my family in Nebraska, a night downtown for dinner and a Broadway show. All of that, and more, is off the table. For a lot of us, things feel rather flat. 

Layered over the sameness of daily life is anxiety about what the future will hold. We face such hard decisions and questions. Is my job secure? Will my children thrive with remote learning? Will I or my loved ones get sick?

For me, the only way to navigate this intense disruption is to take a deep dive into the present and appreciate ordinary things. Flowers, food, music, conversation.

I observe the movement of a cardinal on a branch. I hear the wind blowing through the tree branches. I smell the fresh parsley as I chop.

I appreciate the kind words of a friend, and remember to tell them that I noticed their thoughtfulness. I strive to be a better listener. I notice the nuances of someone’s smile.

There is so much beauty that we can discover when we take the time to look for it.

As yoga practitioners, we have many tools to learn to be more awake and aware. From the vigor of a back arch to the subtlety of a soft breath, yoga brings us back to the present moment again and again.

This week at Green Tara Yoga, we are focusing on Yoga for Immunity, so take a look at our Schedule of Online Yoga Classes and experience the art of being present through Iyengar Yoga!

I hope we can all give ourselves a break from fears and concerns, and fully experience the present in all its richness. The yogic masters tell us that this is truly the only road to peace.

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Folding the Palms

At both the beginning and the end of a yoga class, we sit upright and fold the palms. Bringing the hands to touch each other in this way is a gesture of reverence, often simply called “prayer position.” Placing the hands together in front of the chest brings our attention to the heart region, and to the present moment.

This position can be called Namaskarasana, the pose of  respect to the divine within. It can also be called Atmanjali Mudra. Mudra is a gesture or a seal, and Atma is the individual soul. So this is the gesture that brings attention to the innermost core of our being.

So what happens when we assume this posture of folded palms? On the physical level, this position tends to invite a lift and broadening of the chest, which in turn creates space for fuller breathing. As the breath softly spreads, the mind can become passively alert and thoughts may quiet down. With conscious attention on the touch of the thumbs on the breastbone, awareness can descend down from the head and into the heart region.

When we place our attention in the center of the chest, we can experience an almost immediate inner shift. Thoughts loosen their grip and we may get a glimmer of non-conceptual awareness, or awareness of awareness itself.

The head is said to be the center of the ego and the everyday mind, and the heart is the abode of the soul, or as B.K.S. Iyengar has written, “the citadel of the Self.” The brain sifts through the past and plans for the the future, while the heart resides in the eternal now.

The ability to think clearly and use our brains is clearly crucial to our lives, yet we also need to cultivate the quietly attentive experience of heart-centered awareness. In this mode, we may access our inner spiritual wisdom, the intuitive guidance that helps us make fine-tuned value judgements. From the intelligence of the heart, known as buddhi, we can discern the best way forward, in a way sometimes completely inaccessible to the brain.

The first word in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is atha, which means now. How appropriate that we have the method of folding the palms to bring ourselves back to the present each time we practice yoga.

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