Musings on Yoga

This is Water

by on Jun.15, 2013, under Musings on Yoga

tree on waterMarkWhitwellVertical

Today I sat with Mark Whitwell, a teacher that I have had the privilege of working with over the past 15 years or so. I can claim “early adaptor” of Mark’s unique teachings.  In a world filled with Marketing and Yoga: i.e. commercial “body beautiful” branding of different yoga styles, Mark remains committed to teaching the essence of Yoga. Even after much exposure to his teaching, I remain awed at his ability to cut through to the core of yoga- free from culture, style, competition, perfection, body obsession and to remind us of why we love yoga in the first place. I believe that what Mark is trying remind us of with his breath-based simple yoga practice is similar to what David Foster Wallace speaks of in his beautiful Kenyon College commencement address. Listen to that here and you will understand a bit of what I write. )

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

Foster Wallace reminds us of the water of existence just as Mark does with breath/body practice and ( Mark) adds something slightly different in also leading us to the water of our yoga practice. It’s as simple and obvious as breathing and yet we forget that we are breathing. He points us to embodiment with utter simplicity. He distills the remarkable esoteric teachings of yoga ( Via the teacher of teachers, Sri Krishanmacharya)  into a few sound principles without boring us to sleep with the pedantic “restraints and  responsibilities” many of which deny the body and the feminine. Here they are: practice yoga and intimacy daily, ( 7 minutes per day is a good place to start to remember that we Are) inhale and exhale, receive strength (feminine intertwining with masculine), there is no male without female, asana prepares us for pranayama which prepares us for bandha and for intimacy Meditation arises as naturally as grace (siddhi) not through tortuous labor.

Mark points us to the ineffable. “Here is water” he seems to be saying looking around the room: “You are This, participating in Life Itself, as Yourself.”  And there is no need to look any further.


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What’s in a number? Yoga Class Size.

by on May.12, 2012, under Musings on Yoga, Parenting, Vinyasa, Yoga Therapy

 Twenty is the classroom size limit that we voted for in Berkeley public elementary schools for K-3. approving an increase in property taxes to keep classrooms small. People move  here from all over the Bay Area so that their kids can benefit from smaller classrooms. Why then do we adults not apply that same standard to our yoga?  Why is it so often that the classes that have the most people in them are considered the “best” or that large size somehow equals teacher quality when in fact it ‘s mostly a study in crowd control and should be seen as a drawback to learning.

The late great yogi Sri Krishnamacharya ( teacher of my teachers)  taught his students one -on-one.  Sri K Pattabhi Jois (who studied briefly with Krishnamacharya when K.P.Jois was very young)  taught his students with 1-12 people in his original Mysore Yoga Shala. I benefitted greatly from his personal tracking of my progress through the Ashtanga series, and often trembled at the prospect of his hands-on assists.  I was often alone in the room with him receiving instruction as others had finished their practice. T.K.V. Desikachar continues his father’s tradition of individually tailoring the teaching to each student.  In international workshop settings this model does go out the window.

But just when did Hatha yoga become a group activity, and why are so many bodies thronging to group sweat-ins?  It seems to me  that we hatha yogis have somehow co-opted the format of exercise classes,  gym class, or might I say, religious practices of communal gathering and have imposed on these communal structures the timeless  practice of yoga. When did that image of the yogi practicing alone in the forest or cave turn into the image of a modern yoga studio thronging with gals and guys in styling yoga wear?

I used to practice yoga alone on my childhood living room rug using poses of a dancing Shiva that I found in a musuem catagogue called the “Manifestations of Shiva,” curated by the late art historian Stella Kramish for my guide. No joke. I was so taken with these dancing icons that I imitated them. The idea of publicly sharing these poses with any other bodies seemed to my teenage mind somehow a form of desecration. Those dancing Shivas were my secret. It wasn’t until I was an acting student in London, and a bit later when I was acting in off off ( falling off) Broadway  in New York, when we used yoga as part of our movement training, that I discovered that yoga could be a group activity. Be was it meant for this?

I don’t know if it is age, or motherhood, ( now that I am hardly ever alone) but the idea of practicing my personal spirit practice in a room  packed with  (often shirtless) bodies just doesn’t dig deep for me. Practicing with someone else’s sweat  on my mat is not appealing.  I have been ambivilent about attending such classes. But lately my ambivlance has turned  closer towards avoidance. And if I don’t want to attend such a class, then why would I attenpt to teach one- say one with more than twenty bodies in it?  That’s why I love teaching one-on-one and small semi-private classes out of my home studio.

 When I wake up on a Sunday morning with the option of going to a large yoga class, or staying home and practicing in my space, I often opt for the later. I crave quiet and solitude as much as I do friendship and community. But these days it seems that the quiet, clear space that I can create inside myself through home practice is the most illuminating choice.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy practicing with others. It can be just the jump start that my home practice needs. But to only practice in public classes  seems to me to be missing the whole point of Yoga: to have Union within your Self. To have relationship with your Self so that you can then forge relationships based on self-knowledge and compassion, and love with others.

So go to your yoga classes, but do your hOMe practice too, and “all will be coming” to you.


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Why I love Vinyasa Yoga

by on Mar.25, 2012, under Musings on Yoga, Vinyasa

A List of Sorts:

Flow, Choreography, Structure vs. Content

Rhythm, Art, Sequencing

Evolving change, ARC of Practice


Effort    Surrender

Memory, Breath,

Freedom Kaivalya

Relaxation of critical judgemental mind


Music   Dance


Please share!    Why Do You Love Vinyasa?



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Daily Practice

by on Feb.15, 2010, under Musings on Yoga

Like Brushing your Teeth.

My friend, and inspirational yoga teacher, Mark Whitwell always tells his students not to get too hung up about personal home practice. He says it’s just like brushing your teeth. Something you do everyday. Something that’s as simple and necessary as brushing your teeth or taking a shower. He uses this point to encourage students to commit to a daily practice but without elevating that practice to a level that cannot be achieved like a perfect practice. Simple is perfect. The idea that yoga practice is a practical self- care routine like brushing your teeth takes the pressure off of the yoga itself.

This simple but daily methodology can be applied to other practices as well, like writing. Recently, a writing friend recommended the article, “The Habit of Writing” in the . The article also invokes the daily brushing of teeth with the daily writing of words.
I would add that a ten minute daily yoga or writing practice is indeed like brushing teeth, but that it could evolve to something more involved like flossing, shampooing, conditioning, ironing clothes, etc. Keep it simple and see where it goes. In the end you may have a whole chapter in your hand, or a great foundation built up to take your yoga deeper.


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On not having to change yourself before…

by on Jan.10, 2010, under Musings on Yoga

I was inspired by something that I read recently by the writer and teacher Elizabeth Stark. “Becoming a different person–the kind of person whose desk is always clear, whose bills are always paid, who gracefully juggles all life’s challenges and looks for more–is a LOT harder than writing a book!” Read her blog.

I hear this as:  you don’t have to make things perfect before settling down to tackle your dreams. How freeing! You don’t have to try so hard to be good, or on top of things, or even to change. Just get down to your passion and life purpose. Find out what is most important to you and get on with it. Don’t wait for the perfect moment, or until the laundry is all done to allow yourself the freedom to be messy and creative, and fulfilled. Maybe it’s about priorities too, and acceptance of things as they are. That’s the yoga. Letting go of some of our ideas that we have to change, or have better work, or practice habits, or be better somehow in order to to participate in what we love. As Byron Katie encourages in Loving What Is, this IS what IT’s all about. Then if we take this loving what is, or what we are in the moment, and apply it to creative processes like yoga practice, book writing, painting, journaling, whatever–then things do happen, work gets done, creative ideas flow and get followed through on. So, yoga practice isn’t about becoming better, it’s about accepting what is.


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The Joys and Challenges of Home Practice

by on Jan.07, 2010, under Musings on Yoga

Many are the joys of a home yoga practice: No commute. Choice of practice and music or silence. The pleasure of solitude. No one to bump up against physically or otherwise. Pace is set to one’s own breath and heartbeat. Time to reflect and nourish. Fee is waived!

The downside of home practice:  If small children are about interruptions are frequent, or small bodies use your body as a jungle gym. No one to keep you going if inspiration/motivation fail.

The primary reason that students do not practice at home is that they do not know how to practice, how to sequence, how to pace themselves. They were never taught this  because they always relied on their teacher.  But there is a way to learn the art of home practice.  It’s important to find a teacher who can help you set up a home practice, and lead you through an updated practice every now and again. Another reason students shirk home practice is lack of quiet and space to practice in. If you do not have a dedicated place in your home to practice it’s very easy to get distracted by the phone, web, family voices. Try to carve out a small corner in your home that is ONLY for yoga or meditation practice. This will cue your body to practice every time you look at that space. One more cited reason (I’ve asked my students) why they don’t practice on their own is that some of them  are self-employed, or live alone. They look forward to the rich community found in their local yoga studio. It pulls them out of isolation, and into connection and relationship. Relationship, after all is the essence of Yoga- the yoke of it all, making two into one.

I’d love to hear your comments on home practice. What are your struggles?  Your inspirations?


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