if you’ve visited our union square location in the last month, you’ve had the pleasure of viewing artist and shala student adam dougherty’s intricate, exuberant, and reverent animal portraits. shortly after the show went up, fellow shala students jonathan and alene herman reached out to adam to commission a piece honoring their beloved cockatiel, rocky. jonathan shares rocky’s story here.
shala teachers share their favorite books, documentaries, and talks on issues of race and ethnicity.
a dharma talk by Braeden Lentz
Our focus for the month of February at The Shala is Virasana. The two Sanskrit components are “vira,” often translated as hero, and “asana,” which yogis know well to mean seat, shape, pose, or the way we arrange our body building up from the ground. The names of poses evoke imagery to consider as we make our shape.
The first things that come to mind when I consider the term “hero” are superhuman qualities. I think of someone who engages in unusually daring but necessary actions. A hero might be a charismatic, especially self sacrificing, or visionary person. There might only be a few in my lifetime.
follow this link to our book club poll. vote for the book you’d most like to see selected as the shala book club’s next read.
How would you describe Iyengar Yoga?
When I started the Iyengar teacher training, I felt like I needed a foundation as a teacher. I had that as a student, because that’s what I was practicing. So many schools of yoga say different things about the different poses. I expected to go into the Iyengar teacher training and they would tell me, this is how you do it. We asked them, In Urdhva Hastasana, should the fingers be spread wide or should they be together? They said, Both. There are times when you spread the fingers wide, there are times when you bring them together. They told us that you are going to have to do both again and again and again and again until you understand what’s happening when you do it this way versus when you do it that way. When you teach class, you’re going to know when to tell the students to spread the fingers wide and when to tell them to bring them together.
What I learned in the teacher training is that it was all about experience. That’s where the props come in. That’s where the different ways to do the poses come in. There’s no one way. When you practice asana, you’re finding yourself. You’re finding yourself in the classic shape, and then you change that up a little bit. It’s finding yourself in this pose but then there’s kind of looking back to, what does that tell you about who you are as a person, or where you are right now in your life, or where you want to be, what this whole thing is to you?
It is structured. It can be strict. I can see how Iyengar Yoga is whole. I don’t know enough about other styles of yoga to see how their method is working to help people that are brand new or open-level or experienced practitioners or teachers or recovering from injury or pregnancy. I really appreciate how Iyengar Yoga strives to make yoga available to everyone.
It’s so interesting how because of the structure, you can find yourself. I am interested in seeing people and finding how yoga can help them wherever they are. In Iyengar yoga, you are taught to see people.
by Alana Kessler
It was 2010. I was in Nicaragua with my friend, Janine, celebrating my 30th birthday. Being a yoga practitioner for over a decade, and relatively new Ashtangi of a little over a year, I was diligent about my early morning practice. The routine was this: We would get coffee delivered to the door, drink it leisurely on the balcony, watch the waves, and then practice.
I remember breaking my drishti and watching Janine with curiosity. While I was jumping back and jumping through, she was holding postures for minutes at a time in what appeared to be mini-naps. I judged it. It was a challenge to wrap my mind around this being a practice that supports the seriousness and attention that I identified my practice with.
Cut to five years later: I found myself in San Francisco eyeball deep in a 10-day Yin Yoga Intensive and Buddhist psychology training with Sarah Powers, and loving every second of it. How did I end up here, you ask? You see, somewhere along the way the yang element of Ashtanga Yoga opened me up to a deeper layer of interest. I began to listen to meditation teachers’ talks while doing my Mysore practice at home. I got quieter. I took notice of when I was pushing too hard. I asked myself if my motivations and actions were aligned with my higher intention. Did I even know what that was?
What happened was magical. I refined my attention to attune to deep physical and emotional injuries and unmet needs that were asking for some tenderness. I knew I needed something complementary to my current practice. Something slower, a practice where I could explore, engage, and enliven both the nature of my physical body but also my heart.
Years of “doing” had left me somewhat spiritually and physically exhausted, and Yin Yoga was the perfect medicine to restore and renew my resources. The long-held postures allowed a certain freedom to ask questions and wait for answers. They provided a composition through which I applied my breath and awareness in a new way and experienced the unfolding and uncovering of deeply held injuries of the body and the spirit. I began to heal them. I found a new world within the stillness that was so energizing it propelled me into new levels of creativity, courage, and compassion. My Ashtanga practice got stronger and softer at the same time, as did my approach to life in general.
So here I am now, eight years later, and I am so grateful for the circumstances that illuminated my path towards this practice. To share it with this community is a privilege, and I am honored by the opportunity.
Dear Shala students,In the month of November we will focus on building a healthy, comfortable Padmasana (Lotus). This sacred seat shows up in asana practice as well as pranayama and meditation.Our complementary philosophical focus is the Buddhist concept of skillful action, or how to apply contemplative work to ethical conduct.Sitting and moving well, developing open communication with our minds, and deliberately reflecting on how we think, feel, relate, act, and react in an increasingly complicated and challenging world—these are practices that reach out in all directions and touch every aspect of our lives.We are grateful to be members of a community that stands up for love, respect, kindness, and nonviolence on and off the mat. Thank you for everything you do to make the Shala and the world a more compassionate place.ox Barbara and Kristin
Padmasana. The word itself is beautiful, especially when you pronounce it as they do in India: with a softness around the ‘d’ so that it sounds like ‘padth’ rather than ‘pad’. Padma is the Sanskrit word for lotus, a flower that grows in the marshes and swamps of India. The Buddha spoke of the lotus as an allegory for enlightenment: “As a lotus flower is born in water, grows in water and rises out of water to stand above it unsoiled, so I, born in the world, raised in the world having overcome the world, live unsoiled by the world.”
The Buddha’s words are poignant not only because of the beauty of the flower itself, but also in the waters from which it rises. The lotus grows out of mud, marsh, and swamp, yet blooms in pristinely creamy pinks and whites. This natural miracle gives rise to teachings such as “no mud, no lotus,” carrying the wisdom that each of us may rise out of adversity with grace, purity, and resiliency.
The lotus is also a sacred symbol for the divine. The Indian god Vishnu was born out of a lotus. The Indian goddess Lakshmi is often shown standing on a lotus, holding a lotus. Padma is another name for the goddess.
These layers of symbolism already existed when the yogis of ancient India were creating, naming, and sitting in padmasana. The Sanskrit word translates literally to lotus pose (Padma= lotus; asana= posture).
Asana, the postures of yoga, form the third limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path (Ashtanga yoga). Very few asana are described in the oldest texts of India, and you will see them carved into temples as the postures taken by the gods and dancers of ancient India. Padmasana is the classical posture, always conveying seated serenity.
The posture, Padmasana, though reminds me not of goddesses or even meditation, but of my father. Named for the Buddha, who is so often portrayed as sitting in lotus pose, my father had learned padmasana when he was young and living in India, and in turn taught me the posture when I was young and living in LA.
By young, I mean I was just learning to walk. I never really crawled as a child, just scampered around in Downward facing dog, not wanting to dirty my knees. I remember clearly the way my father took lotus pose, seated on the living room floor, calling my attention: Megna, can you do this? And it looked so simple, that I was truly surprised that I could not easily pull my ankles up onto the creases of my hips.
Today, padmasana is a very comfortable way for me to sit. It is the classical posture for meditation, and comes up in various forms throughout the Ashtanga vinyasa sequences. Early on in the primary series, Ardhapadmasana (half-lotus pose) is introduced as a standing balance. Working through the seated postures, the yogi learns many ways to sit and fold and twist with the legs in ardhapadmasana (ardha= half). In Second Series Ashtanga, the yogi is asked to balance, inverted, on the forearms and take lotus while upside down.
Padmasana is central to the closing sequences of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, which are the poses with which every Ashtangi finishes her practice. In salamba sarvangasana (shoulder stand), the yogi takes lotus while looking up at the legs. This posture becomes a bit of a backbend right afterwards, as the yogi holds her toes and arches the spine back, all while in padmasana. And the final three postures of the Ashtanga yoga practice are all variations of padmasana: folding forward, then seated upright for meditation, then lifting upwards in a final position of strength and levity before laying down to rest.
Each and every time we come into padmasana, lotus pose, we channel not only the purity and serenity of the flower rising pristinely above the mud, but also the generations of yogis who sat in this posture to practice peace and meditation.
Megna Paula teaches yoga at the Shala on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Come for a class! And find her on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/megnapaula/) for more insight into the postures and teachings of yoga.
Dear Shala students,
We hope you are having a great summer and that you are able to lighten up your schedule in favor of taking slow walks in the city or elsewhere, and spending more time with family and friends.
This month we’ll focus on handstands and—important for handstands!—abhaya, or freedom from fear, so we hope you’re able to carve out some space and energy for practice, too. Be on the lookout for some upcoming schedule changes, including classes that focus more on strengthening, alignment, meditation, yin, and more.
This past Friday was the full blood moon, lunar eclipse (the longest of the century), and guru purnima, a day that marks the annual thanksgiving for our teachers and gurus. Astrologer Sherene Vismaya filled us in on the significance of this cosmic convergence—see below for more details. In case you missed Sherene’s wonderful summer astrology workshop, she will be back in September to tell us what to expect for autumn.
Enjoy these precious warmer days. Know that if you are ever feeling lonely or alone, you can reach out to us at email@example.com. The world is big, fast, and complicated. Being with and connecting to others is so important. A major aspect of practice is learning how to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others.
All our love,
Kristin + Barbara
What does your practice look like?
My practice of asana is generally a bit shorter than I fantasize about. I am on my mat by 4:45 a.m. and start teaching at 6 a.m. I still love the Ashtanga practice as given to me by the Jois family. I tend to split up Second Series so I have the time to fit in some of Third Series.
My practice includes my teaching, and for that I need to have a good amount of energy! The short time I am on the mat is appropriate for my work as a teacher. I do try to practice yoga all day long—I feel that is where and how I need it to fulfill my hopes of continuing realizations. Most days I practice formal pranayama and meditation later in the day.
How has your practice changed since you began?
I tend to practice a lot slower. I really enjoy going slow and deepening into the asanas to find more awareness and more freedom. This often means longer than the traditional five breaths that are given to most poses. I want to feel the pose manifesting inside of my body versus laying a pose onto the body or having my body perform a pose.
How has your teaching changed?
My teaching is constantly changing according to who is in front of me! My prayer is to help others heal through the practice. There are so many ages of students as well as varying interests that bring them to the mat. I usually start with more physical assists and migrate toward verbal suggestions of how they can find more awareness in their bodies and in the architecture of the asana. Over twenty-eight years of teaching Yoga I have investigated techniques to help students but I feel my intuition is the best guide. Sometimes my intuition may say, “Leave them alone for the time being,” and I think that is one of the more challenging feelings for me to follow.
How are you inspired in your practice at this point in your life?
I draw my inspiration from the ancient texts on Yoga, and I am really interested in Somatic healing. I usually read from one or two books every morning on some aspect of Yoga. This reading, prayers before leaving for the studio where I practice, and then the actual teaching—it is rare that I don’t find inspiration in these routines. There are a lot of challenges I see in my world and I try to use all of it—the good, bad, and ugly—as a voice pulling me to connect to something that is pure and timeless and part of myself. The students inspire me. I especially love teaching beginners in this method. I find their innocence, courage, and dedication to a regular early morning practice truly beautiful.
Who is/are your teacher/teachers?
My main teacher is Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Though he left his body in 2009, I hear his teachings daily and they too are a great source of inspiration. I have been blessed to study with many great teachers of wisdom, and at times they return to urge me to go deeper into awareness. At this time I travel to study with R. Sharath Jois and Manouso Manos. I find that interesting because they are as different as night and day in their techniques and systems. I believe them both to be highly trained, and I feel they both understand how to teach me on a more personal level. They see where I am stuck and point the way in and through.
How do you teach younger yogis?
I want them to tap into something in themselves which they can rely on, which is not their youth or their skill at performing the poses. Social media has made Yoga asanas two-dimensional, and that is very harmful for a young mind. The asanas are cosmic maps for exploring our journey to the Self, but this can be destroyed by attempting to look like a photo of someone else posing for a pretty picture. It’s important to let them find their own discipline, dedication, and enthusiasm for the practice, and not try to feed them my meal of commitment.
How does the aging process inform your thinking about/approach to practicing yoga?
Ah, this has been an incredible process which is a great destroyer of my ego! Aging has taught me lots about how I am in misalignment—that goes not only for my postures in yoga but really my personality and my beliefs.
When I was in my twenties, thirties, and forties, I spent a lot of my time in extension of the spine. The arching of my spine was natural, it was comfortable and ultimately the pain I finally ended up with in my forties from chronic extension has been one of my secret teachers. I call it a secret because I really had to endure lots of pain and lots of struggle to learn the correct use of my spine in postures, and this is an ever-continuing process. I have had brilliant teachers but it was me that had to go through the pain and chart a course for my way out. This has been very eye-opening because it is easy to live in suffering and, of course, it is very uncomfortable. The moving away from suffering is so much harder than staying in it. It requires me to move away from attachment and stubborn ways of looking not only at the pose but at all of life in general. My studies and teachers have pointed the way, but I have to be brave enough and curious about seeing something new and unknown, or else I am stuck in the suffering. I owe it to my teachers who have demonstrated their joy, compassion, and skill in making me believe and have faith in a higher vision. I have healed from three debilitating chronic pains and those have taught me the most about suffering and the possibility of ending suffering.
How does the aging process inform your thinking about/approach to teaching yoga?
I offer my students a way to look at their practice which is sustainable and regenerating. Many people like to be told how to get the pose. I feel there is no getting in. Inhabiting a space within the geometry of the asana elicits openness and loss of tension. Patience and friendliness is what I always aim to uphold. Of course, there are as many ways of teaching as there are students. I hope to offer exactly what the student can hear at the place the student is at. I often mistake where they are at and what they need to get them free, and this keeps me awake and continuing my education. One of the most important practices I want to convey is a friendly attitude toward one’s body and the journey in. I am teaching a cooperation between body and mind, a union of friendship and kindness that is able to cross stormy seas because of that kind bond.
Why do you think it’s important to have some kind of practice?
I am a great lover of formal practice. It brings discipline. It helps us measure freedom from attachment. There is a great menu of things to be attached to and in this life I have found pleasure in most of them. The aftermath often leaves me feeling shallow or not exactly happy. The discipline to yoga practice never leaves me with a toxic build-up. In fact, I always feel cleaner and more complete from the practices of yoga. When I first started a formal practice in my twenties, it was difficult to get to a 10 a.m. class, it seemed so early! Now formal disciplined practice has illuminated the path that is always available. Formal practice has actually led me to a place where I maintain my practice to some degree all the time, consistently checking in. Questions arise: “What am I doing with my time?” What am I doing with my mind?” I am rereading S. Radhakrishnan’s introduction to the Upanishads and he says, “To evade discipline is to empty life of its significance.”
Ayurveda is a big part of your work. Please describe how this is integrated into your life and practice.
I met my teacher Dr. Vasant Lad after practicing Yoga for almost a decade. He was teaching at a medical center in NYC and at that time I was teaching and practicing both Ashtanga and Jivamukti. When I heard him speak I thought, “That’s it, I found a faster route to freedom.” I frequently find myself mentally plotting my escape from suffering through the practices of Yoga. I felt a bit like if I was a good thief I could attain enlightenment faster and cheat unnecessary pain. This is exactly how I felt when I listened to Dr. Lad speak to an audience of mostly medical doctors that afternoon. Yoga and Ayurveda are Vedic sisters and the power of their wisdom together can propel the practitioner toward their goals more efficiently. This was my initial feeling, which led me to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to study with Dr. Lad for the next three years. The traditional disciplined self-care of Ayurveda is a preventative plan for health. Many of the practices of Ayurveda are simple, healing, and even fun to incorporate. I have learned more about myself and also learned the places where I stubbornly hold on to patterns which prevent my radiant health. I think many of us have levels and sub-levels that prevent our basic goodness from being ever-present to ourselves and our world. It is a work in progress. The added benefit of the knowledge and use of Ayurveda has benefited me and my clients/students who are also interested in practicing. It does take more time in one’s day and more discipline to engage in the practices, so the practitioner needs to be ready for that!
What are the other modalities and disciplines that you integrate into your thinking and teaching? How do you deal with the stressors?
The most valuable way to deal with stress for me is to practice. The practice means study, devotion, and gratitude that I have teachers in my life. At times a deep faith arises that I too can loosen the ties of samsara. When I feel a sense of failure my most important ally is compassion. I feel that recognizing the sense of failure or dejection of some sort is a fantastic wake-up. My work is turning that into compassion for self and others. Of course it seems logical that with enough suffering and living in a realm where the spiritual teachings/teachers are available to me, the whole planet will awaken.
How do you deal with injuries?
Modify! There are traditional times when we don’t practice asana. There are specific illnesses when we should not be moving our internal winds around. Other than those times I stand by the motto, through hard times and good times, in sickness and health. I have been healed in so many ways at so many times by this Ashtanga Yoga practice, and those experiences have gifted me with faith. I really can’t think of one teacher who ever said to me, just take some time off, your injury will heal. When I have modified poses or the way I am practicing in general I have learned something new. Most people have heard that my teacher, the great Sri K Pattabhi Jois, used to call injuries “openings.” I don’t think this means everything is all right! When we are having lots of bodily pain the ability to see through the storm and keep calm and move into it with curiosity gives one courage and possibly wisdom to understand the body from a new wider perspective.
How does one maintain energy after teaching for many years, or teaching frequently?
This is an area where the Ayurvedic practices have helped me sustain and revive. The daily oil bath in Ayurveda called abhyanga has been so important in my routine. Yes, I rub medicated oil into my body every day and take a hot shower or bath after. There is a protocol one needs to follow to get the proper benefits. Abhyanga offers loads of benefits, but removing fatigue and bodily pains is probably the number one benefit that I can count on.
I believe if I am coming from the correct place towards my students this keeps me from getting exhausted. I am constantly working on relationship with the students so that there is clarity, a commitment to set aside egos and maintain a feeling of camaraderie and joy of discovery. The practice belongs to everyone who puts faith and energy into it. One thing that has gotten me in a funk with students is when I help too much. The practice is theirs and it is important for me to step back and let the students be responsible for their own freedom. Devotion to and excitement about my own practices and learning has to be maintained. This is the easier part of the program for me. My own freedom, joy, and happiness is connected to my own practice and that is my responsibility. It is not connected to how many students I have.
What are you reading?
My dominant Dosha in the Ayurveda paradigm is Vata, which is the energy of movement. This shows up strongly is my reading protocol. I have about ten books on my reading table right now. Touching Enlightenment by Reginald Ray, Smile at Fear by Chogyam Trungpa, The Complete Tales of Nikolai Gogol, Hospice Nursing: An Intimate Guide by Margaret Crawford, BSN. I always have a copy of Swami Chinmayananda’s Bhagavad Gita. And I’ve recently started to re-read the principal Upanishads by S. Radhakrishnan.
What inspires your practice and teaching that isn’t explicitly yoga-related?
My negative response to life. Whenever I feel that I have been short changed in some way and feeling low, I stop and observe and question my understanding of life in general. I feel that this malfunction of the spirit is a very juicy time to get reacquainted with how I see myself and the world. It is the most valuable and difficult time to dig deeper. Generally, if I can practice patience, I come out on the other side of the experience with a small but perceptibly keener and softer gaze.
Tapas is not just on the mat. It’s how we live our life: An Interview with Genny Kapuler
photo: the all watch
How are you inspired in your practice at this point in your life?
Genny Kapuler: It’s like the siren song. It calls me. It is my inspiration. I get up and practice. On the weekends I just practice in the morning. During the week I don’t have enough time in the morning to also do the inversions, because morning class starts early. The older I get the longer it takes me to do everything. I need more time to practice. During the week I separate the inversions in the afternoon, and the inversions energize me for the evening classes.
What do you think are the most important elements of practice?
GK: Commitment. Over and over, every day, day in and day out. Then it creates a path.
How do you understand yoga as a method for transforming the body and the mind?
GK: It is very mysterious, the way the threading of the mind and the weaving of our own experience into the body creates so much resonance with our world. Even now when we are living in such a difficult time politically and environmentally, I find that yoga supports my trust in life and people. Continue reading
The following is an excerpt from a longer passage from Pema Chodron’s The Places That Scare You. Ashley Dorr shared these words in a recent dharma talk.
“Chitta means ‘mind’ and also ‘heart’ or ‘attitude.’ Bodhi means ‘awake,’ ‘enlightened,’ or ‘completely open.’ Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love…Bodhichitta is also equated, in part, with compassion—our ability to feel the pain that we share with others. Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. We put up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices, and strategies, barriers that are built on a deep fear of being hurt…But fortunately for us, the soft spot—our innate ability to love and care about things—is like a crack in these walls we erect…With practice we can learn to find this opening. We can learn to seize that vulnerable moment—love, gratitude, loneliness, embarrassment, inadequacy—to awaken bodhichitta.”
a series by Maria Margolies
Autumn is a beautiful time of year, characterized by vibrant colors, blue skies, and crisp air. According to Ayurverda, it’s also Vata season. Other qualities of Vata are windy, erratic, and dry. Although these can be wonderful qualities that shape the landscape dramatically, they can bring challenges and imbalances for our inner and outer bodies. Our skin especially has a tendency to become dry, dull, and crocodile-like. In order to maintain balance and transition into the new season with radiance, it is important to adapt our daily rituals accordingly.
Summer is changing into Fall, and Ayurveda suggests that we should change, too. This 5,000-year-old science of health and healing makes lifestyle and dietary recommendations according to the season. Each season has particular qualities, and the way these qualities are combined and balanced define that season’s dosha. There are three doshas: vata (air, movement), pitta (fire, heat, transformation), and kapha (structure, density, cohesion). It is recommended that we eat foods that have the opposite qualities of the dominant seasonal dosha.
happy 76th birthday to eminent ashtanga yoga teacher and practitioner saraswathi jois! deep bows, immense gratitude.
watch an interview with saraswathi here.
The first few chilly days at the end of summer inspire a renewed look at daily routine . To encourage and promote general well-being, Ayurveda suggests instituting seasonal modifications that both reduce excess dosha from the previous season and balance the incoming season’s predominant qualities. August and September in New York is essentially a pitta/vata-season yielding gradually to vata-predominant fall. While many of the essential routines for summer continue, such as sun protection, midday activity modification, and reduction of pita aggravating foods, knowledge of the effects of pitta overload can help in negotiating the seasonal change. Continue reading
this back-to-school feeling has got us thinking about eddie stern’s spring 2017 lecture on karma, dharma, and social action (and monads, dyads, triads, and tetrads!).
“Remember: Keep your spiritual goals in your mind and heart; offer all actions to the Lord, or the unknown; don’t be concerned about gaining a particular result from your actions; be free from possessiveness; be calm.”
thank you, eddie, for preparing such a brilliant and mind-bending presentation for us. we can’t wait to have you back!
check out this funny, spot-on video illustrating the many ways one might not want to assist/be assisted in a yoga class. bravo, now:yoga team!