Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pearls and Reflections

I am here looking at mounds of notes from two weekends with Manorama this last month. She joined us in Tucson for the program there and then again, just recently here in San Marcos. This last time was the sixth time I have studied with her and the  fourth time I have taken the Introductory Sanskrit course and I have to say every time the course  is both the same and wonderfully different.  The teachings are so multi-faced and multi-dimensional that even the same stories grow in their scope and move into new places within my understanding every time.

There are so many things I love about studying with Manorama but one of my favorite things about being around her is that a very lovely part of myself "stands up" when I am in her presence. Many of you have heard me mention that idea that "man is legion" which comes from The Fourth Way School founded by Russian mystic, G. Gurjieff He talks about how there are multiple "I's" that live inside us. This can explain why it is so easy to make resolutions and so hard to keep them. Many times, the "I" that makes the resolution is not the same "I" that has to carry it out. Most of us have an "I" that wants to practice and an "I " that wants to stay asleep in some way.  Part of The Fourth Way had to do with unifying those aspects of self so that all of us was in on the game of awakening.

Anyway, one of the reasons that I think its great to hang out with people who are strong practitioners and who have experienced deeper aspects of consciousness and who are seated in unitive awareness is that they can help my practice/sadhana "I" come forward. It's really an entrainment process and over the years, I have had the great fortune to be around several of those people which has given me a certain radar and ability to recognize opportunity for such darshan. It is not about personality worship, bizarre childish transference or anything outer at all.  The radar I am talking about is grounded in a felt sense from within me about who I become in certain people's presence and in certain heightened circumstances around them. The radar comes from observing my own state of consciousness and recognizing what and who effects it and how.

After years around Lee, it became really obvious who he was- not because his outer form and behavior was always so guru-like. Honestly, it wasn't like that at all. He liked to go to the movies, he sang in a blues band, he had a very scatalogical  sense of humor (think Mike Myers and Eddie Izzard) and his humanness was there in full sight for all to see. It was not him in his humanness that was the entraining factor.  He had all kinds of human preferences- like he liked ice cream super hard and cold. He like his tea boiling hot. And so on. None of that is what I am talking about- all that is personality preference.  (And sure, people got confused and made that stuff into myth and religion around him which is a huge part of the guru-trap, but I digress. That is a post for another time, I suppose.)

But in the same way that the air at the ocean has a certain charge, the air around people of practice and attainment (for lack of a better word because the attainment is not a static thing but is an ongoing process, evolution and so forth because the Force with which we are aligning is not a fixed thing. But I digress. Another post for another day.) has a certain charge or a certain energetic quality and therefore provides a certain kind of access to the Field of Energy in which they reside. And so to me, having a radar for this kind of thing is important and seeing it as a function of Consciousness, not of personality is also key. Once again we circle around to discernment, I suppose. (Another post for another day. Wow, they are piling up!)

Anyway, I like being around Manorama because my sadhana/practice "I" comes very far forward and my fear-based "I" is pacified. It's a lovely state with which to entrain and a very generous gift Manorama makes available to her students. Of course, it may be a bit different for different people  in terms of what comes forward from within them when they are around her or other teachers.

It was different for different people with Lee, too. In a way, he reflected things back so effectively that it wasn't always the "love bhav" that came forward. Being around clear channels means that sometimes our  anger is reflected, our despair and so forth. It's a lot like meditation- So often  someone starts meditation and claims, "That meditation made me angry" when in fact, the meditation allowed just enough quiet and just enough space free of distraction  that the practitioner could see they have been angry all along.

So anyway, like that.

My notes are not exactly organized but I thought I might dive into them and post a few of her "pearls of wisdom." Each one of these "pearls" needs a thorough exploration and could be explored in great depth and perhaps as the months go on I will continue with some of that integrative work.  At any rate, here is a download.

From Tucson:

Sanskrit is the language of yoga. It is the language of language. It should increase your awareness of language. What is not a language?

Sanskrit is the meeting point between the scholarly and the juicy.

Sanskrit The verbal root "kr"-- to do or to make is joined with the intensifying prefix "sam" which means whole perfect, total, nothing missing.

You have to study the translation as much as you study the subject.

You are learning the thing and how to learn the thing.

Take a little of your prana and put it on the subject of knowing yourself.

This is not gymnastics. Do not try to "stick the landing."

Instead, figure out how to thread it (the teachings). You will thread it from where you are standing and yoga teaches you not to have a partial perspective.

Guru- in its highest sense, the guru is a force of energy that moves into your life that elevates you beyond what you are not. In India, the term is prevalent and can mean "someone who helps you understanding something."

gu- darkness, ignorance (on any subject)
ru- the remover, the ascension, that which elevates

The guru is that which helps you elevate beyond darkness and ignorance. Ultimately it means "Light" for how can the darkness ever bring suit when the Light is there?

Letters  (in Sanskrit) are like people. And just like people:
they need space,
they don't always get along,
they are indifferent
and they are able to blend.

Anytime we can be disunited. Yoga is about the union of myself with my Self.

Sanskrit language is a reflection of this union. Everything in the manifest world is the vibration of atoms and molecules. To come into the language of Sanskrit is to come into a language that reflects Reality.

No language is as successful at conveying Rock n'Roll as English. And there is no language as successful at conveying the unitive meditative reality as Sanskrit.

The sounds change the way we relate to ourselves at the most essential level.

Feeling IS the transformation. The feeling is the entry point.

I love you= I love who I am when I am with you. I love who I become in your presence.

Yoga is trying to put us into the vast Field within us.

asana-- as= sit; to be established in. What are you standing in?

We hang out with teachers to borrow their glasses. We entrain in that way.

All right- so that was like from the first hour or so!  Seriously, talk about drinking from a fire hydrant. Anyway, more pearls soon.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Shravana School of Yoga: Update on Progress

I posted this morning on the Shravana School of Yoga site instead of here. So click on the link provided  to get that post!

 Have a great day- I am working my way through emails and business stuff before I head out to do the Advanced Practice at PURE Bikram. Its been a while since I have been in town so I am pretty sure its going to kick my ass a bit. Oh well, that's what I love about it, truth be told.

Once I get through some email I am really looking forward to sharing some of my notes from the two weekends with Manorama.

More soon.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


For the Love of Practice
An Intermediate/Advanced Intensive
with Christina Sell and Noah Maze
May 10-13, 2012
San Marcos, TX

Christina and Noah

Please join Christina Sell and Noah Maze for a 4-day asana intensive designed to help experienced students connect to the love of practice in an intimate and personal setting.  Each day begins with puja, pranayama and meditation. The morning asana sessions explore strong, dynamic postures and the afternoon sessions focus on cooling, more contemplative work. During the breaks students can enjoy relaxing on the property, exploring the charming town of San Marcos, TX or playing in the San Marcos river nearby. 

 The intensive is aimed at helping participants deepen their practice, expand their capacity and strengthen their connection to what lives at the foundation of their relationship to yoga. 

This intensive is not appropriate for people recovering from injury or illness. Students should be able to push up to urdhva danurasana with straight arms unassisted, kick to the wall for handstand unassisted, practice a 5-minute headstand and a 5-minute shoulder stand. Also important is the ability to be of good cheer in the face of challenge and the willingness to respect and honor one's limits. A sense of humor is also quite useful.

Daily Schedule (all days but Sunday*)
8:45-9:30 Puja, Pranayama and Meditation
10:00-1:00 Asana 
1:00-3:00 break
3:00-5:00 Asana 
* Sunday will end at 2:00, after asana practice and a closing circle.

Space is limited to 33 students.

Please reserve your space soon by registering Look under events!

Tuition: $450

School of Yoga San Marcos
400 Centre Street
San Marcos, TX 78745

School of Yoga San Marcos is located in San Marcos, TX. San Marcos is a small town  located approximately 35 minutes south of Austin, TX and 45 minutes north of San Antonio, TX. Hotels in town are affordable and there is a limited amount of local housing available in Austin, TX on a first come-first serve basis. Out of town guests will need a car. We have kitchen facilities onsite for heating simple lunches and students are encouraged to bring their lunch and eat on the premises. Tea and coffee are provided  onsite as well.

Christina Sell and Noah Maze are known internationally for their passion for practice, their dedication to community, their  ongoing studentship and for  offering  workshops and  trainings of the highest integrity and professionalism. They  met in 2000 while studying  Anusara Yoga under the guidance of John Friend. After  serving the Anusara  Yoga community as certified teachers and leaders for many years,  they began teaching together in 2007.  Christina and Noah, along with their friend Darren Rhodes, developed the Shravana School of Yoga in 2012 as a way to freely and creatively offer their insight, understanding and expertise to a new generation of teachers and practitioners.  For more information about Noah visit him online at For more information about Christina Sell, visit her online at

Monday, March 26, 2012

Readings from the Intensive

I read these passages before puja and pranayama on Day 3, Day 4, and Day 5 of our intensive. I thought I'd pass them along as they proved quite meaningful for us. Enjoy. 

I will write  more soon, because really, there is so much more to write about. It was a major week that was also incredibly sane, grounded, joyful and easeful.  I am inspired and restored from a week of no-nonsense, back-to-the basics-bad-ass-asana, wonderful company, deep conversation, authentic sharing, joyful laughter and a whopping dose of the Teaching. Again, more soon.


"We chant so that at the very beginning that feeling of sanctification comes from inside, with the feeling of surrendering oneself, because nothing can be learned in this world unless you have the humility to learn. So the moment you think of the Lord at the beginning of doing a practice, you know you are very small in front of that greatest soul. Once that is understood then the other problems which always arise while practicing, mainly concerned with the ego, will be affected. You know that you are "coming down" to learn something. And you can't learn anything unless you come down; if you think you are on top and you know everything, then you are not a learner at all. In that sense, the chanting helps."
-Geeta Iyengar


"Whatever you do, whatever you eat, 
whatever you offer, whatever you give, 
whatever austerities you perform, Arjuna, 
Do that as an offering to Me.
-Bhagavad Gita, verse 9:27


In A Tree House

Will someday split you open
Even if your life is now a cage,

For a divine see, the crown of destiny,
Is hidden and sown on an ancient fertile plain 
You hold the title to.

Love will surely bust you wide open
Into an unfettered, blooming new galaxy

Even if your mind is now
A spoiled mule.

A life-giving radiance will come,
The Friend's gratuity will come-

O look again within yourself,
For I know you were once the elegant host
To all the marvels in creation.

From a sacred crevice in your body
A bow rises each night
And shoots your soul into God.

Behold the Beautiful Drunk Singing One
From the lunar vantage point of love.

He is conducting the affairs 
Of the whole universe

While throwing wild parties
In a tree house- on a limb
In your heart.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spring Intensive Day 3

Well, we had a really wonderful- and long day yesterday. We began at 9am with puja and pranayama and Manorama was here for satsang last night so she didn't finish till after 9:30pm. So wow.

We spend the morning playing in deep back bends- lots of work on bhekasana, supta bhekasana and then urdhva danurasana, drop backs, standing up and even viparita chakrasana. We had all the toys out- the ramp, what back bender (sometimes known as "the whale") and it was a good, solid 3 1/2 hour practice. In the midst of the morning I kind of shared some thoughts on community which have been on my mind a lot lately. Interestingly enough, later that evening Manorama touched on a similar theme.

The thing on my mind is about opinions and how in community, we need to strengthen a muscle around the fact that people have different views and opinions. It does not have to be some big deal if someone in the room loves one thing and someone in the room sees and experiences it differently and even voices their dislike. (Of course, lets keep in mind there are appropriate boundaries, rules of engagement and so forth that I am assuming are in place here. And, if I disagree with just about everything that is happening in a certain group, I might just chose to remove myself from the group rather than be involved, constantly expressing my disagreement. So, assuming all that, I am talking about groups that form with a general agreement about protocol, ideals and values and yet also need a functional way to manage and relate to disagreement and difference. To me, community  is not about sharing the same thoughts and ideas as much as it is about sharing similar values about how to be in relationship together. For instance, if we truly value freedom, then we need to create a circumstance where we are free to agree and free to disagree.

My opinion and experience is that we- as a yoga community-  have a situation on our hand these days where the "political correct" expectation that no one ever getting upset and offended has become a bit extreme.  Of course, the flip side is also true where the "freedom of expression" is often unbridaled and undisciplined and through the mediums of social media, the inner life runs  the risk of becoming a  bit exploited. So, obviously, as always, we can fall off either side of the razor's edge of practice and the only answer to this dilemma is discernment and the only way to cultivate discernment  is to pay close attention to the feedback life is giving us interiorly and exteriorly.

But my point is that as yogi's, the path is to look at ourselves first when we are offended-- to see what set of beliefs, patterns and thoughts got "activated" and to unravel those knots within ourselves. The path of the"ordinary human" is to ask someone else to change to spare us the discomfort of our "offense." But the problem with that is when you put 30 people in a room together or 50 or 100, etc. you get an exponential number of possible offenses because viewpoints are multiplying and opinions are increasing and so forth. Like I so often say, if we try to remove every possible offensive word from our vocabulary, eventually, we are going to run out of words to use. (I am not talking about worldless, thoughtless reality here. I am talking about being tied up in co-dependent neurosis that has, at its heart, a desire not to cause harm but also contains a seed belief that people are too weak, insecure and damaged to actually manage their discomfort as an adult.)

Manorama touched on this suggesting that one avenue that becomes possible in yoga is that we get established in our Self in such a way that we are rooted in a deep abiding presence of truth that allows us the freedom to extend curiosity  and spaciousness to others. She was clear this is not a rigid stance but is instead a sense of being anchored, established and unshakeable at our core in such a way that we can allow for differences among us. She said that if we do not know who we are, we are much more threatened by the variety of opinions, experiences and viewpoints that will inevitably arise in life. Yoga, she said, is not about getting our preferences met or about having our comfort maintained. It is about getting off that conversation altogether so that we can live in a different state of consciousness than personality-driven desire. (I am paraphrasing here.)

So anyway, we started that convo in the morning with back bends, had a great lunch break, worked on hanumanasana in the afternoon. Kelly cooked up a great vegetarian meal for us all and we shared dinner together before Manorama came for satsang.  We ended the day with what me and Manorama have been affectionately calling "Cake Satsang." She and I  discovered that we both have an affinity for cake and so we all had some vegan chocolate tres leches cake. Yum.

All right- more soon.

A few pics from dinner and the start of the evening program.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring Intensive Day 2

So-- we started the day with a few words about puja and about invocation. By "we" I mean me, I suppose. On one level, I always want to just jump into the practice itself and on another level I also want to give a thorough explanation and context for anything we are doing that has foreign roots, unfamiliar origins and may seems bizarre to the uninitiated or inexperienced. So I gave a brief explanation about the puja we have been using in our School of Yoga Intensives.  

Oh- and while I am thinking about it, School of Yoga has a new name!  It is now officially the Shravana School of Yoga. Shravana is a constellation of stars that are said to be the home of the vedic rishis and The Shrvana School of Yoga is born under this constellation.  

From our jyotish reading with Dr. Katy Poole

The rising sign is Capricorn which is good for building organization and the star is "Shravana," which is the abode of the Vedic rishis and spiritual enlightenment. It is the modern constellation of Aquilla, the Eagle and is embodied in the three syllables of the mantra "A-U-M." It is auspicious for spreading spiritual knowledge, especially through the media. It relies on divine guidance and the channeling of higher wisdom. It is the abode of Lord Vishnu, as the preserving force in the universe -- preserving ancient knowledge, authentic knowledge, integrity, connection to the true source of life, listening deeply, and the bodhi tree of enlightenment.

And from Dr. Douglas Brooks when I asked him to share some wisdom on the topic:

Shravanmeans listening, learning by listening, with the sense that something is true or valuable because it has been heard. 

This specifically refers to study and knowledge that passes through experiences that transmitted orally and heard.  Truth is, I am about to spend a year or more explaining in far more depth how the Indian traditions rely upon listening and oral tradition.  Ancient India had few notions of writing as a means of conveying knowledge.  We have the wonderful documentation from the Selucid historian Megasthenes from the period of Alexander the Great.  He is the first outsider to notice this.  He tells us that Indian folks  pass their most important ideas and values, their sacred lore by listening and hearing rather than writing.  He says they do this with witnesses and in groups to be sure they keep things clear and correct and then he says they are very good with the word, with keeping their word.  We leave in a culture that tells you that if it's not written it's not real.  The ancient Indian world was just the opposite.  There are vast implications to this notion as consider yoga teachings.   First and foremost is that the texts, especially anything written in sutra or other mnemonic form, presupposes a listening tradition, a commentary from the oral tradition.  Without living teachers, without the power of human contact in voice, without the matrika and the word, a text is inert, largely useless, and almost always unintelligible.  

So anyway, I spent a little bit of time explaining the very basic outline of the puja we have been doing which is mostly a prayer that the various aspects of who we are- body, emotion, intellect and spirit manifest divinely at various levels of reality from subtle to gross to transcendental. It's a sweet ceremony we do as we chant an invocation to Ganesh, an invocation to the guru and the Gayatri Mantra.   Other than the mechanics of the puja, I also like to share with people that there is no requirement to join in the ceremony and that I want everyone to also I think it is an important subject to explore how people of various faiths can explore these teachings from their different vantage points and share and learn from each other. For instance,  as a practicing Christian, how does one relate to Spiritual Light and then to traditional sanskrit mantras that invoke its presence? Same question for the  practicing Buddhists, the agnostics, and so on. And really, if we could cultivate the optimal listening for understanding we could probably learn a whole lot from each other.

After the introduction to the ceremony, we jumped into it and then practiced  pranayama, did a brief meditation and then took a short break before diving into asana.  We worked on some jumpings and floating-prep work, some handstands, and then  arm balances like mayurasana,  eka pada koundinyasana and then bakasana and sirsasana 2 and sirsasana 2 to bakasana. We rounded out the morning with some urdhva danurasana counter poses which felt stellar.  We broke for lunch and then came back in the afternoon for a whole lot of work with chairs and sarvangasana to setu bandha sarvangasana and back up to sarvangasana. We ended with some supta padangusthasana work in the variations of that pose which is my new favorite thing to practice and then a long savasana.

All in all,  I enjoyed myself a lot today. I think there is tremendous  healing and reclamation work we can all do by  being together and sharing the teachings and the practice and looking for those reliable doorways inward that yoga provides us if we take them. I am  hoping to strike a balance at this intensive between the solar,  outgoing work and the lunar, more introspective aspect of asana practice so that we are just as adept at journeying inward as we are at expressing ourselves outwardly. I remain a fan of both avenues of exploration and I am very interested in being in community with others who are able to move between these domains both skillfully and responsibly.  Lots to explore on that notion for sure.

Anyway, here are a few pictures from the studio.

At the main puja, Ganesh and his consort in stone...
 Another great Ganesh stone piece in the corner...
 And a picture of my guru, Lee.
All right, onward and bedtime. More soon.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring Intensive Day One

Well, I think this has been one of the most hectic, busiest and, in many ways, stressful months I have had in a long time. Without lots of details on the inner and outer work of all that and all it involved--in a nutshell: I went from Los Angeles for a week of teaching with Noah Maze to Tucson to teach with Darren Rhodes Prescott to visit the ashram to  Abuquerque, NM and I had an amazing weekend of great hospitality in New Mexico last weekend at Bea Doyle's Bhava Yoga Studio where I was warmly welcomed by her very humble, friendly and down-to-earth gang of yogis. I am assuming a lot of that vibe in the studio is due to Bea since she is like that herself- smart, funny, insightful and humble, friendly, down-to-earth and very sincere. I had a great time.

After being gone for over a month, Kelly and I headed home with a car full of art work on consignment from Vigraha, a company some friends ours operate in Prescott. We have always loved their Asian antiquities and their commitment to preserving sacred culture in modern life through the conscious use of ceremonial items and images. Over the years, Kelly and I have assembled a personal collection and when we knew we would begin hosting programs at our property in San Marcos we spoke with them about having some items on consignment. They, being good friends of ours, set us up with a big variety of pieces which we have on display at the School of Yoga San Marcos. I will take some pictures tomorrow and post them but we have paintings and statues and amazing bronzes all up just radiating with great energy. The timing of all of it, while it made for a long drive home from NM instead of a short flight home, still seems like such a great boon for us, since we started our first program today.

Which brings me to a short little update about what was a really awesome day. We have a 28 people here for this program from all over North America. There is so much I could say about it but the main thing I am feeling is really grateful. Last June, me, Darren and Amy Ippoliti ran a week-long Intensive we called The Magnet for Magnificence Intensive. We spent a week talking about how one could increase their magnetism for the desires of the heart so that they might live life in such a way that they basically attracted to themselves  what they most wanted. Not some fluffy kind of New Age workshop, the intensive was deep, rich and full of soul searching for all of us. Shortly thereafter I had my own epiphany about what I wanted for myself.

I knew that I loved teaching yoga and I was so grateful to be working in the way I was but I realized I wanted a slightly different flavor of work for myself. While I love traveling and teaching I knew I didn't want to live my life out of a suitcase forever. Also, I kept seeing that model for my teaching career was dysfunctional for a lot of reasons, incessant travel being only one of them.  While I love teaching big groups, I also saw very clearly that I love teaching in situations where I can really show people pertinent details about the poses and where I can really go into depth about alignment and I was seeing how so many things get lost when classes get too big. I could go on about that and I am not planning to stop traveling but I am weighing its various costs more soberly these days.

Anyway, I realized that what I wanted to do was offer workshops, trainings and seminars in my studio space in San Marcos and provide myself and others who were interested a place to come together and practice yoga, pranayama, meditation, mantra and be in community consciously and intimately without a bunch of fuss, fanfare, pretension and posturing. I wanted a  place for us to be sane, intentional and relaxed while we explored the teachings together. I decided I would take my studio space and the house we own next to it and turn it into a training center. We could create treatment rooms for Kelly to do acupuncture and for a massage therapist to be there doing bodywork, and set up tables for people to hang out, eat and relax and over time make a garden and so on so that the property would be a non-residential retreat center and the way the actual workshop was hosted would be as important as the content that would be offered.

So anyway, this week is something I envisioned almost a year ago and at some point in the morning it just really hit me that "here it was" and "here I am" in the vision I had for myself.  Of course, it wasn't just a vision for me it was a vision for what I wanted for the community of people I am teaching and with whom I am sharing the journey. At the lunch break, after I was done with my practice and eating my veggies and rice,  some people were relaxing on the front porch  and others were coming through the common area and having a cup of tea or coffee, and some folks came inside after having been  to the river,  and I realized that, "Oh my god.. .. they are feeling  what I had dreamed of- that sense of slowing down into The Real, of letting go of outer pressures, of softening into a non-urban rhythm  and in a way, my stressful month melted away as I was filled with a deep gratitude. It was such a great moment for me and it  has been carrying me since.

The cool thing about this week is that there are no hours to collect, no certificate to be had and nothing to gain in any outer way from the intensive. I titled it the Light of the Teachings and the Joy of the Practice and that is what is is about. The simplicity of what we all love- the teachings, the practice and each other. Such a nice return. (Don't get me wrong- there is not a thing wrong with collecting hours and getting a certification and so on. There is a time and a place for that process and on another night I will write about how transformational those outer structures and systems can be.) My point is simply that for this week, we are here for something else. And after, and in the midst of, a very dramatic and complex period of time, it is the best feeling in the world to feel a bit simple again.

All right, enough said on that for tonight. We did some damn fine asana this morning- we got to  eka pada rajakapotasana through some grueling shoulder -opening work  and spent the afternoon in restorative postures, inversions and forward bends. (Oh, and can I just say what  a thrill it was for almost 30 people to each have 3 blankets for shoulder stand?! Oh it is the little things that I so love...)

Oh- and then after the days was done, Kelly and I went kayaking which was so fun, came home and made dinner and then I spent some time outlining my 2013 calendar, which does have some more programs here scheduled as well as some fun trips planned. See, I think the thing is about balance when you get down to it. And, of course, paying attention to when I am feeling happy/satisfied and when I am not. I suppose that is a longer post for another time though.

Anyway, more tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Next Segment of Interviews

here is the next segment of interview with Emily. Enjoy!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Christina Sell on the Guru Function (Part I for Elephant Yoga)

Here is a link to an interview with the with Emily Perry for Elephant Journal.  The first question she asked me was on The Guru. Good times.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

School of Yoga Overview

So this letter is going up soon on my website under "Welcome". A bunch of people have been asking about School of Yoga so this is a bit of an overview. Thought I would share it here as well since  so many folks do not visit my web page regularly.

Welcome to Christina Sell Yoga!
2012 has been off to a wild start, it seems. On January 3, we celebrated the birth of School of Yoga and we just recently welcomed Noah Maze to the faculty as a founding member. I couldn't be more excited about creating a school for yoga studies with two of my best friends and primary teaching partners. With so many current changes afoot in the yoga community right now many folks are asking me about School of Yoga and how to get involved. I think the most important thing to know is that we are creating a school with a teaching faculty, not a system of yoga that will certify teachers in a style or a defined  brand of yoga. Over time we plan to coordinate and collaborate with other teachers and programs, particularly with those teachers with whom we already have established relationships and with whom we feel a particular resonance.
Our initial emphasis as a hatha yoga school is in exploring the alchemy of form, flow, focus and function. Hatha Yoga in the  School of Yoga is an integrated philosophy that addresses the body, emotions, intellect and spirit through precise asana, traditional mantras,  pranayama practice, meditation techniques and contemplation. Our programs teach practical ways to access these different aspects of the self and to bring them to a dynamic, balanced expression through ongoing daily practice.
Darren, Noah and I will each continue to offer programs individually and we will offer workshops and trainings with the three of us on a limited basis. We have been talking a lot about how to maximize the benefits of community without creating a structure that is elitist, exclusive, limiting or binding. We are examining issues of sustainability, scalability, and the very timely conversation of managing power, authority and finances responsibly and accountably. We continue to be committed to offering high quality programs and to functioning as a resource for teachers who want to deepen their practice, teach from their authentic experience and who want a viable connection to a larger  community that does not minimize the importance of the community that is found in the intimacy of day-to-day experiences through the personal, immediate encounters we have with one another on and off the mat.
I will be teaching more from my school in San Marcos ( and Noah has plans to ground more of his teaching work in Southern California. Darren will continue to focus his attention on making Yoga Oasis a hub of excellent teaching and practice in Tucson, Arizona. We will continue to travel where we are invited to share the teachings and the practices of yoga with people who feel an affinity with our direction. To be clear, graduates from our programs will be encouraged to create unique program offerings of their own rather than teach “School of Yoga” programs.  In this way we hope to encourage authenticity, independence, resilience and  autonomy in our graduates. Over time, our plan is to create continuing education programs, alumni programs and advanced trainings so that the School of Yoga serves as resource for both new and experienced teachers.
For more information about our work with School of Yoga please visit our web page . For more information about Noah Maze, please visit and for information about Darren and his work, please visit

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bikram Yoga Essay- Part 2

My essay continues...
I suppose the other big misconception is the “lock the knee” instruction, which I think is easily debunked. So many of us who teach yoga say “don’t lock the knee” when we mean “do not hyperextend the knee joint”. Someone who has been trained to understand lock the knee=hyperextension hears the Bikram yoga teacher repeatedly commanding “lock the knee” and they feel deep inner conflict. So much inner conflict in fact, that they make all kinds of assumptions when in fact, “lock the knee” is a kind of shorthand for how to make the leg stable, strong and firm without jamming the knee join or hyperextending it.
From what I have gleaned from my short time back in Birkam classes is that  there are three basic components involved in this “lock the knee” instruction:
  1. Placement and activity in the foot--if someone keeps the weight of their standing leg even throughout their foot but active energetically through  the ball of their foot-- which is a refinement that is given a lot in the one-leg balancings-- "don't drop back in your heel, don't let the weight shift backwards, keep coming forward into the ball of your foot more," etc.-- then the gastrocnemius muscle is going to tone. The tone in the gastrocnemius  is going to stabilize the lower leg and ward against hyperextension. (Anusara yogis this is akin to activating the “Shin Loop”.) 
  2. Activate the quads-- If we pull up on the quads and lift the knee caps, the front of the thigh will stabilized. One must also pay particular attention to the upper outside aspect of the quads which can still be sleepy even if the knees are lifted.
  3. Tone the butt- If the standing leg gluteal muscles are toned the back of the leg gets stability 
So these three things in combination are going to create a strong standing leg that is "locked" --meaning straight, stable and steady but not hyperextended or dangerous to the joint.  It seems "lock the knee" is shorthand for “get your leg straight in these particular and synergistic ways.” 
Mardy told me that Emmy Cleaves, Bikram's principle teacher, reminds students to "think of the hip, knee and ankle as three bricks stacked on top of each other." Of course, that is a much simpler image than what I just described  but my point is they are not some weird yoga cult who thinks that hyperextending the knee joint or slamming the knee back and straining the ligaments is a good idea! 
Those of us who know Ansuara yoga lingo might relate to it in another way. When an Ansuara yoga teacher says “stick your butt out” what they are actually trying to communicate quickly is “having placed your foundation, keep it set. Maintaining your firm foundation, tone your legs on all four sides, with particular attention to your outer shins and your upper inner thighs. Keeping your knee caps straight ahead, reach from your inner big toe to the inner edge of your heel, turn your hip bones, thighs and legs in toward the midline, reach the whole inner edge of your leg back to root the inner aspect of the head of the femur and without disturbing your feet, shins or knees, widen your thighs and pelvic bones apart.” But what gets said is “stick your butt out”  which actually makes no real sense and if done without all that precision is basically the equivalent of “lock your knee.”
To sum up, “lock your knee” is simply Bikram lingo for a set of precise instructions. Every method has an equivalent, a shorthand that needs to be learned, understood and implementes. Is it potentially misunderstood? Sure. Plenty. But also, a student worried about it should ask the instructor who could explain it in greater detail.
I also love the focus and intensity that is required and therefore cultivated through the practice of Bikram Yoga. In Bikram Yoga there is no whining, no talking to other students, no need to interact much other than to follow the instructions, focus on one point and breathe. The postures are precise as is the order of operations and the landmarks about how far to proceed. “Form over depth” is the mantra and a way of life in the Bikram yoga classroom and the exacting precision, for me, is a relief and a refuge. 
Being someone who interacts with others all day long, talks a lot for a living and is highly creative in many domains, I am benefitting from the group focus and support for  being with myself, my practice and the forms themselves. Like I said, I could write a piece about what I like about other methods that are more interactive and expressive but that would be another piece. What I like about Bikram is that it isn’t. It is 90 minutes for me. Just me. The teachers at PURE are so skilled at seeing how to help that I have made great progress under their guidance and so this time for me is not in me in isolation but me  in the company of people dedicated to me improving my practice and supporting each other in doing the same. I love and appreciate that more than I can put into words, honestly.
The other thing that I love about it is that the teachers are all in the classes when they are not teaching and the teachers are not afraid to give each other corrections, adjustments and refinements because they all seem to want to get better and to improve their own postures. I like that also. Theirs is a  culture of improving but also built into that culture is  the recognition that improvement happens slowly, with persistence, intensity, dedication, clarity of form and with respect for one’s limits and abilities. I also love that the culture of the studio is one of practice. The teachers are in classes as students and are walking their talk for sure.
Okay, so that is my love letter to Bikram yoga for today. More could be said but I will stop for now. Have a great day and thanks for reading. Enjoy whatever yoga you do.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bikram Yoga Part 1- The Dialogue

So- I am in Idaho now after a week in California and there is just too much to download and not enough time to write a blog entry about it all. I have been busy with curriculum development for School of Yoga, business meetings with lawyers and partners, some really cool phone interviews, my webinar, emails and also - yes, teaching yoga. All that is simply to say that writing an intelligent blog entry about what I have been up to has been pretty hard. 

However, a few weeks ago I wrote an essay about Bikram yoga based on some questions people have been asking and on some of my observations from being in their classes lately so I thought now might be a good time to post that. (If nothing else it is not an essay on "The Anusara Situation" or anything like that so at the very least it will be a change of pace.)  I broke the essay into two parts and this is the first part which deals mostly with the script they use in their classes or "The Dialogue." 

As some of you know, I have been having a bit of a love affair with Bikram Yoga lately. And as I have made my love public, I  have gotten all kinds of questions from people about what I like and don’t like and how much of it I agree with and so forth. Also, since some of these questions have reflected some misunderstandings, I thought maybe a blog entry might be both timely and interesting.
I started taking classes in Bikram Yoga in 1996  in South Florida with my mother who went religiously three times a week. Coming from an Iyengar background and also being somewhat athletic, I found the emphasis on alignment and physicality to be both challenging, interesting and enlivening. I have always loved the sequence and found having the set sequence to practice a boon all those years ago when I was learning to practice on my own. I also appreciated the first things first approach of “get the body functioning well and the mind, heart and spirit is likely to follow.”
Last July a  yoga teacher friend of mine wanted to lose some weight and decided to go to Bikram yoga instead of adding in cardio or weight lifting or something like that.   As a way to support her and also out of curiosity, I went to class with her. Returning to the heat, the sequence itself and to that incomparable feeling of clarity, lightness and accomplishment that accompanies Bikram Yoga was amazing for me for many reasons. (Bear in mind those feelings always come at the end of class and one must often pay the price of a very different inner experience throughout the 90 minutes!)
Before I go much further, I have to say that in this post I am articulating what I like about Bikram Yoga, which in no way should imply I don’t like things about other methods. I could actually write a article about “What I love about Iyengar Yoga” or “What I love about Anusara Yoga” and “What I love about Baptiste Yoga” and “What I love about Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga” and so forth becuase let’s face it- I am a bit of a yoga fanatic and I like different things about different methods. 
Also, you should know that I am speaking primarily from my direct experience at PURE Bikram Yoga in Austin, TX. My personal opinion is that the professionalism, care and commitment that this team of teachers has is exemplary, excellent and instructive for studios of any lineage, tradition or method. Obviously, method is one thing, the teachers who teach it is another thing and all that. Suffice it to say they do a great job at PURE Birkam Yoga and so when a good method meets with masterful implementation it is really  pleasure to be part of. 
So one thing that is super effective about classes is that the teachers follow a script or as they call it  a “dialogue”. It’s is not some rigid thing, even though it sounds like it would be. And we  have to understand what it is designed to do in order to evaluate its efficacy. Mardy Chen, who owns PURE Birkam with her husband Jeff, told me that “first and foremost, Bikram's Beginning Hatha Yoga Class is a class geared toward beginners.  Bikram developed the dialogue as a way to give beginning students instructions for the postures.  The dialogue is very simple - what to do, how to do it, and the effect of doing it.”
So if we think that the  dialogue, instead of being everything you need to know, is instead aimed at 75% of the students in the room and giving instructions that address the common misalignments, pitfalls and challenges that arise in any given posture for the average person, we start to see it in a different light. Like Mardy said, some instructions describe the basic shape, some are instructions about how to get into the pose and out of the pose, some instructions are about key actions and others are cautions about to stay safe. The dialogue is not intended to be all the information someone will ever need nor does it take the place of common sense and good judgement on the part of the student. It’s a guideline and what I have seen is that while all the teachers say the same thing in every class, they are also addressing individual students relative to their capacity and needs. The advanced student is getting refinements about how to deepen the pose and the new student may get even more remedial help than what the dialogue offers.
I personally find this an intriguing and effective teaching strategy. By giving the teacher a set script they do not have to spend ANY energy on creative languaging, etc. and are therefore free to really look at what is going on with the students in the room. Also, they are not bogged down with remembering  an ever-changing sequence and therefore get very good at the understanding, serving and helping people with the 26 postures of the sequence. The power of repetition is immense and very valuable and the Bikram method and approach embodies it very well.
Mardy said that “a couple of years ago, we decided at PURE to teach verbatim dialogue in the first set (get everyone - beginners, intermediate and advanced students - into the posture) and to teach action (including corrections) in the second set.  Our goal is to teach effectively, consistently, and to all levels in the room.  We hope that the afore mentioned technique allows us to achieve this objective.  As students approach the advanced level, the dialogue extends beyond instruction and becomes a mantra, or meditation.  Teachers at PURE are also encouraged to let students know that they are available for questions after class.  It is a great time for students to connect with teachers and receive clarification.  Advanced class is another forum where we discuss more advanced techniques and corrections.”  
Which brings me to my next point. Like Mardy said, at the end of every class the teacher says their name and tells the class that they will be out front if they have any questions and to please come ask. So, an interested student can ask for clarifications and help about anything, especially about their individual needs that fall outside of the 75% the script is covering. I personally have gotten great help, feedback, information about the postures and my practice every single time that I have asked an instructor after class. They have been quite generous with their time and attention, in every case. 
So while the teacher is not always going to make sure you know what they mean in the scope of a class with lots of explanatory demos, this invitation is in every class (at least at PURE) and nicely places some responsibility for learning on the shoulders of the student, which I think is highly positive. I mean, part and parcel to yoga is the responsibility of the student to ask good questions. This tradition goes way back. Students were never intended to be passive recipients of the tradition. 

Tomorrow- "Part 2: What it means to "lock your knee" in a Bikram Yoga class."