Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence 2013

I know many friends and readers who would have liked to attend the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence this year, but couldn't make it. Good news. I'm bringing you the video highlights!
The panel discussions were absolutely priceless. David Swenson made me laugh so hard the video shakes sometimes (sorry about that:). Tim Miller and Eddie Stern could also easily entertain for a living. Nancy Gilgoff and Dena Kingsberg were mesmerizingly  powerful Ashtanginis. Nancy was ferocious but loving, and Dena was like your Fairy Godmother incarnate.
 I implore everyone to take the time to hear the words of these brave pioneers of yoga. They traveled to a country and culture that were completely foreign to them, where they didn't feel particularly welcome to learn a practice they had mostly only read about, from a teacher who didn't speak English. As Westerners, they were expected to learn more, progress faster, and maintain greater focus than Indian students.
 Through their panel discussions, Tim, Eddie, David, Nancy, and Dena brought Pattabhi Jois to life for those of us who will never meet him. They answered questions about yoga, traditions, history, science, and life. Each has their own unique personality and perspective. The thread that weaves them together in friendship is yoga. Looking at them, I felt like I was looking at the first bunch of YTT graduates in yoga history. They were so happy to be together again and delighted to reminisce about their teacher. They reminded us of the importance of sangha (community) and they made a beautiful example of the love, acceptance, compassion, and support that is inherent in a community that practices yoga beyond the mat, in their own hearts.
Here's a link to the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence 2013 video playlist on my channel, Amanda Manfredi. More videos will be added as I process them!

 

Acro Yoga

 Acro Yoga is a relatively new love of mine. A true Ashtangi, through and through, I thrive on the discipline and quiet strength I find on my mat. But when I'm off the mat... well, let's just say... I like to fly.

 I met my Acro Yoga teacher/partner at Bhakti Fest 2012. Always a warm, encouraging, safe, and enthusiastic teacher, Tim Moylan convinced me to set a little discipline aside and try something new. What I have discovered in my Acro Yoga practice is just as valuable as what I've learned in Ashtanga, and it definitely requires lots of limbs! While Ashtanga has opened a doorway through which I may examine mySelf, Acro Yoga asks me to study how I interact with others.

 To be "successful" in Acro Yoga, I am asked to understand verbal instructions and physical cues while my equilibrium is turned upside down. I am asked to trust the human foundation beneath me. I am asked to find and let shine my own power, balance and grace. I am lifted. I am supported. Then I am reminded to smile. Acro Yoga is trust, communication, union, and liberation. It is also breath and strength and flexibility.

 Now the fine print! I do not recommend that anyone and everyone run right out and practice Acro Yoga. My Ashtanga practice has given me the strength, flexibility, and proper alignment to practice Acro Yoga safely. I also learned from a certified Acro Yoga teacher. I truly believe that it's a very therapeutic complimentary practice to Ashtanga. Just make sure you begin with a strong yoga foundation and a knowledgeable, experienced teacher!

Here are some recent clips from my practice with Tim Moylan at Esalen:

 

 

 

What Is Mysore Practice?

Esalen '11  

Mysore, for me, begins at 6 am when my alarm wakes me. I hit the snooze button and begin the same argument I have with myself every morning. "Maybe I should rest today. I really have been so focused lately. I deserve to sleep in. The air outside the covers is just way too cold. It's probably raining. Maybe its a moon day..." This goes on for at least 10 minutes until the alarm reminds me that its time to make up my mind. On a good day, a mysterious force deep within me starts moving even as I protest, and the next thing I know I'm fumbling for my shoes in the dark.

By the time I get to the car I have accepted my fate and I start to take credit for my magnificent devotion as a student. I have got to be racking up some good karma for this! I turn up the radio and roll down the windows. It's time to be conscious. The fresh, crisp air connects me to my breath. The whole city belongs to me at 6:30 in the morning. No angry drivers. Wide open roads. A blanket of quiet peace enfolds me.

I shuffle my inevitably stiff and sore body into the shala and resume the argument. "Someone's in my spot. There's a substitute. It's too cold. It's too hot. There's still time to leave before anyone notices." Once again I feel a gentle nudge from that steady, strong place inside. I got this.

I roll out my mat and shuffle around a bit until it is clear even to me that I am procrastinating. Then there is this moment at the top of my mat when my toes come together and my body lights up at full attention. I turn to my breath and chant the Invocation to Patanjali sweetly, humbly in my head. I am here in the present moment and my breath and this practice are all consuming.

Surya Namaskara A brings an awakening of my muscles and joints. Surya Namaskara B ignites a fire and loosens my tension. The sound of the communal breath soothes me. The cold winter falls away and I am gently held and supported by every other practitioner in the room. From this place I begin meandering along a path of 60 or so postures. Some how I usually manage to avoid forget one or two. Luckily in Mysore someone always happens to be watching when I make a mistake.  I trust my teachers. Their  guidance encourages me. They keep insisting I can do this. All is coming.

Sweat. Breathe. Be here now. I am confronted with myself by myself. I take inventory. Where are my weaknesses? I practice bringing strength to them. Where am I injured? I practice healing myself. What is hindering my balance? I cultivate firm stillness. Am I breathing?   "I can't do this. I'm tired. I hate this pose. The girl across the aisle is way better than me. I really should be better at this by now." Just keep going. I begin to love that determined piece of me. I must remember to listen for that voice when I'm caught up in the struggles of life off of my mat.

Savasana. Corpse Pose. The conclusion of physical effort. I am rubbery and vibrant. My body sings to me in gratitude. My mind is calm and clear. There are sounds of popping floorboards, deep breathing, and quiet instruction. I take it all in for a moment and then let it go. I dive into my Self.  I witness exploration and restoration, expansion and ease. Just when I think I could stay here forever, the sounds in the room come back, or the clouds outside part and guide me back to the room with light.

There are smiles and hugs in the lobby. These crazy people understand me. They got up at 6 am too. We are bound by a practice that few have the discipline to maintain.

I shuffle back out the shala door at around 9:15.  What a long journey I have made since 6 am. This is Mysore practice.

Inverted Back Bends

I am a huge fan of enlisting gravity to help open my spine gently. Two great postures that do this for you are forearm scorpion (vrscikasana) and handstand scorpion (taraksvanasana, also commonly referred to as vriscikasana b).  Here's a tip to help you safely get the most out of these inverted back bends.  Once you're inverted, resist the temptation to bend your knees right away. Keeping the legs straight, active and strong while you enter your back bend keeps the pelvis properly aligned and tunes in lots of supporting muscles. This allows you to ease into the back bend with lots of balance and control. Push the ground away with your hands and lift the crown of your head straight up. Start to reach out behind you with your toes, keeping the legs straight. Spend at least 5 breaths there, more if you like. Then bend your knees and strongly activate the hamstrings to pull the toes in toward your head.  Feel free to use a wall to play with these techniques. If you don't already practice handstands and/or forearm stands, don't start with this pose! I should note here that the exit I use in the video is not a proper exit. Don't try it on a hard surface. It feels nice on sand :)

Ramayana- A Must Read For Yoga Practitioners of All Styles and Levels of Experience

The quips and anecdotes our teachers dutifully attempt to pass on to us in asana class are but appetizers. In an intense class, we may spend 20 or so breaths in the infamous pose, hanumanasana (casually called the splits). This is not enough time to scratch the surface of the legendary acts of courage and devotion that define Hanuman's character. But those who know the story wish to honor it and inspire their students with it, so we do the best we can in 20 breaths to give you the Reader's Digest version.  We hear about how the splits resemble the form of the body in the midst of a leap taken by a brave monkey named Hanuman. Sometimes, if we speak extraordinarily quickly we can squeeze in something about how he was helping his friend and saving a princess. Meanwhile, many students are so focused on their uncooperative hamstrings that only bits and pieces of the already condensed story even register. Furthermore, we don't know who the friend or the princess were or why they needed to be saved in the first place.

Don't blame the teacher for being a poor storyteller. They are guiding you toward an exploration that must take place off of your yoga mat. They are leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that leads to the Ramayana. In case you are unfamiliar with the Ramayana, think of it as THE epic story, one that is brimming with action, inspiration, sorrow, victory, courage, devotion, and a million little metaphors that parallel everyday life and conscious decision making. It is the source of many yoga pose names- Hanumanasana (splits), Vasistasana (side plank), Chandrasana (half and full moon), Virasana (hero pose), Tadasana (mountain pose), Garudasana (eagle pose), and many more. If you haven't read it yet, it's time. Don't wait.

To illustrate what you've been missing by settling for the appetizers, I have transcribed a small piece of just one momentous chapter of the Ramayana, Hanuman's Jump. Remember, this is just the beginning of his leap. To find out what spurred him to greatness and what he finds when he lands on the shore of Lanka, you'll have to read the Ramayana for yourself. See the bottom of this post to find out how to get your own copy.

Hanuman’s Jump (excerpt from "Ramayana" retold by William Buck)

Hanuman stood on the hilltop. He held his breath and sucked in his stomach. He frisked his tail and raised it a little at the end. He bent his knees and swung back his arms, and on one finger gleamed Rama’s gold ring. Then without pausing to think he drew in his neck, laid back his ears and jumped. It was grand! It was the greatest leap ever taken. The speed of Hanuman’s jump pulled blossoms and flowers into the air after him and they fell like little stars on the waving treetops. The animals on the beach had never seen such a thing; they cheered Hanuman, then the air burned from his passage, and red clouds flamed over the sky and Hanuman was far out of sight and land. That white monkey was like a comet, pushing the sky from his way and bumping the clouds aside. The wind roared under his arms and was pushed away from his breast as he passed, and made the ocean pitch and roll. Sea spray rose and steamed up the sun. Beneath Hanuman as he went, the green salt water parted, and he could see the whales and fish like people surprised at home. The air around Hanuman became electric, and sheets of light gathered and crackled- blue, and pale melon green, and flickering orange and red. Halfway across to Lanka, the golden mountain Mainaka lived on the ocean floor, and from under sea he saw Hanuman coming and thought he would be tired. Mainaka spread his glistening golden wings, rose from his watery bed and surfaced on the sea. Water poured from his shining sides and looming up against the blue sky he spoke to Hanuman. “Rest awhile,” said Mainaka. “Let me repay my ancient debt to your father the Wind.” Hanuman stopped and leaned on the air. “Who are you?” “I am Mainaka, the son of Himavan the Mountain King, the brother of Ganga the beautiful river Goddess. I have long hidden deep in the ocean from fear of Indra. In return for the sea’s faithful protection, I have stayed as an outer gate against the Asuras from under Earth, who dare not approach me. Come down onto me, land and rest.” Hanuman asked, “What did my father do for you?” Mainaka said, “In the olden days, long ago, all the large mountains of earth had wings like I do. We flew where we wanted, but when we landed we were sometimes a little careless. We bowled over the little hills and flattened kingdoms as flat as a floor. We got a bad name with the forest men, and they complained to Indra. The with furious thunderbolts the Lord of Heaven cut off our wings, till out of all the hills only I could still fly. When Indra chased me the Wind carried me away, and here I took refuge of the sea. The wings of the broken mountains have now become clouds. So blessed be you, gentle Hanuman, rest and continue refreshed.” “Forgive me, but I must not break my flight,” said Hanuman. He only touched that golden hill with his fingertip and sped away to the South. When he had gone, Indra came from heaven and told Mainaka, “Keep your wings if you will, for you welcomed Hanuman and you have cared to keep him from danger,” and Mainaka went back below the waves. In the strong sea-currents that lay twenty leagues off Lanka lived the old Rakshasi Sinhika. She saw Hanuman flying and said, “This is the strangest bird I’ve seen in eight hundred years!” She swam to the surface and seized his shadow, and in the air Hanuman felt himself being dragged down and held back. Sinhika stood on the water holding Hanuman’s shadow in her claws and looking at him with tiny red eyes. She opened her ugly mouth and bared her scaly yellow teeth, and started to pull at his shadow. “Watch out!” said Hanuman. “Beware, I am on Rama’s service, and his kingdom is all the world...” She pulled him closer. “You can never escape me!” “Oh yes, I will if I want to!” She saw how large Hanuman was and opened her mouth wide as a cave with a long tongue. But Hanuman became quickly as small as a thumb and flew down her throat like a tiny hurricane. He crushed her heart with his sharp fingernails, turned, and darted up out from her ear. Sinhika threw her arms about and collapsed on the sea. Her blood burst and spread though the water, and the fish came quickly to eat her. Then Hanuman regained his jumping size and flew on in the sky, where birds and rainbows gleam, where heroes ride in bright chariots drawn by miraculous lions, where the smoke of fires rises, and the rains and winds live. He went on through the pure sky embellished by planets and stars and luminous saints and by the holy Sun and Moon, the support and glorious canopy of this live world, the sky made and well made by Lord Brahma long ago.

Read On!

Free Digital copy at Google Books

Amazon (New or Used)

Audible

*Note- I get no commission from sales! These are just convenient sources. You can probably find a copy at your local library.  Whatever the source, just get reading! The depth of your understanding of yoga nearly depends on it!

**I happen to prefer the version written by William Buck. If you have another source you'd like to share, please reply to this post with the info!

As always, thanks for reading!

 

Sanskrit Counting

Do you find yourself avoiding eye contact with your Astanga teacher at all costs for fear that he or she will call on you to count a sun salutation? Breathe. Then print yourself a copy of our cheat sheet! It provides English and Sanskrit translations for the numbers and poses of Surya Namaskar (that's sun salutation in English) and even reminds you what breath, inhale or exhale accompanies each movement. Practice a bit, and you'll be volunteering to count before you know it

Sanskrit Counting/Poses for Surya Namaskar A

 

1 ekam urdhva hastasana upward salute inhale
2 dve uttanasana forward fold exhale
3 trīṇi ardha uttanasana spine extension inhale
4 catvāri chaturanga dandasana plank to low plank exhale
5 pañca urdhva mukha svanasana upward facing dag inhale
6 ṣaṭ adho mukha svanasana downward facing dog exhale
7 sapta ardha uttanasana spine extension inhale
8 aṣṭau uttanasana forward fold exhale
9 nava urdhva hastasana upward salute inhale
10 daśa tadasana standing with hands at heart/sides exhale

 

Sanskrit Counting/Poses for Surya Namaskar B

 

1 ekam utkatasana fierce pose (chair) inhale
2 dve uttanasana forward fold exhale
3 trīṇi ardha uttanasana spine extension inhale
4 catvāri chaturanga dandasana plank to low plank exhale
5 pañca urdhva mukha svanasana upward facing dog inhale
6 ṣaṭ adho mukha svanasana downward facing dog exhale
7 sapta virabhadrasana 1 (daksina) warrior A (right side) inhale
8 aṣṭau chaturanga dandasana plank to low plank exhale
9 nava urdhva mukha svanasana upward facing dog inhale
10 daśa adho mukha svanasana downward facing dog exhale
11 ekādaśa virabhadrasana 1 (vama) warrior A (left side) inhale
12 dvādaśa chaturanga dandasana plank to low plank exhale
13 trayodaśa urdhva mukha svanasana upward facing dog inhale
14 caturdaśa adho mukha svanasana downward facing dog exhale
15 pañcadaśa ardha uttanasana float to top of mat, spine extension inhale
16 ṣoḍaśa uttanasana forward fold exhale
17 saptadaśa utkatasana fierce pose (chair) inhale
18 aṣṭādaśa tadasana standing with hands at heart/sides exhale

Created with love by Astanga Vinyasa student and teacher, Amanda Manfredi.  Namaste!

Update! The lovely and brilliant Cheryl Oliver was kind enough to provide me with the diacriticals (those funky markings around the letters that help us figure out how to pronounce this stuff!) and reminds us: "Remember -- all "e"s sound like "ay" & get 2 beats, and all "o"s also get 2 beats (even though they don't have aline over them! :)" Cheryl is a phenomenal teacher of Sanskrit, chanting, and yoga. To catch up with her, visit www.davesastangayoga.com

Yoga Quotes

Taraksvanasana (Handstand Scorpion)  

If you’ve taken my class, you know how much I love to share inspiring quotes. Some of them are very obviously yoga quotes, and others are just excellent words to absorb when our brains are receptive and generally gooey with yoga bliss! I’ve gathered some of my favorite yoga-friendly quotes to share with you. Please pass them along. I’d love to hear some of your favorites, too!

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.” ~Paramahansa Yogananda

“Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.” ~Rumi

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” ~Lao Tzu

“No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.” ~Oscar Wilde

“Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”  ~Mother Teresa

“The more we sweat in peace the less we bleed in war.”  ~Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”  ~Author Unknown

“The happiness of one’s own heart alone cannot satisfy the soul; one must try to include, as necessary to one’s own happiness, the happiness of others.” ~Paramahansa Yogananda

“An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

“God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches by means of opposites, so that you will have two wings to fly, not one.” ~Rumi

“The willingness to share does not make one charitable; it makes one free.”  ~Robert Brault

“Only the shallow know themselves.” ~Oscar Wilde

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” ~Albert Einstein

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” ~Lao Tzu

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” ~Mother Teresa

“There is a magnet in your heart that will attract true friends. That magnet is unselfishness, thinking of others first; when you learn to live for others, they will live for you.” ~Paramahansa Yogananda

“A Buddha is someone who finds freedom in good fortune and bad.” ~Bodhidharma

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” ~Mark Twain

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. ” ~Dalai Lama

“A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.” ~Muhammad Ali

“All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.” ~Albert Einstein

Recently I was honored to be a featured artist on the Karma Counsil website, a wonderful organization founded by a yogi friend of mine. His organization connects people who cannot afford legal representation with legal professionals who are willing to work for donations. We talked about displaying my artwork on KarmaCounsel.org, but I was pleasantly surprised to find quotations from some of my blog posts accompanying my artwork. It was actually a bit shocking to see my words quoted. Of all the quotes I have shared with my students, I never thought to share my own! I am grateful to have discovered a new appreciation of my own expressions. Just for kicks, I’ll share the quotes that were posted on KarmaCounsel.org here.

“We usually resist change out of fear or stubbornness, so to embrace a practice of accepting and even welcoming change is to liberate one’s self from a form of suffering.” ~Amanda Manfredi

“I’ve begun to learn that I can trust myself, which is a little like waking up one day and finding that you have an extra limb.” ~Amanda Manfredi

“Nothing in this world is permanent. Everything is constantly changing. The community we’ve created together is changing today, but I invite you to see it as an evolution into something greater.” ~Amanda Manfredi

“Had I called upon my breath to wash away my clamoring thoughts, I would have been left with just my voice. Breathe. Everything else will unfold exactly as is should.” ~Amanda Manfredi

I hope you find some inspiration in this small sample of my favorite quotes! Again, I would LOVE it if you’d share some of your favorites with me!