Saturday, August 30, 2014

Questions on “Teaching”, “Learning” and “Living”

These are some questions that I tend to ask myself frequently without ever finding any solid "answers." On the contrary, these questions are like a Zen Koan — something you ask not necessarily to find an intellectual answer but simply to bring awareness to certain topics and allow a deeper, experiential understanding to unfold.

How can I say to the students I love that the practice of yoga (which I also love) is not an ultimate goal in itself but just a doorway to another way of being?

How can I say to the students who come daily to their mats in my classes that the practice of these postures is important but there is even more important "inner" work that we must do?

What can I say to someone when I see that their ego is driving their practice and they are overly fixated on accomplishing certain physical poses and pushing their bodies to extremes?

There is nothing wrong with doing yoga just for “fitness” but once you know the tremendous potential of the practice, how can you ignore that other dimension?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Silent Retreat

I spent most of last week meditating in groups and doing silent retreat in my own apartment. I'd be lying if I told you it didn't feel like a bit of shock when I returned to teach my four back-to-back classes on Sunday morning.

Other than the usual morning laziness, I noticed that I was speaking a little slower — paying more attention to my words, being more specific about the feeling of the postures and breath. I felt relaxed and energized at the same time.

And to be honest with you...I struggled. Although I've been meditating, off and on, for years, retreat is always challenging. To sit still and turn within for so many consecutive make the commitment to do it without choose not to be on Facebook, not to reply to emails, not even to escape into my own yoga just meditate! I could see and feel my own resistance erupting everywhere.

Many times, I caught myself trying too hard. It was when I relaxed that I enjoyed it the most.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

8 things to consider about yoga etiquette

1. Get to class on time. Early is ‘on time’ and ‘on time’ is LATE. Set your mat. Get your
props. Settle down. Center. Socialize if you want to. Work on increasing your total
number of Facebook friends if you prefer. Or like me… Do a few crunches. But please be
on time. It is disruptive to others when you’re late. Whether you meant to or not, tardiness
will affect others by forcing them to shift mats around and by making unnecessary noise.
Organize your time efficiently and everyone will appreciate it, especially your teacher.

2. Think Airport Security. No metal. No shoes. No electronics. When you enter class
(kind of like when you board a plane), please switch your electronics to the “OFF”
position. I am ok if you bring water or any other beverage (even your double espresso
cappuccino from Starbucks-don’t ask). You don’t need your backpack, your coat, your
Bloomingdales brown bag or any other accessories. Oh, and is the noisy jewelry really
that necessary? That’s what lockers are for. All you need is your mat and a towel.
Simplify. Life is simple!

My first time

I’m thinking about my students: those who have opened or are opening their own studios; those who are pursuing their yoga certification; those who come to class to practice with me; those who have moved on to different paths and lands. Also thinking of my colleagues and the responsibility that we have when we stand before our students. And also, perhaps selfishly, thinking of my teaching and where is it taking me.

I had my first yoga experience almost ten years ago. It didn’t happen at a fancy yoga studio or fitness club—at a facility that provided bottled water or towels or complementary chair massages or expensive workshops. The magic happened in the living room of an acquaintance. The humble donation was five dollars per class. We didn’t have blocks, straps, or mats—only a few regular blankets and lots of floor. It was not love at first sight, but then I am not a love-at-first-sight kind of guy.

My guru’s accent wasn’t Indian but very Cuban. He didn’t have a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account—he didn’t even have a computer. He didn’t have a car, either, so every week some of his students would give him a ride to the studio so he could teach us.

The 8 Biggest Obstacles in Yoga

We all face various obstacles in our paths. Over the years in my yoga and meditation practice I have struggled with powerful “enemies.” Some of them haunt me consistently while others seem to come and go. When they appear, they can rob the beauty and life out of the practice by distracting us, shifting our focus onto things that are not important. Beware. They are out there, and they will show up when you least expect them. Let me introduce you to eight of mine.

Self. I was new to yoga—just a few months into it. I was feeling great—on top of the world. I was young, strong, fairly flexible, and the postures came to me naturally. But my mind was so convoluted. I was running through the poses, almost like eating without chewing. Trying to run before knowing how to walk. Breathe? Who cares about breath? I’m breathing now, right? I was speeding through the sequences, getting to the postures before my teacher’s cue, as if that were a sign of proficiency. I thought that getting into the asanas more quickly made them more effective. I was trying to make a statement to all the people around me. I got here first. I am the one—like the first man on the moon. I see this behavior a lot among my students. Often those who rush into the postures so quickly are the ones who don’t breathe properly, have poor alignment, and have yet to discover the deeper meaning of practice.

Can I Be of Service?

On one of the last Fridays of October, as I was fixing the lights and setting the temperature in the studio to teach my last class of the day, she walked in. I’d seen her many times before. We hadn’t talked or formally introduced ourselves, although I did assist her in class a few times in the past. She seemed to be rushing to get to the studio in time, but then, so are most other people at the 5.30pm class after a long week.

She always sets her mat at the same spot. She rarely takes a break. She is really into the practice. Her attention is there, she moves with ease, she explores some of the variations I offer, but she takes her time to enter the postures. She is present for her practice. It seems to me that she has been practicing for quite a while. Sometimes a teacher can sense a student’s particular approach to the practice, what kind of connection they have to the teachings. I’m always interested to see what I can learn about my students’ lives simply by observing how they move and express themselves through the postures. This woman really enjoys her time on the mat. And that, for me, is like catnip. It inspires me to become a better teacher every day.

Look at Your Mind

I wish my earliest yoga teachers had introduced me to the world of meditation, but I found it only when I began exploring different ways to connect to myself. It is said that the teachings appear only when you are ready—and it’s true.

I am glad and grateful that I learned postures and anatomy and that I became friends with my breath. Even though I was taught that yoga is a “way of being” and a dynamic meditation—and I did at times feel it in my heart and my body—for the most part the meaning and the feeling of true meditation were elusive, random, sporadic, and inconsistent.

It was only after I had been immersed in yoga for many years that I acquired a taste for sitting meditation. Even though I’m still a novice meditator, I can see how the practice is shaping me into a more conscious, healthier adult.

Here are some of the things I’ve noticed about myself that are changing, emerging, and dissolving since I’ve been maintaining a regular meditation practice.

2013: The Year I Lost and Found Myself

Emotional earthquakes followed by spiritual tsunamis and tropical heart storms characterized the beginning of my 2013. The only thing missing was an extra- terrestrial invasion. Heartache is never a fun ride.

I questioned everything—from academic choices, toothpaste choices, work choices, love choices, underwear choices, spiritual choices, to breakfast choices—except my own grief and sorrow. I mentally repeated dialogues, circumstances, events, and words, as if by repeating them over and over I would miraculously be able to change the natural course of events.

The truth can be painful to digest sometimes. There is no Pepto-Bismol for the heart— only time, the Ayurvedic cure.

My everyday life and responsibilities kept me going. My two cats greeting me every night by the door, waiting to be fed, kept me real. Taking myself to the movies on Friday nights became the highlight of my week.

A Break from Yoga

A few months ago I noticed a change in myself. I became more excited at the thought of going to the local gym full of artificially engineered badass muscle guys than chanting my oms at the yoga local studio. Soon, I had traded my five-minute instantaneous relaxation bliss for a fifteen-minute AB-RIPPER killer core workout. Something was off, especially considering that yoga has pretty much been my life for the last decade.

At first I thought that neglecting my practice and making such an illogical move would cause my students, my classes, and my own being to suffer. (Guilt always comes in handy and travels faster than the speed of light.) Since, however, I am trying to approach life in a more natural way, without automatic and “supposed to” responses, I kept teaching yoga while secretly diving into the world of push-ups, chin-ups, pull-ups, the elliptical, the treadmill, dumbbells, and workout gloves. But as my biceps were bulging and my six-pack erupting, I began to understand why this break from yoga was much needed. Let me explain.


My teacher had the lovely idea of starting class with what felt to me like the longest tree pose ever held in the history of yoga. It was so long that I found myself going through several phases….

Phase 1: I am a yoga God.

The first few breaths, I was good. I nailed it. I looked at the mirror and gave myself a mental wink and applause. Two thumbs up. A standing ovation. I glanced around to see all the little bonsais struggling to grow as tall and powerful as I was.

Prior to that, I had already checked that my hips were in line, and that I was engaging my legs. I looked at my reflection in the mirrors to make sure that I didn’t look too serious, that my gaze was soft, that overall I was ready for my killer Yoga Journal cover photo. I also checked my six-pack. I made a mental note: more core work tomorrow and no chocolate tonight before bedtime. I felt the ego-spotlight growing on me. The ego always whispers in your ears the things you want to hear. Makes you feel like you own it. Like you are the star of your own reality show. The ego disconnects you and separates you from reality. It creates an image in your mind, an illusion—a fake reality.

F@#$%g Worth It

Many years ago I began to change course, steering my ship toward spiritual books, yoga, meditation, and anything else that offered light at the end of the dark tunnel of confusion that was my life. Nothing was terribly wrong. Quite the opposite: I was an average, decent, good young man, I think. My life just lacked meaning. I was a salad with no dressing, a phone with poor reception. My personal relationships were difficult on all fronts, and I simply was not in a good place. Basically, life sucked.

I began to read, to explore, to do yoga, to meditate, and little by little, it became easier to handle my self-created “dramas.”

It’s been about thirteen years since then, and while I am more comfortable in my older, semi-permeable skin and I’m in a better and healthier place overall, I never feel like I have mastered any of the spiritual lessons that I have been working on. I never feel 100 percent satisfied with my learning curve or with myself. I am that dissatisfied customer in the store of my own life, bitching and making a scene at the cash register.

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