Coming Home- A workshop with Devki Desai

IMG-20130506-00135The Denver and Boulder Iyengar yoga communities were fortunate to host guest teacher Devki Desai in May. Devki traveled to us from the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune, the home of Geeta Iyengar and Prashant Iyengar, Mr. Iyengar’s son and daughter, and Iyengar Yoga. Devki has been a direct disciple of BKS, Prashant, and Geeta Iyengar since 1984 and began teaching at the Institute in 1995. Today she is one of the few teachers trusted to teach the Advanced Class at the Institute. This makes us in Colorado very lucky to have the opportunity to study with her.

From the first class I took with Devki Desai, I knew it was an honor and privilege to study with her. As expected, she was knowledgable and precise about the yoga asanas (yoga postures). The rest of her was a pleasant surprise to me. She was small in stature, but a commanding, vibrant, charismatic, and remarkably humble presence in the yoga room. She effortlessly wove accessible and practical philosophical wisdom throughout each class she taught.

I came to find out that in addition to adult classes, she teaches the children’s class at the Institute, and in her personal life is a devoted and loving mother. These qualities shine through in her teaching, which is something I appreciate and resonate with. I found her classes to be nurturing, challenging, playful, and intelligent.

I met Devki a few years before I went to study at the Institute in 2013. I was told that her teaching embodied a balance between the teachings of Prashant and Geeta Iyengar, which I had no context for at the time. When I went and had the opportunity to study with these teachers, I found this to be very true. She synthesizes the attitudes, philosophy, and sequencing that each of these teachers gives us, and communicates that melody she creates beautifully.

I was fortunate enough to meet and spend some time with Mr. Iyengar in 2005 when he came to teach for the Yoga Journal conference in Estes Park, CO. However, for a number of reasons the thought of traveling to India to study hadn’t entered my realm of possibilities yet. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to study with Devki that I was compelled to make the pilgrimage to India and study with the Iyengar family.

Devki’s primary objective throughout the weekend workshop at IYCD involved teaching us about stress relief, which was a theme she built upon from the previous year. She taught different types of stress relief sequences (ranging from a restorative sequence given from the Institute to hip openings to sun salutations to back bends), she taught through her unique perspective on yoga philosophy, and shared healing meditation techniques.

She reminded us all that when we practice yoga, we should come to it with the innocence of a child. Mr. Iyengar actually would refer to those of us practicing as his children of yoga. Then she told us, children don’t get stressed! They are not stressed out about the next time they are going to play! Similarly, we must learn how to release the stress from our daily life. Yoga can help us with this in a number of different way.

She also told us that when we practice our yoga asanas we should feel like we are coming home. When you come into your home, it should not trigger stress, but relaxation and ease. Devki told us during the workshop that for her, coming back every year to teach in Denver is like coming home. Similarly, every year that she comes to teach in Colorado, I feel that I come home. I surrender a bit deeper to my yoga practice, whether it is the physical practice, the philosophical practice, or the spiritual practice. And for that I am grateful.


-Dana Hanizeski-

You can see Dana at her Monday/Thursday noon classes!

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What gifts I recieved from teacher training-Lynn Hanger

“Bow your head to your heart and pause for a minute to express your gratitude for the practice of yoga and your teachers.” Not something I expected to hear at the beginning of an Iyengar Yoga class. Nonetheless, a statement much like this followed the chant at the beginning of every weekend during teacher training. Embarking on this yoga journey has always reminded me of a fundamental life lesson: keep an open mind. When I first started Iyengar Yoga it was quite different from the Kirpalu tradition I was originally trained in. “Do this, while doing this, but don’t forget this action!” Geeze I used to think, I’m still working on the first action, and where is the mention of your soul and the fluidity of class? The more I practiced Iyengar yoga, got accustomed to the style, and I read a few of Mr. Iyengar’s books I realized there is a method to this madness. The fine-tuning of alignment, the multiple actions, and the format of the sequence, is all designed to align body and mind in the quest of the soul. From January to May this year I participated in the Iyengar Yoga teacher training.   I must admit the thought crossed my mind a few times, “What did you get your self into!?” Iyengar Yoga is intense. It demands and requires full attention of your body as well as your mind. It can push you to your limits as well as help you surpass preconceived self-imposed limits. The weekend intensives did just that. It pushed you to do better, to do more, to have a keener sense of awareness required to observe and correct, all in addition to reflecting on why it is you practice yoga and the benefits gained therefrom. After every weekend there would be a sigh of relief and I would be reminded of why exactly I got myself into this. The practice of asanas has always been a metaphor in my life showing me that things may be extremely challenging but if you stick with it and complete it, there is a great reward that comes from the process. It’s not always the end goal that is the reward. What I learned about myself throughout the process of teacher training has propelled me forward not only in the practice and teaching of yoga, but in the practice of life.   Not only did I learn massive amounts about the practice of asana, I learned valuable lessons to help me throughout my life off the mat. Teacher training opened my eyes to the extent teachers go through in preparation to be able to share and guide others in the practice of yogasanas. The training never ends! There will always be more to learn, more to refine and more to retain. When someone has the title of an Iyengar Certified Teacher, I now have a glimpse of the hard work put forth to obtain such a level. The process of teacher training has also reminded me to take things step by step. Things don’t change over night, but rather a continual process of change with continued effort. What seemed so daunting became more attainable with continued practice. Sometimes things take time, especially the process of becoming Iyengar Certified. As Mr. Iyengar so eloquently puts it: “Change is not something that we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they’re meant to be.” I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to study under such amazing teachers, for the opportunity to participate in the Iyengar Yoga Teacher training and for the practice of yoga itself. Thank you to all of the teachers for their hard work and dedication in their efforts to share the practice of yoga with all of us, for without which none of us would be able to learn and better ourselves upon this path. Namaste:) -Lynn Hanger- Beginning Iyengar Yoga teacher, Front desk extrordinaire and awesome human being! You can see Lynn at our front desk greeting students and now teaching Basics!

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Inversions for postpartum mental health

I became a Mom three years ago and with two children later, one of the greatest skills I have learned is how to multi-task and to make the most of short periods of time to take care of myself and tend to my body and mind.  I often find myself desperate to have a moment of peace and quiet; particularly when I feel either overly exhausted and dull, or when I have over-exerted myself from rushing to keep it all rolling.  Aside from just wanting to cry from feeling overwhelmed, I found solace not necessarily “on-the-mat,” but in the short moments between, when I allowed myself to stop and reconnect with my yoga practice.  I admit, since having babies, my practice has never been the way it used to; regularly attending three-day workshops, week-long intensives and traveling for months at a time to study with Senior Iyengar yoga teachers, and the Iyengar family themselves.  Thankfully, my practice of almost 20 years is strong and I was able to find my way back to my yoga mat and reconnect with myself.  My postpartum mind was mushy and liquid, spastic and on high-alert, my new definitions for Vata energy.  As my body healed from birth, I found my way back to my inversion practice.

Inverted yogasanas support a new mama’s postpartum mind by allowing her to shift quickly and gently away from erratic Vata energy and towards calm Sattvic energy.  For the two weeks after you have birthed your baby, it is best to rest and practice pranayama only.  Once the lochia has stopped you may safely practice the inverted asanas.  Salamba Sirsasana (head stand), Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) and Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Full Arm balance) benefit the mind by flushing the brain with fresh, oxygenated blood; nourishing the hypothalamus and pituitary glands and balancing brain chemistry and hormonal functions.

Starting with Adho Mukha Vrksasana, this pose can easily be practiced anywhere you have a tall, narrow wall space, even a tree will do, and a short amount of time.  Drop your bags, put the baby down beside you and plant your hands shoulder width apart, or farther if you have shoulder issues; kick your legs up and over your head, using the wall behind you for support.  Extend your arms to the Earth with enthusiasm and breathe deeply as your world turns upside down.  Reach your legs to the sky and feel a lightness wash over yourself as you hold the pose for a few breaths or more.  Repeat 3 times.

If your baby is happily playing by herself or you have just put him to rest for a nap, STOP and practice Salamba Sirsasana.  Interlace your fingers, knuckles to a wall and forearms on the ground with your elbows shoulder-width apart, place the crown of your head on the floor between your palms and strongly lift your shoulders away from your head.  Straighten your legs and lift your hips as you walk-in, closer to the wall and with a hop, swing your legs up the wall to balance in head stand.  While here, allow your breath to move freely and continue to press your forearms strongly into the ground as you lift your shoulders and extend your legs upward.  Sirsasana may be held for long periods of time; however, as you are beginning, work in shorter intervals (2-3minutes) and as you gain confidence and hone your form, you may increase to 5-15minutes as baby-time allows.

Salamba Sarvangasana is named the “Mother of Inversions” and rightfully so.  She has so many variations that any body can be supported and innate healing occurs.  If you do not have props at home, the following variation can be practiced safely:  Lie down with your legs up the wall.  Bend your knees and push your feet onto the wall to help you lift your hips off the ground.  Interlace your fingers behind you, extending your arms towards the wall.  Soften your throat and allow your neck to lengthen as your shoulders draw away from the back of your head.  Breathe.  Keep your hips lifted and place your hands on your back, close to your shoulder blades as you bend your elbows.  Breathe.   Hold this position for 3 to 15minutes, breathing fully and deeply.  Sarvangasana creates an extension of the cervical spine which enhances blood flow and lymphatic circulation to the thyroid gland.  Postpartum, the thyroid hormones can easily lose their homeostasis and metabolic functions are dimished.  Coupled with the major shift in circadian rhythm sleep patterns, this organ feels the brunt of motherhood fatigue.  If you practice sarvangasana daily, I would recommend you utilize a variety of props to be able to experience more specialized and supportive variations.

With regular practice and refined skills, your peace of mind will be accessible whenever you give yourself the chance.  Mamas and yoginis try these asanas and discover how these three inversions can support your new role and life as a woman, a mother and in parenthood.  Congratulations on your birth, now Come Back To The Mat!

Laura Golub Matthews

Mother, Certified Iyengar Yoga Instructor, Owner of Holistic Pathways in Denvershoulder stand

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Sparks of Divinity

“The intelligence of a man works in two directions, emotional on one side and intellectual on the other side. In order to get qualifications, degrees, and success in a vocation, intellectual knowledge is necessary. In order to understand man to man, his problems such as pleasures and pains, sex family, happiness, contentment, and so on, emotional intelligence is needed. The brain works on the intellectual side and the mind on the emotional side. In the West, even emotional problems are worked out intellectually, that is, by acquired knowledge which is objective. They should be solved with subjective knowledge, an understanding that comes from one’s own experience when one is in the emotional situation.

Science had made human intelligence go further and further, without being broad-based. When you come across a country man, he is warm, affectionate, and embracing, whereas the sophisticated city man thinks only for himself, his survival, his satisfaction, with no care for his fellow being. This is what I meant.

To work a part of the body, you have to work the whole. So also in order to work the whole, you have to work each and every part individually as well as collectively.” B.K.S. Iyengar, Sparks of Divinity IYCD Book of the Month


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A Practice of Imprinting Meaning

The Yoga Philosophy Study Group at IYCD is nearing its completion of first chapter of Patañjali’s Yogasūtra. There are 51 sūtras in this single chapter and each is very demanding to unpack. The terse aphoristic nature of sūtra literature in general requires this process of explanation or “unpacking”. Individual sūtras are often impossible to decipher without recognition of their relationship to other sūtras as well as looming philosophical ideas. The minimal and cryptic presentation of the sūtras indicates that they were designed for memorization and not immediate comprehension, as the latter would assumedly be cultivated under the guidance of one’s own teacher.

Memorization as a pedagogical device may not be in fashion these days, but it certainly was in ancient India. Most of the ‘texts’ of ancient India existed solely in oral form for centuries if not millennia. The written form was considered inferior to recitation, since if one needed to write something down it meant (s)he could simply not remember it. Furthermore, palm and banana leaf manuscripts took considerable time to prepare and lacked substantial shelf-life. Lines of oral transmission also contained various built-in mechanisms by which ‘textual’ accretion, reduction, and corruption could be avoided. Thus memorization and recitation existed not only as an appealing option for the integrity of a ‘text’, but also for the mental fitness of the student.

For this reason our study group spends a significant amount of time reciting the Yogasūtra.   This is a tall task but just like āsana practice it becomes easier over time. What is recommended is both a practice of reciting the individual words of a sūtra and then, perhaps more importantly, repetition of the entire sūtra as a unified whole. The latter can be practiced even without comprehension of its meaning. This is extremely effective in hardwiring the information into the student’s mind. As such, memorization without comprehension is only intended for the short-run. It is akin to filling a child’s head with a vast amount of information knowing full well that s(he) will not comprehend the meaning. The purpose is not to cultivate a mind that merely stores and ejects information, but to build a storehouse of raw material from which knowledge can be extracted in the future. (See the first two minutes of the video below)

Altar of Fire

Yogasūtra I.28 illustrates the situation well. The sūtra reads “tajjapastadarthabhavanam”, meaning “The repetition of it and the contemplation of its meaning”. The “it” in question is the “auṃ” mantra, also referred to as the praṇava. This sūtra explicitly states that is not enough to simply parrot the mantra without regard for its significance. But it is equally unacceptable to attempt comprehension of the mantra without also imprinting the sounds/words on one’s mind. Thus it can be said that mental imprinting serves a key role in the full disclosure of meaning. In the case of auṃ, memorization is not a very arduous task (meaning, on the other hand…). But if we carry this logic over to the 196 aphorisms of the Yogasūtra or the 700 four-line verses of the Bhagavad Gītā, brute memorization is not so simple. The information needs to be hard-wired little by little, accompanied by a wide-eyed inquiry into meaning that eventually forges the connection between sound and significance. Eventually when one mentally or verbally repeats the sūtra, the meaning (acquired through explanation, discussion, and contemplation) is disclosed almost automatically. One acquires the ability to recall the contents, structure, flow, and meaning of a ‘text’ through the repetition of its individual sounds.

For these reasons, recitation, explanation, and discussion go hand-in-hand in this study group. One student may have a gift for memory but not contemplation, while another is skilled in thought but has trouble retaining information. This natural diversity in ability necessitates the maintenance of a mutually-supportive learning environment. Fortunately this is what the study group embodies. Offering a space in which everyone is free to make mistakes and attempt the unknown, students join together for a joyful exploration of the history, philosophy, and practice of Classical Yoga.

The Tradition of Vedic Chanting 

Jonathan Dickstein teaches at the Iyengar Yoga Center of Denver and at Yoga Shala in Boulder.

Yoga Sutra Class meets every Sunday at noon at Iyengar Yoga Center of Denver

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How the wise face life filled with pain and sorrow

Sutra 2.15

Parinama tapa samskara duhkhairgunavrtti virodhacca duhkhameva sarvam vivekinah

Parinam tapa samskara duhkhaih gunavrtti virodahat ca duhkham eve sarvam vivekinah

“The wise man recognises that pleasurable experiences are painted or tinged with pains. He realizes that this type of pleasure painted or tinged with pain or vice-versa originates from the fluctuating combination of nature’s component qualities, which are light of wisdom (sattva), vibrancy or activity of mind’s energy (rajas) and inertia or mass (tamas). Therefore, the wise man remains careful and cautiously keeps a detached attitude towards the good and the bad.” BKS Iyengar Patanjala Yoga Sutra Paricaya IYCD Book of the Month


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Widening Circles

Recently I have had a renewed appreciation for the wisdom of the practice- this cultivation of awareness and alignment that many of us begin through the exploration of assembling our bodies into the wide range of yoga āsanas. Almost immediately, the āsana practice affects our mental and emotional landscape, whether we are aware of it or not. Our friends and family may notice. We become less emotionally volatile, more content with “what is” and less reactive when life’s challenges surface. Not to say that there are not emotional rollercoasters, just that they are less extreme. With time and practice, the spaciousness and alignment we create in the mind-body complex begins to radiate ever more into our daily lives. With awareness we let go of things that do not serve us anymore. Sometimes it is as simple as donating books that will not be read again or perhaps it is more complicated such as dissolving a relationship gracefully. With understanding alignment, we honor our responsibilities and commitments with ever more patience and joy. This too can manifest in an array of forms, from simple, such as reorganizing work tasks, too more complex such as providing care for a challenging relative. But though practice, we bring ease to our daily lives and to those around us- the practice of ahiṁsa, non-harming, manifests. It is a practice. We must “stay at it”. We must constantly refine, tune. We won’t always “get it right”. We must be kind to ourselves when we realize we could have made a better choice and then get “back on the horse.” I heard a wise teacher once say, “the magic moment is when we begin again”. When the awareness drops, the magic moment is when the light comes on, but we must strike the match. With practice our awareness is cultivated, and mindfulness and intellect become clearer, more effective tools, to sow seeds with our actions. We are advised very clearly through ancient texts and wise teachers, to not become expectant or attached to the fruits of these seeds, but nonetheless, advised to stay on the path. Recently, I experienced the fruits from seeds I planted several years ago. At the time they were planted, I genuinely never thought I would see the fruits. I assumed another being would be present for them and was operating from a place of alignment hoping to bring ease and efficiency to responsibilities I was leaving. However, four years later and a circuitous path filled with many lessons, I have been led back to these former grounds, witnessed the fruits from the seeds, and have the opportunity to sow new ones. On multiple levels, it is auspicious. Often “yoga darśana” is translated as “yoga philosophy”. Although one of the core tenets of the yoga practice is that it is “experiential”. I heard a wise teacher define “darśana” as “conviction through experience”. For me, with the unfolding of recent events, my yoga darśana continues to deepen and I am ever grateful to have found this path. I hold immense gratitude to all of my teachers and the teachers before them that have continued to share this vast matrix of wisdom that is yoga.

“Widening Circles” by Rainer Maria Rilke; translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world.  I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it. I circle around God, around the primordial tower. I’ve been circling for thousands of years and I still don’t know: am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song? Robin teaches Tuesdays at 4:15pm, All Levels and Thursdays at 6pm, Yoga for Scoliosis. Robin Thorpe Padmasana

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