Q: I practice Iyengar Yoga. Is Parayoga a form of Hatha? If so, how does it differ from other forms of Yoga?
A: Almost all forms of Yoga, Iyengar included, taught today are still simply versions of Hatha Yoga. This includes: Iyengar, Bikram, Ashtanga, and Power are all forms of Hatha. However, Hatha as originally envisioned is part of a much larger system called Tantra in which deeper more subtle aspects of the Yoga science are involved (see Parayoga’s Approach). Parayoga is both a form of Hatha and a style that accesses these deeper teachings.
Q: I was hoping to complete your recommended reading before seeing you next time, but I don’t think there’ll be enough time.
A: That’s a lot of reading. Don’t worry about consuming so much written material. Ultimately the path into the teachings is lit by personal practice.
Q: I do headstand and/or shoulderstand daily. But my chiropractor wants me to stop because of serious cervical disc issues. I am torn because these poses are a part of my practice.
A: If inversions are creating stress or aggravating chronic disc issues, stop doing them. The fact that you may be actually hurting yourself is a sign you need to adjust your practice. Remember, the real aim of practice, the results we are looking for, are non-material. The Asanas are a means rather than ends. Respect the deeper intent which is simply to enjoy life, and be as effective as possible while having a positive impact in the world. If you’re in pain or you’re hurting yourself, this will be more difficult. If it means no longer doing a few specific postures, accept it. Better yet, reflect on your attachment to those poses: what is it really about.
Q: I’ve heard you use two words (I don’t remember what they are) describing the right approach to practice. Can you tell me what they are?
I’m fairly certain you’re asking about Abyasa and Vairagya which essentially means practice–the consistent endeavor to be where you want to be–and non-attachment. Patanjali tells us that when these things are done with faith, consistency, and for a long time, we will reap the fruits of practice.
Q: I am pregnant. One thing I hope you can give me some guidance with my practice. I have read and heard so much conflicting information about what not to do, its very confusing. I have been overcautious as a result. Can you give me some guidelines to work with- especially when it comes to backbends, inversions, and vinyasa?
Throughout my 25 years, I have worked with women with varying levels of capacity, some new to Yoga and teachers who were pregnant. Here’s my general guidance- do what feels comfortable, don’t do what doesn’t.
Here are some practical guidelines:
The first trimester is not as critical, but if you want to be conservative, follow these rules from the beginning of your pregnancy:
- No plough pose, no raising and lowering your legs while resting on your back, avoid lunges, including deep warrior 1 stretches.
- Also avoid closed twisting (which means most sitting twists).
- No Kapalabati.
- No breath retention.
- No Uddiyana Bandha.
I’m also not a fan of headstand during pregnancy (I know many have done it, with no apparent problems, but I prefer the conservative approach). I’m also not thrilled about shoulder stand, particularly after the first trimester.
Those are some general guidelines. If you approach Yoga sensibly and don’t ask your body to do during your pregnancy what it wasn’t doing before your pregnancy, you and your baby should be fine. If you’re happy when you practice, your baby will be happy.
Q: I see students drinking coffee even before class. What gives? Is this good?
A: I’m not an advocate of drinking coffee. Caffeine is a drug, a stimulant. Generally Americans are over stimulated as it is. My recommendation for most people is to stay away or decrease your intake.
Q: Can you tell me more about how to breath in Maha mudra?
A: Maha mudra is a very strong posture and should only be attempted by those who have become stable and comfortable in their Asana practice. If you’re going to begin to modify your breath in the pose, the key is to remain comfortable while you’re challenging yourself. The point is to remain at ease while you increase your stamina and stability.
Normally we begin to hold the breath after exhale, and later add hold after inhale. Start by doing it not more than 1-2 minutes a side, eventually build it up to 5 minutes a side. That should be plenty to begin to build upon its powerful effects.
Q: Dear Rod, I’m a dedicated Ashtanga practitioner. But I did a workshop with you, which was completely eye opening. Something you said struck a nerve. One if the reasons I started Ashtanga (I was a marathon runner for almost 12 years) was to deal with irregular and painful menstrual cycles. Now I’m wondering if that was a good idea.
A: Some difficulties associated with menses and pain associated with cycle can be alleviated through Asana, but the practice has to be specifically designed for that. Ashtanga, while it may be very satisfying to you (as a marathoner that would make sense), may not be the practice that would serve to alleviate those symptoms and their causes. Slow restorative postures would be my suggestion for you. But the solution from a holistic (and Yogic) perspective might require more things. Meeting with an Ayurvedic specialist would be a recommendation that I would offer. Herbs, Yoga, Meditation, relaxation are the complete prescription. I’m sure you’ve tried some of those things. It may not be that they were necessarily the right things done with the holistic approach.
Q: I have a lot of questions about my practice…
A: 1. 108 is a number that is often used in the tradition. For one thing, it is the exact number of energy points in the body.
2. There are many rights and rituals associated to Gayatri and other mantras. Just practice sincerely, with your heart open and as you become more proficient, gradually increase the amount of malas you do daily. Don’t worry about the rituals. Life is complicated enough.
Q: After studying with you I’ve become inspired to do a regular practice. It’s hard for me to get to class more than two or three times a week. How often should I be doing it?
A: A lot depends on your goals. Twice a week is less than the ideal minimum to make a dent in one’s stress level. My experience is doing Yoga twice a week, while it’s better than nothing, is less than ideal to undo the significant amount of stress we all take on. 3 times a week generally is the minimum people require to begin to reduce the sum total of the stress they are experiencing. However, even twice a week can make a difference (I hope that doesn’t sound too contradictory). The fact is that everyone is under stress to a greater or lesser extent and would gain from taking some time out of their lives to address it. Bottom line is do it as much as you can, as often as you can, as consistently as you can. It also may be time to think about a personal practice. Twenty minutes a day may be better than an hour and half once a week.
Q: When it comes to asana, it’s just not as enjoyable as it used to be years ago. I no longer have a great pull to it. These days I do about 40 minutes of Asana and then Pranayama and meditation for about the same length of time. What do you think about my aversion to intense Asana practice?
A: Your consciousness is deepening and evolving. You may not have reached the point of mastery of Raja Yoga, but when you begin to taste the reward of meditation, then the pulls of the body and some of the pressures needed to be worked out of the body are reduced, making Asana less important. The scriptures actually address this. They say that, “when Raja Yoga has been achieved, what need is there for the other postures?” By Raja Yoga they are referring to a heightened level of clarity. When we have it, our body doesn’t hold as much stress. As a result we won’t have the same need for Asana. At this point, it’s less a desperate necessity and more of an adjuct toward a rewarding, beautiful and fulfilling life.
Q: I am in the process of figuring out whether I should sustain my current ashtanga practice of primary and a bit of second series on a daily basis. I have a feeling that I should scale back. Do you have any thoughts on this?
A: I can’t give you a direct answer whether or not you should stop doing Ashtanga on a daily basis. It may have at one time served you quite well. It is good to reflect whether or not your practice is supporting and enhancing your life, or whether or not it has become something you continue to do out of attachment. The Yoga Sutras say that one of the reasons we suffer is we continue to do things that, at one time, brought us success even though we have outgrown them.
It’s great to ask ourselves, at least once a year, whether or not our practice is serving us. Practice should be a bridge to realizing the highest meaning and purpose of our life. Ask yourself from a practical perspective: is my practice, given the specifics about my age, time, and needs right now, helping.
Once you know what you really want (in life), only then can you be clear if your practice is supporting or hindering you.