February 2009
Yoga Vancouver
 B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga Association Newsletter
  July 2009

bks iyengar
"All that is required for success in yoga is cheerfulness, perseverance, courage, correct knowledge of the techniques to be followed, moderation in one's habits, and faith in the practice of yoga. Then the effects of yoga practice as enumerated by the sages follow. These are beauty and strength, clarity of speech and expression, calmness of the nerves, and increase of one's digestive power, and a happy disposition that is revealed in a face full of smiles." (B.K.S. Iyengar, from Yoga Wisdom and Practice )

In This Issue
Workshop Review: Gabriella Giubilaro
Workshop Review: Birjoo Mehta
New Iyengar Book Hits the Shelves
Goodies from the Web
Quick Links

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publish or edit all articles at their discretion.
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Mailing Address:
Box 60639
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Hello Friends,

Summer greetings! This is the season to enjoy things fresh, including your yoga practice. This might mean committing to a week-long sadhana at your regular studio, attending an out-of-town retreat, or deciding to spend those extra daylight hours on your yoga mat at home. Whatever you plan to do this summer, we hope that the articles in this issue will offer some inspiration for your practice.

The review of the Gabriella Giubilaro workshop is a joint effort by four teachers in our community, each sharing a personal perspective on the intensive.  The second review, written by Sarah Godfrey, captures the overall "feel" of Birjoo Mehta's workshop while highlighting some of its

wonderful and unusual details.

We also have a few news items and reminders so that you can set up for fall before immersing yourself completely in the pleasures of summer.  The hottest items are our two upcoming workshops (mentioned in our last bulletin in early June), for which registration has already begun: Leslie Hogya in early September and Father Joe Pereira in October.  If you are planning to attend, please register now.

Registration forms and details of all of the following events are on the Workshops & Events section of our web site: http://www.iyengaryogavancouver.com/events.


Sept 4-5:  Workshop:   LESLIE HOGYA

(Canadian Senior Teacher's Series)
Location: The Yoga Space  #202 - 1715 Cook Street, Vancouver BC

Oct 1:  First day of our association's new
membership year

We will send out a fall membership renewal reminder, but you don't have to wait! Renewal forms can be downloaded from:

Oct 2-4 : Workshop:  FATHER JOE PEREIRA
(International Senior Teacher's Series)
Location: The Yoga Space #202 - 1715 Cook Street, Vancouver BC

Nov. 29: Workshop:  BAYA HAMMOUDI presents:
A General Yoga practice
(Local Teachers Series, 3-hour Sunday Workshop)
Location: The Yoga Space  #202 - 1715 Cook Street, Vancouver BC 
2:00 - 5:00 pm

Workshop Review: Gabriella Giubilaro

by Elizabeth Adilman, Eve Johnson, Patricia Fernandes and Heather Graham; photos by Eve Johnson

Elizabeth Adilman: From the bottom of our feet to the fountain of our head

From bottom to top, this year's workshop with Gabriella Giubilaro was complete. I am not one to take a lot of workshop notes, but one thing I did write down was: FEET, FEET, FEET!

Gabriella reminded us about strong roots at the beginning of the workshop, asking us to press our outer heels down, ground our large toe mounds and lift our inner arches up.  These roots formed the foundation of our practice for the next five days.  Early on, we learned that by pressing the outer heel down, you can draw an imaginary line up to the outer hip, creating (as Patricia Fernandes called it) a retaining wall for the muscles of the leg. 

With strong roots, we were soon able to branch out. Urdhva Hastasana in Tadasana became Adho Mukha Vrksasana, which in turn formed the basis for both the back extensions and the forward bends. As in a perfectly choreographed performance, each asana laid the foundation for the next, so that by the end of the morning we were perfectly primed and ready for, well, lunch! 

Each day was wonderfully balanced.  No matter how hard we worked in the morning's asana class, with a long lunch break and pranayama to look forward to, anything seemed possible. In the question-and-answer sessions after lunch, we discussed home practice (both asana and pranayama), diet, philosophy and how to tackle specific problems arising in practice, such as where to place the hands for Sirsasana (the answer being just behind our fontanels or fountains of our head). If only every day were like this! 

Afternoons were dedicated to pranayama.  Once all our nails were appropriately trimmed, and we prepared our bodies with Ujayii and Viloma breathing, we moved on to digital pranayama where we learned the necessity of using both hands to keep both sides balanced (since we tend to move our heads ever so slightly toward the hand in use).

The roots of the teaching, the branches of Gabriella's breadth of knowledge and the leaves of willingness to learn all created wonderfully ripe fruit in this year's workshop with Gabriella. Good news! She said she'd come back next year.  So keep your feet firmly planted, your nails trimmed and save your pennies.  You won't be sorry you did.
Gabriella showing setu bandha

Eve Johnson: A tool for making a permanent change

I came to Gabriella's workshop with this question about Sirsasana: why do my hands become so tense and tired in the pose?

For the first few days, I wondered if she would take time to answer. We did Sirsasana every day, but she didn't address hand placement. Instead, Gabriella pointed out a student whose upper thoracic vertebrae were dropping back and down, and invited those of us with the same problem, including me, to feel the placement of the vertebrae in her upper back.

The next time I was in headstand, working with the wall so I could focus on my upper back, she pressed her fingers into my spine so I could feel the vertebrae lifting and pushing in.  Then we worked with backbends, including Viparita Dandasana with the feet on a chair.  In this version of Viparita Dandasana, you lie on the floor with your feet on the chair seat, as close to the chair as you can come, hands holding the chair legs. Then you lift your pelvis, bring your hands into place for Urdhva Danurasana, come onto the crown of your head, and clasp your hands behind your head. In this position, you can access your upper back with much less weight on your spine than in Sirsasana. The connection between the crown of my head and the upper thoracic vertebrae was a straight, unimpeded line, and when I felt that line, I could suddenly lift my upper ribcage.

Now I have the best possible thing you can take away from a workshop - a tool for making a permanent change.

In headstand, I now work constantly with bringing my upper ribcage in and up. Combined with the action of lifting the collarbones, which I learned in Pune in July, it has created a feeling of greater lift and freedom in headstand and, when practice is over, a new opening and lightness in my upper chest.

As for my original question? Perhaps I'm just too focused on my spine to notice, but my hands rarely feel tight or tired anymore.

Gabriella showing ardha chandrasana

Patricia Fernandes: Travels with my sciatic nerve

"Practice, experience yoga in your body, this is not a theoretical subject" - words to this effect linger with me after Gabriella's workshop.

For over 7 months I have been experiencing difficulties with my lower back and in particular sciatic nerve pain.  I underwent various treatments and modified my practice to asanas which eased the discomfort and did not aggravate the situation.  Things were improving.  I was dubious about how much I could do at Gabriella's workshop but decided that if I ended up observing, it would still be worthwhile.

Then in the second pose on the first day, she looked at me in Supta Padangusthasana and told me to rotate my left leg more.  From that moment on, I realized that I was taking the easy path in my yoga practice and that I needed to bring more effort and fire back.  The nerve pain improved immensely over the 5 days of the workshop.  A reminder to me that tapas is indeed a cornerstone to practice.
Heather Graham: A gift from Gabriella

This is the third workshop I have taken with Gabriella. Each time, I have been left daydreaming of running off to Italy, taking classes with Gabriella and generally enjoying being among the Italians. They might not all have her gift of firmness, caring and non-attachment but I imagine most of them have her gift of fun and laughter. 

2008 boardI admire people who speak more than one language, and I love Gabriella's accented English. I think this makes me better able to take in Gabriella's teaching instructions. Perhaps a different part of my brain fires up and I hear differently. 

Certainly, the "new" muscles in my hips testify  to my brain's ability to direct her instructions to the correct area.

Gabriella's teaching seems effortless yet she is very deliberate. Her sequencing was planned to achieve specific results over the five days, and she did not move on until she was satisfied that we understood her emphasis.  I admired her thorough approach: stopping everyone when necessary and declaring "a catastrophe" that required us to back up, repeat, to "get it". I hope to take that quality of thoroughness into my own teaching. Often I get attached to my class plan and feel it necessary to move on in order to cover it all.

The  asana teaching had something for all of us - including the mature, the less able, and those with current injuries or long-standing problems. Gabriella challenged us all on many levels yet I felt encouraged. 

I was especially grateful for her gift of sharp seeing.  For example, I did not mention my current hip issue yet on day two she sidled over to me. We were lying on our backs working on our hips in preparation for Padmasana. She said "This is great for you". I had felt sure my body did not show this problem - yet she saw with ease and mentioned it.  I felt that I had
received a gift from her, and hope that others received a Gabriella Gift, too.

Workshop Review: Birjoo Mehta
 by Sarah Godfrey; photos by Elizabeth Shaw

2008 boardClose to 50 participants gathered at the Yoga Space on April 16th to attend the four-day workshop with Birjoo Mehta from Mumbai, India. From the onset of the workshop Birjoo encouraged us to ask questions any time about a pose or the philosophy or to have him re-demonstrate if something was unclear. And yet, relatively few questions were asked, possibly because his explanations and demonstrations were beautifully clear and specific.

His use of analogy, metaphor and imagery was delightful and accessible to all. It was as though we didn't want to disturb him - or ourselves.
It quickly became evident that consciousness was to be the theme for the workshop; it was woven into every aspect we explored. Our quest was to understand how Patanjali's foundational sutra, 1.2: Yogah cittavrtti nirodhah ("Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness") was connected to what we do.  Birjoo also introduced the theme of dharma, explaining that of several possible definitions, the one he was offering was "action that creates no strife".  At best, this can be a code by which to live, and while practicing yoga asanas, we should do our best to cause little or no strife, hoping to achieve the "effortless effort" described by Sage Patanjali in Sutra 11.47.
2008 boardGoing Inward
As the poses progressed we were reminded frequently not to make 'whimsical' movements which disturb the breath and mind, causing us to lose our focus and stillness. A tip for the many teachers who were present was to keep their teaching points to a minimum and not to give "frivolous" instructions which tend to distract the students from their yoga. What the group experienced time and time again was an immense sense of calm, stillness and silence that engulphed the room as we performed each asana. As the age old saying goes, "you could hear a pin drop".  Birjoo gave us the following reminder several times: "Do what I tell you but not when I tell you." With this, we had permission to work wisely, at our own timing. If ever there was an endorsement for home practice, the four days with Birjoo was it. We knew what transpired in the room would be hard to duplicate and that the quiet or privacy of one's home might just be the best option.
As with most Iyengar workshops we started from the gross and worked towards the more subtle aspects of yoga: from the external to the internal. I think I can safely say the points mentioned for the feet in standing poses were all ones that we have heard our wonderful teachers remind us of on numerous occasions. However, it was the manner in which Birjoo constantly reiterated the point that made it feel fresh and helped to penetrate the action more deeply into one's cellular memory - a classic Iyengar trait.  In Utthita Trikonasana and Virabhadrasana 2 for example, while focusing intensely on the placement and pressure of the feet, our bodies practically aligned themselves and there wasn't the same need for the myriad of adjustments that we habitually make.
Smooth Sailing Warriors
To impart the essence of Virabhadrasana (Warrior 1), Birjoo used the images of Christopher Columbus and the sailing boat. With our arms thrust upwards like a mast, and the wind coming from behind and blowing into our sail-like torsos, we bent the front knee and set sail, all the while keeping the back heel tethered to the mat.  For many, Virabhadrasana 3 might have just been the best one they've done in ages. With the mast-like arms now parallel to the sea, the baby finger side of the wrists were pulled sharply away from the vessel of the body - like Christopher Columbus setting out on  his explorations. Ease and stability came more freely to all in this sometimes challenging pose.
Inspiring Pranayama
altarFor even the most seasoned practioner, Birjoo's take on pranayama was inspiring, creative and a breath of fresh air (no pun intended!). Throughout the ninety minutes of pranayama each day his message was clear: pranayama is not about the extension of breath; it is about the expansion of consciousness and being able to observe consciousness. His eloquent descriptions about the difference between asana and pranayama went something like this:  Asana is more about doing, like a sculptor always chiseling, each movement a scrape of the clay. In pranayama the process is more refined. Birjoo described the cooking of rice as an analogy for pranayama.  Set up the ingredients, light the stove and leave it alone. No peeking under the lid, because as we all know, the rice will be spoiled. He also provided a garden analogy to help us understand. Prepare the ground and plant the seed and watch for the seed to take root and for the plant to flourish. If we tamper with the dirt to see what the seed is doing, it has little chance for survival.   
Birjoo reminded us how the breath can be both an involuntary (auto pilot) and voluntary (manual) procedure. We started each session in Supta Baddha Konasana with feet elevated on foam blocks and a strap around the sacrum and feet. In this position we experienced how the inhalation must be voluntary while the exhalation is natural and takes no effort. This was the type of exhalation to remember in pranayama. In Setu Banda (with the pelvis on a plastic stool and support for the shoulders), we observed a type of natural inhalation that one should feel in pranayama. The various techniques of pranayama that Birjoo taught brought home how rich and powerful this fourth limb of yoga is.
Gunas and Vayus
Birjoo's description of the three gunas (qualities of nature) and their application to yoga asanas was insightful. For example, tamasic (inert quality) is not knowing what to do or how to do something. Rajasic (active quality) is when the student knows what to do (pull the shoulders back), but not how to do it. When one learns what to do and how to do it (e.g. lift the sternum to get the shoulders back and press the upper arm bones down), then the sattvic 
state (luminous, pure quality) is experienced. The struggle and strife disappears and the pose becomes more effortless and benevolent. Birjoo stated that the purpose of a prop was to make our poses sattvic.
We then explored the three main vayus -- apana (earth and water elements), samana (fire element) prana (air element) and their corresponding areas of the body : lower abdomen, midriff and heart region. We learned how to create space between each section and not have them collapse on top of each other like "crowded refugees".  For example in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog), we contracted the thighs strongly to pull the lower abdomen (apana) away from the diaphragm (samana).  As we continued the udana (thoracic) and vyana (entire body) vayus were introduced. Next the bija mantras or sounds which corresponded with the five major chakras were incorporated:  (lum with muladhara or root chakra), (vum with svadhisthana  or gonad chakra), (rum with manipuraka or navel chakra), (yum with anahata or heart chakra)  and (hum with visuddhi  or throat chakra). Through silent repetition and use of breath we accessed these different regions and discovered how these techniques enhanced the asanas. We were delving pretty deep! Birjoo at one point said "the moment consciousness observes itself there will be peace and tranquility."  What more could one ask for?
"Profound" was the one-word answer Ann Kilbertus (from Victoria) gave when asked of her experience of the workshop Birjoo had just given in their city.  I think that word best sums up the experience for those of us in Vancouver also.
New Iyengar Book Hits the Shelves

Cover Yoga Wisdom and PracticeLooking for summer reading? The beautiful design of Guruji's new book makes it a pleasure to browse. And at $30 Cdn for the hardcover edition, we'd almost say it was a steal (if that didn't violate the principle of asteya).

As described by Guruji in the Foreward to the book, "Yoga Wisdom and Practice is filled with gems extracted from the eight volumes of my Astadala Yogamala, covering yogic knowledge (vidya) and experienced wisdom (buddhi) for those who love and live in yoga."

In the absence of a reader's review (and please feel free to send us one for the next issue!)  here is the publisher's description:

Iyengar Yoga Wisdom & Practice is a practical and an inspiring anthology of Iyengar's insights into yoga, life and the path to peace and happiness. Yoga practice lies at the heart of the book, and it is illustrated with over 60 new step-by-step sequences of yoga postures specially shot in India and accompanied by Iyengar's illuminating observations on technique, their significance, and their benefits. This book not only presents Iyengar's practical advice on how to perform key yoga postures, but also draws on a wide range of other material taken from interviews and world lecture tours, to the many texts Iyengar has written about yoga and about his own life's journey.

Hardcover | 9.25 x 6.25in | 256 pages | ISBN 9780756642839 | 20 Apr 2009 | Dorling Kindersley

Goodies from the Web

glass candies

photo credit: Sir.Mo (www.flickr.com/photos /mmoosa/3504375822/#cc_license)

1. If you are seeking inspiration for home practice, you might like these illustrated practice sequences, courtesy of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of New York and the IYNAUS web site.

Click on this link to find two pdf files, one for level 1 and the other for level 2, each containing four practice sequences:

2. Ever wonder how a metal chair from an office supplies
store becomes an invaluable yoga prop? Here's a link to an article that shows you how to remove the back from a steel chair. (It gives separate instructions for using hand tools and power tools, in case you don't have a jigsaw and grinder handy...):

BKS Iyengar Yoga Association | PO Box 60639 | Granville Park Post Office | Vancouver | BC | V6H 4B9 | Canada