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

bks iyengar
"Discipline, practice and dispassion are the essentials that go hand in hand with the mastery of any art. Without discipline and freedom, art cannot develop, nor can one become a true artist. This is one of the cardinal teachings of Patanjali which applies to all subjects. Freedom is the culmination or fruit of discipline; there can be no freedom without it. "
(B.K.S. Iyengar, from The Art of Yoga )


In This Issue
Workshop Highlights: Leslie Hogya
Student Profile: Marina Dodis
Enhancing Creativity: The Yogic Way
Goodies from the Web
Quick Links

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Hello Friends,

With the days getting noticeably shorter and colder, we thought we'd focus on bright ideas in this fall edition of the newsletter.
The first article presents some highlights of Leslie Hogya's workshop in September. The others follow a theme of "yoga and creativity", with which we dedicate this edition to the memory of Wende Davis, a beloved teacher and artist in our community who died in August of this year.
There is an interview with local yoga student and professional photographer Marina Dodis, an article about yoga and creativity, and a link to a series of interesting lectures by a neuroscientist who's fascinated by the mystery of creativity. Happy reading!

Wende self portrait
self-portrait by Wende Davis


Sunday, 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

Saturday, Dec. 5: Annual General Meeting of the BKS Iyengar Yoga Association
Location: The Yoga Space  #202 - 1715 Cook Street, Vancouver BC 
3:30 pm
All members welcome!
To RSVP, please email Niki Karmali at nakarmali@shaw.ca.

Workshop Highlights: A Weekend Workshop with Leslie Hogya

Hosted by the BKS Iyengar Yoga Association
September 4-5, 2009 at The Yoga Space, Vancouver
photos by Elizabeth Shaw

When Leslie Hogya began her workshop, she set as a context for our practice III.24 of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras:

[The yogi] gains moral and emotional strength by perfecting friendliness and other virtues towards one and all.

"The value of practice is found in how we live our lives when we're off the mat," Leslie said, adding, "Yoga practice involves opening one's heart to other people, even in challenging situations."

It was with this tone established that she guided us through a Friday night and Saturday infused with the work of her last trip to Pune, in December, 2008, and set us, students and teachers alike, on a secure footing as we started the fall session. 
Leslie helping with Trikonasana
 Among the many valuable hints:

1. In last December's classes, Geeta Iyengar emphasized learning to move the outer femur in.
In Vrksasana, for example, keep the standing leg and the pelvis stable and make the raised leg more mobile as you move the outer femur bone into the socket a few times. Then, as you lengthen the inner thigh from inner groin to inner knee, move the top of the outer femur in toward the hip joint.
In Parighasana, start with the extended knee slightly bent. Straighten the leg by drawing the femur head in toward the hip socket.

2. Activate the inner thigh muscles, moving them toward the femur. In Ardha Chandrasana, try turning the toes of the raised foot up toward the ceiling. Chances are that a casual observer won't see much turn, but you will feel the inner thigh action.

 Leslie demonstrating Parivrtta Trikon.3· Try Parivrtta Trikonasana without turning the back foot in very much. Keep the foot of the back leg turned in only about 30 degrees and see, after practicing this way for some time, whether it improves your stability in the asana.

 4· Try moving into Bharadvajasana I by swinging your arm around to catch your elbow. Repeat several times before holding the pose.
Leslie is a seasoned practitioner and a senior teacher who has studied at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune many times, most recently in December 2008 when she also took part in Gurujií's 90th birthday celebrations. Leslie is the president of the Iyengar Yoga Association of Canada (IYAC).

Student Profile: Marina Dodis
Marina DodisMarina Dodis is a professional photographer who has been taking yoga classes with Vancouver teacher Louie Ettling for several years.
In a recent conversation with fellow student Susan Benson, she shared some of her ideas about how her yoga practice and her creative practice of photography influence one another.
To see some of Marina's stunning photographs, visit her blog at blog.marinadodis.com
How has yoga influenced your work as a photographer?
A lot of my work tends to be quite physical - awkward angles and a lot of equipment to haul around. So I need to do some preparation beforehand and I'll often do something after as well, especially in the evening. Before bed, I'll do "the three poses that saved my life" : Uthitta Trikonasana, Uthitta Parsvakonasana, and Parivrtta Trikonasana. So I find that those three poses are enough to get me back in alignment, to stretch everything out.  If you want to plan for the future as a photographer, you have to be doing some sort of activity that's going to give you that longevity. Yoga has given me that with work and art and all sorts of physical things. I'm still able to do all sorts of physical activities that I see people around me stopping.
One of the aspects of my work, particularly the commercial work, is that you have to be on at a specific time. It's not a type of work that I can just do when I feel like it - I have a specific time in which I have to produce creatively, so I have to do a lot of preparation to be able to do that. Part of the preparation is to make sure that I'm mentally and physically sharp. I have to be enormously flexible when I'm working. I don't mean physically, but mentally. I have to be able to go with what's happening. It's completely unpredictable. I mean you can try to make it somewhat predictable, set it up and try to keep it contained, but you have to allow things to happen out of that. You take a person to a location and you're hoping they'll respond to that location.
So there's an aspect of allowing in my work, and there's probably some parallels in yoga, where you can`t be overly mechanical about it. Like Louie has said, you should be pushing yourself but you shouldn`t be straining or creating tension. I think that's an interesting approach to yoga: you're not just physically trying to do it but you're easing yourself into it and allowing it. It's about leading your body into it within certain parameters. So those things
resonate with me and make the yoga appealing, because, you know, it has to be. There's a point where there's no turning back, because if you miss a few days of practice, you don`t feel the same. Life without yoga is not going to give you that same flexibility of your existence in general - the physical and mental.
In your commercial work, say your portraits, is there also a creative element, a sense of the spirit coming through you?
Yes, there are intersections with meditation, with yoga. A lot of the portrait work is about trying to make other people comfortable, to be themselves, and there's a range of how easily people can do that. A lot of the times you're trying to help the person come forward and reveal themselves. I know that how I am affects how they are, and so there's a little dance that you do. I'm a bit of a shy person and so it's not really easy for me to do that, but then I don't really have a choice. Occasionally I'll give them a yoga-like instruction, about their breathing or putting their shoulders down so they can relax. A lot of people I work with don't really want to have their picture taken, so you have to create a safe place for them. There's a lot of trust involved, and it's very much a collaboration. You have to draw people out but you also have to let them know that you have their best interests at heart too. It's kind of an interesting relationship.
How does your creativity affect your yoga practice?
I gravitate toward getting to something at a deep level, and maybe that's linked to the creativity. I don't have just a superficial demand of yoga, like feeling better or not having a stiff back. What I really like about yoga is that there are so many layers of how far you can go with it and that it's a practice that doesn't have an end.  You can do one pose so many times and still learn. I think I've learned something from every single one of the classes that I've gone to with Louie, which is remarkable considering how long I've been going. Photography is also something in which you never stop learning, depending on what level you're at. I think I'm at that level in both photography and yoga.

Enhancing Creativity - The Yogic Way
By Ashwini Parulkar

Lord Shiva / NatarajaA couple of years ago, as I attempted to practice pranayama, I had a strange experience. As I let my mind unwind and ease towards the fringe of the subconscious, an unusually long poem learnt in school - and long since forgotten - suddenly surfaced to consciousness. While the incident indicated immature pranayama practice because the object of pranayama and the successive steps of ashtanga yoga are to rise above mental tribulations - it does prove a point: The practice of yoga opens a channel to the more intangible aspects of Being.

The conscious mind is like the tip of an iceberg. It is merely a fragment of the all-pervasive consciousness or citta, which includes conscious and subconscious states, intellect (buddhi) and ego (ahamkara). Psychologists agree that most creative concepts stem from subconscious experiences. A very similar view is propounded by sage Yajnavalkya in the Brihadaranyaka Upanisad when he elaborates on the role of the Spirit in dreams. He likens the "Golden Spirit" in the region of dreams to the "Wandering Swan" creating his own visions of grandeur.  In the realm of the subconscious, each Spirit is a Creator and a law unto himself. In most cases, dream experiences are lost upon waking. This is precisely where creative persons differ from others. They seem to have an intrinsic ability to access free-floating mental states bordering on sleep and wakefulness. This is the zone from which the creative concept (inspiration) stems. Once the germ has been accessed, it takes total focus, discipline and conscious effort to structure it into an aesthetic whole.

That our ancient yogis were artists at heart is beyond doubt. The aesthetic value of asanas, as well as the literary merit of Upanishads and similar texts is obvious. In fact, in classical Indian art, music and literature, the aesthetic form is inextricable from the spiritual content. Not surprising, since Lord Shiva, the Father of Yoga, is also revered as the Father of Art. Up to a point, one finds a great deal of similarity between the principles of asana and pranayama practice and the pursuit of art. There is, for instance, the same need to lapse into "alert passivity"; to be sensitive yet detached from internal and external stimuli; to sublimate the ego; to transcend subjective experience and develop a universal perspective. Which is perhaps why a practitioner of yoga can make a better artist.

Neela Bhagwat, classical singer, testifies to this. She feels her performance improved immensely after she discovered yoga. In fact, so besotted was she with the subject that she used to write poetry on it while travelling to yoga class! At one level, being a voice worker, her performance levels are directly related to lung capacity. Chest-opening postures and pranayama practice helped no end in improving her tonal modulations. At a subtler level, she feels, instructions in the yoga class are more than just that - they are also directions for life and art. For instance, the instruction to "activate certain muscles and pacify others"  translates directly into music as "activate certain notes and restrain others for better rendering of the raga". Not that she wasn`t doing it earlier. However, when an inadvertent action is consciously experienced in a different context, and effectively articulated, it makes for deeper sensitivity and insight into one`s own field.

"In Yoga," says Neela, "as in music, there is a sthayi bhava (defining characteristics) and a sanchari bhava (innovations within a framework). Very often in class, a simple, basic posture is practised in a totally radical manner to enhance the experience, and that too without distorting its essential form. I find that really inspiring. It lends me the sensitivity and confidence to explore a raga to its full potential, to come up with radical configurations without foregoing essential requirements." No wonder, then, that Lord Yehudi Menuhin acknowledged Guruji as his best violin teacher!

As mentioned earlier, the creative process is a combination of inspiration and conscious effort. While inspiration provides the abstract idea, the final product is only achieved through focus, discipline and sheer hard work. This is where asanas are really effective. They provide a direct access to the mind through the medium of the body. As the body goes through the rigours of organised movement and struggles to attain precision within a physical framework, the mind is automatically contained within the pose and trained to stay in the present.

Asana and pranayama practice is all about being within oneself and existing in the moment. We have often heard Guruji say, "Create space in the elbow joint!" or, "Open your knees, let the consciousness flow!"

Obscure as it may sound to a lay listener, a serious practitioner of yoga knows just what is expected: explore the depths of existence, sheath by sheath, starting with the physical body and moving inwards, till you find a place to dwell within yourself. This "space within the self" is the only respite from the chaos without. It is also the mainspring of impulses, repressed or forgotten impressions and intuitive understanding.  In other words this is where the creative instinct springs from. An artist's ability to create is directly proportionate to his or her ability to locate that instinct and tune into it completely, without undue stress or distraction.

One needs to realize, however, that the association can be carried only up to a point. Creativity implies a blossoming of all the faculties: physical, mental, emotional and intellectual. Although inspiration comes from within, the content is usually drawn from the external world. Therefore the mind has to be constantly tuned in to outward stimuli and internalise them. Yoga, on the other hand, is the sublimation of all the faculties and a constant turning inwards, especially in the later stage of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. This is probably why one would have to be really gifted to be a great artist and a great yogi at the same time.

Reprinted with permission from Yoga Rahasya 10.1 (2003)

* photo credit lotusscultpure.com
Goodies from the Web

glass candiesThe Artful Brain

Can creativity be explained in terms of the workings of the brain? You can read or listen to ideas on this topic by renowned neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran, whose 1993 Reith lectures are archived on the BBC web site below:
(Of greater interest to the student of yoga philosophy might be the fifth and final lecture --available via the same link-- in which Dr. Ramachandran links neuroscience to ideas about the self.)

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