Yoga. Why?

 following on from
https://kevollier.com/2015/05/25/so-18-years-on-to-be-a-yoga-teacher/

I think my decision to do the teacher training has brought up a lot of questions, particularly the one that will I ever teach? I’m not sure I will. I have no intention to but then I hear so many teachers say that they said the same thing right up until they were qualified. But other questions that have been loitering in the back of my mind have come to the forefront and the questioning of yoga has begun; it reminds me of why we should question everything which was brought home to me by David Icke, no less, who’s conference I attended back in 1991, (which was his post turquoise/pre lizard period). He was giving an example of why we should question everything (and in yoga that means questioning the seemingly ‘they know best’ unquestionables).
David’s wife
was cooking something for dinner but before she added this whatever – it – was to a pan, she cut the corners off it and the conversation apparently went something like this:

‘Why do you cut the corners off that?’
‘Well that’s how it’s done, it’s always done like this’
‘Who says exactly?’
‘That’s how my mother has always done it’
‘Yes, but why? Could you ring her and ask her, right now?’
So Mrs Icke calls her mum and asks why she always cut the corners off to which came the reply,
‘We had to, it wouldn’t fit in the pan otherwise’ !

Kev Ollier - David Icke

How often do we leave a slug of tea in the bottom of a cup still? A memory from when there were tea leaves and I always leave a pool of tea and yet I’ve never had tea leaves!

It was at a workshop with Nancy Gilgoff – who is one of the original western students who studied yoga under Sri Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India – where I learnt why we ‘supposed to’ do a 6 day a week practice ( I say ‘we’, but I really mean ‘they’) and not a full 7 days. It was simply because Mrs Pattabhi wanted to go shopping with her husband and so it was changed from a 7 day to 6 day practice to placate her. This would then follow, that had she insisted on three days with her beloved, then the western Ashtangis would be doing a 4 days a week practice.  Who says it has to be so many days a week? Was it just Pattabhi or was it Krishnamachurya, Pattabhi’s teacher, who insisted, and if so, why? Was it because he had nothing better or more pressing to do?

Pranayama-Circle-Encinitas-75-1
Nancy Gilgoff practicing with Pattabhi Joisback in the day

At a Kino Macgregor workshop in London a couple of years ago, she explained that it is not essential to take your arms out to the side coming in to the first sun salutation in a crowded space, particularly if you’re likely to smack your neighbour in the face on the way up. Lifting the arms over the head and joining hands is all that apparently matters.
It was also Kino that expressed that there is so much dogma attached to yoga, especially with Ashtanga, in practices such as Nodi Shodhan (alternate nostril breathing) where she called the action of pressing the fingers into the third eye on the forehead as simply ego – it’s closing the nostrils alternately that matters.

kino_macgregor@yogaconference
Kino

It seems we all expect (without question) that Yoga, especially Ashtanga, has to have tropically heated rooms, so hot that if you close your eyes you could hear tree frogs. Gregor Maehle says that if you want to age prematurely in yoga then heat the room. I quote from a post he sent to Facebook about this very question

“I keep receiving questions regarding whether it’s important or good to heat the yoga shala and whether this aids in detoxing. I also hear people reasoning that the shala should be heated to emulate the heat of the gangetic plains in India, which is supposed to be the native environment of yogis. Now during the 1980 and 90’s I travelled extensively through the gangetic plains but I must say that I found them surprisingly bereft of yogis. On the other hand if you went up into the freezing Himalayas you found that the yogis were stacked up to the rafters. Surprising, isn’t it!
Do you remember that even Krishnamacharya went up into the Himalayas to practice tummo, yoga of inner fire, while sitting on the ice? You can’t practice that down in the gangetic plains.
Nowadays Western yogis are really emphatic about keeping the windows of the yoga shala closed. I remember that neither KP Jois old shala in Lakshmipuram nor the Parakala Matt in Mysore where T Krishnamacharya taught ever had any windows. And I remember that in January at 4.30 AM I always froze in those drafty windowless rooms. And nobody offered to turn on any heaters because there weren’t any!
People who practice in such a fashion usually age prematurely and if you look at them 10 years later they have a washed out and drained look to themselves because of all the prana they lost, by practicing too vigorously under too hot conditions.
Notice that the yogis were very concerned about loosing tejas (inner glow) and one of the ways of preventing that is to rub the sweat produced during pranayama back into the skin.
**This is a technique, however, that should ONLY be used in the context of pranayama and NOT during asana, during which excessive sweating should be avoided**
Hence, do not heat the room too much and if it’s warm outside keep the windows open. Many yogic texts (shastras) state that the shala should be well aired.”

Ekapada-Gregor
Gregor Maehle

Then there was the time that I was at one of the Brian Cooper workshops in Glastonbury. I respect Brian immensely, particularly for his ability and total honesty and his very dry sense of humour (at least I think it is). He was asked by one student as to what is the point in getting a leg behind your head and his answer was “there is no point, what’s the point to any of the postures, fun? To show off at a party?”  I love Brian.

brian
Brian Cooper

Of course, the BIG question is why do yoga? Usually you have to keep asking why to each answer you give yourself before you get to the crux of an answer and one that might surprise you. Was it really to be fitter? You could ruin your knees and go jogging to do that. Was it to try and stave off the inevitable, to look good, to feel young again-  or was it to go within, to your ‘true’ self? Maybe the first answers are what you think are honest ones yet maybe deep down it was the latter we seek. Eventually in yoga, to those that stay the distance, that turning inwards, will happen to everybody and surely that’s the idea? Yoga is a non-religious spiritual practice. It is not for atheists. If you’re an atheist and you’re practicing yoga then it’s simply not yoga – it could be exercise, it could be gymnastics but it certainly is not yoga, whatever the sign says above the door, and it really should go without having to keep reminding ourselves that there are eight limbs of yoga and the physical is just one, the lesser one at that, and more ‘yoga schools’ would be beneficial to teach, or to at least discuss, the heart of yoga – the other seven limbs.

Asana is by far the easiest limb to master. One’s self is the holy grail.

kala

So 18 years on, to be a Yoga teacher……….

Today, approximately 18 years after entering my first yoga class I am filling in the form to take the 200 hours teacher training. This, has been a difficult and soul-searching decision to say the least.

Kev Ollier acro yogic flying

It was all those years ago and being the owner of a security alarm business that stress got the better of me. Running a 24 hour business and having to respond at any time to a false alarm was trying at best and I lost my two best friends that year, one to cancer and one to suicide and I pretty much sort of flipped.

My very best friend was also my spiritual friend as we had both got on to that path together simultaneously a few years earlier getting quite heavily into Ram Dass and Buddhist teachings as well as dabbling in dowsing and visiting crop circles, stone circles, holy wells and ancient sites. Our choice of music changed from AC/DC and Motorhead to Enya. And when you go from Motorhead to Enya virtually overnight you know that something has shifted.
So his death was a terrible shock and was followed by my other great friend who having a poorly tummy that led him to go to the doctors also led him to his death just 6 weeks later, leaving two kids the same age as my own.

I spiraled into anxiety and depression.

Death was real. Loss was real. Fear was very real.

I went through months of thinking I was going mad, being outside of myself, avoiding crowds and supermarkets (though the latter I think is still advisable) and it was around this time that I was walking along Glastonbury High Street when I got talking to a hippy girl and found myself opening up to her – though this was normal at the time. I think I was so fearful of what was happening to me that I opened up to all and sundry. Anyway she advised I try yoga – which in my mind produced a picture of camp Scandinavian men in dodgy leotards and bad moustaches doing improbable body bending. (there are a lot of guys who, until very recently at least, hold some or all of those images of yoga guys- trust me on this).

Kev Ollier yoga .17

Besides this and having read the Celestine Prophecy I took this suggestion as a message and so I went along to a class with a wonderful teacher, published parapsychologist, Serena Roney Dougal. I was blown away. The class followed the teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati mostly from Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha – a renegade yogi apparently that shocked the yoga establishment at the time. (However Satyananda’s other significant move was to bring yoga into the domain of medical science, and explain esoteric techniques in terms of western anatomy and physiology). We did humming breath, stared at a candle for ages, nodi shodan, meditation and asanas and I left that class each week so calm, so clear yet as high as a kite, that lasted three days and seeing how Marijuana lasted only 4 hours and resulted in mostly talking bollocks, three days of renewed and organic clarity was literally a Godsend. I don’t think I missed a week and I never saw that girl who suggested the class again (and some of us may have a name for those beings).

41DGAtJpY4L

In time Serena moved on, spending 6 months of each year in an ashram in India but I couldn’t stop the yoga so I went to various hatha yoga teachers, all very good, drifted into an Ashtanga class about 12 years ago going a few times but not keeping it up for more than 3 weeks thinking it missed the spiritual element too much but 8 years ago, aging as one does and seeing the futility of the ‘staving off the inevitable’ gym life, I revisited the Ashtanga and got hooked and have been practicing ever since with the odd Hatha here and there thrown in.

It is my own Glastonbury teacher, Jane Piddington, student of Brian Cooper, who is running the teacher training in Glastonbury over 10 months, rather than a month intensive and it’s at least 30% less cost than other teacher trainings and Brian will be there to teach over two weekends.

For those who haven’t (unbelievably) heard of Brian Cooper, he was hailed by legendary yogi David Williams as ‘the real deal’. Brian has also co-founded Harmony Publishing which publishes out of print yoga classics and he is the Honorary Secretary for Scotland for the International Yoga Federation, an Honorary Member of the World Yoga Council, a member of the Advisory Board for the World Yoga Council, and on the Advisory Board of Yoga Alliance UK.

Kev Ollier with Brian Cooper

And – there are about 6 or 7 places left on the training if you’re quick!
http://www.ashtangavinyasayoga.co.uk/index.php/6/

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Why the yoga mat is undermining your practice – Brian Cooper

Brian Cooper. Probably the most down to Earth, un-fluffy, says it how it is, yoga teacher on the planet ruffles feathers with the yoga science of the non – mat.

copied directly from
http://loveyogaanatomy.com/attached-to-your-mat-why-the-yoga-mat-is-undermining-your-practice/

 

By Brian Cooper PhD and Chris Norris PhD

Much could be written about the psychological significance of rolling out your mat, with its implications of marking out your territory, creating your own space and perhaps saying something about your personality by the size and thickness of your mat. We will leave this for another article and focus on the anatomical error of mat-dependence.

If you are taking a yoga class and the teacher asks to put all props aside, away fly all the bricks, blocks, belts, bolsters and the whole paraphernalia of many yoga classes. But not quite all the props: Few would dream of also removing their mat. And yet they are the biggest, and in some ways, the most pernicious props of them all. They are both anatomical and psychological props, and they are pernicious because few students recognise the role they play in their practice. The general consensus is that props are useful for assisting in approaching a posture, but they should be discarded when it is recognised they are no longer useful and could even be holding a student back. But have you ever heard a student say ‘now I can finally discard my mat, I no longer need it’?

NO! Because students don’t consider the yoga mat as a prop, but a vital piece of equipment to, among other things, protect them from a hard floor, or an unclean or cold floor. Fair enough, but the trend over the last twenty years has been towards the STICKY MAT. Originally produced from carpet underlay to prevent whatever was being used from slipping on the floor, its purpose has shifted to preventing the student from slipping on the mat. One of the most frequent complaints of students who purchase a mat is that they are not sticky enough, and many mats come with instructions on how to get the optimal grip.

Let’s take a look at Adho Mukha Svanasana

Most dogs do this without rolling out a sticky mat. Humans using a sticky mat push their feet away until they are held by the mat, and use the reaction from this to lift the hips and straighten the legs. At the same time, they push their hands into the mat and exploit the hands being held by the mat to lift the hips and draw the head closer to the legs. Hence the typical upside down v shape much admired by humans but not so much by dogs.

AMS-web

The photo above shows the usual posture on a sticky mat. The arrows show the overall direction of horizontal force applied to the mat. This combined with a downward force of compression results in a ground reaction force which lifts the hips and provides the stability necessary to move deeper into the posture. The muscles stretched are the extensors which include the calves, hamstrings, gluteals and latissimus dorsi. The muscles contracted are the flexors which include the quadriceps, psoas and part of the deltoids. When you practice on a sticky mat, you use the reaction of the feet and hands to lift into the posture, and do not have to engage the flexors. You can hang out with very little work being done to contract them.

AMS1-web

The effect of the sticky mat is amplified in the above photo by pressing the heels into a wall, a prop commonly used to move deeper into the forward bend. Again, the arrows illustrate the forces acting at the heel, which produce an equal and opposite reaction directed towards the hips.

So what happens if we take away the mat or the wall?

AMS2-web

To make it clearer, let’s turn the posture upside down to give Navasana. Here we see that it is a mild forward bend where the anterior muscles need to be contracted to lift the trunk and legs against gravity. The arrows show the direction of action of the anterior muscles used to maintain the posture.

AMS3-web

The same applies to the above posture being practiced without a mat. The arrows show the overall direction of the forces required to prevent the feet and hands from sliding. The flexors are now fully engaged. In addition, the slipping action of your hands and feet on a floor rather than a mat creates instability. Removing your sticky mat challenges your body’s proprioception to make it ‘feel’ the movement more. The result is a far more active and mindful movement. To prove this yourself, practice Adho Mukha Svanasana on a sticky mat, and then on a wooden floor. Initially you will find your hands and feet slip. Keep practicing however, and you will find they no longer slip as much. Your hands have not suddenly become sticky of course, all that has happened is that you have learnt to adjust your body subtly to produce the exact amount of muscle force to stop slipping.

By discarding the sticky mat, the extensors and flexors are working together in a coordinated and balanced action which teaches the body useful and healthy movement patterns. The sticky mat over emphasises one set of muscles and encourages a loss of truly integrated movement.

Prasarita Padottanasana

PP-web

With the feet apart there is a natural tendency for the feet to slide further, shown by the arrows in the above photo, an action which is resisted by the sticky mat. In this asana we are stretching the hamstrings as we bend forwards and the hip adductor muscles because the legs are apart. We also use the quads and hamstrings to stabilise the knee. As we reach forwards our lats are lengthened and as we allow the body to draw down to the floor for the final pose our back extensor muscles lengthen. Many students, particularly beginners, use the advantage of the sticky mat to relax their adductors and take the weight onto the inside edges of the feet. The following variation-Baddha Padottanasana-helps us to explore the action of the feet and the adductors in a very stable position.

PP1-web

The mat is now replaced by clasping the hands behind the legs so the feet cannot slip apart. First push the legs strongly into the arms as you move into the forward bend which can be achieved with confidence. Go to your limit and now lift and activate the arches of your feet-you can do this by pressing the ball of the foot and big toe firmly downwards, and observe how much firmer your feet feel on the ground. At this stage, gently move your legs away from the arms as if you want to draw your feet together. This is the action we want to cultivate in the final posture without a mat. The adductors are now contracting, and the feet firmly planted.

Before moving to the final posture without a mat, let’s try one more variation to really feel the work the adductors should be doing in this posture.

Urdhva Prasarita Padottanasana

PP2-web

To move into a deep forward bend, you will have to engage the flexors and the adductors very strongly. It is these muscles which are being neglected in the usual posture done on a mat. Hold this position for 10 breaths, making sure the back is not rounding and you are lifting through the sternum.

We are now ready to take the final posture without the sticky mat.

PP3-web

The arrows in the above photo show the action required to hold the posture without the feet slipping. Again, as in Adho Mukha Svanasana, discarding the sticky mat will increase proprioception and enable muscles to work in a more balanced way. It teaches us to become more mindful or our body movement and limitations. If the above is not challenging enough for you, try it with socks!

Virabhadrasana 1

W1-web

Practicing this posture with a sticky mat encourages the front thigh to be pushed forward, and the weight taken onto the inside edge of the back foot, often with the result of bending the back leg. The posture can be explored further using the wall as a prop. This encourages grounding the outside edge of the foot with a resulting strengthening of the back leg. Again, these movements have to be cultivated if working without the mat.

W2-web

The photo below shows the posture without a mat. Now there is a tendency for the feet to slip apart (increasing hip abduction) and so the adductors must work more, especially on the back leg. On the front there will be more emphasis on the hip extensors to resist sliding into hip flexion. The feet must grip more without a mat and so the feet need a greater contact area which is achieved as above by activating the arch and grounding the outside edge of the back foot. The front femur feels as if it is being sucked into the hip socket. The overall effect is that of drawing the feet together.

W3-web

From the above descriptions we can draw some important conclusions highly relevant to the use of a sticky mat.

Essentially we are looking at synergistic actions which we learn as a motor program during walking and running. That is, hip and knee extension combined with plantar flexion of the foot / ankle. Although each muscle is working individually, the action is programmed into a single sequence (an engram) which is familiar to us and so requires less neural activity. Driving the heel down and lifting the arch of the foot combined with pressing the pelvis forwards to rotate the hip locks the lower limb joints more precisely – a sequence called ‘close pack’. During childhood we learn movement sequences such as lying, rolling, crawling, high kneeling, standing, side walk, forward walk, running etc. If we can lock into these sequences it becomes easier for a person to learn the action because the brain is familiar with the way the muscle groups and joints work together. What yoga is doing is to tap into these sequences and allow the body to function in an integrated fashion. If however we place too much emphasis on the use of a sticky mat, these sequences are blocked, leading to potentially harmful movement patterns which encourage unnatural movement combinations.

See also ‘Yoga Mat Death’ at
https://kevollier.com/2013/05/30/yogamat/

Profiles

Brian Cooper

Brian Cooper

Brian has been practicing yoga for a long time and is mainly self-taught. He completed the Primary and Intermediate Series with Sri K.P. Jois In 1990. He is currently working on Kechari Mudra without a razor. He holds a PhD in Biophysics and loves researching yogic practices from a western perspective.
His book ‘the Art of Adjusting’ was published in 2006 and is used in training programs world-wide.
He is the founder of Harmony Publishing which publishes out of print Yoga Classics including ‘Hatha Yoga’ by Theos Bernard and ‘Pranayama’ by Andre van Lysbeth, an early student of K.P. Jois in the 1950s.
Visit Brian’s website:
www.briancooper.eu
Find out about the trainings Brian is involved with:
www.unionyogatraining.co.uk

Christopher Norris

Chris Norris
Chris is a Chartered Physiotherapist (MCSP). He holds a Masters degree (MSc) in Exercise Science and a Doctorate (PhD) investigating spinal rehabilitation. Chris is the author of twelve books on physiotherapy and exercise, including textbooks on sport injuries (Elsevier) Back Stability (Human Kinetics), stretching, and exercise therapy (Bloomsbury). He is director of Norris Associates, a private clinic in Northwest England.
Visit Christopher’s website:
www.norrisassociates.co.uk

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