Yoga Rag Round-Up: Yoga Journal (Oct 2008)

A few interesting things this month:

WELL BEING: GOOD MEMORY by Hilary Dowdle (pp. 43)

A great micro-introduction to the idea of neuroplasticity, the brain’s continual self-reorganization as a result of experience.

“Many people still think of the brain as a machine that wears out over time--the gears start to slip, and the belts get loose,” says neuroplasticity guru Michael Merzenich, a professor at the Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience at the University of California at San Francisco. “But there’s a completely different way of looking at it. It’s a machine that’s constantly remodeling itself based on how you use it. When we start to lose our cognitive abilities, it’s not so much a problem of the brain’s physical condition but a result of how it’s been used.”

It’s great that this concept makes its way into the pages of Yoga Journal. The predominant take on yoga in the US is neo-religious, but some schools, such as Iyengar--the kind I practice and teach--has a very strong neuro-mechanical element which often gets looked down upon as being somehow less important than devotional practice.

BASICS: URDHVA MUKHA SHVANASANA by Natasha Rizopoulos (pp. 66)

A great break down of key points and variations of Upward Facing Dog.


An intermedate/advanced practice to strengthen the arms and core and open the hips in preparation for Ashtavakrasana (Ashtavakra’s Pose).

PEACE OF MIND by Nora Isaacs (pp. 83)

A look at the idea of the Buddhist practice of mindfulness within the context of asana practice.

MASTERCLASS: PINCHA MAYURASANA by Desiree Rumbaugh (pp. 101)

A short sequence designed to get you into Peacock Feather Pose/Forearm Stand from the perspective of Anusara yoga. If, like me, you are unfamiliar with the Universal Alignment Principles of Anusara Yoga much of the technical terminology may go over head, but it might be worth experimenting with as the language they use is very evocative.

And then, of course, there’s the usual panoply of inspirational and fluffy lifestyle stuff.

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Yoga Rag Round-Up: Yoga Journal

Here are four articles of note from the current, March 2008, issue of Yoga Journal, on newsstands now.

• YOGA SHOULDN’T HURT by Roger Cole (p.79)

This excellent article is a distillation of three excellent articles written for the Yoga Journal website on care and recovery for the hamstrings, the knees and the sacro-iliac joints. When students ask me about how to cope with these injuries, I often send them home with print-outs of these articles. He discusses the anatomical structures involved, how the injuries happen and what to do to both prevent and recover from them. Essential reading.

(For a listing of all his articles for the magazine, go here.)

• BASICS: TEACHER’S PET by Natasha Rizopoulos (p.54)

Ms. Rizopoulos’ article is an excellent primer on the essential aspects of Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog). She runs through all the basic do’s and don’ts, with good illustrations. (The model has a really beautiful Adho Mukha Shvanasana. It’s such a simple and modest pose, it can be easy to dismiss, even when done with skill. It's worth taking a moment to admire even the simpler poses when presented with a solid interpretation.)

See also Julie Gudmestad’s “Shoulder Saver” from the February 2008 issue for a more detailed look at the shoulders and rotator cuff muscles in this pose.

• HOME PRACTICE: RAY OF LIGHT by Richard Rosen (p.73)

A simple, well-illustrated walk through of a fairly basic Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation).

• ANATOMY: LOVE TRIANGLE by Julie Gudmestad (p.111)

Ms. Gudmestad goes into a lot of depth with regards to the positioning and strengthening of the neck in Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), useful for all the lateral standing poses, and an excellent preparation for Shirshasana (Head Stand) down the road.


Yoga Rag Round-Up: Yoga Journal

I found four articles of note to tell you about in the February 2008 issue of Yoga Journal. And because, of course, I am a man of opinions, I have a few comments to make about them.

• BASICS: WITH A TWIST, by Richard Rosen (pp.50-56):

Mr. Rosen gives us a breakdown of the seated twist Marichyasana 3. He has some great things to say about the pelvis (keep it neutral) and the lower abdomen (keep it soft), with a nice little exercise using Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose) with a block under the pelvis to explore the sacrum. There's also a great prone trunk lengthening exercise that he describes with a blanket roll under the hip joints. However, he tells us:

"'ll press your sacrum the left side of the sacrum in to twist left and the left side of the sacrum in to twist right."

Ouch! Especially if you have sacroiliac joint issues (as do I). I imagine his idea is to have the twist evolve evenly across the entire length of the spine, but putting pressure on the sacrum like that is not a good idea in my opinion. Better to keep the sacrum and pelvis aligned with each other and squared off with the legs, allowing the twist to happen higher up the spine in the thoracic vertebrae, where they have room to turn.

And if only Yoga Journal would actually feature a picture of a real beginner doing the pose, rather than the advanced person they have presenting it, seated on a very thin blanket and binding. But this is a constant problem with the magazine.

• THE SECRET TO BETTER ARM BALANCES, by Jason Crandell (pp.91-97):

I really liked this article. The model's poses are beautiful and well executed by Iyengar standards. Mr Crandell's text includes a nice balance of precise instruction and imagery.

• MASTER CLASS: URDHVA PRASARITA EKAPADASANA, by Desirée Rumbaugh (pp.103-111)

This is without a doubt an article for the advanced student. Both the sequence and the instructions are not for the beginner, and really maybe only for the more advanced intermediate practitioner of Anusara Yoga. I think this is great. There needs needs to be more high-level writing about asana out there. This sequence to lead you into the standing spilt of Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana (Single Leg Extended Up Pose) is taught from the perspective of the Anusara Yoga Universal Principles of Alignment, which I'm not qualified to comment on, but Ms. Rumbaugh's article is very interesting to read and her poses are masterful.

There was one thing that really leapt out at me as being dubious, however. She presents a forward-bending variation of Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana 1 (Single Leg King Pigeon Pose) as a hip-opener, which is certainly very standard. (Although, I believe, not approved by Mr. Iyengar who feels it is a distortion of the pose. It's always hard to know what to do with these proclamations from the Mothership, as he has been known to change his mind.) My disagreement comes with this suggestion that Ms. Rumbaugh makes:

"Keep your front foot flexed and your hip lifted up off the floor...To build ankle strength, keep your front foot flexed, with it's outer edge strongly rooted in the earth and the outer anklebone lifted. If your front ankle collapses, the pose will be less effective as a hip opener, and you will risk knee pain and possible injury."

To my mind, flexing the foot and lifting the ankle will cause the muscles of the outer hip and thigh to grip. It will certainly increase the sensation in the outer hip, but if the muscles are engaged, they cannot possibly stretch, and the range of motion of the femur will be limited. Knee pain in this pose is likely to come from the femur not turning out enough to bring the top part of the knee joint into alignment with the bottom part. Gripping the outer hip muscles will do nothing to help that. Better to support the thigh with a prop (block, bolster, blanket) so as not to sink too deeply into it, relax the leg by allowing the sole of the foot to turn up towards the ceiling and the outer ankle to drop. Focus instead on turning the top of the femur out in the socket to bring proper alignment back to the knee joint.

• ANATOMY: SHOULDER SAVER by Julie Gudmestad (pp. 113-115)

Ms. Gudmestad addresses some foundational principals of how to use Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) to keep the rotator cuffs healthy and strong. Essential reading.

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Yoga Rag Rag Round-Up: Yoga + Joyful Living
Yoga Rag Round-Up: Yoga Journal "My Yoga Mentor Newsletter"

Yoga Rag Rag Round-Up: Yoga + Joyful Living

Yoga + Joyful Living, the magazine run by the Himalayan Institute, is a little light and fluffy for my taste, but their heart is in the right place and it often features some great information. Here's a selection of highlights from issue 99 (January-February 2008) on newsstands now:

"Pilgrimage of a Lifetime! Journey to the City of the Gods" by Sandra Anderson

"At a spiritual festival in India every January, millions of pilgrims and adepts use the nexus of cosmic energy to empower their personal practices and to promote the welfare of all living beings. What can you expect if you join them?"

The link will take you to the text of the article, but it's worth checking out the magazine for the beautiful pictures of the festival.

"Sutra II.3: The Source of Suffering" Translation and Commentary by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

Commentary on the kleshas, the five inherent causes of affliction.

• "Abs to the Rescue" by Doug Keller

"The health of your back depends on the support of your abdominals--but not the ones you think."

Doug Keller's article features a discussion of the structures of the spine and the supportive nature of the different parts of the abdominal wall. It also includes some strengthening exercises. Keller maintains an archive of his articles here, posting each one after it is no longer available on newsstands.

Yoga Rag Round-Up: Yoga Journal "My Yoga Mentor Newsletter"

I am really not a fan of Yoga Journal these days. Over the past few years it has become more and more unreadable, with only the occasional article and Julie Gudmestad's anatomy column worth spending the time on. In its heyday, in the eighties and nineties, it was a wonderful resource of valuable information, but now it's mostly full of puff pieces with recipes and beauty tips and some occasionally very bad practice sequences. Every so often, however, some good stuff gets through, especially on the website, where they have an excellent page and newsletter ("My Yoga Mentor" which you can subscribe to on the teacher's page) geared towards teachers.

This month's newsletter includes an interesting article about sequencing by Richard Rosen, a Piedmont-based yoga teacher, contributing editor to Yoga Journal and author ("The Yoga of Breath" and "Pranayama Beyond the Fundamentals"). It features a short discussion on how to sequence, plus the following sequences:

• 45-Minute Beginners
• Advanced Beginners
• Headache
• Menstruation
• Depression
• Groins
• Shoulders
• Forward Bends
• Backbends

Check out also, from a few years back, this excellent article: "The Principles of Sequencing" by Donald Moyer.

The newsletter also features a great short piece from Ms. Gudmestad about setting yourself up for Shavasana (Corpse Pose), and a piece by Sara Avant Stover about different approaches to the pose, "Sink Into Stillness" and a short Q&A with John Friend.

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