The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Thoughts on Yoga

Lynn—thanks for getting the brother some action in your screenplay. But remember: I never said people don’t make and release such movies. I said that white folks won’t turn out to them in numbers sufficient to cross the 100-million mark. Big difference in implication.
Regarding Yoga. I’ve done yoga on and off my whole life, starting with Richard Hittleman on television when I was about five. There are some opinions I’d like to express, in no particular order:
1) Yoga is the most advanced body-mind science available to the general public. Having been around six thousand years, they’ve gotten the bugs out.
2) The secret to Yoga is the breathing. Find a smooth, even breath (it can be intense, like Ujai breathing) and keep it through the entire session. NEVER break the “thread” of the breath. If you find your breath struggling, it means one thing: you are going too deeply into the posture. Regardless of what the teacher says, NEVER allow your breathing to interrupt. You can slow it, or speed it, but never hold it. Period.
3) If you have no other standard, find a female teacher over fifty who is in gnarly shape.
4) Yoga only seems to be about stretching. It is about focus, and unifying mind and body through breath. The first problem most people encounter is flexibility. There are other challenges: strength, balance, endurance, coordination.
5) Flexibility is more in the mind than the body. You literally have forgotten how to tell your body to relax.
6) A good pose is intense enough to require total attention, but not too tense to allow smooth breathing.
7) If you’re very athletic and confident: try Ashtanga. If you don’t have any idea how to judge a teacher, try Bikram. Both are real yoga systems that will get you there. The most conservative yoga system is Iyengar. Basic, powerful, smart. Hard to go wrong.
8) Avoid yoga classes taught by 19 year old aerobics instructors. Unless she’s a genius, she’s mistaking fitness-flexibility with the body-mind link. Come back and see her in twenty years.


Mark Jones said...

Thanks for the info...but can you define "gnarly shape" for me?

steve vh said...

Thanks for the reminders Steve. Very useful points from someone in Gnarly shape!

Steven Barnes said...

Strong enough to support her own weight with her arms. Lean-bodied. Flexible enough to put palms flat on the ground. For her age, obviously fit, healthy, energetic. Filled with life and sexual energy (you can feel it!). Clear-eyed, optimistic, centered, great sense of humor about life and its challenges.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Barnes busting out the Valley Boy slang ...

Elzabet said...

Is it possible to do yoga without all the spiritual stuff folks tack on?

Steven Barnes said...

It is absolutely possible to do yoga without the cultural trappings. Without the spiritual content, it can be addressed as a superior body-mind discipline by following the breathing, and never going beyond what you can manage without your breath getting choppy. Many teachers will talk spiritual stuff during class, but if you can learn to filter that out, what remains, (as Spencer Tracy said of Katherine Hepburn's body) is cherce.

Elzabet said...

Kewl. Thank you.

Oh and looooved Great Sky Woman.

Anonymous said...

"Flexible enough to put palms flat on the ground."

Do you mean doing so in a touch-your-toes waist bend?

Doug G.

AlanL said...

"Gnarly women" - limiting the selection to Americans, mostly ashtanginis, mostly ones with whom I am personally at least somewhat acquainted:

Annie Pace
Nancy Gilgoff
Louise Ellis
Ana Forrest

("Gnarlly" means something quite different in British rock climber slang, which is where I learnt it, and in that sense in no way applies to any of these magnificent ladies. But I think they are prime examples of Steve's definition)

Steven Barnes said...

Ana Forrest is definitely gnarly. Yeah, a touch-your toes. But that's really a hip bend, doncha know. But you need flexible back and hip flexors to get it.

Unknown said...

you said:

"Regardless of what the teacher says, NEVER allow your breathing to interrupt. You can slow it, or speed it, but never hold it. Period."

not true -- your average beginner should never block their breath, but a good teacher that understands the prana vayu may very well ask you to retain the inhale (hold the breath in) in order to build pran (not prana, but pran, a specific vayu under the heading prana, that is very inwardly directed and life-force building) -- same teacher may also ask you to retain the exhale (hold the breath out) in order to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and calm the mind as well as the energetic body

these are absolutely NOT things that should be tampered with by a beginner or one that hasn't had instruction and transmission of these ayurvedic teachings, but if you're ready or your teacher is properly trained and gives you such instruction, then enjoy

if you want to really explore how breath and bandha can be used to their fullest extent, do some training with rod stryker or someone certified in his Parayoga school -- it'll rock ya

note on ana forrest -- she ain't all that -- she still has to do 3 hours of asana practice every day to keep her head together -- if you're looking for a great teacher, find someone who can do a minimum of asana to support their meditation and pranayama, and still has something that you wish you had -- that's an authentic teacher

Unknown said...

Gnarly is surfer-speak for awesome or breathtaking.