I'll get on to the headstand section of the post further down ( also the article on father Joe, along with Ryan's Yoga for Youth program, all add perhaps to the Encinitas Ashtanga in Schools discussion), but first let me tell you about my friend and brother in yoga, Ryan Leier, who perhaps you already know.
Ryan Leier is one of my favourite people that I've never met in our yoga community. I can't remember how we made contact on fb but it was probably connected to Ramaswami as Ryan had studied with him along with Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois and Father Joe Pereira (more on Father Joe later).
One of the things I do remember is, a year or so back, Ryan travelling across Canada in an old yellow school bus stopping off here and there and teaching yoga to kids (Ok that's how I remember it, the details of that project may be a little different and I can't find a picture anywhere of the ruddy bus so perhaps I imagined it). I loved that idea, getting out on the road and teaching yoga. Plus, back in the years (and years) I spent travelling rough, I once hitched a ride across the Rocky's in a similar old yellow School bus, with some itinerant tree planters. That bus and the BC mountain roads scared the hell out of me.
Recently I came across a video that Ryan had produced for YogaOnline called The Rain Dance. I don't tend to watch Yogaonline videos ( though seem to remember some old Ashtanga ones set in Wyoming a bunch of years ago) but I have some friends who swear by them and besides I was curious how Ryan, with his Ramaswami background would approach the class.
more preview/sample video's from Ryan here
I have to say, watching it was an ...epiphany moment, seeing pretty much, give or take, my own approach to my extra evening practice (I practice krishnamacharya Ashtanga in the morning, shorter vinyasa krama and pranayama practice in the evening) in a yogaonline teaching context, those slow arm raises, the vajrasana (for example) subroutine Ryan demonstrates/teaches, this is my practice, this is how I practice in the comfort of my own home.
I could teach this, I should be sharing this....more
OK Ryan has been doing this a long time, he's clearly excellent at what he does and it would take me years to be able to communicate the practice as well as he does, but seeing my approach to practice, Ramaswami's, Krishnamacharya approach to practice, coming through in this yoga class context was quite an eye opener. That anyone might want to take a class/practice and raise their ams that slowly.....
Does that make sense?
There's a good interview with Ryan on Feed the yogi here
A sample Q and A from the interview
RS: What is it about a yoga practice that’s different from sports or theater or other hobbies? What about yoga would help someone be more aware and more loving or encourage those traits?
RL: Yoga gives people the tools that they need to become comfortable in their own skin and to make good, conscious choices rather than following peer pressure or rather than following habitual ways or cultural standards that aren’t always kind, loving and truthful. I think that yoga helps people to connect with their personal power and their ability to love themselves and others.
Yoga also brings people to honor their bodies. In class we encourage them to come from their hearts and their feelings and intuition rather than doing poses because they’re competitive or because they think everyone else is doing it. It makes them mindful of their actions, their words, their thoughts and it empowers them to learn what they can do and what they can go through. We challenge people in yoga classes, we put them into situations on the mat that are really hard and we make them stay in it and find comfort and just breathe through it even when things get tough. I think that the longer someone can stay in a pose that’s safe, but is challenging and uncomfortable… That learning to work through their physical challenges and discomfort makes them more tolerant and loving people who are accepting of others and accepting of life.
RS: Can you say a little about the perception that yoga is a religion? How do you teach mindfulness and spirituality without teaching religion, or do you? Is that a part of your program?
RL: We talk about things a bit differently. We don’t talk about God but sometimes in Savasana we say things like “Let that force that is breathing you… Whatever you think it is… Let it take care of you and relax with it.” We talk about surrendering and letting to the earth and to the sky like with the native spirituality. Sometimes we use language like soul or spirit, but if we do use that language or if we talk about Jesus or the Buddha, we make sure to say that it’s just one way of describing things. We use a lot of language like joining with your highest self or conscience, and what we’re talking about is the power of love. I guess we use the word love interchangeably with god.
The inner cities have lots of Native American kids whose tradition has really been suppressed and dishonored in Canada so we often incorporate certain aspects of their tradition, like the elements, the earth, sky, fire and water into our teachings. And at the end of the class when we say Namaste we also say words from Crazy Horse, “I salute the light within your eyes where the universe dwells. For when you are at that place within you and I am at that place within me we shall be one.”
We like to honor those teachings of the Mother Earth and the Father Sky. We’re on sacred land, here on Earth, and also as our bodies and in our minds we’re sacred.
What we’re teaching is not religious. We’re not asking them to be any certain way. We’re empowering the kids to really be themselves and we’re basically teaching them that at the core of who they are, they’re no better, no worse, no different than anyone else, there’s no superiority and no inferiority. We say things like “Have a proud heart and a humble chin”. What this program is doing for these kids is uplifting the kids that really need to be uplifted who are shy, insecure and maybe unhealthy. And it’s helping to humble the kids that have learned to bully or look down on their peers. The program works to bring young people into their center where they really are perfect and there’s nothing wrong with them and there’s nothing to prove. We’re trying to teach them to connect to that part of themselves. I think that’s really the heart of what yoga is.
Ryan Leier - Founder and Head Teacher Vinyasa yoga for youth
Ryan Leier is a dynamic, inspirational yoga teacher who brings his energy, humour and philosophy to every class he teaches. Ryan has realized his vision of yoga through the foundation of his yoga studio, One Yoga, as well as the creation of Vinyasa Yoga for Youth, a progressive, innovative non-profit program designed to meet the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of youth in the public school system. Ryan began his yoga practice with sitting meditation, eastern philosophy and religious studies in high school and university. He then used his practice as a means of dealing with injuries and enhancing performance during his professional basketball career. He left behind his basketball career and university study to devote himself full-time to yoga. What began as a physical practice for strength and flexibility quickly became a lifestyle. Ryan teaches his students to take their yoga off the mat and apply the principles learned in class to their lives outside of the studio. He not only teaches this philosophy, he lives it. His yoga practice involves raising his 6 year old daughter Kiyah, who periodically visits the studio to join the classes and help with endearing gentle assists. Ryan practices and teaches according to Sri BKS Iyengar’s words: “The body is the temple, the postures are the prayers.” Ryan is primarily a student of Krishamacharya’s yoga, as are all of his teachers. In addition to teacher trainings in the Vinyasa and Iyengar traditions, Ryan continues to study with his main teacher Father Joe Pereira by whom he’s been authorized to teach. Ryan also studies with Baron Baptiste, Dharma Mittra, Eddie Modestini and Nicki Doane, he has also received instruction from Ashtanga Guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Not only does Ryan seek to expand his studies internationally but he also remains rooted in the value of what those around him have to offer and receives teachings from the Elders in his home province of Saskatchewan, which comes from the Cree word kisiskaciwani-spiv meaning ”swift flowing river.” When asked what yoga is, this is what Ryan has to say: “Through yoga, the impossible becomes possible. We spend so much time separating ourselves form one another, yoga brings us together. As we ascend the spine and descend the brain we become whole, integrated or One. Experiencing Oneness (yoga) is possible for all people regardless of their age, gender, skin colour and even their health. Steady practice is the key to success in yoga.”
And here's some info on Ryan's excellent Vinyasa Yoga for Youth project, love this.
Vinyasa Yoga For Youth empowers youth aged 5-22 through the practice of Yoga. Our primary focus is on the unique challenges facing “at risk youth”. Yoga helps discipline the body and mind and leads youth towards healthier life choices, an enhanced capacity for love and compassion, and ultimately a more meaningful life experience. The program supplements curriculum in primary and secondary schools in both urban and rural contexts by (a) providing in-school workshops, (b) supporting afterschool programs and youth groups, and (c) holding weekend and summer retreats. We believe in the power of yoga and that peace begins with the children.
|Ryan and his lovely daughter and teaching assistant, Kiyah|
Rev. Fr. Joseph H Pereira and the Kripa foundation
Rev. Fr. Joseph H Pereira is the Founder and Managing Trustee of the Kripa Foundation, which is devoted to the care, support and rehabilitation of those affected by Chemical Dependency and HIV and AIDS. Since its inception in 1981 in Bombay, the Kripa Foundation has grown exponentially and forms a vital links to providing social stability in eleven Indian states through various multifunction facilities and also has association in other international locations in Europe, Canada and the USA.
Known to all as Fr Joe, and many others as “the Singing Priest”, he prefers not to highlight his academic qualifications of Masters in Psychology and Philosophy from University of Bombay, Licenciate in Divinity (Theology) from Bombay and Poona, Certifications in Counselling Theory and Practice (Carkuff Model) and expertise from the Hazelden Institute of Minnesota, USA.
Most cherished of all Academic achievements, is his decades of involvement with Yoga, first as a patient, pupil and practitioner, then in later years as a Certified Trainer and in recent decades as a friend, associate and an International Mentor of the Guruji B K S Iyengar School of Yoga, Pune. This involvement is so extensive that the holistic component of Kripa care has been strengthened by the gift of self knowledge through sets of Yoga practices developed by Guruji B.K.S.Iyengar. Fr Joe carries this message with him and delivers it to all who ask for it, during his national and international travels. These modules and his personal instructions and observations are delivered in a unique style that provides demonstration, learning and solace through the audio cassette titled “The Silence of the Spirit” and a video cassette titled “Living with AIDS'
Fr Joe is the National Co-ordinator in India for the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM) and is the Author / published an audio CD " Wholeness and Holiness" , a Handybook/DVD titled " Yoga for the Practice of Christian Meditation", a Handybook/Audio CD "Learning to sit in Meditation: and an Audio CD "The Whole Person in Prayer"
Fr Joe is a Class A Trustee ( Non Alcoholic) of Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) in India.
Ryan just sent me a picture of Father Joe and Mother Teresa
And a link to an article on, and Interview with, Father Joe
This from the article, along with Ryan's Yoga for youth program, feeds in nicely perhaps to the Encinitas Ashtanga in Schools debate.
"Since B.C. yoga practitioners come from a variety of spiritual and secular backgrounds, Ettling said, "Father Joe asked them to focus on that which would help them connect with their own understanding of the absolute."
Calling yoga a "spiritual practice" rather than a religion, Pereira believes it dovetails with Christianity and other faiths because it aims to access the spirit of God that resides in all people.
Hindus might call this spirit the Self, or atman, Pereira says. Like Christians who believe God is incarnate in people, Hindus similarly believe the Self is, at the mystical level, the same as God, or Brahman.
The priest says it's only through deep relaxation, which comes through yoga, meditation and related spiritual practices, that humans can calm their anxious minds and open to the presence of God. His message seems perfectly suited for many Canadians, especially those on the spiritually eclectic West Coast".
WHERE TO PLACE THE HEAD IN HEADSTAND
So this started out as a conversation between Ryan and Chiara and myself on fb in relation to a passage on Sirsasana in Yoga Makaranda (part II)/Salutations to the teacher and the Eternal One.
"19. SIRSHASANA--HEAD STAND
This asana is so called because the head supports the whole body. This is also variously called KAPHALASANA, BRAHMASANA. These three, however, differ to some extent both in the technique and in the benefits derived. These differences have to be learnt under personal instructions form a Guru".
Sunday at 19:35
Anthony Grim Hall Hi Ryan Ramaswami refers to them in his books briefly. Basically saying the same thing as K, but then Ramaswami mentions in a comment on my blog that he was given a document to copy for his Indian Review articles, while a trustee at KYM in the 80's, that seems to have been Salutations to the teacher the and the Eternal one (since released by AG Mohan as Yoga Makaranda part II). He does say though that it's to do with the different parts of the head. I remember a discussion a while back about which is the best part of the head to place on the ground in headstand (see claudias article below), the crown, a little forward or a little back, something to do with that perhaps. Ramaswami does say that Kapalasana ( skull posture) is unsupported, the mukta hasta sirsasana variations in Ashtanga second series with the palms on the mat.
"Sirsasana, which is also known as kapalasana and Brahnasanam, depending upon the contact part of the head on the ground (this is however to be learned from great yogis who could only tell the difference) leads itself to a variety of vinyasas". Sirsasanam Indian Review Article 16 (Written when trustee of KYM).
" ...you will be balancing on both your palms and your crown. this posture is called mukta hasta sirsasana, or the headstand with the hands released. It is also know as kapala asana, or the skull pose". p174 The Complete Book of Vinyasa yoga Srivatsa Ramaswami
My own thinking is that in some variations you might want your head a little forward of the crown (backbending in headstand) while in others a little behind the crown (forward folds in headstand). You would only do this for those variations though and not for a long stay in regular headstand. This might be why it's mentioned that you should only learn from a great guru. Best I can do.
Sunday at 22:51
Ryan C. Leier Thanks Anthony. You are so helpful. I appreciate it very much. I went to Iyengar's library to the old books and couldn't find anything yet (we had been discussing earlier if Iyengars library had a 1st edition of yogasanagalu). While watching Danny Paradise practice (AMAZING!) I saw him do headstand pretty much on his forehead. I am interested to see so many Ashtangis on the forehead and Iyengarian's (Is that a word?) on the crown.
Yesterday at 09:05 · Like
"I have been taught to extend one hande with the thumb in the ear to the middle finger onto the head, and the pther hand with the thumb on the nose to the middle finger on the head, where they touch is where you should stand".
Was quite amused to find myself a sitting here trying that out, must have looked quite ridiculous
|Scarf because our boiler's packed up, no heating so a chilly practice this morning.|
Anthony Grim Hall Hi Guys just got back from work. There is that thing in Ashtanga where most of the weight is taken on the arms, perhaps that's where Danny is coming from....he looks light as a feather too. Like you Chiara I tend to do my long stays on the crown of my head but I seem to remember Ramaswami mentioning it's better to place it a little further back ( i will need to double check this), not too much but just a little further back.
13 hours ago · Like · 1
Some confusion about where the crown of the head is. I think in the discussion above we're referring to the crown as the top of the head, the highest point, but the crown is actuality that place where the hair swirls around, just back a little from the top of the head (See also David Coultar's Anatomy of Hatha Yoga for a long discussion).
Claudia clears things up in this post over at her blog over at he blog Ashtanga Yoga mother Earth
Crown Vs. Bregma: Two Types of Headstands?
"As a reference: The crown of the head is located in the area where your hair spirals out as opposed to the bregma part of the head which (see yellow skull image) is the area where the skull joins the frontal to the parietal bones. This area is soft for babies as the suture does not harden for a while after being born.
"...natural response to the crown headstand is to hold the body straight, to keep the lower back flat."
"In the bregma headstand it is more natural to permit the lower back to relax and arch forward allowing gravvity to increase the lumbar lordosis."
"The bregma headstand has a more dynamic effect on your consciousness than the crown headstand"..."The crown headstand is calm and poised"".
She's also turned it into an article for Elephant Journal
So that gives us two points of the head for headstand, the crown and the Bregma, the third perhaps is the forehead as seen in the picture of Sharath above.
I also came across this in Andre Van Lysebeth's Yoga Self-Taught, where he seems to be using the top of the head for regular sirsasana but further forward from Kapalasana, take a look...
Van Lysebeth, you may remember, studied pranayama for a short while with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and famously included Pattabhi Jois' address at the back of his book which led Norman Allan to Mysore.
Excellent, found this source for Brahmasana from Brahmachari-Dhirendra's Yogasana Vijnana (1970)
Firstly he writes about Sirsasana
And then a couple of pages later we have this, where he seems to be referring to the bregma as Brahmanandhra. Does placing the head at Brahmanandhra suggest your in Brhamanasana?
Do these points correspond to those which Krishnamacharya is referring too?
Crown of the head for Sirsasana
Bregma or Brahmanandhra from Brahmasana
and closer to the forehead as in Mukta hasta sirsasana (with the palms flat) for Kapalasana
Here's the quote again
19. SIRSHASANA--HEAD STAND
This asana is so called because the head supports the whole body. This is also variously called KAPHALASANA, BRAHMASANA. These three, however, differ to some extent both in the technique and in the benefits derived. These differences have to be learnt under personal instructions form a Guru.
So some questions
Where do YOU place YOUR head?
Have you been adjusted, asked to place your head differently?
What reasons have you been given for placing the head 'just so'?
And has anybody explained to you the difference between SIRSHASANA, KAPHALASANA and BRAHMASANA?
And while on the topic of headstands here' the complete Vinyasa krama Inverted sequence
* Brahmasana is also a seated posture