Getting back to bizness

Change of seasons, and the discussion between Lydia and me turns to what to pack for teaching trips. Neither of us likes to overpack, but we have both underpacked, and that was most uncomfortable! Hand washing clothing in a hotel sink is only so effective.

This coming weekend I’m teaching a hybrid (in-person and online) workshop for Sun & Moon Yoga in Arlington, VA (predicted temps in the low 60s F). The title is a direct reflection on my own personal, present experience, Breath-Centered Yoga Practice: Maintaining Balance in Changing Times.

The weekend after that I will finally be holding the longest planned event in my history, for Matt Ryan at Manchester Yoga (predicted temps in the low 50s F). It was originally scheduled for May 2020, then October 2020, then May 2021. After holding multiple Zoom check-ins with the registrants, we will now finally get to spend time in the same space at the same time!

Pre-order your copy of Yoga Anatomy, 3rd edition.

Oh, and the third edition of Amy Matthews and my Yoga Anatomy should be shipping just about now! There are new chapters, new illustrations, new perspectives, and improved content across the board.

This has been a true labor of love through the Covid year as I fought post-covid brain fog and heart abnormalities, and Amy and I both spent most of the year outside of New York City, in Maine and Massachusetts, sheltering in low-population areas. Anyway, we hope you buy at least one copy! Bulk orders are definitely cheaper. Just sayin’.

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Slowly but surely, life as we know it is re-starting, and workshops are scheduled!

On the road again!
On the road again!

I am sure I’m not alone in saying I was very relieved to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus back in April. Since then, I’ve gotten to dine with and hug friends I hadn’t seen in months, and I’ve been able to restart my private practice in New York City in a beautiful brand new space for The Breathing Project, just across the street from the apartment I share with Lydia on the Upper West Side. I will have more to announce about some exciting in-person and live-streamed programs from that location in the near future.

Happily, I am now starting to see my schedule – at least the last quarter of 2021 – begin to fill with workshops. Here’s what’s upcoming:

LONDON CALLING – I’m still doing the online series for triyoga London, with the next scheduled for this weekend, July 17-18. Our topic will be “Practice and Principles: a Weekend of Interactive + Breath-Centred Yoga.”

LONE STAR VISIT – Next will be my first in-person event in a year, “Asana, Pranayama and Bandhas,” for My Vinyasa Practice, in Austin, TX September 25-26. Tickets are being sold separately for the in-person and online component.

MIAMI ANATOMY – We are flying directly from Austin to Miami for our first collaboration with Kino McGregor’s OMStars and Miami Life Center October 1-3. We are very much looking forward to seeing the beautiful new space she’s built in Miami, and are honored to be the inaugural guest workshop there, entitled: “The Anatomy of Yoga, the Yoga of Anatomy.”

FAIRFAX FRIENDS – We are thrilled to be returning to Sun and Moon Studios in Fairfax, VA to visit with good friends Annie and Amir and their wonderful community for an in-person/online workshop October 22-24. Registration details will be posted soon to our calendar.

MANCHESTER ENGLAND, ENGLAND – At the end of October, my long-awaited, repeatedly postponed Manchester, UK workshop, is still on our calendar. Given the ongoing uncertainties of COVID outbreaks, travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, I cannot 100% guarantee I can make it over there, but one way or another, I will be teaching something on October 29-31 to the resilient, loyal students who have stuck with us since May 2020!

ENCINITAS, ALWAYS – Last in 2021 is my annual weekend workshop for Soul of Yoga in beautiful Encinitas, California. It usually sells out, so I’m not sure there will be any tickets left, but keep an eye on my calendar in case any get released.

MARCH CADAVER LAB IN COLORADO SPRINGS! – The newest offering on our calendar is the second joint project with good friend and colleague Lauri Nemetz – a 5-day Movement Anatomy Hands-On Cadaver Dissection Lab March 14-18 at Gil Hedley’s amazing facility, the Institute for Anatomical Research in Colorado Springs. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to experience human anatomy close up and personal in a way that was once reserved only for medical students – through guided dissection of your very own human cadaver. This is a small-scale, personalized event in which we limit six students per table, with an absolute maximum of four tables in the lab. Because we are emphasizing the individualized nature of your experience, we encourage you to reach out personally for more information at info@breathinproject.org.

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Upcoming travel to fabulous places!

Rafael Corrochano from Radiantly AliveIn one month, Lydia and I will be heading to the other side of the world to teach for Rafael Corrochano and Jasmine Dañino, owners of Radiantly Alive in Ubud, Bali on June 1 & 2. This is a beautiful space amidst the treetops we visited last year during a 2-day holiday. During that too-short stay, Ubud became one of my favorite places and this will be my first time teaching in that yoga-haven. I hope to attract all those yoga retreatists for some breath, bandhas and om-ing between their massages and cocktails so please send all your vacationing friends and colleagues my way!

Shivom Yoga & Dance logoAfter Bali, we will teach a weekend workshop June 8 & 9 at Shivom Yoga & Dance in Hanoi, Vietnam. Lydia and I have dreamed about visiting this beautiful country for years and look forward to exploring both before and after teaching. We welcome your recommendations for affordable and restful places to visit.

Our yearly summer retreat in Cape Cod will be extra special this year, because we have added a Friday/Saturday workshop at the fabulous Orleans Yoga July 12 & 13. Studio owner Petra Ledkovsky was excited to learn that we’d be neighbors, so we put together an exciting program for this popular summer destination. It’s selling quickly, so book soon if you’d like to join us.

Rounding out the summer will be our first ever trip to The Yoga Think Tank in New Harmony, Indiana. My August 17 & 18 workshop will be held at the beautiful New Harmony Inn Resort. This event is being hosted by our good friends Shanda Packard and Karen Sahetya, and we are anticipating a weekend filled with inspiration, transformation, and fun. There are just 25 spots open for early registration, so if you or anyone you know is in that area sign up now!

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A tasty return to CAMYoga (and Stem + Glory)

Delicious vegan (!) food from Stem + GloryWe’re thrilled to be returning to CAMYoga in November for one of my favorite topics geared specifically to yoga educators, Teaching Methodology For Breath-Centered, Individualized Yoga, as well as a weekend workshop for all yoga practitioners.

Our host, Louise Palmer-Masterton wrote to say: “Leslie’s annual visits to CAMYOGA are the highlight of our academic year. He has had a huge influence on our diploma courses, and we are really excited to experience this year’s all new content especially for teachers, alongside two days for non-teachers. Leslie’s work really is inspiring for everyone, and is an absolute must for anyone interested in the subject of yoga.”

We’ll be there over American Thanksgiving (a feast of gorging, for those of you unfamiliar with the holiday) which we may miss a bit, but we’re looking forward to delicious daily lunches at Stem + Glory, one of CAMYoga’s restaurants onsite at the Mitcham’s Corner studio. I don’t often find myself singing the praises of vegan food, but we loved each of our meals there.

There are still a few seats left for each of my workshops but seating is limited so don’t delay (or send your friends if they’re in the vicinity!). And if you’re in Cambridge or London, make sure to stop by one of the Stem + Glory restaurants and tell them Leslie sent you.

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The Art of the Answer-Sutra (+ commentary), part 2

How do you know when your body is anatomically not built for a certain pose (and when to accept this)?Here’s another from my Instagram Stories Q&A, plus a bit more exposition:

Q: How do you know when you’re (sic) body is anatomically not built for a certain pose (and when to accept this)?
A: This is a key question that involves a deep practice of swadhyaya (self-inquiry), and it never has any final solution, because as our body ages, the answers will constantly change.

My expanded commentary: Some questions cut right to the heart of yoga, and this is one of them. The second chapter (Sadhana Pada) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra offers a brilliant, succinct three-part definition of yoga practice (Kriya Yoga). Two of those parts (tapas and isvara pranidhana) are referenced in this question and the third (swadhyaya) is in my answer.

The practice of poses (asana) can be seen as a kind of tapas. Although the term tapas is usually translated as “austerity,” a more useful view derives from its primary meaning of “warmth” or “heat.” My teacher T.K.V. Desikachar described the heat of tapas as a fire which removes impurities. Asana practice accomplishes this by working our physical body and breath against the grain of our embedded habits (samskaras). The assumption behind this idea is that we are working with something that actually is changeable – like how we breathe or hold tension in certain muscles – and this is how our bodies adapt to the practice. By contrast, we sometimes discover that some poses are made difficult (if not impossible) by some aspect of our body that is not going to change – like the proportional relationship of our arm-to-torso length, or the orientation of our hip joints – and this is when we must adapt the practice to our bodies.

Through practice and self-reflection (swadhyaya) we can discover some things about ourselves that are not subject to change – that’s when acceptance of that reality needs to become our focus. This is isvara pranidhana, a surrender to that which is not changeable or within our control.  Or, as Desikachar put it: “…in the final analysis, we are not the masters of everything we do.” (from Heart of Yoga)

To re-state what I said in my original answer, everything about our embodied existence is subject to some kind of change, so we must always maintain a self-reflective attitude that allows us to constantly re-evaluate what we are working to change, and what we need to stop trying to change.  Surrender is itself an act of will.

Another well-known formulation of this principle is Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer which seeks to find “the strength to change the things we can, the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Stay tuned for more Q&A sutras with commentary, and if you have yoga anatomy questions please ask them on Instagram, or email me.

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New Breathing Project Programs in 2018: Coaching for Your Breathing Body

I’m very excited about some brand-new community workshops I’m calling Coaching for Your Breathing Body: a 3-workshop Series for People Who Use Their Lungs.

The programs are open to all, and I’m particularly keen on attracting people who have either acute or chronic breathing issues. So, if you or anyone you know gets asthmatic symptoms during allergy season, or gets short of breath when exercising, is a singer or actor who’s been told to “sing from your diaphragm,” or is suffering from a more serious challenge like COPD, please consider getting some expert attention and help. No yoga mats or bare feet are needed, and seating will be available.

REGISTRATION AND DATES:
Thanks to our co-sponsor WOOM Center, we are able to offer these workshops on a donation-based sliding scale ($15-$30 per workshop). Please pay what you can after clicking “Donate” for the workshop date(s) of your choice, and you’re welcome to attend more than one.

September 30 November 4

TIMES:
All Sunday times are from 2:30 to 5:30pm.

LOCATION:
The events will be at the beautiful, immersive environment of WOOM Center, 274 Bowery, 2nd Floor, (bet. Houston & Prince), New York, NY MAP

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I teach Viniyoga®. So, sue me.

Mocking t-shirt mockup by Leslie Kaminoff.
No rights reserved.

This blog post is inspired by a series of comments on Facebook regarding a controversial action by Kausthub Desikachar, my teacher’s son, who has announced that he has trademarked the term “Viniyoga”. He states, in part: “…to maintain its authenticity, the KHYF, as an international organization, has copyrighted the term Viniyoga in over thirty countries and will ensure that its use is authentic and legally regulated…”

Whatever emotional reaction I may have to this situation, here are two things I’m very clear about:

1. A quick search of the United States Patent and Trade Office database reveals that as of the present date, Kausthub Desikachar has no legal right to the exclusive use of the term “Viniyoga” in the U.S. In fact, Kausthub’s application was denied, and he has until April 4th of this year to appeal.

2. Aside from the legalities involved in the ownership of the word “Viniyoga,” the key issue is that there is a huge distinction between being connected to a teaching lineage and inheriting a family business. Kausthub apparently fails to see that difference, and is seeking to control both as if they were the same thing.

A teaching lineage is not held only by someone with a certain surname. All of Desikachar’s students, and their students, ARE the lineage. In fact, the very notion that a lineage can be “held” at all is false, and anyone who tries to control one betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of both teaching and lineage. The sharing of knowledge is not a zero-sum game – like sharing the only cookie in the world.  If I have that singular cookie and share it with you, it would mean I have less cookie for myself, but the sharing of yoga teachings (and knowledge in general) operates from the opposite premise: what I’m actually sharing is the cookie recipe and, the more I do that, the more cookies there are in the world (and the more variations on the recipe).

Contrary to what his ill-informed actions suggest, Kausthub Desikachar did not create, nor could he inherit the “brand” Viniyoga. His father’s students were using that word to describe what they had learned from their teacher when Kausthub was in diapers. These elders are some of the senior people now being asked to “kiss the ring” in order to keep using the term “Viniyoga.”

Sadly, I am not at all surprised by Kausthub’s current behavior. It is completely consistent with many of his past actions. Perhaps he thinks he’s being a clever businessman, but the really smart move would have been to trademark his family name as “Desikachar Yoga.” There’s an established practice of name-branding yoga in his line of teachers (Iyengar Yoga, Jois Yoga) and that – at least – would honor Desikachar without pissing off generations of his father’s students.

The funniest part of Kausthub’s trademark grab is that it really makes me want to start using the word “Viniyoga” again; partly as an act of defiance towards him, but mostly as an ironic act of loyalty to the teacher who asked me to drop it in April of 2003 when he sent the following email:

Dear Friends,

When I introduced the concept of viniyoga in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I never imagined that it will replace the word “Yoga”.
I am extremely disappointed with the situation today, where this has become the case and caused so much distortion and confusion.
Hence I request you to either delete the word Viniyoga to represent my teacher’s teaching, or remove my father’s and my name from your communications. This is the least you can do for me, as a guru dakshina.
Please feel free to forward this to other students whose email addresses I don’t have.

With Best Wishes
TKV Desikachar

It has been suggested that this request was a ploy to reserve the term as a legacy for his son, or that the email was actually authored by Kausthub, but when I first saw the message I believed my teacher was sincere when he lamented that Viniyoga’s “branding” had gone too far.  I admired him for his stand, and I also realized I had never been deeply invested in the word anyway, so I had no trouble transitioning to using “Individualized, Breath-Centered Yoga” to describe what I teach.

Now, 15 years later Desikachar is gone and his son wants the word to himself. Well, f*ck you Kausthub – I teach Viniyoga.  So, sue me.

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An early thanks-giving

1987 Yoga Journal Magazine featuring Gary Kraftsow
September/October 1987 issue of Yoga Journal Magazine featuring a Life-Styles piece by David Frawley on Gary Kraftsow

Lately, I’ve been feeling tremendous gratitude for the way my life and work have turned out – even amidst a host of societal, political and environmental disasters – and I recently experienced a lovely bit of synchronicity that highlighted this.

I was seated onstage at the 2017 Yoga Therapy Summit telling the story of first becoming aware of T.K.V. Desikachar. Glancing down at the front row I saw Larry Payne, who I first met back in 1981, after he had returned from something of a guru-hopping tour of India. Back then, I remember asking him which teacher impressed him the most and the name he mentioned was the only one on his list I didn’t recognize: Desikachar. When I asked him what made this guy so special, all he could tell me was “It’s all in the breath.” This cryptic phrase struck me deeply and became a focal point for much of my curiosity about the role of breath in yoga for the next six years – and then I picked up the September/October 1987 issue of Yoga Journal. Here at the Yoga Therapy Summit seated beside Larry was Gary Kraftsow who – 30 years ago this month – was featured in that very issue of the magazine.

It was the cover, which featured Ken Wilber, that had attracted my attention. As hard as it is to believe – considering how asana imagery has so thoroughly permeated popular culture – back then, Yoga Journal went through a long stretch of 7 years and 40 issues (July 1983–March 1990) without a single asana photo on their front cover. Instead, the magazine featured all manner of new-age topics, trends and personalities. I had read Wilbur’s magnum opus “The Spectrum of Consciousness,” and was interested in what the “Einstein of consciousness” had to say. I really don’t remember, because I don’t think I ever got to the Wilbur article. Instead I was stopped in my tracks by a short, single-column “Life-Styles” article written by David Frawley about a yoga teacher named Gary Kraftsow he had encountered while teaching an Ayurveda program on Maui. It led with this: “Rather than focusing on the asanas as an end in themselves, he shows students how to apply yoga for their own unique physical structure and condition.” As it turns out, that small piece of writing would mark an essential turning point in my life and my yoga.

As I continued to read, more of Kraftsow’s perspective eerily echoed much of what I’d been thinking and teaching: “emphasizing function rather than form…individualizing practice to each student’s unique structure and condition…not to teach students where to go, but to show them how to get there…” Then I read: “Kraftsow began his yoga study with T.K.V. Desikachar in 1974…” and I felt a palpable jolt of recognition as my mind flashed back to the name Larry Payne had mentioned six years earlier. No wonder the words of a Desikachar student were striking such a chord – my own obsession with the role of breathing in asana had led me down a similar path!

Reading further, I learned that Desikachar was the son of T. Krishnamacharya, who Frawley described as “perhaps the most renowned yoga teacher of our time.” The article ended with Kraftsow saying, “Yoga refers primarily to the quality of action through which transformation can occur.”

So I was completely hooked. I knew — as clearly as I’d ever known anything — that I had to meet T.K.V. Desikachar.  The article said he lived in India, but didn’t specify where.

In the pre-internet, pre-Google age of analog information retrieval, my only resource was Gary Kraftsow’s phone number, helpfully provided at the bottom of the article. I left a message asking for more information about Gary, his programs, and the whereabouts of T.K.V.Desikachar. I heard back later that day from Mirka Kraftsow, who informed me that Desikachar lived in Madras, and that Gary would be presenting at an upcoming conference, Yoga and New Frontiers of Healing, at Murrieta Hot Springs in California. (This was my introduction to the group Unity in Yoga which later became the Yoga Alliance, but that’s another story!) Though I signed up for every class Gary was teaching, I cannot recall any of the specifics, but I do remember a powerful sense of connection with this tradition.

When people talk about finding their lineage or teacher, they frequently report a sense of “coming home.” I’m not sure if that’s how I would describe what I experienced, but I was clear that I’d stumbled on a line of inquiry focused on the same questions I’d been obsessed with ever since I started practicing and teaching:

  • How does the act of inhaling and exhaling relate to specific movements in asana practice?
  • How can the form of a pose be modified to serve its deeper function?
  • How can one teach these modifications in a group class?

I was relieved to realize: “I don’t have to keep re-inventing the wheel — there is a line of teachers who have been figuring this stuff out a lot longer than I have, and that lineage has a name – Viniyoga.”

At the conference, Gary told me about a program with Desikachar scheduled for that summer at Colgate University. That August of 1988 was when I first met Desikachar and became his student, although in reality he became my teacher the minute Larry quoted him saying: “it’s all in the breath.”

Three decades later, I am proud and humbled to be part of this amazing teaching community – each of us teaching in our own way – with a common core of inspiration: T.K.V. Desikachar and his father, T. Krishnamacharya. If we are lucky to live long enough, we get to thank the people who have been important to us. As I said onstage at the Summit, I am so very grateful to have this chance to publicly thank Larry and Gary for introducing me to these teachings.

2017 Yoga Therapy Summit, Chicago, IL (aka the Desikachar students’ old-timey reunion!)
Back row: Amy Wheeler, Gary Kraftsow, Kate Holcombe, Sonia Nelson, Chase Bossart, Laura Jane Mellencamp-Murphy, Clare Collins
Front row: Richard Miller, Leslie Kaminoff, JJ Gormley, Larry Payne, John Kepner
CREDIT: Lydia Mann

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Breathe Free: A Community Workshop Led by Leslie Kaminoff in New York City

Breathe Free October 7 / 3-5 PM / Flatiron District Unlock the power of breathwork to improve the quality of your life ​ Join us for a FREE Breathing WorkshopFor the first post-studio-closing event sponsored by The Breathing Project, we are joining forces with BreatheFreeNow to present a free workshop in New York City on Saturday October 7.  Below, you will find the description of the event. Come join us, and please forward this information to anyone who is interested in learning how to have healthier breathing.

People suffering from chronic conditions and debilitating ailments such as asthma, COPD and advanced restrictive lung disease can serve as inspiration: they remind us that there is nothing more fundamental than the breath.

In times of stress, even those with healthy lung function are prone to breath restriction. When this occurs, we can benefit from learning ways to find our way “home” to our natural breath. Simple techniques that link breath with healthy movement can help us become more grounded – more free –  in ways that reveal our inherent connection to the universal fabric that sustains us, and each other.

We can all benefit from guidance on how to better align ourselves with our breath. This event is an opportunity to practice breathing with greater awareness, clarity and strength.

BreatheFreeNow and The Breathing Project are pleased to present a FREE breathing workshop led by internationally recognized breathing and movement educator, Leslie Kaminoff from 3-5pm on Saturday October 7, 2017.  It will take place at HUB Seventeen, beneath the lululemon store on 114 5th Avenue (at 17th Street), New York, NY 10011.

WHAT TO EXPECT

  • We will explore fundamental breathing techniques, led by Leslie Kaminoff, with an emphasis on linking breath to simple movements, revealing individual breathing patterns and finding ways to free ourselves from habits that may not be serving us.
  • Attendees will learn key concepts about the anatomy of respiration, deepen awareness of their breath, and practice simple exercises they can continue practicing on their own.
  • The workshop will be accessible and adaptable for all experience levels.
  • Participants must be able to breathe unassisted, comfortable with basic physical movements, and be able to sit and stand independently.
  • No special equipment is needed but please wear loose, comfortable attire.

To learn more and register for the event, visit: https://www.breathefreenow.org/

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Spaces and Places

map of our upcoming travels

Transitioning out of the The Breathing Project’s physical space in July has required lots of moving, reconfiguring, and recalibrating.

For the first time in over 30 years, all my possessions are in the same zip code (10025). It’s a bit of a tight fit in our living space as I’ve accumulated three sets of almost everything: office supplies, clothing, bodywork equipment, books. Previously split between office, city home and country home, all my stuff has – quite literally – come home to roost. Much winnowing is required…it’s a process.

At the same time, my newly freed-up schedule has more space for travel and teaching. For the first time in 14 years I will not have to be in New York City every Wednesday during the scholastic year to teach my Yoga Anatomy courses, so we have been able to schedule more lengthy international teaching tours. Following our annual visit to one of my favorite places, North Carolina’s beautiful Asheville Yoga Center (September 16-17), and the Chicago edition of the Yoga Therapy Summit (September 30-October 1), Lydia and I will be off to Europe (the first of two visits this fall) for a 3-week tour:

  1. First week, we’ll be teaching at the Zen Center in Regensberg, Germany (October 14-15) for our new friend Tammy Bosler, who we met while teaching in Frankfurt in March.
  2. Next we’ll be returning to Madrid for our third time teaching for our good friends at Dhara Yoga (October 21-22).
  3. From there we are making our first visit to The Yoga Bank in Cheshire, England for a 4-day intensive (October 26-29).

We’ll be back stateside for a few weeks in November to rest up and a return visit to The Yoga Garden in Narberth, PA (November 4-5). For the first time in ages I will not be spending American Thanksgiving with my family: instead we will be returning to Europe to follow up last year’s sold-out workshops at Flow Yoga in Belfast (November 25-26) and CamYoga in Cambridge (December 1-4). Closing out the year, back in the US, we make our annual trek to Encinitas, CA and The Soul of Yoga (December 9-10). Phew!

Looking ahead to 2018 I’ll be spending my 60th birthday about as far away from home as possible: we’ll be in the Southern Hemisphere in the midst of a month-long teaching tour across New Zealand and Australia. I’ll be sharing more details about that trip in a future post.

So, as the start of my seventh decade approaches, I will be doing my best to focus on the theme that emerged this last month: “more space — less stuff.”

I’ll let you know how it goes.

more space, less stuff!

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