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A simple question with a complex answer

DirDiaphrFibres

Illustration by Sharon Ellis from “Yoga Anatomy” by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews

A student in my online Yoga Anatomy Course asked a simple question in reference to a lesson about the muscular action of the diaphragm. My response is a good example of how studying basic kinesiology can help us understand that muscle relationships  are always contextual and complex.

The question was: “The fibers of the diaphragm are oriented vertically,  do the fibers contract on the inhale or the exhale?”

Here’s my answer:

Well, the simple answer is “on the inhale.”

Problem is, there’s no such thing as “the” inhale. Every inhale (and exhale for that matter) places a unique demand on the body’s musculature – depending on what movement we’re doing, what position we are in relative to gravity, and what our intentions are (among many other factors).

Mechanically, inhaling is the act of increasing  volume in the thoracic cavity through muscular action.  The key muscle involved in that action is the diaphragm, and a concentric action shortens the distance between its lower and upper attachments, thereby increasing all three dimensions of thoracic volume.

But, the diaphragm can also be actively contracting during an exhale when an eccentric action allows its attachments to move away from each other in a controlled way (think of doing a very slow curling sit-up as you exhale).

Even more confusing is the fact that the diaphragm can be relaxed and relatively passive during both inhaling and exhaling – as in Kapalabhati.

These are just the basics of how complex an answer to your question could be.

So, for now, let’s just go with “on the inhale.”

 

This is the kind of fun stuff we get to geek out about in my anatomy courses.

My teacher is gone…the sequel

TKV Desikachar

TKV Desikachar

As promised, here’s some more context to the situation surrounding last week’s post about Desikachar’s dementia, and the aftermath.

First of all, as I stated in the article, the primary reason I decided to go public was pure-self interest.  What no one could have known (except my partner and editor Lydia Mann),  was that as soon as I completed writing the piece, a full-blown, on-my-knees-to-get-out-of-bed, can’t-stand-up-straight, ice-pick-to-the-back-of-my-pelvis back spasm straight out of Dr. Sarno’s book…disappeared without a trace. Damned if Sarno wasn’t right when he claimed that suppressed rage can lay you low with pain – and last week I had 5 years of it being triggered by the news of Iyengar’s imminent demise.

I guess I was also extra mad that Iyengar’s students had a chance to mourn him and his accomplishments, and I was still in this limbo state of hidden grief since 2009 with no end in sight.

So, I’m very happy that so many people from around the world and within our tradition have thanked me for saying what I said…but I really didn’t do it for them – or anyone else. As I said in the piece:

“It’s been unhealthy for me to carry this silent burden of loss and anger for so long. I share this in the hope of a healing that will keep the beauty of Desikachar’s teachings from being tinged with pain every time I mention his name.”

So far, my lower back agrees that we’re on the right track. And, last weekend, back at my original Yoga home – the Sivananda Ashram, I taught a workshop and spoke of my teacher with nothing but love for him and the teachings.

Secondly, what’s also been very interesting and moving is how many folks out there are dealing with the dementia of a loved one – either now or in the recent past. I guess I shouldn’t find it surprising, but it really wasn’t in the front of my mind when I wrote the piece.

So, I seem to have tapped into a deep well of common grief – not just for Desikachar – but all of those we have lost, or are in the process of losing.  If you have your own story to tell, or anything else you’d like to contribute to the conversation, please feel free to leave a reply below.  I will read everything and respond when appropriate.

Thanks,
Leslie

My Teacher is Gone

This piece ran in Elephant Journal the night after B.K.S. Iyengar died.  Waylon Lewis was very kind to prep it in record time so it could be posted before midnight of the day I wrote it.

I’ll have more to say about all of this very soon, but I wanted to share it with you now.  I have had some very supportive comments on Elephant Journal, as well as FaceBook and privately thru e-mail.  Please fee free to add your thoughts below.

tkvdLeslie

My teacher is gone.

Following the death last night of B.K.S. Iyengar after a brief illness at age 95, there was a vast outpouring of affection for a man who had realized his full creative potential during a long and productive life. His guru T. Krishnamacharya, also lived a very long life and taught well past the age of 100. The sadness surrounding Iyengar’s passing was not at the loss of potential unrealized, but at the loss of his living presence.

Unavoidably, my thoughts turned to my teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar, Krishnamacharya’s son and—at 20 years his junior—Iyengar’s nephew.

I lost my teacher years ago not to death, but to an advancing dementia that has turned his healthy body into a prison for a devastated mind. The cause of his condition remains a mystery to me; if his immediate family has knowledge of it, they have not publicly stated so. By writing this I am breaking an unspoken code of silence that has surrounded my teacher’s fate and that of his family.

I am immensely sad for the tragic turn that Desikachar’s life has taken. I don’t know if his condition was avoidable. But what is avoidable is the denial surrounding his gradual decline and the resulting damage to the teaching community he built.

Undeniably, the worldwide Yoga community has been deprived of another one of its great intellects and practitioners. My teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar, was an interpreter of ancient knowledge for modern times, a sensitive, practical man who valued above all else the close relationships he formed with students, colleagues and clients. My sadness is both for the loss of his living presence and for the lost potential of a great mind and decades of output that will never be realized.

He was born in 1938—a year after his father dispatched B.K.S. Iyengar to Pune. He is 76 years old.

Leslieand DesikacharVideoLooking back, my teacher’s seemingly peculiar and unrealistic desire to promote the career of his troubled son Kausthub makes more sense when factoring in progressive dementia.  Desikachar’s withdrawal from public life and Kausthub’s corresponding rise to leadership at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram had severe consequences for generations of senior students.

Speaking only for myself, the transition felt surreal: I was losing access to my teacher at the same time I was being asked to answer to someone who had repeatedly revealed himself as unstable and dishonest.

The first time Desikachar’s condition became unavoidably obvious to me was the last time I saw him, at the Estes Park Yoga Journal conference in September of 2009. In retrospect there had been signs something was wrong a couple of years earlier. In August of 2007, I attended a weekend seminar in New York in which Desikachar repeatedly turned teaching duties over to his daughter Mekhala.  She did her best, but was clearly uncomfortable when inexplicably made the center of attention. I wrote off the incident to a desire on Desikachar’s part to promote his daughter’s teaching abilities. At the time, it never occurred to me he might have felt the need for help presenting his material.

When my friend Gary Kraftsow and I attended the 2009 Yoga Journal conference I knew he had not seen or spoken to Desikachar in many years.  We both watched in horror as our previously eloquent teacher stumbled hesitantly through his keynote address. During the prior three days I had attended Desikachar’s “Healing Through Yoga” intensive during which he seemed a bit tired and distracted, but was able to manage adequately when his wife, Menaka, or one of his senior students was beside him.

Then—during the keynote, alone at the podium—it was painfully obvious that something was wrong.

Desikachar’s storytelling and oblique references had always brilliantly led back to his main topic in unexpected and illuminating ways. Now, his stories simply rambled on and on in random disarray, with no integrating threads binding them together. It was clear he could only access long-term memories, while his fragile short-term memory and higher functioning were severely compromised.

During intermission, I went to where Gary was sitting and we stared slack-jawed in disbelief at each other, confirming what we had just witnessed. Most of the audience likely saw a kindly old man telling amusing stories, but there were at least a dozen or so people in the room who knew Desikachar well enough to be alarmed. Most notably, his wife and senior students who had been traveling with him could not possibly have been blind to his condition. How could they send him all alone to that podium in front of an amphitheater without the support he so clearly needed?

Feeling humiliated on behalf of my teacher, a rage built inside me…I wanted to confront them, but wishing to avoid making a scene in public, propriety got the better of me.  I spent the rest of that week at Estes in a state of profound loss I’ve carried ever since.

That’s the thing with dementia—you begin mourning long before your loved one dies.

So this week, as I followed the news surrounding the end of Iyengar’s life, all these memories and emotions have come to the surface. I felt sorry for Mr. Iyengar—not that his life was ending after 95 years of productive and influential work, but because this powerful spirit who declared,

“I always tell people—live happily and die majestically!”

…expired in a hospital bed with a feeding tube down his throat. I went fitfully to sleep with that awful, sad image in my head and dreamed vividly about finally writing many of the exact words you have just read.

Why turn the words of my dream into a public message? Why risk exposure and displeasing people I respected and honored?

I have a simple, selfish reason. It’s been unhealthy for me to carry this silent burden of loss and anger for so long. I share this in the hope of a healing that will keep the beauty of Desikachar’s teachings from being tinged with pain every time I mention his name.

My personal relationship with T.K.V. Desikachar and his teachings infuse so much of what’s positive about my life and work. I know that countless others feel the same. When my teacher’s body finally looses its grip on his diminished spirit, his death notice must be more than “died after a lengthy illness.”

He deserves more than that. We all do.

I hope this truth serves his memory well, as I will continue to do—by teaching what I have learned from him.

Leslie Kaminoff
New York City
August 20, 2014

In Memoriam: B.K.S. Iyengar 1918-2014

Guruji_nov2012Word has just come via a Facebook post from Judith Lasater that Bellur Krishnamachar Sundaraj Iyengar has passed away at the age of 96.

So much could be said about his immeasurable contribution to Yoga that I prefer to let you all comment with your remembrances.

For myself, I can say that my teacher Desikachar always spoke of him with great respect, and seemed proud to call him uncle.

With Iyengar’s passing today,  Pattabhi Joiis’s in 2009, and Desikachar’s incapacity, that leaves precious few direct inheritors of T. Krishnamacharya’s lineage still teaching today.

Fortunately, there are literally thousands of us who are lucky enough to be the next generation of teachers tasked with carrying on the vital work of spreading the precious teachings that flow from this deep, rich wellspring.

Please feel free to post your thoughts below.

Spanish love affair

Leslie is resting up while I write this note following a wonderful day workshopping for Dhara Yoga in Madrid. The owners, Blanca and Pablo, found a beautiful loft operated by a woman who grew up in Lenox, MA (virtually around the corner from where Leslie raised his kids and keeps his horse!) and brought in a terrific group of yoga professionals, eager to learn more about the Krishnamacharya/Desikachar tradition. We’ve posted some snapshots from our time in this beautiful, vibrant city.

The Krishnamacharya and Desikachar lineage, projected large above Leslie's head

 

barcelona-poster-thumb Next week we’ll be returning to the Barcelona Yoga Conference.
There’s still time to sign up for Leslie’s two-day intensive on Yoga and Healing, Tuesday July 8-Wednesday July 9 and meet up with Leslie at a book-signing at the YogaYe table on Saturday July 5 at 2:00 p.m. (Learn more on their Facebook page.)
posted by Lydia: June 29, 2014

2014 Touring Schedule

I’ve had some exciting trips this spring and we’re still traveling! I hope to meet you if I’m heading your way. To keep up-to-date, please check my calendar and my Tweet stream, but here are some of the highlights:

Ann Green teaching

Ann Green teaching at her Bliss Yoga studio in Barrie, ON

Toronto trade show

Leslie teaching an open session at the Toronto Yoga Conference's show

Toronto workshop

Toronto Yoga Conference workshop

sunset in Tulum

Tulum stormy sunset

Tulum, Mexico

Leslie teaching at the open-air yoga palapa in Maya Tulum

Yoga Journal LIVE! workshop

Yoga Journal LIVE! exploration on yoga mat "labs"

Gesticulating

Leslie explaining a finer point (or something!)

Carrboro students

Carrboro class in rapt attention

Amy and Leslie co-teaching

Amy Matthews and Leslie Kaminoff co-teaching in Carrboro, NC.

A return to being an anatomy student

What a privilege it’s been to spend this week back in the anatomy lab with the singular Gil Hedley and 35 outstanding, talented, accomplished fellow Somanauts.

Lydia and I came in on the third and final week of Gil’s unprecedented marathon teaching event during which he is recording on video and photographing never-before seen dissective technique and perspective for his upcoming “Atlas of Integral Anatomy.”

I always learn an enormous amount while spending time with Gil and the amazing people who show up in his lab.  This is my sixth time since 1997, but several participants and assistants have done far more than I.

Yesterday I had to leave early to teach my Yoga Anatomy course at The Breathing Project. Switching from student to teacher mode proved to be very energizing for me and I was jazzed to teach my own material in a way I haven’t been for quite a while.

Thank you, Gil.  And thank you especially to the essential generosity of the 8 donors whose forms grace our tables in the lab.  Please consider donating your body to science. I can tell you from personal experience as a student honored with access to such generosity, it’s a profound gift to your fellow man.

NJ Somanauts

Haven’t you always wanted to go to Barcelona? Join us this July!

Lydia here. We are so excited to be returning to Europe this summer for the Barcelona Yoga Conference where Leslie is offering a two-day intensive, and hope you’ll help us spread the word. Leslie loves the opportunity to meet his online students in person, so if you’re one of them please come on down!

We put together a little interview including questions he’s been asked repeatedly about his adventures in Spain, as well as some fave articles and videos of his. Feel free to forward to anyone you know who may want to join us in beautiful Barcelona this July.

During your 2013 visit to Spain:

  1. Did you have a favorite experience?
    We stayed in El Gòtic and loved the easy access it provided. The Picasso Museum stands out as one of my favorite museums anywhere and walking to the beach for lunch and mojitos was also great!
  2. How about favorite food?
    I so appreciated many restaurants’ pleasure in offering wonderful, fresh-baked gluten-free bread, without additional cost. That just doesn’t happen here – when you can find it, there’s always a surcharge, and it’s not freshly baked.
  3. Did you experience any notable cultural differences?
    For sure: sense of time! Lydia and I think we’re late when we’re five minutes early. In Spain, half an hour late is a sampling error.…
  4. Anything else to share?
    You can take a look at this set of photos on Flickr. It gives a pretty good sense of some of the things we saw, found beautiful, different from home and memorable.

barcelona-snaps

Some of our favorite You Tube videos:

How to help spread the word!

Thank you! we really appreciate your support.

Tokyo in June!

Lydia here to let you know about some upcoming travel we’re really excited about. We’re returning to Asia this June and hoping to meet a bunch of you this time! Leslie loves to meet his online students in person and overseas travel is a great opportunity for that.

He regularly gets asked questions about the 2013 visit, so we put together a little interview about his adventures and some fave articles and videos of his. We hope you’ll share them with anyone you know who might be able to join us in Tokyo this June.  We’re really grateful for your support and hope to see you soon.

japan-snaps

During your 2013 visit to Asia:

  1. Did you have a favorite experience?
    We fell in love with Hakone while staying at the Tenseien ryokan. We’ll be returning there between the Hong Kong Asia Yoga Conference and my workshop in Tokyo.
  2. How about favorite food?
    The absolutely freshest sushi of my life at Tsukiji fish market early one morning.
  3. Did you experience any notable cultural differences?
    Yes! the absolute horror exrpressed whenever we tried to tip anybody. To us it demonstrated that good service is considered obligatory, not something surprising or deserving of reward. Definitely different from the United States.
  4. Anything else to share?
    You can take a look at this set of photos on Flickr. It gives a pretty good sense of some of the things we saw, found beautiful, different from home and memorable.

Some of our favorite You Tube videos:

How to help spread the word!

  • Post on your blog or Facebook (you’re welcome to use the interview questions and image above)
  • Tell a friend – here’s a link to a poster you can share
  • Join us – here’s the link to register
  • Bring some friends – contact us if you’re interested in coming with a group.

…and now, “you were here* : the video!”

My last post about honesty in yoga credentialing has gone a bit viral. It was natural then, to discuss it in last Wednesday’s post-Yoga Anatomy, on camera Q&A.

What emerged was a rather interesting exploration of my views on how we train people, and what it takes to really absorb the kinds of things we teach in yoga trainings.

Enjoy!  If you’d like to join the discussion, please leave a comment.