Tag Archives: rocket yoga

Ooops, I’m in the Wrong Class

Once upon a time, I was sitting in a University class and the professor walks in. He is known to be a stern teacher and not all that personable. He doesn’t even acknowledge us and starts writing on the board what appears to be very basic chemistry. He is writing about molarity and Avagadro’s number. The problem is, everyone in the class had signed up for something a lot more complex. Someone finally spoke up and asked, “Isn’t this supposed to by Physical Chemistry?” For those in the know, its likely the most difficult class you can take in the sciences. He kind of scoffed and looked angrily at us and began wiping off the board. Next thing you know, up go the differential equations and formulas for understanding the geometrics of a water molecule.

Kind of a different slant on this is when a beginner yogi walks into my Rocket Yoga classes. It happens almost once a week. The information sheet and website describe the classes, but I don’t think people usually read the descriptions. I mean, yoga is yoga right? [Wrong!] The description says that Rocket is a mish-mash of Ashtanga from all 6 series. And to the right column says it is “High Intensity”. So you think people would ask around.

We start out with 5 sun saluation A’s and 4-5 sun B’s. Chair pose and wide leg forward folds. Once we get into splits, they are already fully invested in the class. But then we start into much more difficult poses not to mention throwing in some forearm stands and handstands.

Now is when they say “What have I done?!!!”

But its too late to back out now. I can tell by even the most basic poses that they’ve never had an Ashtanga class. Even more accomplished yogis who are strong and flexible who haven’t been taught the style of Ashtanga show their different experiences. Its not wrong, its just not how we do it in Ashtanga.

And you know what? All of this is OK. They didn’t stumble into the wrong class. I tell everyone, do what you can do. If you need child’s pose, then by all means take it whenever you want. If you want to sit and watch when arm balances come up, go ahead. But please try if you can. I tell them to keep coming back. Maybe take some Ashtanga and other more intense classes to build strength and breath. Anyone can try Rocket and is welcome to come. I try my best to speak to every new face I see after class. Most often they don’t come back, but I’m hopeful they will try again. That’s all we can do is try our best.

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Rocket Delight!

star pose

I taught a Rocket Yoga class last night and it was big fun! I love teaching the 3rd sequence, Rocket 3, because we can explore and have fun with different poses. I had a few new people in class too, which is also interesting.

Someone asked about one particular pose, chin stand. Like “what’s up with chin stand?” I guess you could ask that about any pose from a rhetorical standpoint. Why do we do this? Or even existentially, why are we here anyway?

You realize that sometimes in your teaching you need to back-up now and then and explain yourself. It’s so easy to assume that everyone feels the same way, enjoys strength and flexibility, and is emotionally in a good place. But you never know when students come to class where they are in life. And for their yoga journey, you can only speculate.

So back to the question: why chin stand? Chin stand, or viparita salabhasana, is an advanced asana from Ashtanga Yoga. Imagine salabhasana A, or locust pose, where you lay on your belly while lifting head, chest, arms, and legs. Now, press your arms flat on the ground with arms straight along your body and lift only your legs off the ground. Then, imagine lifting your legs so high that your legs are above your head. That is the pinnacle of locust post, which is chin stand (actually, you could go further and take your feet toward your head, touch your head, or place your feet alongside your ears). But for most of the normal world of yogis, this would be a great achievement.

Rocket Yoga is considered an advanced level class. It takes you to a different level of fun since it is not only physically challenging, it also challenges your mind, breath, and takes you to advanced poses. Not everyone has to do the advanced poses, but its always an option. I’ve been to Baptiste Power classes that are very challenging, but mostly physically and not from a technical aspect. I enjoyed it a lot. I’ve been to more Iyengar styled classes that are technically, and somewhat physically, challenging. Those are fun too. I teach a hot yoga class that is very physical, but I don’t offer advanced poses or strength options like in Rocket. We also don’t study the breath, bandhas, and drishti. That’s what makes Ashtanga different.

Unfortunately, finding Rocket classes abroad is not always easy. There are very few teachers and its not often accepted among traditional Ashtangis. Many embrace the repetitive nature of traditional Ashtanga and what it does for minds and bodies. I love that aspect too. So its hard to break that mold into a more free-form style like Rocket. It has quite a niche—but fortunately for me, its a niche that many love…a lot!!!

Hmmm Mysore Ashtanga?

I’ve been teaching Rocket Yoga for a while. It includes playful sequences incorporating many poses from all 6 Ashtanga series. Most Ashtangis never leave the first (primary) series for whatever reason and if that is something that fulfills their life, then they should continue doing the practice.

With recent schedule changes at the studio, I’ve been thinking about getting back into Ashtanga myself. I’ve thought a lot about going to Mysore style classes again. But the thought of someone saying, “you can’t do this pose, so you stop here and go to the finishing sequence” doesn’t appeal to me one bit. Maybe its my ego or hard head that can’t take that kind of criticism anymore. In every yoga class I teach, I don’t tell people to stop or to not modify a pose. So its difficult for me to think of stopping because I can’t do one particular pose and never having the opportunity to go on unless that’s accomplished. What if I had disfunction in a joint or a rod in my back? Then, by those criteria, I wouldn’t be able to practice Ashtanga.

The Primary Series is called the healing series. Everyone should be able to do it and enjoy its benefits. I think that’s where Rocket Yoga makes Ashtanga more accessible. It provides an atmosphere where you can play and enjoy and not be as strict. That is where I like to be. There was a time when I enjoyed a stricter form of practice. I did traditional martial arts for years where you were strongly chastised for straying from what was right. There is a time and place for that kind of body movement. But I suppose I’m not in that time or place anymore.

For me, my yoga practice gives a feeling of wanting to strengthen my mind and body. As I get older, I know I’m not going to get much more pliable. And as I’m building strength outside of yoga, I know that breaking down muscle and building it stronger than before is going to interfere with the depth of my yoga. But its something I’ve come to accept in my life because I choose to enjoy building strength by other means. Having that strength is different from yoga strength. And it is all good. Its just that I find fulfillment in other endeavors as well.

So maybe Ashtanga Mysore classes will have to continue to wait for me. I respect those who want to follow the system. I think it is good for your bodies. But its not good for mine. At least not for now.

On The Edge

merman pose

This morning, I did a hard CrossFit workout. People who dislike CrossFit always point out how form breaks down as you get tired. That seems to be the biggest detraction from this form of high-intensity exercise. Truth is, they always show a video of a beginner who is still in the process of learning proper movement patterns. Yeah, you could say maybe they shouldn’t be doing an Olympic clean & jerk in the first place. But the same could be said for a simple pushup or air squat. All of it is interconnected. What I have found is that mid-way through a workout (WOD), I find a few form glitches just because I’m trying to move faster. But as I get really tired, my form actually improves. A single 135# clean & jerk starts to look like an attempt at 245#. I get set, focus on my pulls, and focus on form. Its the only way you’ll get the weight up. So form degradation is really not happening.

This leads me to yoga. The other day, I taught a Rocket Yoga class. At the end of 5 sun salutation A’s (surya namaskar A) and 4 sun B’s, I had them jump right into a forearm stand (Pincha Mayurasana) for 10 breaths. Usually, when I have yogis do harder inversions and arm balances, I have them rest in child’s pose first. Then they can focus on form and putting strength where it needs it. But we jumped right into it.

This could be done for any technical movement. It might be a difficult yoga pose, a heavy weightlifting movement, walking a slackline, or posing on a Stand Up Paddleboard. It makes you reign in the chaos of your mind, forget the lactic acid in your muscles, and makes you focus hard on the task at hand. So, after my hard CrossFit WOD this morning, instead of laying on the floor and bragging about the sweat angel I made, maybe I should do a handstand or forearm stand. Maybe I should do a set of slow, deep squats. Or balance in Chair Pose on a Bosu Ball. Then, I’m not only training my body, I’m training my mind. It is a true test of focus.

(pictured: me in Merman pose, a man’s version of mermaid. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

What is Rocket Yoga?

larry schultz epk

Rocket Yoga was developed by Larry Schultz in San Francisco. There is a great video that shows how Larry found yoga. I know I’m going to mess up the details, but here goes. Larry was at dinner and he saw a man and woman on a beach somewhere doing strange movements that looked like martial arts. He saw them another time and finally walked over and asked what he was doing. The man answered him saying “Yoga”. Larry asked, what kind of yoga? “Ashtanga Yoga!” he replied. Larry said that it was “be-YOU-tiful!” I think he asked the man’s age and he said like 63. Then he asked how old the lady was and she was in her 20’s. So Larry said “I’ve got to get me some of that Ashtanga Yoga!”

Larry proceeded to learn more about Ashtanga Yoga. Eventually, he practiced with the founder, Patthabi Jois. He learned and practiced for a while in the style that is learned in Mysore, India. As you begin Ashtanga, the teacher will teach you sun salutations A & B. When you learn those and are ready, you are given the next pose in the Primary Series. Each pose builds on the next and, slowly, you learn the entire series. Some people may never get out of the Primary Series, which is quite alright for most people. But not for Larry. When someone showed him the splits (hanamunasana), he wondered why he wasn’t taught that before. There are side planks, chin stands, pigeon pose, and lots of other fun poses that he never does in the Primary Series. So Larry, with his playful and inquisitive demeanor, began to experiment with the other poses in Ashtanga. There are 6 series all together, so there are a lot of poses to choose from.

It turns out the Yoga phenomenon was growing as it was brought into Western culture. Post 1960’s and 70’s with free spirits and flower children and all, big Rock bands started to hire their own Yoga teachers to travel with them abroad. It just happens that Larry was introduced to The Grateful Dead. Larry asked the band members, when do you want to do yoga? “When?” they asked. They didn’t have a real concept of time. So Larry would wait by the phone until they would call and he would teach them yoga. As time passed, Larry began to develop sequences that were based on joints of the body instead of the traditional Ashtanga sequences. Rocket 1 focuses on the legs and hips. Rocket 2 focuses on shoulders and upper body. Rocket 3 is Happy Hour that includes everything. He used the band members as his test patients as he refined the sequences over time. He asked the Grateful Dead, what should we call this? Bob Weir replied “Rocket Yoga because it gets you there faster.” And so it began. He met Patthabi Jois later in life and Guruji called him “The Bad Man of Ashtanga” because he taught people to jump ahead in the series.

Larry eventually started teaching others his sequences. He opened a studio in San Francisco where they called him “The Mayor of Folsom Street”. His sequences were exhausting and challenging. He had so many quips and -isms that he repeated. He told students “You are stronger than you think”. He sought to encourage a playful atmosphere that made the practice fun and allowed room for growth. He didn’t stop someone if they couldn’t do something. He would say “Just try”. And since the roots of Rocket came through Rock & Roll, he played music during his practice, which is verboten in Ashtanga circles. Larry eventually made his way to Nauliland, but his practice lives on. My teacher, Amber Gean,  continues to spread the love of Rocket and I try my best to do the same.

I teach the philosophy and intent of Larry’s practice so his legacy lives on. Larry always said “if you do the same things the same way, you’ll always get the same results”. So I continue to find different ways to change focus, intensity, pace, and emphasis on the body. I incorporate different pranayama practices and imagery. Patthabi Jois emphasized “99% practice, 1% theory”. Through my teaching, I’d like the theory to strongly support every aspect of Rocket practice. I want people’s minds to change. I want to remove the ceiling that holds back their abilities. Instead of perfecting a pose right away, why not find a way to make them feel successful? Why not encourage them to learn how to fall? Then they will never be afraid to try. Miracles can happen when you let people try.

You are all stronger than you think! Just try.

 

Its the little things in life

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I taught a Rocket Yoga class last night and left feeling like I’ve found my purpose.

I didn’t realize until afterward that a new person strolled into class. When it dawned on me afterward, I asked. She actually had been to a Rocket class that someone substitute taught for me last week. And she enjoyed it so much that she came back.

Rocket is a lot like CrossFit. I know if I programmed a killer workout that made an obvious change in a person’s life, I’d feel so satisfied that my effort wasn’t in vain. I know that Rocket is different from a regular Vinyasa Flow class, or even an Ashtanga class. It takes something simple and cranks it up a notch…maybe a few notches.

Here are a few staples of the practice:

  • The standing series begins with a 5 breath hold Bakasana
  • A long standing flow on the right side, then the left
  • Pincha mayurasana follows standing flows
  • Prasarita Padottanasana series includes a tripod headstand
  • Rocket Abs integrates Navasana with leg lifts and holds
  • Nearly every Navasana ends with a handstand, and there are quite a few
  • Many forward folds end with an arm balance
  • Ardha matsyendrasana transitions with a handstand or headstand in between
  • We always do chakrasana (and I’m not talking about upward bow) and pigeon pose
  • Pranayama (breath practice) is for advanced Ashtangis, so that’s what we do

Garsh do I love the excitement I feel from this practice.

Being Observed

The yoga studio where I teach is finishing up with a round of 200 hour teacher training. I end up with a trainee or two in the classes I teach.

Last night, I had someone observe my Rocket Yoga class. I have been teaching Rocket for a while and received advanced training in it this past March. So it was fun to hear someone comment on what I’m doing.

First of all, observers love my music. Rocket Yoga was developed when Larry Schultz traveled with the Grateful Dead. With those roots, I embrace elements of Rock & Roll in my classes. You’ll hear the gamut from The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Marvin Gaye, Flock of Seagulls, Tracy Chapman, to Stevie Wonder and Santana. It peaks to a fervor during sun salutations and standing poses and starts to soften through seated and finishing poses. I am careful to craft the entire 75 minutes of class so that it ends with more Tamasic sounds. This ambience along with my vocalizations and dimming of lights makes for a complete practice. The lady last night especially loved Pink Floyd saying that it fit perfectly with the Rocket.

Second, and most significant for me, was the care that I gave students. From my own practice, I know when you feel tired and defeated. That’s not the time when you ask someone to do a very demanding pose. Instead, I opt for more of child’s pose than in most classes. As an Olympic weightlifter myself, we will often sit for 3-5 minutes between each attempt at the bar. So I know when we need some time before doing forearm stands or intense arm balances. I am also careful to know when someone needs assistance or correction. Sometimes, people simply step with the wrong foot or twist the wrong way. These are easy corrections that keep them within my instructions. But also being aware of injuries or limitations in students. I try to never say that a yogi is “tight”. Instead, I say that they are stronger in some places of their bodies.

Lastly, I was commended for my encouragement. Larry Schultz always said “you are stronger than you think”. I use that phrase often. Its easy to feel weak and defeated. But they really aren’t. Sometimes yogis are simply tired, but the strength is still there. Someone was working on Pincha Mayurasana “forearm stand” and I said this phrase. It was sorely needed at that time. I also say “just try”. Don’t think about it, just try. Don’t over-analyze or put yourself in a box. If you try, you never know what will happen. I was very stoked that she noticed this in me.

I’ve been teaching for several years now, but I still know I have a lot to learn. This student said she usually focuses on learning sequences from teachers. But with me, it was the nuances of encouragement and care that came through. I think of the melting pot of experiences I’ve learned and adopted from other teachers. I am unique. We all are. But we take what we can as students of the practice and make it our own.