There is a Teacher in You!

Day 1, Dec. 17, 2017, AM session, Pune, India.

Today the actual sessions began. Abhijata waved the diya (candle) around Patanjali and we all joined together for the invocation. There was so much material covered that I want to post, but I think you would all gag and not complete the blog! So I will extend the posts past the six days of inspiration..

Farooza gave an elegant introduction for the orientation. She painted the picture of the sun and moon, bright and cool, a reflection. Guruji was like the sun, sometimes harsh, strong; so bright that you cannot look directly into it. Prashant is like moon, but, as the moon is the reflection of the sun, we can look into it, it is cool. Guruji taught so quickly, by the time we heard it he was on to something else.  Geeta and Prashant help us to read between the lines of Guruji’s teaching.

Prashantji then joined us amidst an overwhelming standing welcome. He has a healthy sense of humor: “orientation is a problem for me,” he said, “as I am not oriented to myself.” He explained that this is not an intensive, as that would imply that we would learn a lot in a compressed period of time. That is not what he is about, he insisted. Prashant is also humble. He said that an intensive is not really his make-up. It takes a lot of time for us to learn something in a deep way. He explained that Guruji taught intensives because, at that time, he had to produce teachers, and foreign students could only come for a short period of time.

Prashant then said that in all the time that he has been teaching, he has not produced one single teacher, “that is not in my software” he chided. “I myself am not a teacher. I am just a student,” and “My teachings are an intensive which is extensive.” He takes a little bit, like the breath, and stretches it into volumes. He said “the learning should not be very formal every time. Because yoga is a natural thing,” and “My bad habit is that I observe too much.” He referred to the intensives he watched in the 70’s, when groups of foreigners would attend for a month. What he observed is that students were anxious and excited in these intensive, it was not natural. Prashant wants to be very informal, he is in his house, and hope that his students can be informal with him.

Yoga is about life, can we get oriented to life? Life is Drama, for which there is no script, here we don’t have a script as we do not know what will happen from moment to moment. Just as life is unpredictable, we cannot know. In the business in life, we must be predictable, but yoga. Yoga is not about the business of life. To not know what he is going to teach is his privilege, as the thrust of yoga was already there for Prashant. That was not the case for Guruji, Prashant said. Guruji had a different path, he had all the hardships. We are the next generation.

Guruji learned yoga by Yog, he was not a follower or a student of a teacher. “Self-study teaches you yoga.” The concept of a self-made man is improper, for it comes through study. Prashant tells his students to never say that he is their teacher: “I escort them to yoga,” “Yoga is an out-of-the-world subject, not a worldly subject,” and “If you say that you are a student of mine, it means that you are studying me!”

We should have a suitable language for our study. Language is important. We say that we want a non-stop flight, this really mean that the flight will never stop! A visitor asked for a hot cup of tea, and he was given a hot cup with cold tea, i.e. the language is important, Chitta Vritti = language, can you name a single Vritti that does not include a word? My own impression is that we experience the world through an abstraction from the immediacy of experience and through our conditioning. Ultimately, we experience and come to know through the mind. In classical yoga the mind is considered a sensory organ.

In previous years, Prashant has introduced using sound such as the vowels in the Sanskrit alphabet or the seed mantras for the chakras as means to penetrate more deeply into an embodiment. A sound can have some meaning in it, or not. The state of Chitta depends on the stage of the Tattvas (elements) and Dhatus (tissues) in you, any imbalance in your body chemistry creates an intolerance or some condition. The mind will not be like a lake if there is an imbalance. Dhatu (constitution)- Rasa (biochemistry) – Karana (sheaths)- if there is Samyama in these faculties, then there is tranquility. Sounds with meaning are important for our tranquility.

There are two aspects to learning yoga. One is learning to do, we become indoctrinated. The other aspect is to know, learning to know. We have overlooked this aspect. When we are educated, we can do more with less, less energy. Education in yoga and knowing in yoga is more important, it gives you vision, navigation, skill. Yoga is knowing your own embodiment, you know yourself.

The posture is a mean, not an end. Means to study, your body is the textbook to come to know yourself. In an integrated practice, the mind becomes a book. These yoga postures are optimum potentials for you to learn the subjective matter of yoga, that is why these are archetypal and iconic position, to come to know the embodiment.

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Living the Practice

Dec. 16, 2017, Pune, India

I watched the last part of Prashantji’s class this morning, took Abhijata’s lady’s class, and then sat at Geetaji’s feet for a spontaneous talk about the how community must practice and learn from one another. The Iyengar family is truly gifted! I have now studied with three generations!

Transitions, Prashant said, it is all about transitions. When you change from the right to the left side, do you watch what happens in the transition? After the exhale and before the inhale, there is a U-turn, are you as aware of that transition as the in and out breath? The eighth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita points to the transition at the end of life, can we be aware in the transitions?

It made me think that all life really is a transition from moment to moment. And mastery comes in being aware of the changes, the transitions. When I hear a beautiful symphony, I am spellbound from moment to moment, because the transitions are so seamless, so breathtakingly captivating that I am completely absorbed. Is that not what “Samadhi” is, complete absorption? Prashant did not say this exactly. Yet as I watched the last moments of his class the stillness was palpable and the students were as if spellbound. They were doing Bhardvajasana, a simple seated twist. As they switched sides, Prashant would cue them to watch if the mind went faster than the body, and the breath, how did it change? The class looked like slow suspended parts, almost like cells in one organism, moving gently from side to side. That was the quality of presence. Transitions.

Abijata IyengarAbhijata is the young lioness taking charge of her cubs (us) now that her grandfather is no longer here to teach her and her aunt (Geetaji) rarely teaches. Abhi began her apprenticeship over fifteen years ago, when she was sixteen. She was never far from her grandfather’s eyes, and practiced daily with him. I remember Guruji looking into his granddaughter’s big dark eyes and asking impossibly difficult questions about an asana or about life. She would look back at him, innocent, knowing that he was about to spin his wonderful web of teachings. I am privileged to see this next generation begin to fill the role of “revered master”. Abhi has a master’s degree and two children of her own. She began traveling with Geetaji and Guruji as they presented at conferences in the US, China, Russia and Europe. She could see how different cultures interacted with her teachers. In some cases there was a language issue. She is now a perfect ambassador between the legacy that she has inherited and the 21st century!

Abhi is young, dynamic, demanding, and delightful. She told a story of how, one day, Guruji had strapped her ankles and knees with iron rods (this is done for therapeutic reasons) and asked her to sit in Virasana. She tried and cried out, and tried again and winced. Her grandfather commanded her to sit, and she sat, such was the shakti of Guruji. Once she was in Virasana, he asked her what she had felt. She said, pain. He explained that we tend to run away from anything that we are afraid of, and that we glorify pain. As she focused more on the way that the knee could shift, and the rotation of the thigh and ankle, while the pain was still there, her mind was absorbed in the actions, interactions and reactions. This is Yoga.

This story she related to us as we rested between Urdvha Dhanurasanas. She had us hold a wood brick between the knees as we lifted up into the backbend. It must be wood, she said, otherwise you will not pay attention! Of course no one wanted to drop the brick! We had to then walk the hands in close to the feet and find the interactions between the lift of the outer knees, the back thighs, and the buttocks. The vibrancy went from the knees and fear of dropping the block into the sensations of both sides of the back muscles being lifted up toward the front of the body. It was intense, but deeply satisfying.

Abhijata will join the Iyengar Yoga Association of the United States in 2019 for the next national convention. I will let you know, come!

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Four Generations of Iyengars

Four generations of IyengarsDec. 15, 2017, Govinda’s Gardens, next to the Ragwada Hotel, near Baner road, Pune, India. 4:00 onwards, dinner at 7:30.

A sweet reunion; the intimate family, five sisters and one brother, with the extended spiritual family of students and teachers from over 60 countries, all honoring the man, the father, the Teacher, him who we call Guruji.

When I showed up for my first intensive in 1986, Guruji had recently retired from active teaching. However, while Geeta taught, Guruji interjected constantly. She would repeat exactly what he said, and add to it. I did not realize at the time that Guruji had supposedly retired, for he could not stop teaching!

Prashant explained that Guruji never really taught them yoga. He and Geeta learned through watching him practice, teach, and through their own observations. We did not have teacher’s training courses like you all have, he chided us. We had to learn our own way.

Great grandchildren raced across the stage, oblivious to the crowd glued to the stories being so vividly shared. As one sister spoke, the others brightened up at the memory. It was the best commemorative celebration I could have imagined. Abhijata, Guruji’s granddaughter and the next generation in the Iyengar yoga legacy, had arranged the festivities. Every detail was special.

Geeta said that at first she felt really lost without him, and she went through a very dark phase. “We never really understood him,” she began, as she often does. Her respect and devotion for her father far exceeded anything rational. I sometimes think that this is her way to de-emphasize the value of her own teaching and experience. Everyone saw him as a flexible man, stern, she said, but he was transforming the entire human being. While the sutras speak of Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha, there are many other niroddhas. We must stifle the Ahamkara niroddha, as she rattled off five other niroddhas that we must subdue. Even in story telling, Geeta was teaching.

Sujeeta told a wild tale of yoga magic. Kids can do stupid things, and she did! She put a watermelon seed up her nose and did not tell anyone when she had trouble getting it out. Her nose began to swell, and she had trouble breathing. As doctors were making plans to operate. On the spur of the moment, Guruji showed her Kapalabhati. She blew so hard that the seed flushed out.

She had a wild mind, could not focus, and found that school was boring. Guruji had a big stamp collection from all the correspondence that he was beginning to receive. He asked her to remove the stamps from the letters and glue them into an album. In the process, she learned about countries, capitals and landmarks from all over the world!

Prashant went on and on about how he was a slow, dull, torpid kind of fellow. Anyone who knows him would be chuckling now, for Prashant is one of the most fascinating men I have ever met. Yet he slunk away from school to visit the maid’s house. When Guruji found out, Prashant received the spanking of spankings, he remembered.  Guruji encouraged him to study mechanics, then a visual art, and finally music. It seemed that the boy was being given the tools, with his hands, with his eyes, and with his heart, to make the choices he would need to make in life.

This coming year will be the centennial celebration of the gifts and guidance that Guruji has left the world. Communities everywhere are planning different ways to come together. For me, this public reunion fondly opened up the circle of family to include all of us who have been so deeply shaped by Guruji’s life and teachings

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The Totality

The Great American Eclipse from the Bright Spot, in the middle of nowhere in central Wyoming. Courtesy of John Thomas Casey, used by permissionTotality: that is what everyone called it. The magnificent eclipse of August 21, 2017. The hype was exhilarating.

I happen to live part time on the Oregon Coast, the place where the eclipse would initiate this continent and then continue its trajectory across the US. Signs marked the anticipated crowds: $100 parking, no vacancy, eclipse sweatshirts, free glasses. The media compared it to the Millennium zeitgeist, a portentous event. Alternately, several yoga based oracles said that the eclipse was inauspicious and that one should fast and stay indoors. I knew that the experience would be partly based on what I put into it. Was this to be an accounting? A reboot?

The morning of Totality was well rehearsed. Countdown to Fifteen minutes after Ten. Everything depended on the weather, and the forecast called for fog. You see, the Oregon Coast is unpredictable! At 6am, we climbed into our cars and drove an hour to the Hilltop cemetery in Independence. We joined a small crowd for a clear and bright morning, with a view of surrounding fields of grain. The general mood was super friendly and everyone shared information, technology and food. With three hours to contemplate, I did a few Surya Namaskars and sat to meditate.

I can’t explain and won’t even try to give a poetic version of the Totality, except to say that my husband and I plan on traveling to see the next one in the US in 2024. Somehow I did drop to my knees and, along with many around me; the only thing that escaped my lips was “Oh my God.”

Did I have a transformative moment? A gestalt, Samadhi? Not exactly. But the experience was deeply moving. The eclipse became a metaphor for Samadhi, for a perfect union of opposites. Reflecting on different paradigms, the Yin and Yang, Ha and Tha, the singularity of the sun (Purusha) and the intimate changes of the moon (Prakriti), the lower self and the higher Self, I found meaning within all of these. The image in my mind has become a yantra to invoke, to sit with and learn through. And experience? How has this touched my psyche and my practice? I do feel anointed in some way, as if I have had a “glimpse” of the possibility of union on a “cosmic” scale.

Hilltop Cemetery - Independence, Oregon - 21-Aug-2017Every day I find myself on my yoga mat. During these vacation weeks I often begin with Savasana. Some days I pursue an asana, or I explore releasing or stimulating a part of my body. Some days I do what Geetaji calls a “donkey practice”, I go through the paces. But now, on some special days, after any asana where I feel either my heart rate increase (backbends) or a flush of endorphins (forward bends), I stop and feel. How is my breath, where does my breath touch, and the heartbeat, how are my sensations changing with each breath, and between breaths. I tune in to the “not-doing” to feel the transfiguring power of each asana and sometimes, the integration and harmony within. Perhaps this is a union of sun and moon, the doing and “not-doing”. Another step in a long journey.

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Riding the Sea of Change – Tri-Yoga Soho London – June 2nd – 4th

Lisa Walford teaching at Tri YogaIt’s always gratifying to be part of building a community. Tri-Yoga has been my home in London for the last three years, and I look forward to seeing everyone again. This year’s workshops touch on themes that impact us all in very direct ways.

These are turbulent times. In such conditions we call upon our integrity, resolve, actions and insight to guide us through the storms and uncertainty. The story in the Bhagavad Gita, that of depressed and dejected Arjuna’s quest for wisdom and insight, offers a poignant metaphor for us today. “Here (in the yoga doctrine of practice), no effort is lost, nor is any loss of progress found (backsliding). Even a little of this discipline protects one from great danger.” 2.40

These workshops apply the language of asana and Iyengar Yoga to explore the practices described in the Gita; that of service, wisdom, devotion, and meditation. We practice first to serve the health of our bodies; we cultivate wisdom so that we may live gratifying lives; and we embrace a devotional attitude in practice so that any effort becomes an offering. Service is tapas, discipline; the daily work to maintain health. Wisdom is Svadhyaya, studying what heals the heart and brings clarity and courage into life. Devotion is Isvaraprandhanani, recognizing the underlying harmony in all things around us. These are the tools that Arjuna and yogis everywhere find helpful throughout life.

I look forward to sharing these inspirations with you all. Please join us June 2nd – 4th at Tri Yoga Soho, London. For more info, or to sign-up, please visit here.

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The Name That Can Be Named

The Name That Can Be NamedThis is a unique time in our personal and collective history, for catharsis is always a window into the soul. I have lived through several seemingly seismic chapters in my life, as I am sure you all have. Our personal narratives help us realize we are not alone. I invite you to read an exceptional publication, Yogapoetica, which includes my article The Name that Can Be Named.

Every article is special, as we, the real people behind the face of yoga, share our insights, struggles and dreams. Please like this journal on Facebook (if that’s your cup of tea) and dip your hunger into the stories. It is truly awesome!  #asanaforthemind

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Nov. 11: Drop-in Workshops & Teacher Training in Santa Barbara. Join us!

Lisa in a field of poppiesIntroduction to Iyengar Yoga for Teachers

I have been teaching this module for the Santa Barbara Yoga Center for twenty years. This year  we are changing the structure to include two workshops open to the general public. If you are an Iyengar student or a teacher in another method, come learn the guiding principles that have made Iyengar Yoga respected worldwide. The course will include a manual.

Iyengar Yoga is based on an integrated body/mind/breath exploration of the Self that employs the body as a vehicle towards the skillful mastery of the mind. Beginning with the structural conditioning of the body to ease pains or injuries while building mobility and strength, the practice deliberately trains and focuses scattered, stormy, or sinking minds. Physical vitality encourages emotional stability that leads to a deeply satisfying life. Each class is like a canvas, bare in the beginning. Each posture is a brush stroke that opens the hips and shoulders, stretches the legs and elongates the spine. Good alignment can deepen your breathing capacity.

Following the public workshops those of you in the teacher training will review the sequence, actions and applied principles from the workshops. Together we will look at each asana and review how it applies to your body and practice.

Teaching pranayama and introducing the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are my favorite part of the weekend. I hope you will join me!

Public workshop: Sat. 11/12: 10:30am – 12:30pm
Upside down and Inside out:Inversions come in many flavors: standing, chest expansiveness, restorative and full on. Inversions benefit every system in the body, and hence are considered the most important postures for a daily practice. Join us for a progressive practice that builds from standing inversions to the experience of being upside down that is right for you. If you are new to Iyengar yoga there are effective ways to modify the classic inversions. For the experienced student, you will refine the postures.

Public workshop: Sun. 11/13: 9am – 11am
Twists, backbends, the Niyamas and Ashtanga Yoga: New to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali? Asanas and Pranayama are but two of the eight limbs path (Ashtanga) in the Yoga Sutras. In this workshops Lisa will make Sutra study practical and accessible through supported and dynamic practice of back extensions.

The teacher training schedule:

Fri. 11/11: 4pm – 8pm
Sat. 11/12: 10:30 – 7pm (break 12:30pm – 1:30pm)
Sun. 11/13: 9am –  5pm (break 11am-1pm)

For more information, please visit here. I hope you can join us!


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Touch and the summer of 2016

Going off the well-worn track

What happens when I jump off the bus, or the train, or the plane? It depends on how fast I am going to somewhere other than where I am, now, in this moment. This summer I stepped out of the moving city and landed on the Oregon Coast with our new puppy Sita, and my husband. Open hours, open practice, wide open horizon and a phenomenal night sky. How to start my practice when I’m not going to teach? It was more complex

than I thought it would be, this “taking a with Mom at beachlighthouse

Touch. I was touched by the silence of opening to not knowing, and the noise of Urdhva Dhanurasana or Eka Pada Sirsasana begging for attention. I began each practice with Savasana, the touch of mind probing, sensing, softening, listening. Touch is interesting as we use it to imply so many things. Guruji notes that the skin is the largest sensory organ in the body. We can feel a firm handshake or shoes that fit too tight. We prefer soft and natural fabrics, the tactile efficiency of the right pen, or the slender stem of a wine glass. Touch is the only sense for which there is no cultural art form, such as music, art, gastronomy and perfumery.

Savasana. Invite the touch of mind probing, sensing, softening, listening. In yoga, sound is equated with the element of space, while the mind with the element of fire. I might probe to feel the difference between the two sides of my calves on the floor; but really I have to allow the sensation to come to me. I listen with my body; I soften the zealous mind and allow for nothing at first. Then, slowly, I feel the mind shifting into a state of awareness that spreads and “touches” different parts of the body from within. I find this listening to be different than a body scan or Yoga Nidra; perhaps more akin to some forms of Vipassana meditation.

I did continue with Urdhva Dhanurasana or whatever caught my fancy that day, but at some point I would “rest” in the pose. Invite the sensing, softening, and listening into the shape. Perhaps the pose was not perfect or photographic, but that is not the point. If I practice like this more often, I will not need a “vacation”, for every practice will be touching this spacious place of resting deeply, Savasana in action.

Thank you Oregon and summer of 2016. Now to return to the spinning wheel; what web will I weave this year?


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You lose your grip, and then you slip / Into the masterpiece

You lose your grip, and then you slip / Into the masterpiece. -Leonard Cohen

In our upcoming workshop on June 9 in Malibu, my dear friend and inspired colleague, Peri Doslu, and I will create a container for this experience through the body, senses and awareness. We will use the elements as an avenue to shift attention into an inquiry of experience different from what we are accustomed to. I have enjoyed developing this workshop immensely and hope that I can share it with you. Here are some thoughts.

Daily I am reminded of how fortunate I am to have stumbled into/been drawn/destined to practice yoga. Exploring how fully I can exist with all my faculties in each moment, of feeling deeply and of honoring this gift of health and consciousness is such a blessing! The asana practice is the outer most skin and yet the complete package when I enter into it without an agenda other than to be present, fully. Yet the agenda arises almost immediately. Is my spine elongating evenly, can I refine my breath, are all fingers touching the ground. I recognize that this is part of the practice; I cease resisting what I might call the distraction of alignment, and widen my mental horizon to embrace the practice for whatever arises. In the exhalation, I accept the miracle of consciousness.

Throughout time, seekers have sought to understand and to have an experience of pure being.  It fascinates me to realize that we are another drop in this long chain of magical and mystical thinking.

In the Mundaka Upanishad, the disciple asks: What is it that by knowing all else will be known? (I.3)  The Prasna Upanishad was chronicled in the first millennium BCE. Seers and rishis asked similar questions to the ancient Greeks, and to contemporary seekers like us. What is the meaning of life? “Sir, how many gods support the body of the created being? How many of these manifest their power through it? And which one, furthermore, is paramount? (II.1)  To the disciple, the sage replied: The powers are space, air, fire, water, earth, speech, mind, vision, and hearing.” (II.2)

In his book A Trackless Heart, Tibetan Buddhist teacher Ken McLeod suggests “Rest in the field of everything you experience, and then pose the question, ‘What experiences all this?’ Do not try and answer the questions. Just pose it and see what happens.”

While the infinite quest reveals itself through not knowing, and resting with whatever arises, we can play with the exploration through our bodies, and the elements that substantiate and sustain us. In yoga this is an accepted map of experience. Guruji Iyengar says, in an 1985 article: “The skin, one of the senses of perception covering the body has the sense of touch (air), carried to the brain and from the brain to the skin. It makes us feel the vibration of the movement (ether and air). Again the sense of touch has its origin in air. After a long sadhana (practice) the students feels the sense of touch from within. While performing the asanas even if the understanding is limited only to the movements, there is involvement of the gross elements, viz, earth, air and water.” (Aṣṭadaḷa yogamālā, Vol. 2)

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Join us June 9th for an all day Malibu yoga and meditation retreat!

Join Senior Level Iyengar Yoga teacher
Lisa Walford
Buddhist Meditation teacher
Peri Doslu
at the beautiful Serra Retreat in Malibu, CA

Thursday, June 9, 2016, 9am – 4pm

In this retreat, Lisa and Peri provide a playground for us to discover our capacity to rest deeply in an asana while remaining actively engaged and present. During asana practice we may find ourselves endlessly refining a pose and tuning the instrument. Within and beyond the refinement lies the rich potential for pure experience. Can we rest deeply and hear the inner music play? As we let ourselves arrive and be replenished in active poses, we welcome the Yoga into yoga.

The luxury of time affords us the opportunity to drink in the benefit of the practice and the beauty of the sea, sky and silence which Serra Retreat so amply provides.

The retreat includes 2 sessions of Iyengar yoga interspersed with meditation that will be adapted to the capacity of all enrolled. During the lunch break Lisa and Peri will lead an optional discussion based on reading material provided to participants prior to the retreat.

Early Bird Special $140.00 now till May 25, after May 25th $160.00
To register or get more information
Contact Paige at 310-367-8785,or email
Presented by Sadhana Retreats

LISA WALFORD lisa-headshot-for-passport-72-dpiholds an Intermediate Senior Iyengar teaching certificate and has been teaching yoga in Los Angeles since 1982. She continues her studies annually with the Iyengar’s, in Pune, India, and teaches worldwide. In her rigorous and technically informative classes, she creates an ambiance of internal focus inspiring to both beginning and advanced students.

PERI DOSLU periis a Tibetan Buddhist Meditation teacher. She began her meditation practice in 2001 and in 2009 completed a three-year Teacher Development Program under the guidance of her Tibetan Buddhist teacher & author Ken McLeod. Peri teaches privately and in small groups in Santa Monica CA. Her teaching, her practice and her commitment to sitting long solitary retreats has enabled her to develop a unique and accessible way of teaching meditation.

Posted in Meditation, Yoga | 4 Comments