December 30, 2012

The Feng Shui of Yoga. ~ Dr. Michael Bittner.


Good Design and Good Yoga Have Lots in Common.

Someone once asked of me, more from poor behavior than for the purpose of determining actual sequencing, “Wouldn’t you agree that doing Hanumanasana during a beginning set of Sun Salutations is a more natural flow?”

Not wanting to appear contrarian, I tried to shift the inquiry away from this initial question—I had wanted to determine what might have transpired in the class to cause this individual teacher to break off into her own practice. In the back of my mind though I was thinking,  “Are you kidding? You might as well kick me—and pretty much any guy who has arrived for class and has just begun to warm up—right in the nads.”

But I held my gut reaction in check. Instead, I asked her how she would handle those students in her own class who might break off to do whatever they like, not following along with her instruction. I had hoped my question might prompt reflection, but none was forthcoming. Instead, this student/teacher in question continued to occupy her thoughts with the appropriateness of sequencing this posture at a certain place in an asana practice—ignoring such key elements as respect, safety and grace.

As a professional educator, I understand that there are many questions people might ask—and some questions that are perhaps never asked. But, ultimately with each question I understand there is always a good reason why they are asking. So in this instance regarding Hanumanasana, I wondered, “What separates a good yoga flow or class from a mediocre yoga flow or class?”

I immediately turned to interior design, and specifically, the principles of Feng Shui.

At the heart of Feng Shui are the concepts of function, mood, harmony and balance. To achieve good design, all four must work together effectively.

Function places emphasis on patternand specifically those that work with the flow and design. Can you actually sit at your table and move the chair in and out? Is there a small table or ledge near your chair or couch where you can place a glass, cup or plate? Can you open a drawer unobstructed?

Mood refers to a desired feeling or experience. Is the space intended to be warm, austere or relaxing? Do you want to be playful, creative or industrious? Is your focus on business, romance or nature? Or, do you desire a combination of these characteristics?

Harmony relates to the fit of objects within their surroundings. Do you have art that is ticky-tack or impressionistic? Is your space mixed with various gewgaws or limited editions? Do you have a theme or a hodgepodge? Are you in love with it or does it cause you stress? Does your space meld with its surroundings or stick out like a sore thumb?

And finally, there is balance—without which, design is only questionable. Balance refers to a give and take—an interplay of opposing forces and the ability to compromise. The end result is a perfect blend of art and science.

So how does this apply to yoga?

Let’s start with the beginning of a class. All too often when I visit a yoga studio, I observe the absence of a directed pranayama which is intended to serve as a prelude, an awareness and an emphasis. Of course people are breathing, but are they maximizing their breathing for their practice? Why would an instructor jump right into asana, when breathing is so essential to the yoga postures? Is the instructor familiar with the Koshas and the Pranamaya Kosha? From a design standpoint, function would dictate pranayama to be placed at the beginning of the practice. This placement serves to warm up the body, to set the mind at ease and to create a spiritual connection with that which is about to occur. Pranamaya is then carried through to the very end of the class.

Mood, the second of the design concepts, is generally suggested by the name of the class or the nature of the studio. A hot, vinyasa style suggests a continuous flow in a heated room—in other words, a strong yoga class. Yin yoga conjures up a sense of a slower, gentle stretching with a more meditative focus performed at room temperature. A prenatal class emphasizes mother and fetus, nurturing and modified postures–a subtle, balanced experience.

A studio that keeps its lights off or dim and uses a dark palette emphasizes yin energy, whereas a studio that is bright and colorful highlights yang qualities.

Harmony, the third of the design concepts may be viewed in terms of “fit.” In the immortal words of James Bond, “As long as the collars and cuffs match.” Here, I refer to the Yamas and Niyamas. Yoga as an experience is all encompassing and affirming. For example, Sauca emphasize purity  and cleanliness—a yoga studio that is dirty physically, mentally or spiritually is not in harmony with the goal of yoga or the nature of Sauca.

The same may be said for a studio that is composed of owners and teachers who are posers. Satya, which emphasizes truthfulness, applies equally in a harmonic setting. Those who misrepresent—who lie and avoid responsibility—have no place amongst those who embrace the path of truth. Harmony is not about having lots of money, a sugar daddy or a trust fund. It is about working with what you have, crafting a place that embodies the yogic lifestyle, and helping people find themselves. As was once said by a learned, yoga colleague, “You may be able to get your leg around your head, but you are still an asshole!”

Balance brings everything together. You warm up and you cool down. An intense back bend precedes a deep forward fold. You inhale to expand and exhale to contract. You engage in standing postures and floor postures. You stretch and you strengthen. Light and dark are woven together.

When Admiral Kirk asks Captain Spock in the Wrath of Khan how the new recruits would perform on a live mission, Spock remarks, “Like all living beings, to the best of their ability.” In the yoga room, as in life, the best of one’s ability equates to balance. Balance honed from practice, from reflection, from preparation and from insight. If there are yoga teachers out there who think that Hanumanasana is a great posture for an opening series in a class, then I would question the instructor’s sense of balance. This flow is bad yoga—just as placing a leg lamp in the middle of a room, decorated with furniture of the French period characterized as Louis XIV.

Though, in the Liberace Museum, perhaps a leg lamp might be a different story.

A native westerner, Dr. Michael Bittner brings a complementary blend of western practicality, free spirit and authenticity to teaching, fitness, interior design and organizational management to his role as co-founder and managing partner of ZenSpot, Inc., a holistic lifestyle, design and education company, whose mission is to empower people to be themselves. Viewing overall health as a combination of fitness, diet and balance between work, home and personal time, Michael emphasizes the importance of caring for the internal body and simultaneously organizing the external environment. Through these efforts, balance is achieved enabling the mind, body, spirit to operate at their optimal level. Prior to ZenSpot, Bittner held academic and executive posts in research, teaching and administration in Washington, California and New York. Bittner earned a Ph.D. and Master’s degrees in Education in the Social Studies, from the University of Washington, with supporting areas of study in urban design and planning, and global trade, transportation and logistics. Bittner holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Boise State University, where he graduated magna cum laude and received a secondary teaching credential from the State of Idaho. Bittner possesses a graduate credential in Feng Shui Interior Design and Interior Design from the Sheffield School of Interior Design in New York City. Michael is a registered yoga teacher with the Yoga Alliance, having completed training through the Barkan Method of Hot Yoga. He is also a certified specialist in yoga for children, a life coach with the International Coaching Federation, a holistic stress management coach through The Spencer Institute and a Lifestyle and Weight Management Specialist through NESTA (National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association). Bittner is certified in First Aid and CPR by the American Red Cross.


Ed: Tara L. & Brianna B.

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