Tag Archives: Desirée Rumbaugh

Photo: Michael moves into full wheel pose, with aid from friend and Desirée

Why an evening practice can help

Photo: Michael moves into full wheel pose, with aid from friend and Desirée
Urdhva Dhanurasana or wheel pose

I was trying to explain to Desirée Rumbaugh at the workshop this weekend why I did an evening restorative practice of twists and forward folds (and other poses), and I fell back on the old standby of needing to do a restorative practice to relax and to slow the body down for sleep. I know there are nights when I can’t get to sleep without 20-40 minutes of floor work.

It then occurred to me that this nightly routine was a way of wiping clean the imprint left on the body of bad posture, chair sitting, keyboard hunching, and muscular atrophy that the modern world imposes on the human body. Even a vinyasa class may not be enough to clear out the bad habits because I rarely hold the asanas long enough to annul the patterning in the tissues. The extended yin/restorative practice is a kind of body reset that relies more on letting go rather than exerting effort to muscle through barriers.

I’ve been doing this routine for about a year now. It undoubtedly takes much longer to reverse years of self-inflicted body deformation, which is why I had to sit in front of the TV watching World Cup soccer games in variations of forward folds for hours on end to get beyond what seemed like an arbitrary stop point, a 90-degree angle. I thought that I was bumping up against a physical limit.

First quarter 2011 yoga events

Some big names are coming to the DC area in the first three months of 2011. For more details (schedule, costs, requirements), go to the website of the hosting yoga studio. I don’t mean to downplay other workshops and events that are taking place during the first quarter, but when high-profile instructors pass through the DC area, it’s worthwhile to spotlight them. You will notice that March 10-14 is shaping up to be week-long overdose of quality yoga. I will update this list as more information becomes available.


  • StudioDC Yoga Center: The Pursuit of Happy Hips: Theory and Vinyasa (3 hours) and Superflow Surf Yoga : A transformative + unique movement practice (2 Hours) with Eoin Finn,  Saturday, January 22



Although I was not planning to mention events beyond March, I wanted to highlight two events: StudioDC Yoga Center – Forrest Yoga Master Classes with Ana Forest, May 18-19 and Willow Street Yoga – Yoga of Fulfillment: Yoga & the Path of Destiny with Rod Stryker, April 9-13, which is an yoga immersion course.

A different kind of yogini

Photo: hearing-impaired yogini talking with Desirée At Thrive Yoga‘s recent Rumbaugh workshop, I had my mat next to a special yogini. I never caught her name. She was hearing impaired and she had brought a sign language interpreter with her. Dave and Susan gave them plenty of room in the corner of the studio (actually, my favorite turf for taking pictures, which is why I ended up next to her). The interpreter frequently stood off to one side signing Desirée’s lecture and demos. During the routines, she sat or stood near the woman and passed on the instructions.

I got a chance to partner with her when we were doing handstands in the inversion session. She was able to get up into the pose fine, and I goofed up a couple of times with the support. I also did not know the sign that she gave to let me know that she wanted to come down. I let her get out of having to support me for the hand stand, in part because she could never have supported my weight. I could see that she had a very good personal practice and she was capable of absorbing everything that Desirée was offering.

After the session was over, the woman and her interpreter approached Desirée and had a conversation. There are some obvious obstacles between a hearing-impaired yogi and an instructor because hearing is so important in cuing through a practice. In the workshop’s case, this was not even a standard class, but an extended demo/lecture/try-it-yourself format. I am pretty sure that the woman did not know exactly what to expect. Plus, Anusara has its own specific terminology for how a posture is put together and an interpreter would have to be familiar with it to translate that language into appropriate signs. At one point during the session, I was tempted to grab one of Desirée’s associates and ask them to actually help the hearing-impaired yogini get a clear idea of what Desirée was asking of us by actually laying hands on her and rotate muscles in spiral directions.

I had been meaning to blog about this encounter on the mats with the hearing impaired, but I forgot about it until I came across a tweet from the Deaf Yoga Foundation, based in New York City. It’s main mandates are preparing a yoga sign dictionary, teacher training, and community outreach. The dictionary is interesting because it is drawing on hand gestures in Indian (Hindu) dance. Check out Dancing for the Gods.

First impressions of the Gaiam Yoga Club

Back in late June, I mentioned that I had been offered a chance to join Gaia Yoga. After a slow start due to a hectic schedule, I have started to follow the program on a daily basis and have now finished up my third week. Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman are the teachers in this intensive yoga immersion program. The core is in three formats:

  • Videos of demos: these are Flash videos with very high production values, both in terms of visuals and audio. I’ve seen a good number of yoga DVDs. These are up there with the best ones for beginners. Each week’s material is divided up into 10-12 segments that can be viewed independently. Yee and Seidman take turns demoing the poses and vinyasas. They provide a huge volume of insight and tips into the poses. It reminded me of all the good hands-on workshops that I’ve taken in the past two years (Beryl Bender Berch, Jordan Bloom, Alan Finger, Desiréee Rumbaugh) because all the good teachers pound away at reinforcing the fundamentals and the details of the poses, even with experienced practitioners. You can come back to these videos repeatedly to review the instructions, see the adjustments that Yee and Seidman make to each other, and catch something new that you had missed the first or second time around.
  • Audio podcasts: you can listen to these daily practices, either in your browser, in an audio application or downloaded and save as a podcast to be played in your MP3 player. These sessions, narrated by Yee or Seidman, are 20-35 minutes long and follow up on the points made in the video sessions. The audio is useful because it makes me focus on my body, rather than peeking up at a computer monitor or TV screen.
  • Visual sequences of each daily practice: these are photos of Yee and Seidman in the poses of the sequences, which gives visual queues to those who may not know the Sanskrit names of all the poses yet or may be unsure about all the components of the pose.

What sets this system apart from DVDs, podcats, or books is that it’s linked to a time schedule. The videos are the foundations for the weekly focus (standing poses, backbends, twists, etc.). Then the audio recordings become available at 24 hour intervals. Four podcasts are for daily practices, and then a fifth one has just pranayama and meditation. Finally, the seventh day is a rest day. It’s not possible to rush through the work program because you have to wait to become eligible, but you can always go back to review. This is necessary because the program imparts a lot of information that has to be linked to the mind and the body, and it can’t be done if the yogi is skipping ahead.

There are other features to the program, like community forums, blogs, and personal pages, that I will cover in future entries.

As I’ve mentioned before, a rep from Gaiam Yoga Club invited me to test their program free of charge for 13 weeks or about three months. The way I’m going, I won’t finish the whole “12-week” program because I have skipped a week or a night of checking into the web portal to take the next lesson so I’ve fallen behind. The Gaiam Yoga Club cost about $65 a quarter (MLS: this online service has undergone a lot of changes since I originally used it. It is not clear that the original Yee-Saldman videos are still available, but Gaia has expanded its cast of teachers and styles).

Second Impressions of the Rumbaugh Workshop

I did not go into the workshop with Desiree Rumbaugh with any special expectations, aside from that of knowing that an excellent instructor would be guiding the process and a group of yogis would energize the environment. I saw the occasion as a mid-term evaluation about how my practice has been maturing since my last workshop. I wanted to see how the work invested on the mat has paid off. So I pick up where I left off yesterday.

Photo of wheel pose at Thrive Yoga, Rockville
Thrive Yoga’s Dave Bowen gets a taste of Desiree’s adjustment of wheel pose.

Fourth Finding: The day after the workshop was over, I felt really fatigued, my whole body burnt out. I pampered myself and did not try to do any yoga or exercise except for my walks to and from the Metro, a couple of miles. I felt sore as if I’d really gone through an extreme physical ordeal. I was especially sore and stiff in my hips and shoulders, thighs and arms. Curiously, my knees hurts when I walked, as if I might be a risk of tweaking a tendon. Throughout the weekend, I had been probing my edges and it was natural that my body should feel the strain. At my age (two months short of 59), the energy reserves are shallower, the recovery capacity is slower and the need for healing is more pronounced. But it took me a while to realize that this sensation is really a kind of muscle memory of all the poses that I did and the new edges established. I stop, focus in on my aches and pains, and sense what muscles involved, and then I feel myself drawn into alignment and something lights up inside me.

Photo of a yoga pose - Diving Osprey - by Christine Peterson
Desiree stands back in awe, watching Christine Peterson
(you can tell she’s a Forest Yoga buff because she uses gloves)
settle into Diving Osprey pose.

Fifth Finding: yoga is an experimental, experiential science. It is a sophisticated universe of knowledge about the body, mind, spirit, energy and their complex interrelation, which has been accumulated, filtered, refined, and aged over millenia. But the application of this knowledge system on the body and mind is left to the individual practitioner. Desiree said that you can tell when a yogi is advanced because they take their time getting into poses. It almost looks as if they were practicing in slow motion. That’s because they are observing and parsing all the information coming back from the far reaches of their limbs with scientific rigor: how do the muscles feel, have they reached their edge, is there a risk in pushing beyond the edge, do I feel at ease, can I dwell in stillness in the pose, how can I get out of this knot, what emotions and energies are released by this pose, what am I revealing about my mind or spirit in this vulnerable pose and so on. A beginner will zip through the vinyasa, and in and out of poses, as if he/she is sprinting to a finish line. The intermediate yogis are the ones who get themselves injured, Desiree pointed out, because they are pushing recklessly beyond what is physically safe and worth the risk for the practice. She admitted that she was guilty of this excess in her early years, and her current skills at practicing advanced poses and assisting others to learn yoga were acquired through painful mistakes and the need to heal and avert them in the future. She got really amped up when people started asking questions or giving insights that showed that they were paying attention to the details. The workshop drew a pretty experienced crowd of yogis, but we went over the details of the poses as if we were all beginners.

Photo of a yoga pose - upward bow
Thrive Yoga’s Lisa Johnson turns inward in Eight-Angle pose (Astavakrasana).

Sixth Finding: Anusara yoga practitioners have their opening invocation “Om namah shivaya gurave…” that starts each session, and then there’s the mantra that they repeat for every pose: “Shins press towards the mid-line, thighs spiral in and back, the sit bones widen, the tail bone tucks into the space made by the blossoming of the hips…” The Universal Principles of Alignment are the guidelines that John Friend laid down to unify all the yoga practices and poses across multiple lineages and traditions. Desiree repeated the instructions over and over again, and then came back to them, again and again. But I never found this repetitious or boring. Even though the instructions are similar, each pose opens a different gateway into the body. And since your body is changing in the process, each time you approach a pose, the experience is going to be unique. You can be practicing mountain pose or a complicated arm balance, and the same attitude and approach apply.

Photo of yoga practitioner
The reward of sweat

Seventh Finding: at any time during the workshop, I’d look up and see yogis and yoginis, teachers and students doing their stuff, and all of them were bumping into what seemed to be their own bodies’limits. Desiree would come up and apply pressure with a hand or knee on a specific area and show that it was merely a false floor, that there was space beyond that faux boundary. Desiree was asked about the ideas of some yoga teachers, like Paul Grilley, who make a point of highlighting the anatomical limits that exist in all people, and may be quite different, the conclusion being that you should not ask students to go beyond their physical limits. Desiree said, however, that Anusara celebrates freedom of yoga (as opposed to anatomical limits) and that each individual should assume ownership of his or her own body and take it as far as they can.

First impressions of the Anusara yoga workshop at Thrive

Photo of four yoga teachers
Desiree Rumbaugh
Anusara Yoga teacher

I wanted to sketch out some ideas about the Desiree Rumbaugh workshop at Thrive Yoga this weekend. You would think that 13 hours of yoga spread over three days would generate a lot of grist for the mill, but there’s been little opportunity to clarify my mind. Friday night after the first two-hour session, I was involved in family affairs (my mother-in-law arrived from New York City and daughter spent the night on her way to Philadelphia for the weekend.) until late.

Last night, I went straight home and ate anything to give me some quick energy. I thought about doing something useful, but I was too tired to write anything about the workshop. In the end, I went to bed. The next morning, I dragged myself out of bed, served myself a bagel and a cup of coffee and made it to the studio by 8:45. I wondered if I had made the right decision: my hips, thighs and calves were all stiff and felt like dead weight. I felt flat and a bit burned out. But once the yoga started moving my limbs, my energy got better. By the end of the last session (Yoga Therapy), all I could think of was to get more fuel into my system.

Photo of four yoga teachers
Kathy Donnelly, Desiree Rumbaugh, Suzie Hurley and Susan Bowen welcome
all the Anusara aficianados to the first night of the workshop.

First finding: all-day yoga workshops make it hard to get adequate meals. I did not want to overeat at breakfast and lunch for fear that it would interfere with the yoga. But all the energy consumed during the sessions means that a late dinner just makes you want to go to bed. If I had taken just one session a day, it would not have made much of a difference, but double sessions are grueling.

Second finding: Anusara yoga has a strong foothold in the DC area. Desiree drew workshop participants from as far away as New York, Pennsylvania and even California, but many current Anusara teachers from the DC area (and their students) renewed their relationship with Desiree. Lots of hugs and kisses before and after each class: Willow Street Yoga, the Yoga Center of Columbia , Inner Reaches Yoga, and probably a few others, were all present. Friday night and Saturday morning, not another mat could have fit into the expanded room (maybe 70 in all). The other sessions still had slots available, but there were a lot of new faces. That’s pretty good, considering that the workshop fell in the middle of summer. Thrive’s owner, Susan Bowen, says that Desiree will be back soon.

Desiree Rumbaugh demonstrates cobra pose
Desiree demonstrated how to get deeply into cobra pose.

Third Finding: Desiree Rumbaugh is an exceptional teacher, and it’s easy to see why she’s gained such a great reputation. She has a knack for driving home the Anusara message of proper alignment, joyful attitude and balanced action in asana after asana, spotting the necessary adjustments to more fully manifest the pose in her students, and enthusiastic narrative that intertwines her own self-discovery and healing through yoga and the principles of Anusara philosophy. She’s really able to break pose down into pieces that can easily be digested and enacted. And it’s the details that make the difference in the asana.

These “findings” are the low hanging fruit that I can easily pick before going to bed. More considered remarks will come later, with at least one good night of sleep and a day without yoga under my belt. Plus, I’ve got photographs of the sessions.

Coming yoga events in the DC area

Beryl Bender Birch, the master instructor of Hard and Soft Power Yoga (within the Ashtanga school), is giving a weekend workshop at Georgetown Yoga on Friday, June 6 and Saturday, June 7. As noted here and here before, I participated in a Bender Birch workshop at Thrive Yoga. I really enjoyed the opportunity to benefit from her insight and inspiration and would recommend her to any serious yoga student.

At Thrive Yoga, there are a couple of great workshops coming up:

  • Govindas & Radha – Waves of Love Weekend on June 13-14. Govindas is a Rockville native who now lives in California and leads workshops that combine asana with kirtan, music, rhythm and joy. You can buy his CD at CD Baby. The Friday evening event is going to be a family affair in which you can bring offspring and friends for a single price.
  • Anusara Yoga with Desiree Rumbaugh will take place on the July 11-13 weekend. Desiree is an exception teacher and associate of John Friend. She has multiple two DVDs that deal with body issues through yoga. These sessions are going to be 2-3 hours long so that will really reveal a lot about Anusara’s approach to the body .

There is nothing like take an intensive workshop (just one session or multiple days), to break through barriers in your practice.