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Miriam Austin:
A Cool Interview with the Author of Cool Yoga Tricks

cool yoga tricks by miriam austin If you've ever gazed enviously as someone executed a perfect Upward-Facing Bow, or wondered at someone sitting in the Lotus posture as if it were no big deal, then you'll get a lot of value out of Cool Yoga Tricks. You'll learn the steps to attain advanced postures safely and effectively. Cool Yoga Tricks also brings new life and better alignment to everyday postures such as Downward Facing Dog and Standing Forward Bend. If you want to get the absolute most you can out of the physical aspect of your Yoga practice, then you absolutely must have Cool Yoga Tricks, along with a collection of Yoga propsicon &mdash blankets, blocks, straps and the like.

(Article continued below.)

Ah, Yoga props. They can be extremely helpful tools... or they can be instruments of torture and frustration. If you've ever wanted to take a foam block and throw it across the room, you'll be pleasantly surprised by Cool Yoga Tricks. Austin, who studied Iyengar Yoga for many, many years, certainly knows her way around props. But whereas many Iyengar teachers can intimidate you with their stacks of props, Austin turns these objects into your friends. As a matter of fact, one prop she uses frequently in Cool Yoga Tricks is a friend &mdash a Yoga buddy to help gently ease your body in the right direction. The models Austin found for Cool Yoga Tricks look like they're having a great time.

One reason Austin was inspired to write Cool Yoga Tricks was because many people don't realize that improper alignment in Yoga postures can lead to injury. Some people do figure this out... too late. Austin was one of them &mdash she's suffered a number of injuries while practicing Yoga. She once hurt her shoulder so badly that it froze up &mdash "I could not lift my hand above my head," she recalls. Another time she tore her hamstring. Amazingly, some of Austin's teachers told her to work through the pain of an obvious injury. Austin learned better, and she also learned how to practice and progress with Yoga in a safe, gradual manner. She brings her years of wisdom to Cool Yoga Tricks.

Our editor-in-chief, Janiss Garza, was so impressed with Cool Yoga Tricks (read our review here) that she wanted to talk to Austin for All Spirit Fitness. Austin (who also wrote the best-selling Yoga for Wimps) was happy to do the interview, and the result was a conversation that was both informative and immensely enjoyable.

Often, during a Yoga class, the teacher will use props to help students work into more advanced poses. Once you get home, however, you can never remember what she did! Cool Yoga Tricks makes it possible to do those techniques at home.

What's really surprising to me is that nobody else wrote this book. (laughs) It really is! My teacher, Nancy, who's featured in the book, said, "I guess that we take those tricks for granted. We don't even think that they're anything special." But most people don't know them. Even people who are doing Iyengar Yoga don't know a lot of these tricks. Cool Yoga Tricks shows you the proper posture, but it takes you from the easiest aspect of the pose to the proper posture itself.

What do you think are some of the most common mistakes that people make when they're practicing Yoga?

I think people try too hard. I tell my students, "Don't do your best pose. Just do the pose in a wimpier way than what you can" &mdash if we do a pose several times, start out lightly and then by the third or fourth time you can go deeper into the pose. Even in my own practice &mdash when I do Trikonasana first thing in the morning, I always use a block and I put my hand on the block, and three or four &mdash or five &mdash Trikonasanas later, my hand's on the floor. So that's one thing that I see over and over again &mdash people are trying to do their best pose when their bodies are cold.

The other mistake is the competition &mdash people trying to do what other people in the class are doing. They look at somebody else and say, "Wow, that's really cool. I'm gonna try that," and they're not ready for it. I think that maybe Yoga is a little bit off its peak because people got a reality check, like, "Hey, I really can hurt myself here." Actually the orthopedic surgeon I went to for my shoulder &mdash this is a guy who is the orthopedic surgeon for the Hartford, Connecticut ballet and so he's really very, very experienced. He said he gets more and more Yoga injuries and it's mostly 40 and 50 year olds who are going to classes with 25 year olds and they're attempting too much. So I think the student has to have more confidence in what they can and cannot do, and not feel forced into doing something.

Everyone has certain poses they have to work into. With me, for example, I'm very careful of my knees &mdash I've never injured them and I don't want to start, since that can really put you out of action! So I allow myself to be a bit wimpy on, say, Pigeon pose.

Yeah, and you know what? [Pigeon's] not in Cool Yoga Tricks but it should be. Take a rolled hand towel and place it behind your knee when you do that and it'll create more space. I think I have it in the Lotus posture. [In the softcover edition, you'll find the Lotus chapter beginning on page 230 &mdash ed.] Try that, to protect the knee 'cause, yeah, you're right. There are a lot of knee injuries in Yoga too. yoga for wimps by miriam austin

How did your models wind up in Cool Yoga Tricks?

The photographer for Yoga for Wimps is based in Portland, Oregon. So he did the first book and then I did a Meditation for Wimps book, and I just felt like, "Well, I need to continue with Barry because he's a great photographer." And we couldn't find a proper studio here in rural Massachusetts where I now live, so it was easier for me to fly out there. So I just called the Iyengar studio there and asked if they could help me with models. The one guy who's one of my students, he just happened to be in Portland 'cause he used to live there! He was there while we were there. And then Nancy is my friend who's from Colorado, she's been in all of my books. But it seems weird, right &mdash like, how did I get these people? (laughs)

They all look very approachable, like I could sit down and have coffee or tea with any of them and have a really great talk.

Oh yeah! And over the course of the week that we were there doing the photo shoot, I did! I became very good friends with most of them, and actually still talk to them! A couple of them called me just recently. And it was really great for me because I've been in a rural environment for a few years now. There are no Iyengar teachers in this area. I would have to drive to Boston, which is 150 miles away to go take a Yoga class with an Iyengar teacher. So it was really fun to be with these people, most of whom were my peers, as far as ability, and compare notes and stuff. And as we went along, a couple people suggested, "Here, why don't you put this in?" &mdash tricks that I didn't know, and it was really fun. The young Indian woman, Nuvana, she had studied with Mr. Iyengar since she was 5. She was 22 last year. She was really delightful. As we were going through some of the variations on Trikonasana, she said to me, "When you do your pose, why don't you put your hand on your ankle instead of on the floor? Inevitably, with my students, they all want to put their hand on the floor too soon." So I thought that was really good input. It was really just fun to be with them.

They look like they really enjoyed doing the photo sessions.

I think they did. Some of the things we did, like the guy who was doing Warrior II with the wall and the girl had her feet on his thighs &mdash they were cracking up! I think we ended up choosing one of the photos where they weren't laughing as hard just because the form was better. But in many of them, the people are smiling because you can't not smile when you're doing some of these tricks with another person. You know, if you didn't laugh, you'd be inhuman! That was another thing, both in Yoga for Wimps and in Cool Yoga Tricks &mdash see, back in the '90s when I was thinking about writing the first book, I would look at Yoga books and everybody looked so damn serious! It was like, "God, they're not having any fun!" Isn't Mr. Iyengar's book called LIGHT on Yoga?

The kind of joy that's in both your Yoga books is something I don't see in very many other places in the Yoga world.

I think maybe it reflects my practice too. I mostly do Yoga for fun, because it is fun to me! It's great to do handstands and backbends. I probably don't practice the poses I don't like so much! (laughs) But I think that's okay because ultimately if you're not having fun, why do it?

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