Yoga for depression and anxiety

I was happy to be able to snag the last available spot for a two-hour workshop called Yoga for Depression and Anxiety, held this afternoon at the beautiful, community-focused Just B Yoga in Lansing. It was taught by a good friend of mine, South London native Kim Lewis.

Just B Yoga website screenshot

Although I won’t try to document the breathing and moving techniques that Kim went through — I believe these types of things are best learned and digested in context — I do want to say it was very moving when Kim started out the workshop by telling her own story. Here is her bio:

I first experienced a yoga class about 20 years ago, but I began to practice consistently in 2002 in my late 30s. I’d never been comfortable doing sport or “physical” activity, so I was surprised how much I enjoyed this unfamiliar form of exercise. Since then, I’ve learned that yoga has much more to offer than simply physical movement.

Before getting more serious about yoga, I was suffering with backaches, headaches, and neck aches – probably all because of stress. I’ve also had trouble with depression and anxiety that has sometimes thrown me completely off balance. Yoga has helped me to build better physical and mental health, so I’m able to function well in my daily life – and really live life.

At 46, I’m in much better physical and emotional shape than I was at 26. The combination of yoga poses, breathing and meditative practices simply makes me feel good. I’m so fortunate that I found yoga and I want to share it with others.

I trained with Hilaire Lockwood at Hilltop Yoga. I am also certified by Amy Weintraub, author of Yoga for Depression, as a LifeForce Yoga Practitioner.

Kim was diagnosed as bipolar in her 20s, and strongly advises anyone trying to come off medications to do so with the help of a physician — rather than trying to do so on their own. Kim told the group today that she is living proof that while yoga can’t take away all the challenges, it can change someone’s life:

It can change your brain.

Kim told us that yoga gives you the tools to take care of yourself. These tools can be summarized by three words: “Breathe, Move, Watch,” based on breathing techniques (pranayama), physical postures (asana) and looking at how yoga philosophy views the Self.

You can use breathing and movement to:

  • Balance the body and mind
  • Calm the body/mind when anxious
  • Energize the body and mind when depressed — but on this point, Kim emphasized how mindfulness is needed because this can also aggravate anxiety or set off a manic state.

She said everyone needs to cultivate self-awareness and check in with themselves. If you feel lethargic and depressed, start slowly and warm up to a more energetic practice. If you feel jumpy and anxious, start with more active movement and then slow down to a more calming practice.

As a yoga instructor, I appreciated Kim’s pointers for those with depression or anxiety when taking group yoga classes — that you have to cultivate this same self-awareness and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

On this point, I think yoga teachers would be wise to try to learn more about depressed and anxious students. You won’t be able to tell that modifications are needed the way you would if a woman in her third trimester of pregnancy walks into your class, but even being aware of different needs might make you more intuitive about students who may quietly be suffering through major depression and need a different energy from you.

I found these points particularly interesting:

  • For someone with major depression, it may be too much to turn in internally, so don’t allow yourself to go there.
  • For someone with major depression, it might be uncomfortable to close the eyes, so just soften the gaze.

On that point, as an Ashtanga devotee, it made me all the more aware of the importance of dristi — the gaze — of the practice. Dristi is one of the three tools that the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system gives us (together, the three are referred to as the tristana). There’s not a whole lot of eye-closing in Ashtanga — you are always asked to set a soft gaze on one of nine points (tip of nose, hand, to the side, etc.). I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that, to keep us present on the mat in a way that allows us to boomerang our awareness inward with true clarity, rather than in a way that allows us either to escape to another place or get sucked into a place we don’t want to go to.

I’m writing about this workshop to, generally, help share the resources that Kim shared. I also noticed that the workshop had sold out at 20 slots — but I only counted about 14 in the room, and wondered if some folks were too anxious to be in a group setting where the focus was on yoga therapy for depression and anxiety.

For anyone with depression or anxiety reading this blog post at home, know that there are people who get it, and that yoga therapy may be able to help. If reaching out seems impossible, maybe make a few clicks to buy some of these resources listed below, to help you get to a point where you can seek out a professional who can work with you on some basic yoga techniques that — while they will hardly fix everything — might be able to help.

Suggested books

Suggested CD

>>Related posts: A different kind of black Friday

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By the way — I know it’s been two weeks since my last blog post, and I have to tell you that it’s killing me that I’ve been too busy to blog. If you’ve been following this blog for the past year or so, you know I fit in blogging whenever I can — so the fact that I haven’t been able to put anything up is a testament to how compressed my schedule has been. I think I literally have about 12 blog posts in my head right now — about the first Bikram class I took about what being a Radiohead concert made me think about injuries, about one excellent tool for home practice and how I lost my voice nearly completely but taught a led class anyway — and on and on. I hope to catch up on some of these. We shall see.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Keep reading, keep practicing

Books for sale at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence

The Ashtanga Yoga Confluence is over, but the stream of knowledge and inspiration from this first-of-its-kind gathering doesn’t have to end for any of us.

Here’s a list of Confluence-related resources, which I’ve divided into various categories. Perhaps the most important list below is the one for workshops offered by the Confluence teachers. Nothing beats being in the same room to feel the radiance of these deeply devoted teachers.

==Blog posts specifically about the Confluence by the teachers==

Tim Miller

  • Tuesday, February 28th (a post just before the start of the gathering)
  • Tuesday, March 6th (a post just after the end of the gathering). I love that in this post, Tim Miller notes how he once asked Guruji what he thought about western students’ pronunciation of Sanskrit. Guruji said simply, “Eddie’s is correct.”

Eddie Stern

==Keeping up with the Confluence teachers’ writings==

==Blog posts and blog series by Ashtanga practitioners==

==Photos from the Confluence==

  • Michelle Haymoz, a student of Tim Miller’s, took stunning photos of the Confluence opening puja ceremony. See them here.
  • Lena Gardelli, the official photographer of the event, has started to post albums on her Facebook page. Take a look.

==Video==

==Keep learning from the Confluence teachers==

Nancy Gilgoff

Richard Freeman

Tim Miller

Eddie Stern

David Swenson

I’ll be adding to this as I come across new links. Tell me what I’ve missed by leaving a comment below. And, last but not least — happy practicing!

>>In this series:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Guided primary series with Nancy Gilgoff

It’s hard to believe the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence was only last weekend. If I didn’t have a full-time job, if I didn’t teach yoga four times a week, and if I wasn’t trying to plan a wedding, I probably would have written twice as many blog posts during and after the Confluence. :-) But I’m thankful for the time and inspiration I have had for the posts I have managed to do — a big thank you to everyone for reading, commenting and sharing, both here and on Facebook.

I have a couple more posts to go, however, before I say I’ve filed all that I want to file from the gathering.

On the last day of the Confluence, I took the guided primary series with Nancy Gilgoff. I loved the balance of taking the led primary from Richard Freeman on the first day of classes and then seeing Nancy’s approach on the last day. They couldn’t have been more different in their approach to beginners.

You could tell from Richard’s class that he has a background in Iyengar and philosophy. His approach, which I really appreciated, was to set the scene, so speak. Offer up intensely vivid imagery (such as golden dragon tails and cobra hoodies). Get deep into poses. But at the very end of classes, he said, “So . . . don’t try to remember any of this.” He told the room full of students that if we continue to practice, all of this stuff will find us. If we don’t, it will run away from us. Richard seems to simply want to plant the seeds of these ideas into our body and our consciousness.

Nancy began class by saying that when she first met Guruji, he had to put her into poses. He had to help her jump back, because she wasn’t strong enough. She is a big believer in introducing Ashtanga yoga to beginners by having them just do it. Breath? Bandhas? “The beginner can’t hear it anyway,” she told us. Nancy continued by saying that bringing up too much with beginners runs the risk of causing their minds to activate. “The less thinking, the better,” she said.

I loved what she had to say about the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga breath:

The more I practice, the more I realize the simplicity of it. This is about the breath.

(Interestingly, in a similar vein, Richard Freeman had said in his class that you could think of Ashtanga as “pranayama for restless people.”)

Nancy knew that nearly every single person in that room already had an Ashtanga practice, so she noted historical facts about the poses as we got into them. I loved it — it was like taking a guided historical tour of how the primary series sequence has changed over time.

A few notes:

  • In bhujapidasana, she teaches head on the floor the way Tim Miller does. Chin to the floor is more advanced, she said, and you shouldn’t do it if you can’t do head to the floor.
  • In kurmasana, it used to be arms straight out to the sides. Nancy wondered whether taking the arms at more of an angle was the result of less and less room to work with.
  • When it came time for urdvha dhanurasana, Nancy said that Pattabhi Jois didn’t have them do backbends there. “Think about that,” she said. She did let students who wanted the urdvha dhanurasanas to take them.
  • Nancy also put us in the pose that Tim Miller has his students do, where you lie down right after backbends. (Tim calls it tadaka mudra.) Nancy noted that it is not savasana. “Stiff body,” she said.
  • I loved how she introduced  ut plutihi: She said to bring in all the tension you can. All of it, so that you can fully let go in savasana. For this reason, Nancy believes in going straight to savasana from ut plutihi, rather than taking a vinyasa first. But she let students take the vinyasa if they wanted to.

After the class, we had a few minutes of discussion. Someone asked Nancy about alignment. “There is no formal alignment whatsoever,” she said.

In Ashtanga, Nancy noted, it’s about energetic channels: “It’s a completely different approach.”

I loved what she said next, because the idea that there’s no alignment whatsoever seemed to be a difficult one for our group as a whole to handle:

The western mind thinks in terms of external form.

 

As with each of the Confluence teachers, Nancy’s instruction left me with so much great fodder to think about — not just now, but for years to come.

(Illustration credit: Chakras, from “The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga,” by Swami Vishnudevananda, 1959, via Spratmackrel’s Flickr photostream and Creative Commons.)

In this series:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

[VIDEO] Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: What about this whole enlightenment business?

There was a Q-and-A session during the last panel of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. One question, which had been submitted to conference organizers prior to the start of the gathering, seemed like an eight-part question about enlightenment. It was such a long question that I won’t even attempt to summarize it. But it doesn’t really matter, because in the case of the videos below, the answers are more interesting than the question.

Eddie Stern on enlightenment

Just before this clip begins, Stern says that when he first found yoga, he only knew of meditation and chanting. He was searching for something called enlightenment. He didn’t find postures until he met Pattabhi Jois. This clip picks up there.

I was interested in learning what Guruji knew. I was interested in learning how he could see people so clearly….How could he see things about me that I didn’t understanding about myself? So all that became a lot more interesting to me than some idea about some state that I may or may not ever reach or be in — or maybe even exist.

Tim Miller

Enlightenment, as Eddie intimated, is kind of a lofty concept for a householder. You know, my wife is happy if I remember to empty the dishwasher. She refers to it as foreplay.

David Swenson

In his trademark fashion, David continued the rolls of laughter by starting out with, “I am enlightened. And if you would like to get enlightened, buy my DVD.”

What are the signs? Do you get a tweet?

What David says in his answer seems to apply specifically to our practice as well:

Answers are overrated. Because what happens many times — we get an answer, and we stop questioning….Questions contain the quest.

In this series:

(Photo credit: “Enlightenment!” via Shira Golding‘s Flickr photostream)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[VIDEO] Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: The making of the ‘confluence’ theme

My blog post “Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Last day (first set?)” included a video interview with Jenny Barrett-Bouwer, who, along with Carol Miller and Deborah Ifill, organized the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. That blog post included Jenny’s answer to the burning question on everyone’s mind as the event ended: Will there be another Confluence next year?

Consider this post the second part of the interviews with organizers, where we get to take a step back with Deb. Deb, who is a graphic designer, was nice enough to talk about how the term “confluence” came to be the name of the gathering, and how she came up wit the popular designs of the Confluence T-shirts.

As a reminder, here is how the event’s website — which Deb also designed — says about the mission of the Confluence:

Join in an in-depth exploration of the Ashtanga Yoga tradition March 1-4, 2012 in San Diego with senior western students of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: Richard Freeman, Nancy Gilgoff, Tim Miller, David Swenson and Eddie Stern.

In India, the location where two or more rivers merge is thought to be an auspicious place of spiritual power. In the same spirit these highly respected teachers will join in a confluence* of classes, lectures, stories and events designed to share the profound gift of yoga they received from their beloved teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

The confluence is open to experienced ashtanga yoga practitioners as well as yoga students who are new to the ashtanga practice. We offer a unique opportunity for students of all levels to learn from master teachers of this profound and ancient system.

 

*con·flu·ence [kon-floo-uhns] noun: A flowing together of two or more streams. An act or process of merging. A coming together of people or things.

How did the term “confluence” come to be?

How did you come up with the memorable T-shirt designs? The fan favorite seemed to be the one of Pattabhi Jois tee done in the style of the famous Obama “Hope” design.

Why did you choose an eight-petaled lotus for some of the T-shirt designs?

The Confluence took a year of planning, and you said you worked on it pretty much every day. Did your Ashtanga practice help you with the event planning process?

In this series:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Not discussed (thankfully!) at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Vanity Fair’s profile on the Ashtanga Yoga/Jois Yoga tension

Vanity Fair profiles Jois Yoga.

(Correction noted below)

As if on cue, Vanity Fair today has published an in-depth look at the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system and growing tensions with Jois Yoga. I learned about it from Claudia Yoga and The Confluence Countdown this afternoon as Scott and I were in various stages of making our way back to Michigan, and as of tonight, several of my Facebook friends have been posting the link and commenting on it.

I say “as if on cue” because this article is hitting the day following the end of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. The timing could not have been better.

The feature mentions four of the Confluence teachers: Tim Miller, Eddie Stern, Nancy Gilgoff and David Swenson. Had the article come out during the Confluence, it would no doubt have been the subject of lots of individual conversations, and very likely have been asked about during the final panel discussion, in which the five master teachers of the Confluence touched on everything from enlightenment to why in padmasana (lotus pose), the right leg folds first in the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga method.

But because this article has come out after everyone has long left for home — full of nothing short of exuberance from the gathering — I think conference attendees are in the best possible position to keep it all in perspective.

Perhaps my favorite comment so far has come from the Facebook page of The Yoga Shala in Calgary, Alberta:

The business of yoga can certainly be tricky. All I have to offer on this article is that we spent last weekend at a conference with 5 senior Ashtanga teachers and the place was filled with only love, adoration and respect for Pattabhi Jois & family. There is certainly a very strong community of Ashtangis worldwide that care about each other and will continue to come together to celebrate. “Yoga is about caring about the person in front of you” – Eddie Stern

From Enron to Encinitas

This new article is written by Bethany McLean, whose reporting for Fortune magazine back in 2001 first raised questions about the level of profitability of Enron. Her current beat at Vanity Fair includes business and high society life — which is how she entered this story. The teaser for the article reads this like this:

Sonia Jones, lithe blonde wife of hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, has partnered with the family of the late Ashtanga-yoga master Krishna Pattabhi Jois to launch a chain of yoga studios and boutiques. That’s got many of Jois’s devotees in a distinctly un-yogic twist.

An informal analysis of the comments and tweets I’ve seen so far tells me that ashtangis who have read the article appear to appreciate McLean’s attempt to get a feel for the Ashtanga culture and to share different sides of the story. (I agree for the most part, although I have a questions about a couple of details she mentions.) In any case, here’s a taste:

It would be easy and convenient to say that if Sonia [Jones] had never gotten involved, or if she had stopped with the Florida shala, all would have been peace, love, and joy in the Ashtanga world. But that’s just not true. Discord and questions about the worthiness of the chosen successor are what great teachers, from Martha Graham to George Balanchine, leave behind when they die. This is particularly true in the Ashtanga world. In Sanskrit culture, parampara denotes an uninterrupted succession, and it is Sharath, born in 1971, who stepped into his grandfather’s place. (Guruji’s son Manju remained in Encinitas after that first trip and became a sort of peripatetic teacher of his father’s yoga.) Under Guruji’s tutelage, Sharath became the most advanced Ashtanga practitioner in the world, said to be the only person who has made it to the sixth series. In the early 1990s he started assisting Guruji in the shala and became more and more active as Guruji aged. Sharath eventually became the director of the Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute—basically the new incarnation of Jois’s Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute—in Mysore.

Read the entire article.

I love the quote from Kino MacGregor that the article ends with:

She points out that Krishnamacharya taught hundreds, maybe even thousands, of students, and there are only six who are well known today. “The students chose them,” she says. “The future of yoga is decided by the students, and whoever will bear the torch of Ashtanga yoga will be decided by the students. I don’t think we need to try to control it. We just need to sit with the uncertainty of it.”

What Confluence students kept saying throughout the weekend was how having these five teachers all in one place, joined by more than 350 practitioners from around the world, truly demonstrated how strong the lineage of this practice is. It was all one big inspiring reminder about the strength of the Ashtanga yoga tradition.

And if any of us have any doubts, I think we all know what we need to do — step on our mat and take that first inhale. The practice, as the Confluence teachers reminded us, is the true teacher. The tradition is strong because we are all doing our part to honor the best of it.

Ownership

Only because the title of this Vanity Fair piece is “Whose Yoga Is It Anyway,” I will talk about one thing that was said by Eddie Stern at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, during the panel discussion on the eight limbs of this practice. Please keep in mind that he made a point to say he was not speaking in a veiled way about any particular type of yoga — he just wanted to make this point, since the topic at hand was asteya, most commonly referred to as “non-stealing.”

Eddie brought up how Pattabhi Jois, whenever asked about the Ashtanga vinyasa method, would say, “I didn’t change a thing.” Eddie explained that Guruji was basically saying he learned from his guru — that he was, in essence, standing on the shoulders of giants. For him to take ownership would have gone against the tradition.

“We are standing on a great, great tradition,” Eddie said. “To not acknowledge that tradition  . . . is a type of stealing.”

The tradition is so much bigger than any of us — and what a gift that is.

>>Correction appended. In the comments below, Jenny points out that the article in the printed magazine hit news stands on Saturday — smack in the middle of the Confluence. So I should amend this whole post to say — well, just as well, then, that no one in my circles was talking about it, leaving me to learn about it as I was boarding my flight home on Monday. I have read with keen interest — on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and blogs — everyone’s comments on the piece, and I’m interested in seeing more and more reaction. But I am happy that, for me, the Confluence was kept pure with the energy of the five teachers and the hundreds of participants who had gathered. We have plenty of time to nosh on what was written in this Vanity Fair piece.      

In this series:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[VIDEO] Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Eddie Stern suggests a high-stakes Vedic debate with ‘The Science of Yoga’ author William Broad

Screenshot of Eddie Stern's blog post (also published in the Huffington Post) responding to William Broad's "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body" article in the New York Times magazine.

The final panel discussion of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence included a Q-and-A portion. Organizers had sent out an email to all registrants a while back asking if anyone had questions for the teachers.

One of the questions chosen was directed to Tim Miller and wanted to hear his take on William Broad’s book The Science of Yoga. Tim leaned into the microphone and said that Eddie Stern, who had written an excellent article in response to that very question, was the ideal panelist to answer that question.

You can listen to Eddie’s well-rounded answer here, and to the hilarious way he ended his comment — by basically challenging New York Times writer William Broad to a Vedic debate, which is a pretty high-stakes way of determining a winner in an argument.

P.S.  Should I have titled this post “How a Vedic debate can wreck a bad argument”?

In this series:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[VIDEO] Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Last day (first set?)

The first-ever Ashtanga Yoga Confluence ended a little after 5 this evening. I have so much to share from everything that happened today, and will try to blog as much as I can during the 4 1/2-hour plane ride back to Michigan tomorrow.

Suffice it to say that you’ll eventually be reading about:

  • Eddie Stern’s hilarious and awesome Vedic-tradition-based challenge to William Broad, author of the controversial book, The Science of Yoga.
  • What the Confluence teachers had to say about enlightenment.
  • A more-or-less pose-by-pose history of the primary series, according to Nancy Gilgoff (you might be surprised by what’s been added over the years and what’s been taken out).
  • What we in the west need to be cautious of when we stand on the shoulders of yoga giants.

In the meantime, you should read on to learn more about whether there will be a Confluence 2013, and you should also head over the Confluence Countdown blog to see Steve and Bobbie’s musings, reports and photos so far from the event.

In honor of the completion of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, I want to focus this post on the organizers who made this all happen. Two of Tim Miller’s students, Jenny Barrett-Bouwer and Deborah Ifill, came to Tim and his wife, Carol, about a year ago with the idea for an Ashtanga Yoga conference. The rest is now history. The three women — who all already had their hands full with their current responsibilities — suddenly found themselves with a new event-planning gig in addition to everything else. Tim’s job was to reach out to the teachers who ultimately became the Confluence crew.

Carol, Deborah and Jenny received a much-deserved standing ovation this afternoon during the last panel session — not just for making this happen at all, but for making it such a resounding success. To a person, everyone I talked to at the event thought it so incredibly well planned out and superbly executed.

20120304-103301.jpg

Carol Miller, one of the three visionary and tireless organizers of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. Students of Tim Miller know that Carol is the force behind making annual retreats such as the Mt. Shasta hiking/yoga getaways a reality.

Deborah and Carol were kind enough to speak with me today about the event, even though they were swamped with getting everything wrapped up. They noted that the Confluence teachers wanted to keep it small and intimate. That’s why the event was capped at under 400 and why only the morning class and afternoon workshop on each day were split into two groups, with everything else done as a large group.

All told, there were 386 registrants hailing from across the United States and from countries as far away as Italy. An even bigger group — 500 people — were on the waiting list. There was so much enthusiasm for the event that, once it was announced last year, it only took 45 days for all the spots to fill.

Jenny was also kind enough to talk to me today. Here’s my quick video interview with her:

How did the Confluence come about? (Word of warning: I think Jenny is making it sound a lot simpler than it really was!)

Confluence attendees seemed to all feel that the event really spoke to how strong the Ashtanga tradition is today. Can you talk a little about that?

 

What has the feedback been for the Confluence?



Will there be another Confluence next year?

On this point, I have to note that at the end of the last discussion panel, Eddie, who owns Ashtanga Yoga New York, said, “How about next year in New York?”

Last one. First set!

A quick note about the title of this blog post. As students of Tim Miller know all too well, Timji (as he is affectionately called), doesn’t seem to believe in doing just three urdvha dhanurasanas in a led primary series class. Sometimes, he will have us do eight — one for each of eight of the seemingly never-ending names of the famous monkey king Hanuman.

On other days, he will have us do a couple sets of three. In those cases, he will call out the last backbend of the first set of three by saying, “Up you go. Last one.” And his students will call out on cue and in unison, “First set!”

Let’s hope today was the last day of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence’s first of many, many sets.

In this series:

 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Backbending, and getting back together

20120303-113326.jpg

For me, the second full day of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence was about backbending and getting back together.

Mysore West?

First, getting back together. As lots of people have noted, having 350 Ashtanga yoga practitioners all in one place to learn from five master teachers is a recipe for a reunion. Even though Ashtanga’s popularity around the world seems to have increased exponentially since the early 1970s, it’s still a pretty small, tight-knit community — even if you’ve never studied in Mysore, India.

Just before the start of the conference, Tim Miller wrote this blog post:

The tribe has already started to gather—my regular classes are starting to swell a bit with the new arrivals from various parts of the country. Most of these folks I have met at some point, either through their attendance at a workshop I taught in their area or their participation in a teacher-training course or retreat. It feels a bit like a family reunion—nieces and nephews and cousins all coming together for a big celebration. My fellow teachers at the Confluence are like brothers and sisters that I rarely get a chance to spend time with. The last time we all got together was for Guruji’s memorial in 2009. The Confluence will be a different kind of Guruji memorial—a joyful celebration of Pattabhi Jois’ life and legacy.

The tribe gathering — it’s so true.

It was wonderful to have the chance to spend quality time this afternoon with the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor crew. In the evening, the dinner break gave me a chance to hang out with the totally fun group of ashtangis I met at the Mt. Shasta hiking and yoga retreat this past August. Tomorrow, I get to catch up with Dana Blonde and Brent Mulligan, the awesome couple who own The Yoga Shala in Calgary, Alberta. I met Dana in 2009, when I traveled to Vancouver to do a weeklong training with David Swenson. I met Dana’s husband in 2010, when I traveled to Southern California to study with Tim Miller.

Yeah, it’s definitely a small world.

There’s also a lot of supportive energy in the air, and I think that’s thanks not only to the Confluence attendees, but also the tone set by the five brilliant but incredibly down-to-earth teachers themselves. Yesterday during Tim’s pranayama workshop, Eddie Stern and Richard Freeman streamed in with all the other students who were attending, and listened as intently as anyone. In today’s backbending workshop, David Swenson slid in and found an open space that happened to be just in front of me. I’m guessing he didn’t bring a mat in so as to not take up a full space (this workshop had been over-registered), but right there on the hotel carpet, he got into sphinx pose, shalabasana (locust), and all of the research poses that Richard put the room in. He looked like he was having a blast.

The level of camaraderie seemed to reach a fever pitch when the afternoon discussion between Tim and Eddie — focused on Hanuman and Ganesha — closed with everyone singing the Hanuman Chalisa. Tim played his harmonium, accompanied by some of his students on a range of other instruments. Jason (@leapinglanka) tweeted this afterward:

Eddie S. & Tim M. shredded Hanuman/Ganesh tonite. Dffrnt generations, East/West coast, didn’t matter: ashtanga tradition is very much alive

‘Yoga is relationship’

Ah, to the backbending.

I was lucky enough to receive my dropbacks during Mysore this morning from Ricard Freeman.

Oh. My. God.

I am blessed to have had, over the past couple of years, expert Ashtanga teachers who have taught me a tremendous amount about stability, security and strength during dropbacks. I am able to surrender fully in dropbacks because I trust fully.

But I’ve never experienced a dropback quite like the ones given by Richard. It’s nearly impossible to describe. Suffice it here, for now, to say that it didn’t feel like Richard was using his muscles or any part of his body, really, to support me in the dropbacks. It instead felt like he was directing an invisible net of soft energy that allowed my spine to cascade like a waterfall up and over, and then return again (almost like a video being played in reverse), with a moment of pure suspension in that moment just before I returned to standing.

Those dropbacks were the perfect trailer for the backbending worskhop held a couple of hours later.

There’s no way I could possible recreate — or even distill, really — the backbending workshop. That’s one of the beauties of being present at a gathering like this. You come to learn, and to share what you learn. But so much of what you learn you can’t adequately share in a straight-forward way (like blogging about it). So much of what you learn you will end up sharing because it will become part of how you see this practice, and that will infuse into the way you practice, the way you interact with your world, and, if you are a teacher, subtle things about the way you teach and adjust students.

If you have the chance to learn about backbending from Richard, who found Iyengar yoga before he found Ashtanga yoga, I highly recommend it. Richard builds it step by step so beautifully — much like the way Tim builds his two-hour bandha workshop, which he sometimes offers when he travels to conduct his weekend workshops.

I will say that Richard opened the backbending workshop by talking about the two dominant patterns — one based on prana, and one based on the opposite, apana, and what we need is to balance the two.

Yoga is relationship. . . . You are a go-between for these patterns — prana and apana. Or, Shiva/Shakti, if you want to be fancy. When they intertwine, you disappear.

A reunion.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: How inhaling and exhaling can wring us out

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It’s past 11:30 p.m. of the end of the first full day of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence as I start to write this, and Scott and I just got back from an unplanned trip to Los Angeles, where we had dinner with my parents. This sojourn north along Interstate 5 was unplanned because I had forgotten to tell my parents that I was going to be in San Diego for the Confluence. I am embarrassingly bad about telling family and friends I’m going to be in places relatively near them when I travel, mostly my life moves at such a ridiculous pace. I will decide to register for an event like this, book whatever I need to book, note the dates in the calendars I need to note them in, and then not think about logistics again until I am driving toward the airport and pulling out the printout of my flight confirmation to see what airline I’m taking. By the time I get the chance to think about all the people I should have told I’m coming, I’m usually on the plane, just a couple hours before landing in that destination.

So my parents, being the incredibly thoughtful people that they are, called me yesterday, after hearing that I was here, to see if I wanted to meet them in L.A. so that we could look for a traditional Thai outfit in Thai Town to wear to the Thai Buddhist template in Michigan we’re visiting as part of my wedding weekend in May.

My mom and dad drove seven hours from northern California to make this happen. It was really, really sweet to see them.

And it’s wonderful to be back in California. I spent 10 years of my life in this state, and on some level, it will always be home, even though I have now lived in Michigan for six years and am in the process of (hopefully) buying my first house. Every time I come to the Golden State — which is usually two or three times a year — I always feel a little homesick when I leave.

While I’m feeling very full (both physically from the dinner we had in Thai Town and emotionally from seeing my folks), I’m also pretty drained. But before I call it a day (which, much like last night, I am doing several hours later than I should be), I want to share one tidbit from my afternoon session today. I sat in Tim Miller’s pranayama workshop after taking Richard Freeman’s led intro class in the morning. (I did a short blog post, Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Thinking of Ashtanga as ‘pranayama for restless people’ on that class.)

This “Working In” workshop — which I’ve taken a couple of times before at various studios who host Tim, and which I obviously wanted to take again — felt a bit like a continuation of the morning’s theme. All I want to share for this post is the sponge analogy and Tim’s thoughts about being underfed and overstuffed.

Think about that caked over, dried-up sponge you surely have under your kitchen sink. So an inhalation during pranayama — the fourth yogic limb — can be thought of as water hitting that sponge. It soaks up the water and expands. What happens after that? We exhale. We squeeze everything out.

As we have all noted while squeezing out an old sponge, the water is not exactly clear. There’s stuff in there that needs to be cleansed out. As we continue to soak up and squeeze, the water does get cleaner.

Ultimately, the simple act of conscious breathing is designed to help us refine our discernment — to help us learn to feed the sense organs more consciously. Tim noted that in the west, many of us feel underfed and overstuffed. We’re numbed out from the less-than-ideal choices we make. Pranayama can help break that cycle.

If you’ve never tried any pranayama exercises and can’t picture what a breath-based cleansing feels like in the physical body, much less the subtle body, I highly suggest you find a way to take a class with Tim Miller or Richard Freeman, stat.

Or perhaps start saving up for the second annual Confluence?

By the way, while I was taking Tim’s pranayama workshop, The Confluence Countdown was in David Swenson’s class on floating and handstanding. Head over to their blog to read more about that session, and about the panel discussion I missed because I was coursing along SoCal’s asphalt rivers on my way to Thai Town.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Thinking of Ashtanga as ‘pranayama for restless people’

Just a quick blog post as coffee brews. I came to the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence for two reasons: Ricard Freeman and Eddie Stern. Of course, I came because it is a confluence not just of five out-of-this-world teachers plus hundreds of others great ashtangis, but if I had to distill exactly whose energies and knowledge I wanted to chance to experience, it boiled down to these two guys, who have long intrigued me.

I got the chance to see Eddie in action last night as he led the Ganesh puja. He was as inspiringly spiritual as I had envisioned he might be. One minute, he was on the platform, as everyone was still streaming in and sitting down, taking a quick look at his smartphone. The next, he was telling jokes about interpreting religion. The next, he was chanting 108 names of Ganesha. And finally, he was leading us to the beach, to the water, to end the purification ceremony. What a cool guy.

This morning as 7 a.m., everyone streamed into one of two rooms for the first class of the Confluence: the Mysore class or the led introduction with Richard. Richard was as poetic, heady and knowledgeable as I had envisioned he might be. And he was funny. Lots of Ashtanga in-jokes, which never ceases to entertain me. (Like, acknowledging that chatauri in surya namaskara B feels like a relief — like a Friday night.) What a cool guy.

His breakdown of the breath and movements in the surya namaskaras was probably the single most comprehensive and elegant approach to these sequences that I have ever seen.

Before I head out again, I want to leave you with just two thoughts — how he began and ended class. At the beginning of class, Richard said that you can think about the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system as “pranayama for restless people.”

Love it.

At the end of the two-hour class, after he took us out of savasana, he said, “So . . . don’t try to remember any of this.”

If you continue to practice, it will find you. If you don’t, it will run away from you.

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© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Ashtanga Yoga Confluence kickoff, plus my class schedule for the weekend

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The highly anticipated first annual Ashtanga Yoga Confluence kicked off this evening on San Diego’s Mission Bay with a Ganesha puja led by Eddie Stern. Read more about it at The Confluence Countdown. It’s been a total blast to run into so many people I’ve met over the past few years in my Ashtanga travels — friends from Calgary to Columbus, from Salt Lake City to Santa Barbara. And to get to be in the presence of five radiant senior western teachers, only two of whom I’ve met? Wow. I walked over to the registration table this afternoon feeling a little giddy — sort of the way I feel just before a Radiohead concert is about to start. (As a side note, incredibly, I am seeing Radiohead next weekend. It’s a big one-two punch of some serious external/physical stimulation and internal/psychological stimulation.)

Here’s the way the Confluence works: The puja, designed to give the gathering an auspicious start, was attended by everyone. Friday, Saturday and Saturday, there are two asana tracks in the morning — a track of led introductory classes and a track for Mysore classes. Friday and Saturday afternoons, there are two workshops to choose from. Each day, everyone comes back together in the late afternoon for panel discussions. Saturday night, there’s a two-hour MC Yogi concert.

Classes

Here’s my class schedule, along with what I’m missing out on:

Friday

Taking: 7 – 9 a.m. – Guided Intro Class taught by Richard Freeman

Missing: 7 – 10 a.m. – Mysore taught by Tim Miller, David Swenson, Nancy Gilgoff and Eddie Stern with certified and authorized teacher assistance

~~

Taking: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – “Working In”– The Art of Breathing taught by Tim (pranayama). Pranayama, literally “the extension of the life force,” is an important practice that cultivates clarity of mind, longevity and pratyahara (the inward turning of attention). Tim will introduce pranayama techniques to explore aspects of the pranamaya kosha (subtle body) such as the chakras and the pancha vayus (the five pranas) and to serve as the vital link between external methodology and internal experience.

Missing: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Flying, Floating and Handstanding taught by David (asana with partner). Flying, Floating and Handstanding: In this fun-filled exploration of vinyasa and arm balances, we’ll break down the vinyasa into its components and explore handstands and arm balances through the avenue of partner work. All levels can attend – even if you’ve never done a handstand.

Saturday

Missing: 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. – Guided Intro Class taught by Tim (asana)

Taking: 7 a.m.- 8:30 a.m. – Mysore taught by Richard, David, Nancy and Eddie with certified and authorized teacher assistance (asana)

~~~

Missing: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Intro to the Second Series taught by Nancy and assisted by Tim Miller (asana). An introduction to Nadi Shodana (purification of the little rivers), the intermediate series of Asthanga Yoga.

Taking: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Backbending on the Current of Breath taught by Richard (asana). An energetic exploration of integrated whole-body patterns found in backbending. We’ll work with the internal alignment mirrored in the pelvic floor as it moves around the central axis of the body. Using these patterns, combined with integrated muscular patterns within the hamstrings, abdominal wall, shoulders and arms, we’ll construct a series of deep backbends that are grounded, open and free of pain.

Sunday

Taking: 7 – 9 a.m. – Guided Intro to Ashtanga taught by Nancy followed by Loving Kindness Meditation (asana)

Missing: 7 – 10 a.m. – Mysore taught by Tim, David, Richard and Eddie with certified and authorized teacher assistance (asana)

The beginner’s mind (as experienced in conjunction with the body)

The traditional way to teach Ashtanga is through individual work in the Mysore tradition. But because I didn’t learn Ashtanga that way, and because I teach led, all-level classes, I always deeply value the chance to be in a beginner’s class.

I am acutely aware of how imperfect guided classes can be. (For more on this rich subject, see the AY:A2 blog’s “Poverty of Verbal Instruction” post.) But it’s a reality — and I think there’s a lot that can be gained from an instructor’s words. It’s all about who that instructor is and how they choose which words to use, when. How do you introduce someone to this highly complicated, but also gorgeously simple, practice? How do you help people who may be coming in with minimal levels of body awareness start to connect to themselves through verbal instruction, adjustments and a harder to define sharing of energy? How do you send out your own enthusiasm for this practice in a balanced way? I’ve learned so much by taking, for instance, classes for beginners from Tim Miller and Angela Jamison.

I’ve been in Tim Miller’s pranayama workshops before, but I’m looking forward to this workshop. Hard to get tired of pranayama — and there’s so much to learn. I’m excited to see how Richard Freeman approach to backbends.

Discussions

Here are the panels being held Friday through Sunday:

Panel Discussion with Tim, David, Richard, Nancy and Eddie for the entire group to attend together (lecture/discussion). Q&A discussion, stories about Guruji, etc.

The Symbolic Meaning of the Hindu Deities: Ganesh & Hanuman taught by Eddie and Tim for the entire group to attend together (lecture/discussion). Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra II.44 states “Swadyaya Ishta Devata Samprayogaha – Union with the chosen deity comes from the study of self through the sacred texts”. Eddie and Tim will shed light on their chosen deities Ganesha, the remover of obstacles and Hanuman, the dispeller of afflictions.

The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga with Tim, David, Richard, Nancy and Eddie for the entire group to attend together (lecture/discussion). The first five limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are known as the external limbs. Pattabhi Jois said, “The first five limbs of yoga are very difficult-the last three are easy!” Each teacher will illuminate a yama and a niyama, as well as discuss the lager context of the first five limbs, or even all eight if time permits.

Ashtanga Yoga and Daily Life with Tim, David, Richard, Nancy and Eddie for the entire group to attend together (lecture/discussion). All of the teachers will reflect on what it means to be a yogi in the modern world, as a westerner and a householder and how one’s practice changes over time in relation to the aging process. Questions submitted in advance will be answered.

I’m missing the first panel discussion because I’m driving up to L.A. Friday after the pranayama workshop to have dinner with my parents, who are taking the long drive from northern California to see me and my fiance, Scott.

Scott’s encouragement is one of the reasons that I’ve done so many Ashtanga trainings the last few years — he’s so great about telling me I should register to train first, and figure out how to get the time off/pay for it later. And he’s right — it has somehow worked out each time. But he’s never traveled to do any yoga with me. In fact, he’s only take one yoga class ever, and that was a vinyasa class. This happened because we decided at some point that it would be fun to trade classes — I would take one of his Okinawan karate classes, and he would take a yoga class. It was indeed fun, but I think we both came away pretty happy with the path of discipline that we had chosen. (I came away from his karate class thinking that I didn’t really feel the need to try to aim at someone’s sternum during a kick — plus I’m super short, and this was work! :-) I also didn’t like the exercise where you try to touch your partner’s head while trying to prevent your partner from touching your head. I didn’t understand why anyone was trying to touch anyone else’s head.)

Yet, who is acting like the smarter yogi? Scott went to bed a while ago, and here I am, blogging instead of sleeping. I better call it a night.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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T-minus 60 minutes until the start of the debut Ashtanga Yoga Confluence — now, how do we stay digitally connected?

The Ashtanga Yoga Confluence starts in less than hour, with a Ganesh puja led by Eddie Stern. I just created an Ashtanga Yoga Confluence check-in on Facebook and Foursquare, and I’m trying to figure out how people feel about a straightforward #AshtangaConfluence for a Twitter hashtags (long but descriptive).

I know there are more than 500 people on the waiting list — and can only imagine how many more who will be interested in the knowledge and observations that flow from this first gathering of its kind — so hopefully we’ll all find a way to stay digitally connected here at the AYC. If nothing else, I know the dynamic duo over at the Confluence Countdown blog will keep us informed on the latest.

Ready . . . set . . . ekam!

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