‘Clear plastic in a place called Lahaina’: Maui and the early ashtangis

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Well, here I am at LAX during a three-hour layover. We boarded a red eye from Maui around 10 p.m. last night, and we’re scheduled to land in Detroit around 5 p.m. today. What this means is that the honeymoon is undisputedly over. I’m not coping with that fact very well — reentry into my normal life is going to be incredibly difficult — but I’m trying to not dwell on it.

While a honeymoon is not exactly the ideal time to savor books, during our six days in Maui, I at least finished the first section of Guruji: Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois by Guy Donahaye and Eddie Stern. Since the book was published in 2010, I’ve been looking forward to having the time and space to delve into it. Maui was the perfect place to read the section on “The Seventies: How Ashtanga Came to the West,” since it seems that each interview in that first section involves Maui in some way, shape or form.

David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff both settled in Maui early on. Ricky Heiman hosted Guruji at his home on the island three or four times over the years. Tim Miller took over the Ashtanga shala in Encinitas, Calif., after his first teacher, Brad Ramsey, left for Maui. David Swenson recalls how he first got to Mysore, and the story — of course — involves Maui:

One day I got a call from David [Williams]. ‘David, this is David. Nancy and I are going to Msyore and we want you to take over all our classes for us while we are gone.’ And I’m thinking well, Houston, Texas, or Maui? Houston, Texas, or Maui? I was on the next plane to Maui.

And the yoga room there was basic, capital B. The floor was made from dirt, and on top of the dirt was carpet that we got from hotel rooms that were remodeled. We would just roll the carpet over the dirt floor. We built the room with eight walls like an octagon . . . .

Because of our lack of funds — we were a bunch of hippies living in tree houses and nobody really had much money — people used to just give us papayas and things for class. We stapled clear plastic on the roof as covering. This was a little silly but it was all we could afford. Clear plastic in a place called Lahaina. Lahaina in Hawaiian means ‘relentless sun,’ so this was basically a greenhouse, good for growing tomatoes. (p. 88-89)

It was there, in Maui, that David Swenson decided to make the trek to Maui.

So for our honeymoon, Scott and I stayed in a gorgeous hotel on West Maui’s Ka’anapali Beach, which is just north of the now artsy town of Lahaina. Lahaina is pretty hopping on Friday nights, and that’s when we visited town, strolling along the Front Street area. During our search for a particular ukelele shop (Scott’s quest, not mine), our walk took us past a yoga studio in a strip mall (no Ashtanga taught there — I checked). But overall, what a contrast to the ’70s scene described by David Swenson.

It’s always such a great reminder to hear the stories about how difficult it was for the first Westerners to find Ashtanga yoga — traveling overland to India, setting up yurts in seaside towns. We have it so easy now.

During our trip, I took our rental Jeep one morning for the roughly one-hour drive from our hotel to the town of Pa’ia, where, as far as I can tell, there are two places to practice Ashtanga — at the Ashtanga Yoga Maui Mysore Style and at Paia Yoga, both within a stone’s throw from each other. Nancy Gilgoff’s House of Yoga and Zen is a few miles beyond this town. (I learned back in March when I met Nancy at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence in San Diego that she would not be on the island when I was. Next time!)

Pa’ia is where Ricky Heiman first witnessed the Ashtanga yoga system in action. As he recalls in Guruji, he met Pattabhi Jois by accident in 1979 when Pattabhi Joi happened to be at a fruit stand in Kihei, on the island’s south side. Guruji’s hosts were:

. . . doing a workshop on the other side of the island, in an area called Paia, on their first trip to Maui. I went the next day to watch them do this practice. I was actually shocked, watching sixty, seventy people sweating like I never saw before, and this little gentleman jumping all over the room helping everybody. So it looked like a party to me. As I found out later, it wasn’t a party — it was hard work.

The Ashtanga practice is still incredibly hard work, but I am grateful that getting to the mat isn’t necessarily hard work anymore, thanks to enthusiasm and tenacity of these early ashtangis.

And finally, about Maui itself: Now that I’ve been there, I absolutely see the appeal. If I ever win the lottery — ha! — I’d be happy to add to the roster of ashtangis who pack up from the mainland and settle down on the island.

(Map credit: GoHawaii.about.com)

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Not a bad way to practice floating to bakasana

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My penultimate practice in Maui — at least on this trip. I have to get back here one of these days!

Here is how I practiced floating to bakasana this morning. Even though you might think being three floors up would scare me, that incredible view was just so inspiring. I pretended the breeze was waiting just beyond the glass to catch me as I floated into crane pose, a transition that happens in Ashtanga’s second series. I used a trick I learned from Tim Miller, which was to take a huge pillow to dampen my fear of face-planting. In this case, I used one of the hotel room’s couch cushions.

I found that with this set-up, it was very calming to practice floating into bakasana.

So my husband is about done grilling our burgers for our picnic. I’ll catch you later. Mahalo!

Hello from Maui

Hello — I mean, aloha — from Maui, in which I savor the fourth day of my honeymoon. (The gap in blogging represents the last several weeks of homestretch wedding planning. The wedding itself was this past Sunday, on May 20. It was a new moon that day, which I am told made for an auspicious day for nuptials. On a more practical level, I was thrilled to not have to get up before 5 a.m. to practice, since my hair appointment was brutally early at 7:45 a.m.)

Anyway, Wailea Beach is a stunning place to be. If you’ve been lucky enough to be here at some point, you know. If you haven’t been here yet, just add wind, sun, good vibes, the refreshing smell of salt water and a collective, deep sense of enjoying the moment to get the idea:

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I get how back in the day, ashtangis like David Williams and Brad Ramsey, who had the good fortune to be in SoCal, went to Maui and somehow decided to not leave. I mean, any place that makes Encinitas seem . . . well, just OK, is pretty amazing.

As a California girl now setting down roots Michigan, I feel deprived most of the time of vitamin D and the liberating sounds of a coastal town. But it’s more than that. I am most in my element in the heat — when my skin feels warm to the touch. I feel most capable of dealing with life’s challenges, and I feel most at peace. Not surprisingly, I have enjoyed, and appreciated, every minute Scott and I have been here in Maui. I mean, take a look at the view from Ashtana Yoga Maui Mysore Style, a relatively new studio in the town of Pa’ia:

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Pa’ia, by the way, is near where Nancy Gilgoff’s studio is located. Nancy isn’t in town at the moment, so I’ll have to miss out on feeling her shakti in her home studio this time around.

I’m not blogging to share honeymoon photos — that’s the other blog — I’m blogging to share a not totally formed thought on sense of place. Here’s my practice spot outside my hotel room:

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Crazy! I won’t lie — sustained dishti can be a challenge. You sort of want to let your eyes sweep the ocean view before returning to the focal point of your nose in up dog. As they would hashtag on Twitter, I know this is the stuff of #firstworldproblems. I would be happy to be challenged by this type of drishti distraction, and I honestly think it would feel like less effort to sustain the six-day-a-week practice.

But I don’t live in Maui. I no longer live in California. I live in the middle of the Mitten State. Being here has reminded me of how much place can matter, even if you have your mat as your daily refuge. It’s true that if you have your tristana, you have what matters. You could be surrounded by a mess of boxes and practicing on carpet, and none of that matters one iota, because you are doing the yoga practice that is liberating you incrementally, day by day.

But for me, going away is inspirational for the return to my home base. Much like I learned by going to Mt. Shasta last year, short trips away can help me shed layers of baggage I might have with the place that I have to call home — physically, where I live, and emotionally, in the mental spaces I inhabit. What I hope to bottle from Maui is that overarching sense that you can move a little slower on all fronts — starting with driving! — and still be living to the fullest.

P.S. — I just saved the draft of this post and told Scott, “I just wrote a blog post but I have no idea if it makes any sense or not.” Without skipping a beat, he said, “Who cares?”

:-)