Radiant sources, power lunches and the influence of all those wordy words

Star Ruby

Dominic had a ring with a mesmerizingly radiant stone, and before I had to say goodbye to him I finally asked him what the stone was. Turns out it was a star ruby. Pictured here is a star ruby housed at the American Museum of Natural History.

Dominic Corigliano, my teacher’s teaching mentor, guest taught at the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor shala this past week during, appropriately enough, the waxing moon — a time when the moon is making its way around the earth, looming larger until it reaches its full state.

When Angela Jamison announced that Dominic was coming, I was looking forward to seeing how this would work. For one thing, yoga students like to meet their teacher’s teacher. I think part of it is awe: Who is this person who inspired someone as inspiring as my teacher? Part of it is curiosity: Will this person be anything like I’ve pictured him or her to be? Part of it is simply excitement.

For another, I’m accustomed to Ashtanga workshops structured around themes: bandhas, adjustments, and so on. So I wondered: What happens during a highly anticipated visit by a Mysore teacher to a highly traditional shala when there were no workshops or guided classes scheduled? How does all the juicy stuff — the subtle and mind-blowingly important observances culled from decades of practice, learning and teaching — get passed on?

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Dominic was wearing a T-shirt with “Shiva” written in a KISS font the first morning I met him, before the Mysore class got underway. He struck me as a down-to-earth ashtangi with a quiet punk rock vibe. HIs adjustments were firm yet gentle, and when he did use words, they were quite matter-of-fact.

By the end of his visit here, I realized I have been drinking from the energetic currents of Dominic’s teachings for years now — much in the same way you are infused with the rhythm and the passion of the pioneering blues masters when you listen to the Rolling Stones’ greatest work.

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"Before, Again II"

“Before, Again II” by Joan Mitchell, housed at the DIA. The image links to a video that discussing the artist’s influences.

The third time I was in his orbit, it was for a visit to the Detroit Institute of the Arts with a small group from AY: A2. I joined the group late, however, and contemplated calling someone’s cell phones when I arrived to avoid the goose hunt of trying to locate half a dozen people in a huge building. For whatever reason, I decided to wing it instead. I walked slowly and tried to let my intuition guide me and I guess I didn’t do too badly, considering that I found them in about five minutes. I squinted down hallways for Angela’s spritely movements, but how I actually found the group was by spotting, for a second, a ponytail gliding down a hallway. Dominic could have been any museum-goer, but there was such a calm about this figure that I figured I was in the right place. He was totally enthralled with the pieces he was viewing when I caught up. One thing I’ve noticed with the senior Western teachers I’ve met: They are so present in everything they do.

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After the DIA, we all headed to a cute little cafe called Le Petite Zinc, a healthy and delicious lunch spot a short drive away. I don’t remember what prompted this, but I asked Dominic about teaching Ashtanga yoga versus teaching its hyper-popular offshoots of power yoga and vinyasa yoga. Dominic knew that I’ve studied with Tim Miller, so he explained that he and Tim go back a long, long way — back to Encinitas, where the power yoga style was inadvertently sparked as they tried to offer Ashtanga in a way that would appeal to settings such as health clubs.

Dominic said tweaks to the method — such as modifying poses for people with knee problems — were always done in the service of trying to help students eventually connect back with the traditional Ashtanga method. The same goes for using music, which Dominic pioneered. He explained that he used music as a way of working with states of hypnosis. (What he didn’t do was use iconic songs with familiar riffs and lyrics the way some of the most popular vinyasa teachers today do.)

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I’m going to pause here to say that yesterday on the Inside Owl blog, Angela reposted one of her posts from 2007, in which she talks about Dominic’s teaching method and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) (emphasis below is mine):

Before putting myself into bhairvasana for the first time today—or rather, letting it take me into itself with another’s guidance—I had feared that it would be something of a long, slow trainwreck: a daily undertaking that could open up my sacroiliac joints to an unsustainable gape. Make me a bag of ligamentless bones by 50.

A year ago, maybe; but my body’s been tilled for this and it’s simply a nice, new little habit that takes me to a previously unknown part of myself.

I can say this only because the way the posture was given made it second nature, if not downright natural. No big deal.

This is because my teacher understands the power of suggestion, and how to relate with a student in or near theta state to create an easy and beautiful reality out of our weirdest possibilities. Not only is this teacher on to the NLP (a comment about establishing rapport the first day made me suspicious), but he just doesn’t complicate the yoga.

Imagine what would have happened had Angela circa 2007 been introduced to this pose — “’Siva’s terrible aspect,’ a posture in honor of the deity’s skull-amulet-bearing, fratricidal side” – in a way laden with verbal cues telling her what the pose would be like or should be like for her.

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Back to the lunchtime conversation. Dominic told me that he approached non-Mysore classes as how to use fewer and fewer words. He put it so well and I wish I had taken notes (actually, that’s not really true — I don’t wish I had taken notes, because that would have destroyed the casual lunch vibe). We basically talked about the constraints placed on students when too many words are used. I was fascinated by whether some of the most seemingly feel-good words in a yoga class can actually serve as distractions from a deeper type of empowerment that could happen if a teacher were to do more of holding space than creating space.

(As we ate our crepes and salads served up at a place dedicated to simple and classic cuisine, it was interesting to think about sourcing Ashtanga instruction the way food is sourced — whether as a consumer only or both a consumer (because all teachers have to be students first) and a producer. No matter what kind of sustenance, tapping into a strong current whose source remains vibrant and clean helps us flourish. What types of food are going into this body? What types of instruction are passing into this nervous system? As a teacher, I need to ask myself whether the words I’m using are organic — what will their effects be? Or am I relying on pretty words with artificial flavorings and empty calories, void of any true nutritional properties?)

And as Dominic talked, I had a flash to a post from earlier this year on Angela’s other blog — the AY: A2 blog — about the poverty of verbal instruction:

I wonder how we’re really using words in yoga class. Do we know how to use language to set ourselves free in our bodies… or do we more often use it to solidify difficulties and obstacles? Do words come up due to anxiety about impermanence or attempts to pin things down, a need to prove something, or maybe unwillingness to just be quiet and do the technique? I wonder, too, if talking in practice—including my own verbal instruction—increases an egoic sense that we know what it’s is all about.

Sitting across from Dominic while hearing bits of this blog post rolling around my mind felt a bit like watching time-elapsed parampara.

If you’re not familiar with parampara, it helps to go back to the KPJAYI website (emphasis below is mine):

Parampara is knowledge that is passed in succession from teacher to student. It is a Sanskrit word that denotes the principle of transmitting knowledge in its most valuable form; knowledge based on direct and practical experience. It is the basis of any lineage: the teacher and student form the links in the chain of instruction that has been passed down for thousands of years. In order for yoga instruction to be effective, true and complete, it should come from within parampara.
Knowledge can be transferred only after the student has spent many years with an experienced guru, a teacher to whom he has completely surrendered in body, mind, speech and inner being. Only then is he fit to receive knowledge. This transfer from teacher to student is parampara.
The dharma, or duty, of the student is to practice diligently and to strive to understand the teachings of the guru. The perfection of knowledge – and of yoga — lies beyond simply mastering the practice; knowledge grows from the mutual love and respect between student and teacher, a relationship that can only be cultivated over time.
The teacher’s dharma is to teach yoga exactly as he learned it from his guru. The teaching should be presented with a good heart, with good purpose and with noble intentions. There should be an absence of harmful motivations. The teacher should not mislead the student in any way or veer from what he has been taught.
The bonding of teacher and student is a tradition reaching back many thousands of years in India, and is the foundation of a rich, spiritual heritage. The teacher can make his students steady – he can make them firm where they waver. He is like a father or mother who corrects each step in his student’s spiritual practice.
The yoga tradition exists in many ancient lineages, but today some are trying to create new ones, renouncing or altering their guru’s teachings in favor of new ways. Surrendering to parampara, however, is like entering a river of teachings that has been flowing for thousands of years, a river that age-old masters have followed into an ocean of knowledge. Even so, not all rivers reach the ocean, so one should be mindful that the tradition he or she follows is true and selfless.
Many attempt to scale the peaks in the Himalayas, but not all succeed. Through courage and surrender, however, one can scale the peaks of knowledge by the grace of the guru, who is the holder of knowledge, and who works tirelessly for his students.

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It’s only now crystallizing for me that the legacy of Dominic’s teachings have been filtering to me through strong and distinct currents:

  • The power yoga classes I started taking in 2009 as part of a yoga teacher training program I had enrolled in not for the purpose of teaching, but to deepen my understanding of the eight limbs of yoga. (Interesting to reflect on power yoga classes as adaptations — sometimes truer to the original and sometimes highly marketed, far-flung versions of the original — of an Encinitas-based yoga experiment to make the Ashtanga practice more accessible all those years ago.)
  • The clean and direct transmissions as experienced through my embodied teacher’s presence when I am in her room.
  • The way my teacher writes about the practice — from a 2012 blog post about the use of language all the way back to a 2007 post on use of language in a room, as written in the Inside Owl blogger’s voice.

Here I was, having my first true conversation with a man who until now had just been a name and a relationship — Dominic, my teacher’s teacher — and what happens? The conversation we gravitated toward dealt with the subconscious — the not-quite-apparent layers. Manifestations of my teacher were playing at the edges and communicating between us at times, but those versions, while offering something, also provided inadequate words for the experience. Also inadequate was trying to use this conversation as a mirror to check out how all of this energy is being integrated within me, and how it flows out of me when I write and when I teach.

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Looking back over the week, how did transmissions happen? It wasn’t through a guided class. It wasn’t through a workshop lecture. It wasn’t even the words that were actually exchanged at lunch. 

Dominic hopped on a plane out of Detroit yesterday, and I’m wondering if his energy, his physical adjustments, and the post-practice conversation all has to simply be understood. I believe in the power of technology — of social media in particular — to help ashtangis around the world stay connected as a community. But it’s the quieter moments of being in the sphere of brilliant and deeply present teachers like Dominic that reminds me of the limitations of those mediums. What’s being passed on isn’t data — parampara is necessarily so present, so personal.

(Photo credit: “The Midnight Star” via Islespunkfan’s Flickr photostream and “Before, Again II” via Dia.org.) 

© 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.

It’s a calendar. A datebook. A fundraiser. And it’s a…flip book?!

I recently wrote a post about a fundraising calendar put out by some artistic and generous yogis at the Carlsbad, Calif.-based Ashtanga Yoga Center. My calendar has arrived in the mail, and to my surprise, it’s much more than a calendar. (Drumroll, please…)

That’s right. This calendar is, as promised, a calendar. It’s a datebook. It’s a photo album. And it’s also — a flip book! Not  just any flip book. For Tim Miller fans out there, it’s a Tim Miller flip book. Check out the video above to see Tim doing some cool arm balances.

What’s not to love? For less than $20, you’d be getting a beautiful keepsake calendar that doubles as a fun little flip book. More than anything, you’d get the satisfaction knowing that you’re contributing to an effort to help one yogi pay down his mounting medical bills.