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?”

:-)

Tim Miller workshop in Columbus, Ohio will give glimpses into primary, second and third series

Photo of a scene from Short North, the Columbus neighborhood in which Yoga on High is located.

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Tim Miller. It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Yoga on High. And it’s no secret I’m a big fan of Columbus, Ohio, which is really pretty cool. Every April, when Tim pays his annual visit to Yoga on High, I get to enjoy all three together. This year, there’s a bonus — I get all three plus a rare glimpse of the first three series of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga as narrated by Tim, who is one of the best guides to this system I have ever met.

Typically, Tim would hold a weekend intensive — which covered philosophy, pranayama and, of course, the physical practice — followed by three days of an intensive. For the past few years, Tim essentially brought sections of his two-week teacher training to Yoga on High. Last year when I attended, we spent the intensive wrapping up the series by an intensive on finishing poses.

Tim’s changing it up this year. Check out what the three-day intensive will bring:

K. Pattabhi Jois, better known as Guruji, devoted 70 years of his life to researching and teaching the methodology that we know as Ashtanga Yoga. Based on the foundational teachings he was given by his Guru, the great T. Krishnamacharya, Guruji spent many years putting together the asana sequences that have come to be called Yoga Chikitsa (Primary Series), Nadi Shodhana (Intermediate Series), and Sthira Bhaga (Advanced Series). All of these sequences went through changes over the years and have only been practiced in their current form for the past 30 years. It was largely through Guruji’s interaction with his western students that these sequences were refined into their present form.  The western students have been both the primary guinea pigs and the main beneficiaries of this refining of the system.

Tim Miller had the rare opportunity to work closely with Guruji for over 30 years and has practiced and taught these sequences faithfully since 1978.  He brings a wealth of experience, understanding, expertise and devotion to the transmission of Guruji’s methodology as well as a thorough knowledge of the philosophical foundations of the practice—the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

In this intensive, Tim will guide an exploration of Guruji’s first three asana sequences, devoting one day to each.  Monday’s practice will be Yoga Chikitsa, Tuesday’s will be Nadi Shodhana, and Wednesday’s will be Sthira Bhaga.  Tim will offer an in-depth explanation of the purpose of these sequences as well as adaptations and preparations for some of the more challenging asanas.  The three days will include selected yoga sutras, an introduction to the traditional Ashtanga pranayama sequence, stories from Indian mythology and a small taste of kirtan.

The weekend session will be as enlightening and grounding as always:

When you practice ashtanga yoga, you are a part of a lineage. Tim Miller is a key figure in carrying this tradition forward having studied so intensively with Sri Pattabhi Jois over so long a time.  We are honored to host Tim each year—join us to spend a weekend working (playfully!) with a yoga master. Weekend intensives can help shift your practice to a deeper level and offer you insight into how the primary series works in individual poses and as a whole circle of poses. You will also learn more about your lineage and how the physical work leads you to the state of yoga. A light practice on Friday night will establish a relationship between yoga philosophy as presented in the Yoga Sutras and the practical methodology of the Ashtanga Yoga system. Saturday’s practice will focus on the Primary Series as physical manifestation of this relationship. Saturday afternoon will explore the morning practice in more depth—to look at troublesome asanas and address specific problems, concerns, and questions. Sunday’s class will be playful, spontaneous, and improvisational, and explore the whole notion of intelligent sequencing in moving towards a particular destination. Sunday will also include an introduction to pranayama.

Registration is open. Need I say more?

By the way, if you don’t already follow/like/read:

 

 

(Photo credit: Both from the Short North Arts District website.)

© 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.

 

An airplane’s flight and an ashtangi’s float

I was watching Man Vs. Wild the other night and a Delta Airlines commercial came up. I wasn’t even paying attention to what was on the screen, but one of the lines I heard from the commercial caught my attention: “If you run before the wind, you can’t take off.”

I teach up to four Ashtanga classes every week, which means I am verbally cueing a lot of float-throughs — going from adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) to a seated position — so I think about that float-through journey quite a bit. When I heard this random line from the commercial, I suddenly started paying attention because I thought that it might be a fitting analogy for Ashtanga vinyasa float-throughs. Although Ashtanga yoga can be made accessible for everyone, there’s no question that it’s extremely challenging. And within this practice, the float-through or jump-through can be one of the hardest aspects for new and veteran students alike.

So, inspired by this ad (?!), I decided to break down how I think it relates to floating through in Ashtanga. Here’s what the narrator says in this black-and-white commercial:

What does it take to fly? It takes knowing we have our work cut out for us. Flying brings more challenges every day. But if you ask any of the pilots who work here, they’ll say one of the first things they learned in flight school is that if you run before the wind, you can’t take off. You’ve got to turn into it — face it. The thing you push against is the thing that lifts you up.

How can this imagery be applied to the ashtanga float-through?

What does it take to fly? It takes knowing we have our work cut out for us.

The first step to floating is to understand that it takes a lot of practice. In many cases — my own practice included — years of trying. Not weeks, not months — years. It took me longer to learn how to float through than it did to get through my undergraduate and graduate studies. I think one of the most important lessons we get from Ashtanga yoga is that we need both short-term and long-term patience. It’s not a cliche to say that with this practice, it is about the journey, and not the destination.

Flying brings more challenges every day.

After we find our float-through, then what? It’s just more work, because when we do unlock our personal mystery of how to find this yogic flight pattern, the journey continues to challenges us. Then it becomes about refinement of bandhas (the energy locks employed in Ashtanga yoga) and refinement of form.

…if you run before the wind, you can’t take off.

Here we get to mechanics. As we learn the jump through, we really need to focus on what the hips and core are doing, and how the breath factors into that.

This is what has worked for me. In downward-facing dog, check in and make sure your energetic locks are engaged (mula bandha and uddiyana bandha) by lifting up on the pelvic floor and spiraling that energy through the low belly. (Bandha interlude: If you practice Ashtanga, you know that figuring out bandhas can take years — decades even. David Williams says in his interview in Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of His Students that it took him 10 years to understand mula bandha. My latest eight-word summary of these two energetic locks? Bringing buoyancy to  the base of the spine.) Inhale length into the spine. On the exhalation, bend the legs as if your lower body were a wind-up toy. Look far forward — very, very far forward — and on the inhale, ride the air current of your breath to float your body through.

British yoga instructor John Scott — who came to yoga by way of golf — offers a beautiful breakdown of the floating-through process in his book Ashtanga Yoga. I found an excerpt of this part of Scott’s book, but I truly hope that you buy the book or buy the video rather than rely on this excerpt. For one thing, there’s the whole yogic concept of asteya. For another, they are excellent resources.

You’ve got to turn into it — face it. The thing you push against is the thing that lifts you up.

The breath is what literally keeps us alive. And yet most of us go through the day without breathing to capacity — holding our breath, even, when challenge strikes, as if that will somehow help us get through adversity. For the Ashtanga float-through, become your breath — that wind will carry you farther than you thought possible.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. 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.

Vande gurūṇāṃ caraṇāravinde

If you saw the title of this post and it sparked an emotional reaction, you’re more than likely an Ashtangi. That is the first line of the traditional opening invocation that begins an Ashtanga practice. (To be precise, an “aum” is chanted first. For more on “aum,” often written as “om,” see this handy little YogaJournal.com beginner’s guide on yoga chants.)

For various reasons, the invocation has been the topic of a few conversations I’ve had with yogis in the last couple of weeks — some because they are relatively new to the practice, and some by way of discussing personal philosophy. As a teacher, for example, should you always include the chant, no matter what the setting for a class?

To me, the Ashtanga opening invocation is about honoring the teachers who came before our teachers — about honoring those who have helped clear the path before us. We have to walk this journey of life ourselves, but the teachings of history’s gurus can provide us with invaluable wisdom and comfort. I think chanting this invocation changes the quality and the intention of a practice. Sounds and the stories told in lyrics can change our moods and perception in other aspects of our lives — why not in a yoga practice? On my resources page, I link to this translation and recording of the invocation, as chanted by Pattabhi Jois himself. It’s beautiful in the depth and starkness of its simplicity.

This brings me to Madonna.

Unless you’re so young that you make me feel even older than I am (in which case, please don’t remind me), you probably sort of remember Madonna’s album Ray of Light. It came out in 1998, when I was finishing up journalism grad school. This was about a year before I set foot in my first yoga studio, and probably a couple years before I discovered Ashtanga yoga. So while I’m sure I’ve heard this song before — because one of my suitemates bought this album when it was released — I didn’t know what I was listening to at the time.

Ray of Light album coverMadonna, as you can imagine, does not go for simplicity. She sets this invocation to a trance-ish beat. Watch her live performance of this song at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1998 — all garbed up in an Indian-inspired look to boot — or listen to the Dubtronic Cosmos Trance Remix, if you can’t get enough. There are other remixes as well, but you get the point.

For the record, I have this rather cool Tumblr blog to thank for reminding me that this song exists.

Does it drive you crazy that Madonna took the invocation and made a pop track out of it? Or do you think there’s something to be said for her reimagining tradition?

By the way, I know that this is the second blog post in as many months in which I’ve written about Madonna. (I posted “How to lose a practice in 10 days (or, what Madonna can teach us all about maintaining a yoga practice during the most hectic travel time of year)” over the holidays.) I promise not to make this habit. 😉 It’s just that as a former reporter, I am trained to follow news pegs. Madonna just seems to be flitting across my radar screen lately, and both as a journalist by training and a yogi by practice, I have learned to go with the flow.

Ashtanga news round-up

Guruji

Guruji

A fair amount of news involving the late Pattabhi Jois and his family:

  • Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of His Students – a new book on Guruji’s legacy — has just been released. The excerpts I’ve seen have been inspiring, and I can’t wait to read it. You can find it on Ashtanga.com and Amazon.
  • The grand opening of the Jois Yoga Shala in Encinitas, Calif., will be held next month.
  • Saraswathi Rangaswamy, Pattabhi Jois’ daughter, will be holding led and Mysore classes at Ashtanga Yoga New York in New York Sept. 8 – 12, 2010.

This reminds me that I need to start playing the lottery so I can get to workshops like these – and, eventually, to Mysore.