[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.

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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.

What took my breath away today: The schedule of the first annual Ashtanga Yoga Confluence

The fine folks organizing the first annual Ashtanga Yoga Confluence announced today that registration is now open.

I just read the schedule. You should too, because it will take your breath away.

Basically, you’re getting the chance to study with five of the most amazing Ashtanga teachers on this planet — Richard Freeman, Nancy Gilgoff, Tim Miller, David Swenson and Eddie Stern. You get to deepen your understanding of everything from asana, pranayama, puja ceremonies and the Hindu deities Ganesh and Hanuman. And you’ll get to hear music by MC Yogi.

You’ll be doing all this while staying at the Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa in San Diego. I’m actually less excited by the venue because as amazing as it looks, the organizers could have held the conference in Alaska (if you know me, you know I am not a fan of cold weather of any sort) and I would be as excited.

When this conference was first announced, “first annual” was not included in the title. The fact that this is currently envisioned as an event every year is pretty awe-inspiring. Start saving now!

Seriously, I am really having to really focus right now to take deep breaths. This is incredible.

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© 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.

Dancing with the Deities (A Not-So-Epic Overview)

How can stories of Hindu deities enrich a yoga practice? I wrote this blog post to accompany a two-hour workshop I gave to Hilltop Yoga teachers on May 15, 2011. But it’s meant to serve as a stand-alone post — so whether or not you were part of the workshop, I hope you enjoy the post and share your thoughts by commenting below or on the YogaRose.net Facebook page. I plan on doing future posts that take a look at the stories of individual deities, including Hanuman, the monkey king. I had thought about including Hanuman in this post, but decided, man, he needs a blog post all to himself!


Workshop description

Dancing with the Deities

In this workshop, we will explore some of the stories behind the postures that we have encountered so many times in our practice. We know natarajasana as dancer’s pose — but who was Nataraja, and what did his dance signify? Why do we honor Hanuman — the monkey king — by searching for a split? Through stories, we may find that we can spark a sacred energy deep within us. Through myths, perhaps we find a new way to connect our presence in practice to the boundlessness of ancient tradition.

Choreographing the dance

I knew long before I finished the classroom portion (so to speak) of Hilltop Yoga’s 500-hour teacher training program last fall that I wanted my workshop to be on the myths that can transform any yoga practice into a larger-than-life story. (Hilaire Lockwood, owner of Hilltop Yoga in Lansing, Mich., has made it a requirement for 500-hour teachers to give a two-hour workshop to fellow teachers and teacher trainees. I haven’t heard of other programs that require this, and I think it’s a great component of the program.) I’ve long been fascinated by stories and narratives — so much so that I chose to pursue a career as a daily newspaper reporter when I finished graduate school.

Some people become journalists because they have aspirations to write the next great American novel or become a published poet, and they choose a day job that will at least let them write for a living. I did not fall into that category. One of the few things I’ve known about myself since I was young was that what fascinated me most was not what could come out of my imagination, but the true stories all around — the kinds of stories that prompt you to say, “You can’t make this stuff up.” So I went into journalism to discover other people’s stories — whether inspirational, tragic or plain old strange —  and share those stories through the written word.

Over the years, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the incredibly rich stories of Hindu deities. I would often find myself in a posture and wonder, “Why is this pose named after the sage Marichi? What did he do that was so cool?” The more I’ve read about these gods and demigods, these humans and animals, the more intrigued I’ve become. Like with any good myth, these ancient tales hold the power to teach us a lot about our own strengths and weaknesses, fantasies and foibles.

I’m writing this blog post — and giving my teachers’ workshop — not as an expert. Far from it. I am coming from this as a fellow explorer. I want to you tell you what I know (which, in the scheme of things, is not much at all) and who told me, so that if a curiosity is sparked in you, you can start that journey yourself and begin to explore.

Studying the dance

One of my favorite parts of the two-week Ashtanga primary series teacher training at the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad, Calif. was story time. You take a Mysore Ashtanga class in the morning, perhaps assisting a second class, and then take lunch. After lunch, when everyone was still digesting and taking pulls from their coffee cups to try to stave off that desire for an afternoon nap, Tim Miller would tell stories from the Mahabharata, Bhagavad GitaRamayana and more modern sources as well. We’d lie down, get comfortable, and enjoy story time like we were in kindergarten again.

But these tales were not for the innocent or faint of heart. Gods and demos would be banished, killed, brought back in other form (or at least with a new head, as in the case with Daksha, who returns to life with a goat’s head. Read more about that story in the chapter on virabhadrasana in Myths of the Asana, described below.). If ever there were epic soap operas, these were it. The Mahabharata is said to be three times longer than the Bible. To make matters more confusing, where in soap operas you might find out someone has a twin, in these tales, gods all seem to have hundreds, if not more, incarnations. How can anyone possible keep up? (Maybe there’s an app for that now?)

Over the past few years, some excellent books and CDs have been published and produced that weave these tales. Here are some of the ones I recommend. (You can buy all of these using your Amazon.com account through the YogaRose.net Bookshop and Boutique.)

Stories about the deities

Myths of the Asanas: The Stories at the Heart of the Yoga Tradition
Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij

This is an outstanding book that came out last year. It’s beautifuly told, beautifully put together, and is about as relevant as it gets, in terms of how the authors bring everything back to the modern Western lifestyle. I remember one day last year when I had just had a horrible, soul-sucking day. I went home, started crying and pulled this book off the shelf. I started reading these stories about gods and mortals in binds far worse than I could imagine, and yet had managed to find redemption and moved on. It was the most calming and reassuring book I could have opened that day. (In addition to the paperback copy, this book is also available as a Kindle ebook.)

The Little Book of Hindu Deities
Sanjay Patel

I picked up this little gem from Moksha Yoga in Chicago when I attended a workshop with Ashtanga master Lino Miele. The author describes himself as an “ABCD (American-born confused Desi (Indian),” even though he was born in the United Kingdom. He grew up in the United States disinterested in his parents’ culture, but was drawn to these stories after becoming an animator at Pixar. Searching for a way to tell these tales while being respectful, Patel made a connection with “Sanrio’s ultracute Hello Kitty designs and thought, ‘Well, there’s a style no one could be offended by.” The result is a handy guide to deities, with bonus sections that provide overviews of Hindu epics, the Hindu chronology of creation and the nine planets. It looks like a book for children, but looks can be deceiving. Publishers Weekly says the book is most popular with teens and 20-somethings.

Ashtanga Yoga The Intermediate Series: Mythology, Anatomy and Practice
Gregor Maehle

The best way I can describe Gregor Maehle’s excellent books on Ashtanga yoga is “heady.” He is thorough, intellectual and esoteric — but without being inaccessible. I picked up his first book on Ashtanga primary series and his newest book on second series for the anatomy details. But the true gift in Maehle’s intermediate series book, in my opinion, is the section on mythology. A table in this book, for example, lists four categories of postures (lifeless forms, animals, human forms, divine forms), along with the dominant guna of those sets of postures (whether tamas, rajas or sattva) and the asanas in the Ashtanga second series that fall into each category. You will get insights from this book you won’t find anywhere else — starting with pasasana, the first posture in second series, and one which we typically hear of as “noose posture.” Maehle picks up where everyone else would stop: “Noose refers here to the posture of the arms, which are thrown like a noose around the legs. Pasha is also one of the thousand names of the Lord Shiva, who is also called Pashaye, Lord with the noose.” The book is gorgeously annotated. And have I mentioned it’s thorough? (In addition to the paperback copy, this book is also available as a Kindle ebook.)

Elephant Power
MC Yogi

Elephant Power, centered around stories of Ganesh, is actually a really fun way to get to know the stories of some of the most famous deities. MC Yogi, whose father initially got him into Ashtanga yoga when he was 18, grew up in northern California listening to Beastie Boys and Run DMC. He has a unique hip-hop style, and he knows his mythical tales. I was pretty incredulous when I first heard about MC Yogi — I can be a total music snob, and I admit it — but he is the real deal. He’s also got some heavy hitters in the kirtan world featured on this album, including Bhagavan Das, Krishna Das, Sharon Gannon, and Jai UttalSee some lyrics and listen to samples.

Flow of Grace
Krishna Das

Flow of Grace, which came out in 2007, is a book and a set of two CDs. Flow of Grace would have to be a large part of a blog post on Hanuman, but the short version might be best described by Krishna Das’ website: “Krishna Das has been singing the Hanuman Chalisa for over thirty years, and on his newest CD, Flow of Grace, he takes us deep into the heart of this powerful prayer to Hanuman, the embodiment of devotion, service, strength, and compassion.” If you’ve never heard the Hanuman Chalisa, you can listen to the samples found online, but I can tell you from experience that you won’t feel the power of the chalisa until you are sitting in a room full of people chanting it — perhaps with someone playing a harmonium. Pick Flow of Grace up to start to understand why the great monkey king is so revered.

The epic tales

The Little Book of Hindu Deities offers this pithy overview of Hindu epics:

The two great Hindu epics are the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The Mahabharata is a sprawling history of India’s ancient dynasties’ struggle with one another for land and power. It also explains most of Hinduism’s major gods and goddesses. It has been said that everything worth knowing is found within its pages, including the stand-alone portion called the Bhagavad Gita. The Ramayana is more intimate in its scope, primarily following Rama and his small band of devotees in their quest to rescue his wife, Sita. These sacred texts are the cultural foundation of India and the Hindu mythology.

Bhagavad Gita
Various translations 

If you have the time and the interest, it would be amazing to dig into the juiciness of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. I would love to, but I think I’m being realistic in saying that I don’t see myself getting through these texts in this lifetime. (As it stands now, I already don’t have time to read what I want to read.)  I do, however, hope to find time this year to reread the Bhagavad Gita. I had to read the Bhagavad Gita as a freshman in college, and it’ll be a different book now that I’ll be looking at it from an Ashtanga yoga perspective.

Ramayana: Divine Loophole
Sanjay Patel

I literally just saw this book when finding links for the book of Patel’s that I do have, The Little Book of Hindu Deities (description in the section above). On the strength of that book, I’m going to recommend this book, sight unseen. Here’s the Amazon.com review: “Teeming with powerful deities, love-struck monsters, flying monkey gods, magic weapons, demon armies, and divine love, Ramayana tells the story of Rama, a god-turned-prince, and his quest to rescue his wife Sita after she is kidnapped by a demon king. This illustrated tale features over 100 colorful full-spread illustrations, a detailed pictorial glossary of the cast of characters who make up the epic tale, and sketches of the work in progress. From princesses in peril to gripping battles, scheming royals, and hordes of bloodthirsty demons, Ramayana is the ultimate adventure story presented with an unforgettably modern touch.” I’m going to pick this book up soon — can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

>>If you are so inclined, you can buy all of these using your own Amazon.com account through the YogaRose.net Bookshop and Boutique. 😉

A closer look at Nataraja

The photo at the top of this post is of Nataraja, Lord of the Dance. Nataraja is yet another incarnation of Shiva. Perhaps more than any other deity, Shiva is the one I am most enthralled by — his ashen face, matted hair, his proclivity to disappear to the mountains to meditate for hundreds of years, his stamina to make love for hundreds of years (remember, the gods have a different time reference than the rest of us do), his equanimity, his temper. Shiva creates through the act of destruction. He is a study in contrasts — and most of us can relate to dichotomies. It’s particularly the case for me — on so many levels, dualities and contrasts mark my life and my personality.

MC Yogi has an awesome song about Ganesh called “Son of Shiva.” To understand the son you have to understand the father, so this song is a fun way to learn more about Shiva too. My favorite part talks about Shiva returning from his deep meditation on Mount Kailash:

it was at that time when Shiva returned
not knowing that his wife recently gave birth
when Shiva saw the boy he told him to move
but not knowing who his father was the boy refused
now Shiva’s like this, truth consciousness and bliss
but he’s crazy when he’s angry so don’t get him pissed
feeling dissed and dismissed Shiva started a rumble
an epic struggle that shook the jungle
then out of nowhere Shiva’s trident went chop
and that’s when the boy’s head was cut off

Oops.

But all is not lost. Buy the album if you don’t already have it, and listen to the rest of the story.

There’s much more to know about Shiva (another blog post!) and so much more to know about his particular incarnation as Nataraja. Why is does Nataraja appear with four arms and one leg lifted? And what is that creature he appears to be standing on? See how two Ashtangis, Tim Miller and Michael Gannon, interpret this powerful symbol:

Tim Miller on Nataraja

I remember first reading Tim Miller’s “The Alchemy of Yoga” essay while staying at a hotel in Columbus, Ohio. (It’s always interesting to find a spark of inspiration while away from home, staying alone in a hotel.)  In this quick-read essay, Timji — as his students like to refer to him — talks about how he believes “Nataraja, the King of Dancers, beautifully symbolizes the alchemy of Ashtanga yoga.”

Michael Gannon on Nataraja

Michael Gannon, who uses social media heavily, just posted this link to his recent talk on Shiva about 16 hours ago. In “Shiva Comes to Town,” Gannon does a lovely job of sharing how he uses the symbolism of Nataraja as destroyer to make sense of, accept, and move on from personal and even global tragedies. It’s 26 minutes long. If you’re like me and have a crazy schedule and the attention span of a tweet, let me tell you that it’s worth taking the time to listen. Play it while you’re waiting for coffee to brew, or as your’e whittling down your work email inbox.

I titled this post “Dancing with the Deities (A Not-So-Epic Overview)” because — while it’s rather long (probably too long) for a blog post — it hardly skims the surface of these rich stories. Take advantage of some of the labors of love listed here — whether you’re more into the iconized depictions as in The Little Book of Hindu Deities or into the kind of thoughtful, historical perspective you’ll find in Gregor Maehle’s book. Keep searching and uncover sweet wells of tales not listed here. More than anything, I hope you continue to get on your mat and find inspiration for your practice, and through your practice, however you can.

Photos (from top)
Nataraja: Photo of Nataraja statue, taken at The Yoga Sutra (a New York City yoga studio), May 2011
Aum: Aum at Hilltop Yoga’s Old Town 2 studio in Lansing, Mich., May 2011

>>If you are so inclined, you can buy all the books referenced in this book using your own Amazon.com account through the YogaRose.net Bookshop and Boutique. 😉 


© 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.

Tuesdays with…Mars?

There’s something about how Tuesdays tend to wash out that leaves me feeling washed up. Today certainly fit the rule — fighting an uphill battle to keep up with the work and keep on with a sense of calm. And it reminds me that the worst work shift I’ve ever had was when I was a relatively new reporter, working nights Tuesdays through Saturdays. I started off the week feeling hopelessly behind, since everyone else was already grooving through their week. When Saturday came, I felt left out — working in a nearly empty newsroom, wishing I were somewhere else, and wondering why I had gone into this field in the first place. (Happily, I didn’t have to stay in that shift for long, and moved to a Sunday through Thursday shift, which I absolutely loved.)

Students who practice Ashtanga in a very traditional Mysore style aren’t taught new postures on Tuesdays (and Saturdays are days of rest). In some languages, Tuesday is named after Mars, god of War — think Spanish Martes.

Is there something to Tuesdays — does it draw out conflict and anxiety? Is it coincidence? Is it superstition? Maybe it’s what psychologists call confirmation bias — a tendency to find evidence to confirm a preconception.

Or maybe it doesn’t matter, because it can give people a reason to join together to celebrate something bigger. Every Tuesday morning at the Ashtanga Yoga Center (I promise that I will some day write a blog post that does not mention AYC!), for instance, yogis gather to sing the Hanuman Chalisa, a devotional to the Hindu deity Hanuman, the monkey king. The chalisa is thought to protect and liberate. If you hear “Jai Hanuman” — victory to Hanuman — join in for the spirit of the moment. Victory to the qualities of service, loyalty and compassion in others and in ourselves, no matter what our belief system. The first time I heard the chalisa during my training at AYC, it almost brought me to tears (and I am really, really not a crier). I don’t know where these feelings came from, but it was a wonderfully refreshing way to spend a Tuesday.