A 2011 yoga calendar that reminds us what this path is truly about

 

AYC fundraising yoga calendar

2011 Ashtanga Yoga Center calendar

 

I had the good fortune to study with study with Tim Miller at the Ashtanga Yoga Center (AYC), his studio in southern California, this summer. One of the very cool people I met during my two weeks in Encinitas, Calif., was long-time AYC teacher Rich McGowan. Rich would often provide the drumbeat — heartbeat is how I think back on it — to our satsang sessions.

Rich attended most of the teacher training sessions during the first week, offering guidance, answering questions and bringing even more lightness into the room through his humor. (On a personal note, he helped me tremendously with my marichyasana D.)

Our teacher training group was sad to learn that, by the second week, Rich’s health had taken a turn for the worse. He was unable to complete the second week of teacher training.

Rich continues to face serious health challenges, and the wonderfully tight-knit and compassionate AYC community has pulled together for a couple different fundraisers. Even if you’ve never met Rich — even if you don’t practice yoga — you can contribute to his medical expenses while receiving a gorgeous 2011 calendar.

You can view some of the photos that are part of the calendar at sriBhagavati’s photostream.

All proceeds of this $18 calendar go directly to Rich (if, like me, you don’t live near AYC, you’ll pay just a couple dollars more and it’ll be shipped to you). The calendar is the work of Lorna Moy-Masaki (graphic art) and Michelle Haymoz (design concept and photography). Michelle took this photo of me with Tim Miller that I will always cherish.

Why do we practice yoga? Is it solely for ourselves?

We become devoted to the practice not just because of what it does for us as individuals, but for the orbit we get pulled into — an orbit full of  interesting, generous, compassionate and talented people without whom life just wouldn’t be the same. You can call it a sangha, a community, a family, or whichever term speaks most to you. I look at this calendar and each page is a beautiful reminder of beauty itself.

>>UPDATE: Read this post where I show you how the calendar doubles as a yoga flip book as well!

Ashtanga = boot camp?

As I write this, the third-most e-mailed story on The New York Times’ website is an article that hasn’t even appeared in the print edition yet. “The Yoga Mogul,” a profile of Anusara founder John Friend, will come out in this weekend’s Sunday magazine. It’s a fairly interesting piece that makes you think about whether yogic principles and business objectives can peacefully coexist without diluting the authenticity of this ancient practice (a meaty issue that deserves another blog post down the road).

What I’m going to focus on here is this section of the piece:

Like many other small-stakes subcultures — the world of poetry, or academia, say — yoga has become embroiled in head-of-a-pin type arguments. In yoga’s case it centers on authenticity. The fight over whether it is a spiritual or a physical practice has raged virtually since its inception, but now in the United States this question has been tinted with issues of competition, status and sweat. People who favor the demanding flow of Ashtanga yoga, for instance, might scoff at those who practice Iyengar yoga, which is slow-moving but stresses proper placement of the body in the poses. (Think of boot camp versus a classical ballet lesson.)

I think it’s unfortunate that as yoga becomes more popular, Ashtanga’s reputation grows – a reputation for being the style of yoga geared toward super fit, Type-A personalities. How many people out there have already shied away from trying the practice because they were turned off by what they had heard? The Sunday Times has a circulation of 1.4 million, so the potential reach of just this particular Ashtanga-as-boot-camp image is extensive.

Yes, Ashtanga is challenging. But yoga, in the most general sense, is challenging – it’s a practice that demands mindfulness, intention and honesty. And there is nothing easy in that.

Earlier this week, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in quite some time. Dealing with a low-back injury and post-surgery recovery, she told me that she’s starting to integrate more Ashtanga classes into her schedule because the primary series allows her to move at a slower pace and compassionately return to her asana practice.

Ashtanga is a deeply grounding practice that’s designed to detoxify the body, mind and spirit, and to bring us into balance. We can approach the practice in a hard, confrontational way by treating the asanas as a string of poses to be conquered – Hey, look at my Marichyasana D! Do you know how long it took to perfect this? – or we can approach the practice from a softer space in which we seek to flow with grace.

I think the best way to show people that Ashtanga is not the boot camp of yoga styles is to – well, show people. Show them through example, through how we experience and express our own practices, and encourage them to try the practice for themselves.