Himalayan goose

If I were a poet, this post would honor Rumi’s gift of making the world appear pregnant with infinite possibility. If I were a dancer, this post might invoke Gabrielle Roth’s 5 Movements, and move us to dance each other into trance. If I could paint a self-portrait, the canvas would vibrate with the transparency of the strokes that outline my form. If I were writing this post with my intellect, I might explain that this past week, I figured out one last big piece of the “who/how can I be?” puzzle; that after five years of doing deep internal work and finding clarity on so many issues (which is different from solving them), I was finally, when I least expected it, was made to understand something fundamental about what it is I need from my professional life.

giacomettiRight now, though, I am simply an observer of coincidences. I can observe that the last time that time seemed to fold on itself, I was in India. (Was that directive something from the Ramayana or something I will someday say?) I can observe that I found myself walking a razor’s edge of internal alignment the same week that the guru of enlightenment through alignment of the koshas passed in this form. I can observe that the week I realize what I really want to do when I grow up is actually what I have been doing on some level all my life – telling stories – is also the week when I write a blog post whose tone I can’t seem to control, because sometimes energies just envelope us.

I can observe that my cells and some subtle (body) drive of my life felt transformed the same week that I was given the pose karandavasana. Coincidence? Undergrad psychology professors made us promise we would not confuse correlation with causation, so I don’t know if I can say that. The pose inspires different things to different people. Awe, head-shaking, maybe a chuckle. For me, it is fascinating and fitting.

karandavasanaKarandavasana is sometimes called “mighty duck,” though I prefer the translation of “Himalayan goose.” What I love about this pose that I cannot yet do by myself is that it doesn’t make any sense — and it is perfect. It is life telling you the risks and the rewards just got amped up – but you have to surrender to not minding that you’re now upside down and backwards and trying crazy moves in the context of a practice that promised to not have anything to do with Cirque du Soleil. So yes, the same week that I started this ridiculousness of trying to balance on my forearms while floating up into pincha mayurasana, folding my legs into full lotus, controlling down and then coming back up and releasing my legs – all without knocking out my teacher’s teeth out — is the same week that I hear a quote I’ve never heard before: “Things are the way they are because they got that way.” So how do you manifest then? Or maybe the question is, how can you do anything other than manifest?

I can observe that the same week a sage owl told me to “keep the feeling” is the same week that I finally — after seven years of missed opportunities — got to see, live, how people on the same wavelength can make unbottleable music together. Rodrigo on lead guitar has the speed and power, but it is Gabriela on rhythm guitar who closes her eyes and lets her hands explore the landscape like no one else can. Can partnerships like that change destinies? I hope so.

I notice that the words I can’t stop feeling are shraddha and manifest. The pop songs and the preachers and the Sanskrit philosophers are right – you need faith. (“Patanjali says that Yoga has to be practiced without interruption, for a long time and with a firm, positive faith that the practice will get the results.“)

Dear reader, if you are still with me and are wondering what the hell I am trying to say, it is perhaps that I have more faith than ever that if you keep practicing with earnestness, you keep trying to soften that hardened heart space of yours and you work hard to “alchemize your word” — leave no space between your words and your actions — then some day, who knows. The universe lines up chance (?) meetings and things change — but in a way in which you are careful to not dream too specifically and in which you don’t ask for certainty from any circumstance or anyone. You just want to keep the feeling that there is a deeper well of creative shakti in you, and you are willing to walk along the edge of believing that there is something bigger you can work for. And you accept, finally, that your heart does break when values of people you respect are in discord with yours. And you accept that maybe, fine, fuck it, you’ll say it — maybe security is overrated and maybe you do care about being part of something big and maybe you won’t even use scare quotes around the idea of changing the world.

internalflamePeople matter. I cannot believe the court of sages and healers I have between my family, my friends, and strangers who are not strangers. And were it not for my husband and my ashtanga teacher (and, um, I really need a more accurate descriptor for her), I wouldn’t have had the courage to write this post about how I have stayed faithful to the ashtanga practice and Pattabhi Jois was right, all was coming. So much potential, huge mistakes. Redemption and luck. Integration, vibratory changes. The wheel of fortune turning for someone who, if nothing else, at least values gratitude and generosity – and yes, the shit gets real, fast. But surround yourself with the right people, and the universe acts as your tuner, coaxing sour notes into harmony. The rest will figure itself out — if you keep practicing with earnestness . . . and so on. And then the shit gets real again, and you are asked to return to the battlefield with Krishna, trembling from decisions that have to be made. The karmic wheel turns and rather than be afraid to say it even to yourself, you put it out there, even if people most definitely not on your wavelength might see the link.

And when, in a dream-like state, you loop back and try to be logical again and ask what any of that has to do with the ashtanga practice — and what happened this week, exactly? — you realize the pose is called Himalayan goose. As it should be.

===

Post playlist 😉

  • Rodrigo y Gabriela, “Tamacun
  • Zoe Keating,  “Fern

(Photo credit: Karandavasana shot via milopeng’s Flickr photostream thanks to Creative Commons. Giacometti pic taken at the Getty in May 2014 and yoga room shot taken last night.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. 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.

Guru Purnima

Today’s full moon marks Guru Purnima, known to ashtangis the world over as the day commemorating the auspicious 1915 birth of K. Pattabhi Jois. With each passing year, this day feels more and more like a celebration to me — the kind of celebration you don’t get dressed up for, and one you probably aren’t talking to your co-workers and neighbors about. Instead, it’s the kind of celebration marked quietly, internally, and honored outwardly in different ways by the ashtanga diaspora — perhaps over Facebook shares and blog posts and, if you’re in New York City, attending the evening puja, changin (and surprise) at Eddie Stern’s Ashtanga Yoga New York.

  • The incredibly prolific Grimmly has, not surprisingly, provided a wealth of information about Pattabhi Jois in a new post that includes old interviews, videos, photos and student reflections. (And as my next meeting is about to start and I am about to hit “publish,” Grimmly has just announced that he has already updated this post to include interviews with early students.)
  • Here is a photo slideshow by Barry Silver that’s making the rounds.
  • Ashtanga Yoga Library’s Elise Espat posted this “Weekend Edition #15” post on Guru purnima.
  • The Confluence Countdown has been posting videos leading up to today.

Barry Silver tribute to Guruji

I’m sure there’s a ton more out there, but that’s all I’ve got time for on this lunch break. All I will say is that if you haven’t read Guruji yet, I highly recommend it. I was lucky enough to be in a led class once in Montreal with Pattabhi Jois, but what resonates most with me is how much this larger-than-life spirit inspired the teachers who are today inspiring a new generation of ashtangis — helping them find transformation in their lives in ways that go far beyond the mat.

Back to work I go, with Guruji and parampara on my mind.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. 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.

 

 

 

 

The practice of the yoga of politics (whatever that means), post-Election 2012

Practice (Obama's Hope version)

I forced myself to go to bed around 1:30 a.m. last night, after Mitt Romney made his concession speech. I desperately wanted to wait up for Barack Obama to give his speech, but I knew that would have definitely killed my chances of making the 60-minute drive to my shala for morning practice.

Stumbling around in the pre-dawn dark of my closest, I thought about wearing my Ashtanga Yoga Confluence Pattabhi Jois shirt tee done in the iconic style of the famous Obama “Hope” image but decided against it, given how charged this election was. Plus, I thought, better to continue the conversation by blogging the image instead.

There has hardly been a unified front among “the yoga community” about the incredibly high-stakes #Election2012 — but I think the conversation that has been taking place has been vocal and, as Matthew Remski called for, “muscular.” It goes without saying that yogis — especially the #yogisforobama crowd — continued to share their feelings today about the election.

Kino #yogisforobama tweet

Intent Blog today published “Is Yoga Political?” by Angela Jamison. Here’s a juicy slice of it:

I’m sympathetic to the apolitical argument. It goes like this: Yoga is in the transcendence business. Think like the Cosmos. The rest is and always has been small potatoes.

Now, there is a growing, healthy tendency for critical-minded yoga people to get very pissed off at transcendence teachings. We counter with the message of immanence: Here! Here! Now! Now! Relationships, Physicality, Food, Form! Fine, fine. But now that immanence is having its day in western yoga, let’s not throw the transcendence out with the bathwater. Or, phrased even worse: you can transcend your cake and eat it too.

To the question of whether yoga is historically apolitical, I can only speak casually to my own lineage. I’m a student of the direct students of Pattabhi Jois; and for extra edification and clarity of transmission I study with senior a senior Iyengar teacher, a senior student of TKV Desikachar, and others whose line goes directly to Krishnamacharya. Nobody knows what yoga is. But I do at least know my family line; I teach the way my teachers in the tradition of Pattabhi Jois taught me to teach, and only because they support me in doing so. Lineage gives me a sense of history and accountability, and helps me answer hard questions like: Is yoga political?

WWKD? WWSKPJD? Q.E.D.

Yes, it’s apparently political. I’ll start from the root. The mula guru of my lineage was outspoken and crazy progressive in his politics. This singular man, T. Krishnamacharya, took radical political initiatives. If he hadn’t, would we even be here?

Krishnamacharya went to work for Wodeyar, a prince who in the early 1900 was in some ways more politically enlightened than Mitt Romney (Wodeyar championed public health and, if I am not mistaken, was one of the first Indian politicians to support some form of birth control for women). He pushed the envelope of the teachable to encompass women and foreigners, and wrote the radical book Yoga Makaranda in a passionate effort to legitimate yoga practice (previously considered punk ass nonsense) among everyday people. Word is people said he was crazy.

From there I only know about my own branch of the lineage – that of Pattabhi Jois. What I know is mostly conversational – part of the oral tradition I have recieved – but what does seem clear is that SKPJ took Krishnamacharya’s envelope and expanded it further in some places. (Some say SKPJ convinced his guru to expand that envelope in the first place.) More foreigners and more westerners were given the teachings, and eventually he broke with his rumored refusal to teach Muslims (to this day, Mysore city is extremely segregated, and there is significant tension and oppression between Hindu majority and the large population of Muslims). In time, and especially with my teacher Sharath’s leadership of the ashtanga yoga lineage, more women would be empowered as senior teachers.

At this moment, the environment is coming online in my lineage as a zone of political responsibility. The week before last, Sharath spoke to students gathered in Mysore, saying that instead of having a third child, he will plant a tree. He told the students to plant trees and take care of the environment, and said that this is part of yoga.

The popular argument that yoga is apolitical comes not from an understanding of modern yoga history, but from a mistaken grafting of “yoga” on to the definition of “business.” BUSINESS is apolitical. Politics in America are one part culture wars and three parts class warfare. And for godsakes if you want to make money, you do not participate in class warfare.

Over at YogaBrains, Derek Beres wrote today:

At YogaBrains we had our most trafficked weekend in our young history after posting a series of articles endorsing Obama. While we received push back on various blogs and comment sections about bringing politics into the yoga community, we heard more positive feedback than not. In my practice, the heart of yoga is not about debating what some text written 2,500 years ago by someone I will never meet from a culture I will never be able to properly imagine ‘means.’ I prefer to stick to the basics: unity, discriminative thinking, self-reflection, non-harming and -stealing. My ‘practice’ is defined by the life I live, not the 90 minutes I spend a few times a week exercising. This, inevitably, means engagement with the culture I live in.

So while I was thrilled to see so much activity regarding politics over the last few weeks, I can only say: Don’t stop now. Politics is not only an election-time process. Lately I’ve seen otherwise intelligent people argue that Obama did not push through a number of issues, without stopping to consider that we just experienced the most divided Congress in our nation’s history, which put forth a record number of filibusters. The GOP banked on people not paying attention, and in many ways, they achieved that goal without trying much. That allowed them to craft new arguments over the last two months with little concern, knowing that the majority of Americans were asleep at the wheel.

If it is to be us who helps define the route our country is taking, we must stay engaged and involved politically. Put aside your time for meditation, breathing and postures; just don’t spend it all there. That calm force you cultivate must be put into action in the country that helped create an environment for you to freely practice your spiritual ambitions.

Pattabhi Jois’ 99 percent practice, 1 percent theory — does it/should it apply to politics as well as yoga? All I know is that until this week, I would never have never considered sharing my political allegiances in a presidential race on my yoga blog. (Part of that is that I was trained as a mainstream journalist in the old-school tradition that dictates that you avoid airing your personal political views at all costs — you don’t ever so much as sign a petition). But as I continued to step on my mat six days a week, as I read more and more of what thoughtful yogis were saying, and as I reflected about why I backed the candidate I backed, it seemed more yogic — not less — to share my concerns about the direction one of the candidates would lead this country down should he be elected.

Our political leaders hold tremendous responsibilities. As citizens and yogis, so do we.

Related links:

>>I rolled out my mat, and then I voted. #Election2012
>>Tuesday morning to-do list: Ekam, practice. Dve, vote!

© 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.

Lost yoga ring found! (Insert your own symbolism.)

Yoga ring with "Do your practice and all is coming" etched on it.

In 2009, I ordered a custom spinning ring from a beautiful Etsy shop — it’s the ring you see in the blog’s current header. Inside the ring I had asked the designer to etch Pattabhi Jois’ famous saying: “Do your practice and all is coming.” I lost that ring a year later, and as I recently wrote, I decided against ordering a replacement because I saw the loss as a way to remain detached to the physical object while internalizing the spirit of the ring’s meaning to me.

Padmasana with Tim Miller

Photo taken in 2010 by Michelle Haymoz.

Today, I had to clear out my super messy car because I’m taking a caravan of hip young Lansing-based coworkers for a little drive to Ann Arbor for their first Intro to Ashtanga Yoga class with my teacher. In cleaning out the car, I found my ring! Not in some crazy crevice, but buried deep in the crap shoved into my glove compartment.

All this time, I had had no clue that the ring was actually quite close, just an arm’s reach away.

So, feel free to spin your own symbolism into this story. I have.

>>Related?: A girl and a guru

© 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.

Mysore Magic: A DVD for Ashtanga practitioners with desires and doubts

Mysore Magic screenshot

Mysore Magic: Yoga at the Source — Released 2012. Directed By R. Alexander Medin. Produced by R. Alexander Medin, James Kambeitz, Angie Swiec Kambeitz.

Yesterday was a treat — my personal Mysore Monday. Because I had the Labor Day holiday off, I was able to attend morning Mysore at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor (AY: A2), which I can’t attend on a normal workday because I live an hour away. I closed out the day by watching Mysore Magic: Yoga at the Source.

The film directed by certified teacher R. Alexander Medin, released early this year, clocks in at just 22 minutes and includes striking Mysore Magic:Yoga the Source filmfootage — taken inside the practice room of the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Gokulam, Mysore — that’s woven into interviews with a range of compelling and articulate practitioners talking about why they were originally drawn to Mysore, and what the practice has done for them.

But the copy of the film I ordered a couple months ago indicates on the cover that this DVD is a new version, in that it includes six special features. The short film is quite well done — and, yes, it makes you want to book a ticket to India, stat — but for me, the gem of this 63-minute DVD can be found in the bonus features, which include segments on the following topics:

  • Guruji
  • Portraits
  • Family
  • History
  • Obstacles
  • Transformation

I was particularly drawn to the “Obstacles” section, in which you hear these oh-so-familiar thoughts spoken by different yogis:

  • “You are confronting your own shortcomings daily . . . “
  • “Some days are incredibly difficult to get up and go practice . . .”
  • “Whatever it is, it is guaranteed to come up in the practice  . . . “
  • “The moment you start your practice, it’s almost like a train — it’s a speeding train towards your obstacles.”

Sound familiar? I was wondering if perhaps they had actors reading from a script of thoughts that run through my head way too frequently. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about obstacles — and how to overcome them when you practice alone, at home, and don’t have the benefit of the energy of a Mysore room, much less the opportunity to travel to the source — thanks to the daily support I’ve been getting as part of a group of yogis, most of whom I’ve never met, who are part of the Way-Before-Breakfast Club for morning-challenged ashtangis. We meet in a little digital lounge where we can talk about our obstacles to practicing, help each other work through them, and generally cheer each other on.

Kino MacGregor’s struggles

In “Obstalces,” Kino MacGregor talks about her struggles in the practice. Yes, that Kino — the ubiquitous one who is all over social media, making everything look easy. The one who looks like she was born with a body made for this practice. The one who wears those trademark short shorts that make practicing things like arm balances even harder, because you don’t have fabric to use as friction.

Kino MacGregor

Kino MacGregor screenshot via KinoYoga.com

I’ll note one of MacGregor’s quote because I think she’s probably the most well-known of the yogis in this section, between her videos, blog posts, tweets, Pinterest boards, and all the rest. Sitting comfortably in a Led Zeppelin tee, she tells the filmmakers:

What does strength mean? Where does it come from?
For me, that’s been a really big journey, actually, because I wasn’t strong when I practiced — not mentally, not spiritually, not physically, not emotionally. So when I found this blockage in my practice — like, I couldn’t lift my butt off the ground — not at all in the beginning — I just remembered thinking, ‘What’s this about for me?’ And what does this say as a state of mind that I want to quit all the time? What does this say as a state of mind? Who is this person that can’t find any strength, that can’t, you know, accept this part of myself?

Fourth Estate

My first career was as a newspaper reporter, and I remember, early on, thinking that I was not fit for this field. I looked around at all these reporters who were tearing it up with A1 stories, investigative packages, beautiful long-form features. They seemed to me like they were born to do this — that they must wake up feeling confident every morning, that they have some uncanny ability to stroll into the newsroom around 10 a.m. and get their sources to spill by noon. Words seemed to flow out of their typing fingers as fast as coffee was streaming out of the newsroom coffee pot. Then I started to get to know people better. I started to learn about their sleepless nights. About the sacrifices they had made over the years to get their sources to trust them. I learned how some reporters would even get their doctors to prescribe Ativan when they were facing their toughest deadlines. Being part of the Fourth Estate — when done with integrity to ethics and dedication to the idea that citizens require information and truth to make informed decisions — can be hard. It was important to me to know I was not alone in feeling this way.

You are not alone, ashtangi

Back to Ashtanga yoga. It’s hard! This is not news. For some of us, it can be helpful to hear from people we think never had to work hard to achieve something, because it can make the endeavor seem more accessible. Some of us need to hear that nope, actually, these guys struggled too — and continue to struggle — just like the rest of us.

To be sure, there is also a kind of inspiration from knowing that someone else like you is still keeping at it and trying their best, despite their doubts, anxieties, frustrations, fears and everything else. Sometimes we get so beholden to our challenges that we lose all perspective. I think this is one way in which connecting with one another — whether over social media or by watching a DVD like this one — can support practices.

Checking out the film

There are renting options and purchasing options with the film — follow this link. I don’t believe renting the film — streaming it online for $4.99 — offers you the bonus features. It looks to me as if the DVD option, for $24.99, is the best way to go — and you should know that 50 percent of revenues go to the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Charitable Trust.

Here’s a sampling of some discussions of the film when it originally came out.

If you watch it, I would love to hear what you think.

(Photo credit: Screenshot from Mysore Magic: Yoga at the Source)

© 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.

 

 

 

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

20120529-080334.jpg

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)

© 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.

Workshop dispatch: Primary series (Yoga Chikitsa)

Jen René in supta kurmasana, which is the most extreme of the forward folds in the Ashtanga primary series practice.

Jen René in supta kurmasana, which is the most extreme of the forward folds in the Ashtanga primary series practice.

This is the next in a “Workshop dispatch” series based on the workshops I took with Tim Miller at Yoga on High in Columbus, Ohio from Friday, April 13, 2012 through Wednesday, April 18, 2012. Tim has taught annually in Columbus for 14 years. This year, he held his traditional weekend (Friday through Sunday) program, but debuted a new intensive program (Monday through Wednesday). Each day of the three-day intensive focused on a different series of the practice. In the mornings, we chatted a little bit and then did a practice that could run up to 2.5 hours (to allow time to do several research, or prep, poses, during the second and third series). In the afternoon, we could ask questions, go over problem spots and generally discuss the practice. (Full workshop description here.) What follows are notes and thoughts from Day 1 of the intensive, which examined the primary series.  

===

“You guys are the guinea pigs,” Tim Miller told us on Day 1 of the One-Day Yoga Intensives portion of his annual Yoga on High program. Pretty cool place to be for the roughly 40 of us in the room. Some of us had traveled from out of state, others were Yoga on High teachers, and several in the room were enrolled in Yoga on High’s  teacher training program. (As a side note, I think it’s very cool that Ashtanga students enrolled in YOHI’s teacher training are required to take Tim Miller’s workshops.)

Gunas

Over the course of the three-day intensive, Tim talked about the qualities of each of the series as they relate to the gunas and the pancha kosas (five sheaths). In The Heart of YogaT.K.V. Desikachar describes gunas simply as “qualities of the mind; qualities of the universe). In a nutshell, there are three gunas:

  • Sattva, which possesses the quality of harmony
  • Rajas, which possesses the quality of activity
  • Tamas, which possesses the quality of inertia.

Tim was careful to note during the workshops that while we often think of the quality of being sattvic as being the most desirable of the gunas, we need all three for balance. “It’s easy to say tamas is bad, sattvic is good and rajas is mixed,” Tim said. “But you need all three. We are always trying to find balance between these qualities.”

Since we’re on the topic, here is what B.K.S. Iyengar says about the gunas in Light on Life:

As I said, the guna is made up for three complementary forces. They are: tamas (mass or inertia), rajas (vibrancy or dynamism), and sattva (luminosity or the quality of light).

Let us look at a practice example. In asana, we are trying to broach the mass of our gross body, to break up the molecules and divide them into atoms that will allow our vision to penetrate within. Our body resists us. It is muleish. It will not budge. Why? Because in body tamas predominates. It has to. Body needs mass, bones need density, and sinew and muscle need solidity and firmness….

With regard to asana practice, this means that initially we need to exert ourselve more as resistance is greater. Of the two aspects of asana, exertion of our body and penetration of our mind, the latter is eventually more important. Penetration of our mind is the goal, but in the beginning to set things in motion, there is no substitute for sweat.

But once there is movement and then momentum, penetration can start. When effort becomes effortless, asana is at its highest level. Inevitably this is a slow process, and if we break off our practice, inertia reasserts itself. What we are really doing is infusing dense matter with vibrant energy. That is why good practice brings a feeling of lightness and vitality. Though the mass of our body is heavy, we are meant to tread lightly on this earth. (pp. 45-46)

The overarching quality of the primary series, relative to the other series, would be tamasic. Second series: rajastic. Third series, sattvic.

Pancha koshas

In general, the sheaths go from the grossest (most physical) to more subtle manifestations.

  • Annamaya kosa: Physical body
  • Pranamaya kosa: Energy body. This is the body of chakras.
  • Manomaya kosa: Body of mental (and emotional) impressions. You find samskaras (habits, conditioning) here.
  • Vijnanamaya kosa: The body of the buddhi (intellect).
  • Anandamaya kosa: Blissful body. The place of the soul. The place of unconditioned awareness. (Iyengar refers to this sheath as the divine body.)

It was very helpful for me that Tim discussed the sheaths as one of those nesting Russian dolls.

Primary series

Whew. That’s a lot of necessary lead in. Let’s get to the primary series itself. Primary series — Yoga Chitiksa (“Yoga Therapy,”) works most on the outer doll. The physical sheath. Tim noted that if we work on one doll, it does affect the other dolls.

The first series has a slew of health benefits, as anyone who has practiced the series consistently understands. It is designed to:

  • Restore the body
  • Detox us
  • Restore natural range of motion to our joints
  • Restore sensitivity to our sense organs

The practice also helps to reduce excess adipose tissue (yep, that’s body fat).

Think of all the forward folds and twists in the first series (if you’re new to the series, you can see the poses here). Primary works quite a bit on:

  • The gastrointestinal system
  • Digestion
  • Assimilation
  • Elimination

If the concept of the pancha kosas — the five sheaths — is new to you, I recommend reading Light on Life. And, of course, try to find time to study with Tim Miller. I’m sure he’ll be doing more of these one-day intensives now that he’s had the chance to test it out on our group.

Tim said this about the Ashtanga method as we were discussing the primary series: “It’s very scientific. It’s very sophisticated. And best of all, it works.” Seeing these notes again remind me that Steve of The Confluence Countdown recently posted an interview with Eddie Stern about a new yoga study that includes what is essentially a distillation of part of the primary series. Interesting stuff.

My relationship with the practice

On a personal level, the primary series has been an incredibly positive influence for me — for years the metronomic quality of the practice was about the only calm consistency in my life that I could point to — but the process has been as slow as molasses. Some people fly through primary. Not me.

I spent years and years without an Ashtanga teacher, and cobbled together a practice based on a couple of weekend workshops with David Swenson and some practice cards. I was lucky enough to be in a led class taught by Pattabhi Jois when he paid a visit to Montreal during one of his North American tours, but I still didn’t understand the series well enough by that time to even get into the marichyasana twists without assistance.

During those lonely years without a teacher, I had enough internal drive to know this was good for me, but not enough tapas to practice daily and fully wring out the benefits of the practice. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had met Tim Miller or Angela Jamison all those years ago. Despite knowing that the past is what it is and there’s no point dwelling on it, I admit to still having twinges of regret now and then — less so for what my practice could be now that I am on the cusp of turning 36 (though I would be lying if I didn’t say that is part of it), and more so for what better choices I could have made in my life had I had a consistent daily practice in my 20s.

The silver lining for all this is that I have a deep well of patience for teaching primary series, and I invest as much as I can to trying to help students who seem to need someone to put them in closer touch with their practice. As I told one of my students once, every single one of your challenges with the practice becomes a gift you have for your students. And my god, have I had an abundance of challenges — from my unforgiving work schedules to the far-from-any-shala locations I have lived to the less-than-ideal body proportions that makes poses like supta kurmasana and pasasana a steep uphill journey.

Ah, pasasana — the gateway pose to second series. We’ll get to that in the next blog post.

(Photo: My friend Jen René in supta kurmasana, which is the most extreme of the forward folds in the Ashtanga primary series practice. Jen teaches Ashtanga and vinyasa yoga and Pilates in Washington, D.C. If you’re in D.C., check her out — she’s excellent.)

© 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.

Happy birthday, Bhagavad Gita (how old are you now?)

No one can say with certainty how old the Bhagavad Gita is. The tale, which is a story within a story — a book pulled from the epic Mahabharata — has, I learned last week when took a quick jaunt over to Eddie Stern‘s Ashtanga Yoga New York website, a birthday of sorts. And that day is today. Had I been in New York City today rather than in Lansing, Mich., I could have swung by Ashtanga Yoga New York this afternoon or evening to join in the Gita Jayanthi, which the website explained this way:

Monday, December 5th, is the ‘birthday’ of the Bhagavad Gita, and celebrates the day that Sri Krishna spoke the Gita to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. We will celebrate this day by chanting the entire Bhagavad Gita aloud, beginning at 2 pm and finishing at about 6:15 pm. Please feel free to come and sit with us as we chant – bring a copy of the Gita if you would like to read along. As with all pujas and ceremonies at the temple, it is not required to stay for the entire time, or even to arrive when we begin.

I imagine it takes chanting at a pretty good clip to get through about 700 verses in just over four hours. I first read the Bhagavad Gita in college, when I had no context for the text and no experience with a yoga practice. This summer, I reread the Gita (the version translated by Eknath Easwaran), and it was a rocking good read. I know that Pattabhi Jois would tell his students to read the Gita, and I understood why after reading it again. Love, fear, doubt, gunas, deities, despair, confusion, heartache, an impossible situation — the Gita has it all.

Richard Freeman devotes an entire chapter to the Gita in his book The Mirror of Yoga, which I recently read during my Thanksgiving travels. I won’t try to distill the chapter, but I did like Freeman’s description of the tale:

The Bhagavad Gita is so skillfully crafted that carefully reading it allows you to appreciate te fact of impermanence not only intellectually, but actually feeling it in your skin and by experiencing its meaning in your muscles and bones. Perhaps this is one reason the book has had such a long and lasting effect, because through such a visceral understanding there is an opportunity for profound insight into the nature of reality. (p. 108)

We’ll never know exactly how old the Gita is, but we’ll never really need to know either, because it’s got that truly timeless quality. Freeman calls it a “fantastic tool”:

…not to be kept on the shelf as an idol but to be read, to be wrestled with, to be reread, consumed, digested and released.

So get to it! Find a copy of the Gita. Consume, digest, release, repeat. We as humans have been doing it for ages.

>>Read more about Gita Jayanthi by the Confluence Countdown here and here.

(Photo credit: Stuck in Customs’ Flickr photostream. The description of this photo: “Alone in the Bhagavad  I feel like I end up walking alone through the epic book of the Bhagavad Gita. These mythical places are made manifest in unexpected ways as I look around. It feels somewhat empty inside, like it needs to be shared with someone. The only devastated remnants I have are these little pictures, which seem a poor substitute.”)

© 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.)

 

 

 

Reimagining…everything

Via jmak.tumblr.com

News of the death of Steve Jobs broke while I was teaching Intro to Ashtanga Yoga, so I didn’t learn about his passing until after class, when I picked up my iPhone and saw tweet after tweet with the announcement. While not surprising given the health problems Jobs endured over the past few years, it was, of course, sad.

How could it not be? Though lots of people are described as “visionary,” how many embodied it the way Jobs did? He saw a radically different way to approach computers, music, phones, animation — which translates into envisioning a different approach to communication, self-expression and creativity. And that’s just the beginning.

Michael Moore, who has joined the Occupy Wall Street protestors, just tweeted:

As word passes thru the crowd of Steve Jobs’ passing, it is not lost on anyone that his inventions helped make movements like this possible.

Part of being a visionary means having faith that your intuition is right — that you’re on the right path. It’s not easy to keep that faith.

I can’t help but think about the loss when Pattabhi Jois died in 2009. Guruji, as his students called him, single-handedly changed the lives of thousands of people who have been transformed through the eight-limbed practice of Ashtanga yoga.

Ashtanga yoga has helped me reimagine what I’m capable of. I saw these poses that looked impossible and thought, “Well, these poses are for people with different body types than mine.” Over time, I learned that approaching the postures had far less to do with bones, muscles and strength and far more with breath, focus and perspective. Surprised by how I could approach being in my body in a radically different way, I started to look around at other areas of life. My professional life, for instance. The skills I thought I didn’t have — was it true? Or it was just that I wasn’t approaching it the right way? Yoga helped me reimagine my approach to my career and everything else.

Want to hear a yogic talk? Read this snippet from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford University commencement:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Read the entire transcript or watch the speech — at your desk on a MacBook, or while traveling on your iPad or iPhone.

(Photo credit: Jonathan Mak’s Tumblr)

© 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.

 

New ‘mesmerizing’ DVD teaches you how to float in Ashtanga yoga

 

While I was sleeping, @ashtangayoga tweeted this:

However you “float” in your practice, Learn to Float is mesmerizing:http://bit.ly/qYgyPY

Of course, I had to see what this was all about. David Robson, director of the Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto, has released a DVD ($22 CAD, which is, as I write this, about $20.97 USD) — along with options for online streaming ($9.99 CAD for access for an entire year) and an audio download (for just $1.99 CAD) — that teaches you to float. You can tell from the trailer alone that the production value is gorgeous and the drum beat used in the video makes it that much more hypnotic.

David says in the DVD:

Floating happens when there is perfection union between breath and movement.

That float that dedicated ashtangis have is like art to me — a moving expression of passion, devotion and focus. It’s not something you can buy. It’s not something you can will. It’s not something you can brute-force into achieving. It’s a balance of synergy and surrender.

To emphasize that this is not a practice for the elite, David includes this Pattabhi Jois quote just under the trailer for his DVD:

…Yoga, as a way of life and as a philosophy, can be practiced by anyone with an inclination to under take it, for yoga belongs to humanity as a whole. It is not the property of any one group or any individual, but can be followed by any and all, in any corner ofthe globe, regardless of class, creed or religion.

You can buy the DVD from Ashtanga.com or from David’s Learn to Float website.

Are you still learning how to float? Do you think this video will be helpful? Have you already made that connection to floating? How did you learn it?

© 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.

 

Ashtanga, NY/USA/World on this 9/11 anniversary

I spent the weekend at Seva Yoga in Grand Rapids, Mich., at a yoga anatomy workshop with Dr. Ray Long and Chris Macivor (blog post coming on this outstanding workshop), and then I had to jet back here to Lansing to teach my Ashtanga primary series class, so I missed today’s 9/11 remembrances — from “real-time tweets” to The New York Times’ special The Reckoning edition.

I did manage to catch this blog post by The Confluence Countdown about Ashtanga, NY, a 2003 documentary that was screened at Ashtanga Yoga New York today  in honor of the 10th anniversary of this terrifying and traumatic attack of global citizens on American soil.

That reminded me that I have this DVD, still wrapped, on my shelf. It’s part of a large stack of Ashtanga-related DVDs that I bought earlier this year and have still not yet watched. It features several celebrities — actors Gwyneth Paltrow and Willem Dafoe and Mike D. of the Beatie Boys (shout-out for the latest Beasties album, which is excellent, in my humble opinion) — and author Stefanie Syman, who wrote The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America.

So, after a late dinner, I remedied this. The 60-minute documentary just ended, and I thought it was very powerful — especially the scene in which, on his last day during his September 2001 visit to New York City, Pattabhi Jois wore an FDNY shirt with his standard teaching shorts.

Steve over at The Confluence Countdown writes this about the documentary:

My understanding of the documentary is that it was intended to follow Guruji’s time spent at the shala; however, as fate would have it, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened during Guruji’s visit. His time in New York, and the documentary, obviously changed.

From my ‘critical’ perspective, that probably compromised the quality of the film as a documentary about Ashtanga and Guruji. But it captured something else and provides one view on New York in the days and weeks immediately after the attacks.

I’ve never met Steve, but I know we agree on a lot of things — starting with the awesomeness of both Tim Miller and the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. We seem to disagree on this, though. I think the quality of the film as a documentary about Ashtanga and Guruji is strengthened by looking at how 9/11 helped the yoga practitioners who are interviewed realize the impact of the practice on their perspective in life.

If anything, I thought there wasn’t enough about 9/11 in this documentary. What I have been told, for example, is that Pattabhi Jois made what is now considered the traditional closing prayer part of the practice after the 9/11 attacks. Is this true? I’d certainly like to know. If it is, I think it speaks to how Ashtanga — often viewed as an unchanging practice — changes in important ways to reflect collective human events. If it’s not true — well, the fact that this is the story I’ve heard could reflect how much people need to find meaning in changes to the Ashtanga yoga system.

More than anything, though, I think the 9/11 inclusion in this documentary speaks to how this practice goes beyond one man or one family. It goes beyond being a deeply personal practice for celebrities who live in a particular city and millions of people around the world. This practice is ultimately about healing — whether it’s on an individual or community level.

Have you seen it? What do you think? I’m sure Steve and I would like a tiebreaker here. :) Haven’t seen it? If you have Netflix, you can watch it without buying it. You can also buy it. Watch it, then share your thoughts.

(P.S. — If you watch it, check out the outtakes special feature. It’s pretty funny if you’re an Ashtanga geek (think Mike D. answering a question about what Guruji would say about shouting into a microphone without doing ujjayi breath). It’s also a great reminder that ashtangis are pretty good about poking a little fun at themselves — it’s an important part of keeping what is literally for some practitioners a life-saving practice fun and light when it needs to be.)

© 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.

‘Rarely do we clench just one thing.’

 

X-ray of a mouth

Clenched teeth, clenched mind?

Pattabhi Jois apparently used to say, “Clenched toes, clenched mind.” Especially in standing balancing postures such as utthita hasta padangustasana (extended hand-to-big-toe posture), the toes of our grounded foot may be clawing into our mats without us realizing it — as if digging in will help us balance. It’s quite the opposite, right? It takes strength to believe that letting go of a tightening action will be liberating. It takes strength to trust that if we let go of what we believe is anchoring us, another source of stability — a more genuine source of stability — will present itself.

In his beautiful book The Heart of Yoga, T.K.V. Desikachar tells us:

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra describes an asana as having two important qualities: sthira and sukha. Sthira is steadiness and alertness. Sukha refers to the ability to remain comfortable in a posture. Both qualities should be present to the same degree when practicing any posture. (p. 17)

Whether we’re dealing with a career or personal passions, family or friendships, there are times when nothing could be harder to achieve than this feeling of sthira sukha. What seems to happen far more frequently than the perfect balance between strength and surrender is tightening up or drilling down.

Hilltop Yoga owner Hilaire Lockwood has for years worked on helping me release the tension in my shoulders and trapezius, the muscle starting at the base of the occipital bone. Even after an adjustment, when I think I have let go, she points out how much more I have held on to, and coaxes my body and mind to let go of just a little more. (For the record, I also clench my butt in postures such as setu bandha (bridge posture).) During very stressful times, my muscles tighten so much I worry if they’ll ever loosen again. But even during less stressful times of my life, those muscles are so trained that they don’t seem to ever truly release. I’m pretty sure it will take still more years for me to relinquish the hold I have over my holds.

I was recently telling Sue Forbes, co-owner of Mindful Movement and Physical Therapy in East Lansing, about all my clenching habits. It’s not shoulders or the gluteus maximus we’re talking about here. I recounted how, at 31, I was told I had so eroded my gums through grinding my teeth that I had the gums of someone twice my age, which required surgery to graft tissue to my gums. (The surgery is about as fun as it sounds.) Sue smiled and nodded. “Rarely do we clench just one thing,” she said.

Yoga is premised on the concept that there is a natural and profound connection between the body, mind and spirit. The clenching that we habitualize — is it only physical? In yoga, we use the body to get beyond the body. We use the body as a way to still the fluctuations of the mind and to tap into what keeps our spirit going. I find it fascinating to start with the clenching I feel in my own body and work inward. Can I trace the tightening of this part of my body to a particular work project that I’m stressed about? Or maybe I can follow the tracing the other way — if I let go of a particular memory about a past relationship, what, if anything, might let go in my body?

And what about beliefs? Is that a type of clenching? The Ashtanga series present posture after posture that seem impossible when we first start to practice. But we learn, over time, that through the guidance of an experienced teacher and through consistent practice, we eventually melt into those postures when the time is right.

Maybe telling yourself, “I’ll never be able to do this posture” is just another form of clenching. If that’s the case, consistently practicing Ashtanga can be considered a counterpose of sorts — what we do to counterbalance a previous pose in order to bring the body, mind and spirit into balance.

(Photo credit: The Full Wiki)

Horsing around (London edition)

Horse-face posture

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to travel to London last week. It was my first visit there, and I hope it won’t be my only. Let’s get the obvious question out of the way – what’s going on in the photo?

This was the result of sheer playfulness. We stumbled on this perplexing statue of a horse’s face, and I couldn’t resist getting into vatayanasana. The Sanskirt translates into horse-face posture, so this was meant to be a visual pun of sorts for the geeky ashtangi. Vatayanasana — which involves having one leg in half lotus while the opposite leg’s foot is firmly planted on the floor — appears near the end of the second series sequence. According to Gregor Maehle, this posture begins the energetic wind-down of the series.

For this trip, though, this posture marked the energetic wind-up. As with any city of this size, and this much history, there was only time to taste the sights and sounds, from checking out the actual Rosetta Stone displayed in the British Museum to having Champagne afternoon tea (yes, this is a thing! You can have a glass of Champagne before the tea comes – fantastic).

If time weren’t an issue, I would have gone to a different yoga studio every day. I managed to make it to two traditional shalas – Ashtanga Yoga London in Central London, and The Shala in South London. Both were wonderful studios — extremely welcoming and very traditional.

In the yoga classes I teach, I will sometimes say that learning Ashtanga is like learning a language – one that allows you to communicate with a deeper part of yourself, and also one that allows you to roll out your mat anywhere in the world and be able to participate in a shared experience with a group you’ve never met before. That’s absolutely what happened for me in London. At Ashtanga Yoga London, a Mysore-style shala that is so traditional you practice your finishing postures in another room, I immediately felt the familiarity of the ujjayi breathing and the walls gently sweating from the collective heat built up that morning. At The Shala, I took a led primary series class, and on the first ekam (“one” in Sanskrit) of surya namaskara A (sun salutation A), I knew I was where I should be.

To be sure, there were some minor differences in sequences. I think of them as accents of a sequence, if that makes sense. These minor differences, such as whether you enter include a rounded-back baddha konasana (bound-angle pose) or only do a flat-back baddha konasana, probably most reflects when the instructor studied in Mysore with Pattabhi Jois. Although we say Ashtanga is the same sequence, it’s not exactly the same.

The most salient feeling I came away from my visits to the studios was how grounded I felt. Thousands of miles away from home, in studios I had never been in before, I felt at home because my practice was with me.

Padmasana

Padmasana in Trafalgar Square

Jois Yoga

Joisyoga.comOK Ashtangis — in case you missed it, there’s a new website for Jois Yoga. The website explains: “Based on the teachings of Sri K Pattahbi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Yoga, JOIS is a living legacy featuring a collection of Yoga Shalas and Apparel Worldwide.”

In an earlier post, I mentioned news of this month’s grand opening of the Jois Yoga Shala in Encinitas, Calif. Now we know more about the founder of the shala, and about future plans — which include additional shalas opening up worldwide, along with an apparel line.  

I don’t know — it’s hard for me to picture an official Jois-family-approved line of clothing, along with what will essentially be a chain of shalas around the world. On the other hand, it’s too easy to question whether this is a positive development for the global sangha of Ashtanga practitioners, and I don’t want to set up false dichotomies of good-versus-bad, traditional-versus-modern, homegrown-versus-commercialized. If nothing else, yoga teaches us to be less reactive in our daily lives — to not jump to conclusions or let preconceived notions lead the way.

And without a doubt, new shalas and a new line of dedicated clothing will only increase Ashtanga’s profile, attracting more people to try this practice for the first time and deepening others into their current practice through having greater worldwide accessibility to teachers steeped in the Ashtanga tradition.  

But for me, it is surprising, to say the least, to see these developments and learn about what’s in the works. I’d love to hear what practitioners think about these announcements and plans.

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.