Workshop dispatch: Richard Freeman resources

I first tasted the teachings of Richard Freeman when I read The Mirror of Yoga earlier this year as part of an Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat. I first met Richard at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence this past March, where I was introduced to his vibrant and rich imagery — oh, that cobra hoodie! — and where I was lucky enough to get a nearly indescribable dropback adjustment from him (what I refer to as my Oh. My. God. dropback adjustment).

Miro Barn near Columbus, OhioWhen I met Richard again this past weekend inside a beautiful converted barn in Columbus, Ohio, I told him about that backbend, whose energy I think I still have in my body. He simply said, “Hmm. I must have slowed down your backbend.” There he was, being humble. I sort of wanted to shout, “THERE IS NO WAY THAT IS ALL YOU DID! COME ON, COP TO THE MAGIC POWERS YOU HAVE!” But I just smiled and we moved on to another subject.

At the end of the three days with Richard — after he was cool enough to talk to me for my Three Questions video series – I got into my car for the four-hour drive back home. Before I hit the highway, I had popped the first of his six-CD audio set, The Yoga Matrix, into my player, and I just finished the last CD. (All this really means is that I am ready to start round 2 of listening — there is just so much packed into these discussions.)

You probably already know this, but the guy is amazing. Here are some ways to get more Richard Freeman right now:

The Mirror of Yoga [book]

I got really into the book and read it about this time last year, and I also did a blog post here and here.

The Yoga Matrix: The Body as a Gateway to Freedom audio course

The Yoga MatrixAlthough I got a lot out of The Mirror of Yoga, for me, The Yoga Matrix is where it’s at. While Richard covers many of the same themes, it makes a big difference to be able to hear his voice, his intonation and his cadence. At the time I’m writing this, you can get the audio download for about the cost of three drop-in yoga classes ($36.73).

Pranayama: Unfolding the Secret Breath

This is what I woud love to dive into next (probably won’t have time until next year, though). From the official description:

Pranayama (literally “to release life energy from its bounds”) is considered the central practice that will lead you into the true promise of yoga: the experience of freedom itself. When performed correctly, this powerful form of conscious breathwork reveals the intricate web of your thoughts, physiology, and energetic patterns—helping you learn to quiet the mind, heighten receptivity, and open to what is referred to in yoga as the intrinsic radiance of being. Featuring six video sessions with Richard Freeman plus a wealth of lessons and exercises, Pranayama will teach you advanced yogic meditative techniques that will serve as a solid base for a longstanding practice.

The cost? An incredibly reasonable $49.

Classes, workshops, intensives, and archived studio talks

I know someone attending Richard’s intensive this January, and I can’t tell you how excited I am for him. Find all the details of Richard’s travels, intensives at his home studio, studio archives, and the occasional blog post, here. (Just a quick note to say that Richard has a scheduling conflict and won’t be teaching at the second annual Ashtanga Yoga Confluence taking place in 2013.)

Social media

See his listing on the Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid.

Have you studied with Richard Freeman? Would you add anything?

Richard Freeman head shot

Related links:

>>[VIDEO] Three Questions with Richard Freeman
>>Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Thinking of Ashtanga as ‘pranayama for restless people’
>>Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Backbending, and getting back together
>>End game? Untethering the act of practicing from the feeling I want from practice
>>Dig, or all dug out? Reading Richard Freeman’s ‘The Mirror of Yoga’

© 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.

[VIDEO] Three Questions with Richard Freeman

Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor

Richard Freeman and his wife, Mary Taylor, before the start of a workshop session. Mary, a total sweetheart and a beautiful teacher in her own right, assisted every workshop session.

The YogaRose.net Three Questions series has been on a long hiatus. It’s not because I haven’t been around fascinating teachers (because I have), and it’s not because I haven’t been taking video (because I have). But I try to go with the flow whenever I’m lucky enough to be in the presence of amazing teachers, and if it doesn’t feel right to ask them to answer three questions for the blog, then I don’t. (On a couple of occasions, video would have happened, but we ran out of time — you know how it goes during a short weekend with someone.)

In any case, Three Questions is back with a vengeance (a vertical vengeance, you’ll note). Thanks so much to Richard Freeman for being gracious enough to talk to me at the end of the three-day workshop he held in Columbus, Ohio this past weekend, and to Yoga on High for hosting him.

What is alignment?

You talked earlier about how mula bandha is not something you do, but rather something you serve. Could talk a little about that?

What is the importance of imagery?

As a follow-up question, could you talk about one image you particularly like?

I guess that was technically four questions. It’s hard to stop at three — or 300 — when you’re in his sphere. 

Related links:

>>Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Thinking of Ashtanga as ‘pranayama for restless people’
>>Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Backbending, and getting back together
>>End game? Untethering the act of practicing from the feeling I want from practice
>>Dig, or all dug out? Reading Richard Freeman’s ‘The Mirror of Yoga’

© 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.

Tuesday morning to-do list: Ekam, practice. Dve, vote!

Yoga culture taboo, or sign of the times?

I’m impressed by the amount of in-your-face, get-off-your-asana, get-out-the-vote activism that yogis backing President Barack Obama have been demonstrating of late. Four quick examples out of a ton I could have chosen from:

  • This weekend, when I was in Columbus, Ohio, for a Richard Freeman workshop (more on that rich experience in blog posts later in the week), I ran into a friend and local yoga teacher. Wearing an Obama T-shirt, she told me she would only be staying for the first day because she had to canvass all weekend. And I remembered back to this spring —  when I last saw her during Tim Miller’s workshop at Yoga on High — about how excited she had told me she was for this November visit. Yoga matters, but so do politics — and she chose to hit the pavement rather than step on her mat for a workshop with a premier senior Ashtanga teacher.
  • A yoga studio in California whose e-newsletter I receive sent this short dispatch last week: “In support of our privilege and duty to vote and as part of the YOGA VOTES effort we are offering free classes all day Election Day Tuesday 11/6/2012. Just sign in! Thats it! Dedicate your practice to our future. Thank you!” We know it’s not easy running a financially sustainable yoga studio, so for Willow Glen Yoga in San Jose, Calif., to give up proceeds from a full day of classes is an excellent show of support for the importance of the process.
  • Yogis have also taken to Twitter, my favorite of the social networking platforms. See the trending #yogisforobama hashtag. Kino MacGregor has been tweeting pro-Obama political tweets for at least a few months (that’s just based on what I’ve caught here and there — she tweets so much that there’s no way I could always be on top of it), including reminding folks back when the deadline to register to vote was coming up.
  • The yoga blogophere seems to be heating up recently. Check out “Yogis Stand Up and Endorse Obama” on YogaBrains, take a look at this recap from YogaDork, and read this post from Neal Pollack, who writes, “Yoga doesn’t dictate that you become an apolitical idiot. You need to use discernment and intelligence and follow the right political path based on your most deeply-held values.”

Viveka — this is all a form of the discernment that we cultivate while on the mat, right? Why would we cultivate these skills through our yoga practice and then not exercise our right to act based on them?

Normally, this is the kind of post I would avoid writing. I have one foot in the political world through my public relations job, and I try to keep politics out of this space. But . . . well, I don’t think I’ll be sleeping too soundly tonight. Despite Nate Silver’s statistics-based optimism — currently, that Obama has a high chance of winning — it’s close enough, and I am concerned enough, and the stakes are high enough, that I decided I should.

>>LINK: Have you seen the What the Fuck Has Obama Done So Far website? 

Not 100 percent happy with Obama? Angela Jamison addresses that:

We are evolving politically. The expansion of the rights of citizenship is inevitable; the expansion of the definition of the human scope of responsibility (from tribe, to nation, to species, to planet) is inevitable. Unless we stall, take too many steps backwards, and thus all kill ourselves first. Obama is about 50 years ahead of Romney when it comes to the political enlightenment process. So you are another 50 years ahead of Obama. Duh. We need you to be. Don’t hate him for not expressing your exact values. If he did, he would never have gotten this far.

I work in Michigan’s state capital, and a fair amount of my work intersects with politics (not to mention that a few years ago, I worked in the belly of the political beast itself). I’ve seen how hard it is for any legislation to get passed. Think everyone wants to protect puppies? Think again. Unless you’ve worked in the political system, you have no idea how many deals have to be cut for anything – even the seemingly most mundane or obvious things — to move forward. The fact that Obama was able to get the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through still sort of astounds me.

>>LINK: Your Election Eve moment of zen: Replay of the infamous Mitt Romney 47 percent video

Yes, there are a lot of smoke and mirrors in our two-party political system. Yes, there’s a ton of BS. Yes, there’s a ton of power-grabbing and power-hungry people. But no, it is not the case that who is in elected office doesn’t matter. No, it’s not true that in the end, everyone wants the same thing and all will be well, which I’ve been hearing a few yogis say in recent weeks. As anyone who has been denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition — an injustice the ACA, which critics love to call Obamacare, has dealt with — can tell you, that’s not the case.

In the first verse of the Ashtanga closing prayer, we say:

“May all be well with mankind.
May the leaders of the earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path.”

Tomorrow in the United States, we have a chance to do more than channel good vibrations about responsible leaders.

(Photo credit: Obama T-shirt for sale on Cafe Press.)

© 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.


 

 

 

 

 

Got injuries? Reimagining the Ashtanga practice to help injuries heal

Have you seen this YouTube video posted by Argentina-based OmarYoga of two men practicing primary series, one doing the traditional sequence and one adapting the sequence to accommodate a broken femur? It was posted in 2011, but I didn’t see it until yesterday. I can’t get over how seriously beautiful and brilliant it is in how it reimagines the Ashtanga practice while staying true to the design of the practice.

The video has about 9,785 views at the time I’m seeing it — kind of a shame, especially when compared with what has been reported as the Ashtanga YouTube video with the most page views (nearly 2.7 million views).

On the subject of injuries, here’s another one in which Kino MacGregor demos one way for someone with wrist injuries to practice Ashtanga and still maintain heat:

Paul Gold recently wrote a blog post about healing injuries with Ashtanga:

If one gets injured practicing yoga, the yoga practice is the best way to heal and rehabilitate. Also, if one gets injured doing some other activity, yoga practice is the best way to heal and rehabilitate. Finally, if one begins yoga practice with a preexisting injury, the yoga practice is the best way to heal and rehabilitate. From my experience, yoga practice is an amazing healer.

Healing an injury with Ashtanga Yoga is possible and requires daily practice. Taking days off regardless of how one’s feeling is ultimately detrimental to the healing process. Unlike working out, the effects of yoga practice are cumulative. The body’s natural reaction to injury is to contract and armour. Yoga encourages the afflicted area to move when it wants to petrify. Taking days off between practices just makes the body stiffer under normal circumstances, but even more so with an injury or chronic condition.

Students often wait until their aches and pains are gone before returning to class. They’ll disappear and return saying they needed to rest their injury. The truth, however, is that the pain is not gone and the injury hasn’t healed. The problem simply went underground while they were resting and was patiently waiting to return. Whatever imbalance or bad habit caused the pain or injury hasn’t been addressed or corrected. The pains and injury return as soon as the student is back on the mat.

It is a shame that some students who aren’t willing to follow the prescription for daily practice end up quitting and saying that “ashtanga yoga doesn’t work” or “yoga made my pain worse.” This just isn’t true.

The first thing a student must do when using the practice to heal and rehabilitate is adapt. It is necessary when injured to scale back practice so that it’s appropriate as therapy. That very often means having a very basic and short practice for awhile where the level of sensation to the injured area is deliberately kept at zero.

The comments section of the post show dissenting views on the idea of practicing through injury — to a point where the Paul Gold devoted a second post to the one particular comment.

Richard Freeman has also recently addressed injuries on his blog:

If you’re practicing a series other than primary and you end up injuring yourself due to problematic alignment or technique, do you recommend going back to primary until the injury heals? Or should you stick to the same series you were practicing when you were injured, adding modifications necessary to work around the injury?
– Erica

 

That would depend on the exact nature of the injury or of the problem. Sometimes the primary series can cause problems—even those that crop up in more advanced series. It’s helpful to learn the anatomy and biomechanics associated with the problem area.

Working carefully and intelligently with injury is an important part of any yoga practice. Yoga should make the body healthier rather than harming it. Though one has to be intelligent rather than fanatical and mechanical. Having a good teacher to give guidance and feedback, and listening carefully to the internal cues that your body is giving you is very important.

I think Richard ends with what is the key point for me, at least: Having a good teacher is important.

© 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.

 

 

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Keep reading, keep practicing

Books for sale at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence

The Ashtanga Yoga Confluence is over, but the stream of knowledge and inspiration from this first-of-its-kind gathering doesn’t have to end for any of us.

Here’s a list of Confluence-related resources, which I’ve divided into various categories. Perhaps the most important list below is the one for workshops offered by the Confluence teachers. Nothing beats being in the same room to feel the radiance of these deeply devoted teachers.

==Blog posts specifically about the Confluence by the teachers==

Tim Miller

  • Tuesday, February 28th (a post just before the start of the gathering)
  • Tuesday, March 6th (a post just after the end of the gathering). I love that in this post, Tim Miller notes how he once asked Guruji what he thought about western students’ pronunciation of Sanskrit. Guruji said simply, “Eddie’s is correct.”

Eddie Stern

==Keeping up with the Confluence teachers’ writings==

==Blog posts and blog series by Ashtanga practitioners==

==Photos from the Confluence==

  • Michelle Haymoz, a student of Tim Miller’s, took stunning photos of the Confluence opening puja ceremony. See them here.
  • Lena Gardelli, the official photographer of the event, has started to post albums on her Facebook page. Take a look.

==Video==

==Keep learning from the Confluence teachers==

Nancy Gilgoff

Richard Freeman

Tim Miller

Eddie Stern

David Swenson

I’ll be adding to this as I come across new links. Tell me what I’ve missed by leaving a comment below. And, last but not least — happy practicing!

>>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.

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Guided primary series with Nancy Gilgoff

It’s hard to believe the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence was only last weekend. If I didn’t have a full-time job, if I didn’t teach yoga four times a week, and if I wasn’t trying to plan a wedding, I probably would have written twice as many blog posts during and after the Confluence. :-) But I’m thankful for the time and inspiration I have had for the posts I have managed to do — a big thank you to everyone for reading, commenting and sharing, both here and on Facebook.

I have a couple more posts to go, however, before I say I’ve filed all that I want to file from the gathering.

On the last day of the Confluence, I took the guided primary series with Nancy Gilgoff. I loved the balance of taking the led primary from Richard Freeman on the first day of classes and then seeing Nancy’s approach on the last day. They couldn’t have been more different in their approach to beginners.

You could tell from Richard’s class that he has a background in Iyengar and philosophy. His approach, which I really appreciated, was to set the scene, so speak. Offer up intensely vivid imagery (such as golden dragon tails and cobra hoodies). Get deep into poses. But at the very end of classes, he said, “So . . . don’t try to remember any of this.” He told the room full of students that if we continue to practice, all of this stuff will find us. If we don’t, it will run away from us. Richard seems to simply want to plant the seeds of these ideas into our body and our consciousness.

Nancy began class by saying that when she first met Guruji, he had to put her into poses. He had to help her jump back, because she wasn’t strong enough. She is a big believer in introducing Ashtanga yoga to beginners by having them just do it. Breath? Bandhas? “The beginner can’t hear it anyway,” she told us. Nancy continued by saying that bringing up too much with beginners runs the risk of causing their minds to activate. “The less thinking, the better,” she said.

I loved what she had to say about the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga breath:

The more I practice, the more I realize the simplicity of it. This is about the breath.

(Interestingly, in a similar vein, Richard Freeman had said in his class that you could think of Ashtanga as “pranayama for restless people.”)

Nancy knew that nearly every single person in that room already had an Ashtanga practice, so she noted historical facts about the poses as we got into them. I loved it — it was like taking a guided historical tour of how the primary series sequence has changed over time.

A few notes:

  • In bhujapidasana, she teaches head on the floor the way Tim Miller does. Chin to the floor is more advanced, she said, and you shouldn’t do it if you can’t do head to the floor.
  • In kurmasana, it used to be arms straight out to the sides. Nancy wondered whether taking the arms at more of an angle was the result of less and less room to work with.
  • When it came time for urdvha dhanurasana, Nancy said that Pattabhi Jois didn’t have them do backbends there. “Think about that,” she said. She did let students who wanted the urdvha dhanurasanas to take them.
  • Nancy also put us in the pose that Tim Miller has his students do, where you lie down right after backbends. (Tim calls it tadaka mudra.) Nancy noted that it is not savasana. “Stiff body,” she said.
  • I loved how she introduced  ut plutihi: She said to bring in all the tension you can. All of it, so that you can fully let go in savasana. For this reason, Nancy believes in going straight to savasana from ut plutihi, rather than taking a vinyasa first. But she let students take the vinyasa if they wanted to.

After the class, we had a few minutes of discussion. Someone asked Nancy about alignment. “There is no formal alignment whatsoever,” she said.

In Ashtanga, Nancy noted, it’s about energetic channels: “It’s a completely different approach.”

I loved what she said next, because the idea that there’s no alignment whatsoever seemed to be a difficult one for our group as a whole to handle:

The western mind thinks in terms of external form.

 

As with each of the Confluence teachers, Nancy’s instruction left me with so much great fodder to think about — not just now, but for years to come.

(Illustration credit: Chakras, from “The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga,” by Swami Vishnudevananda, 1959, via Spratmackrel’s Flickr photostream and Creative Commons.)

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.

 

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Backbending, and getting back together

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For me, the second full day of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence was about backbending and getting back together.

Mysore West?

First, getting back together. As lots of people have noted, having 350 Ashtanga yoga practitioners all in one place to learn from five master teachers is a recipe for a reunion. Even though Ashtanga’s popularity around the world seems to have increased exponentially since the early 1970s, it’s still a pretty small, tight-knit community — even if you’ve never studied in Mysore, India.

Just before the start of the conference, Tim Miller wrote this blog post:

The tribe has already started to gather—my regular classes are starting to swell a bit with the new arrivals from various parts of the country. Most of these folks I have met at some point, either through their attendance at a workshop I taught in their area or their participation in a teacher-training course or retreat. It feels a bit like a family reunion—nieces and nephews and cousins all coming together for a big celebration. My fellow teachers at the Confluence are like brothers and sisters that I rarely get a chance to spend time with. The last time we all got together was for Guruji’s memorial in 2009. The Confluence will be a different kind of Guruji memorial—a joyful celebration of Pattabhi Jois’ life and legacy.

The tribe gathering — it’s so true.

It was wonderful to have the chance to spend quality time this afternoon with the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor crew. In the evening, the dinner break gave me a chance to hang out with the totally fun group of ashtangis I met at the Mt. Shasta hiking and yoga retreat this past August. Tomorrow, I get to catch up with Dana Blonde and Brent Mulligan, the awesome couple who own The Yoga Shala in Calgary, Alberta. I met Dana in 2009, when I traveled to Vancouver to do a weeklong training with David Swenson. I met Dana’s husband in 2010, when I traveled to Southern California to study with Tim Miller.

Yeah, it’s definitely a small world.

There’s also a lot of supportive energy in the air, and I think that’s thanks not only to the Confluence attendees, but also the tone set by the five brilliant but incredibly down-to-earth teachers themselves. Yesterday during Tim’s pranayama workshop, Eddie Stern and Richard Freeman streamed in with all the other students who were attending, and listened as intently as anyone. In today’s backbending workshop, David Swenson slid in and found an open space that happened to be just in front of me. I’m guessing he didn’t bring a mat in so as to not take up a full space (this workshop had been over-registered), but right there on the hotel carpet, he got into sphinx pose, shalabasana (locust), and all of the research poses that Richard put the room in. He looked like he was having a blast.

The level of camaraderie seemed to reach a fever pitch when the afternoon discussion between Tim and Eddie — focused on Hanuman and Ganesha — closed with everyone singing the Hanuman Chalisa. Tim played his harmonium, accompanied by some of his students on a range of other instruments. Jason (@leapinglanka) tweeted this afterward:

Eddie S. & Tim M. shredded Hanuman/Ganesh tonite. Dffrnt generations, East/West coast, didn’t matter: ashtanga tradition is very much alive

‘Yoga is relationship’

Ah, to the backbending.

I was lucky enough to receive my dropbacks during Mysore this morning from Ricard Freeman.

Oh. My. God.

I am blessed to have had, over the past couple of years, expert Ashtanga teachers who have taught me a tremendous amount about stability, security and strength during dropbacks. I am able to surrender fully in dropbacks because I trust fully.

But I’ve never experienced a dropback quite like the ones given by Richard. It’s nearly impossible to describe. Suffice it here, for now, to say that it didn’t feel like Richard was using his muscles or any part of his body, really, to support me in the dropbacks. It instead felt like he was directing an invisible net of soft energy that allowed my spine to cascade like a waterfall up and over, and then return again (almost like a video being played in reverse), with a moment of pure suspension in that moment just before I returned to standing.

Those dropbacks were the perfect trailer for the backbending worskhop held a couple of hours later.

There’s no way I could possible recreate — or even distill, really — the backbending workshop. That’s one of the beauties of being present at a gathering like this. You come to learn, and to share what you learn. But so much of what you learn you can’t adequately share in a straight-forward way (like blogging about it). So much of what you learn you will end up sharing because it will become part of how you see this practice, and that will infuse into the way you practice, the way you interact with your world, and, if you are a teacher, subtle things about the way you teach and adjust students.

If you have the chance to learn about backbending from Richard, who found Iyengar yoga before he found Ashtanga yoga, I highly recommend it. Richard builds it step by step so beautifully — much like the way Tim builds his two-hour bandha workshop, which he sometimes offers when he travels to conduct his weekend workshops.

I will say that Richard opened the backbending workshop by talking about the two dominant patterns — one based on prana, and one based on the opposite, apana, and what we need is to balance the two.

Yoga is relationship. . . . You are a go-between for these patterns — prana and apana. Or, Shiva/Shakti, if you want to be fancy. When they intertwine, you disappear.

A reunion.

© 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.

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Thinking of Ashtanga as ‘pranayama for restless people’

Just a quick blog post as coffee brews. I came to the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence for two reasons: Ricard Freeman and Eddie Stern. Of course, I came because it is a confluence not just of five out-of-this-world teachers plus hundreds of others great ashtangis, but if I had to distill exactly whose energies and knowledge I wanted to chance to experience, it boiled down to these two guys, who have long intrigued me.

I got the chance to see Eddie in action last night as he led the Ganesh puja. He was as inspiringly spiritual as I had envisioned he might be. One minute, he was on the platform, as everyone was still streaming in and sitting down, taking a quick look at his smartphone. The next, he was telling jokes about interpreting religion. The next, he was chanting 108 names of Ganesha. And finally, he was leading us to the beach, to the water, to end the purification ceremony. What a cool guy.

This morning as 7 a.m., everyone streamed into one of two rooms for the first class of the Confluence: the Mysore class or the led introduction with Richard. Richard was as poetic, heady and knowledgeable as I had envisioned he might be. And he was funny. Lots of Ashtanga in-jokes, which never ceases to entertain me. (Like, acknowledging that chatauri in surya namaskara B feels like a relief — like a Friday night.) What a cool guy.

His breakdown of the breath and movements in the surya namaskaras was probably the single most comprehensive and elegant approach to these sequences that I have ever seen.

Before I head out again, I want to leave you with just two thoughts — how he began and ended class. At the beginning of class, Richard said that you can think about the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system as “pranayama for restless people.”

Love it.

At the end of the two-hour class, after he took us out of savasana, he said, “So . . . don’t try to remember any of this.”

If you continue to practice, it will find you. If you don’t, it will run away from you.

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© 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.)

 

 

 

End game? Untethering the act of practicing from the feeling I want from practice

It’s a bumpy plane ride back to Michigan–so bumpy they’ve had to discontinue the beverage service. I really wanted my ginger ale, but I guess I’ll have to be content with observing my sensation of thirst rather than observing the sensation of that thirst being satiated. It should be a little easier to do now that I’ve finished reading The Mirror of Yoga by Richard Freeman, which dwells quite a bit on the process of, and benefits of, making room for clear observation rather than seeing everything through the prism of preconceived ideals.

On the way to California to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family, I blogged about Freeman’s story about the misguided man digging his wells. On the flight back, I want to touch on one paragraph in the book that speaks to how to free yourself from “the game you have constructed in your mind of what practicing is.”

What makes this topic particularly interesting to me right now is thinking about what the process of unhooking ideals from experiences might say about the possibility of doing the same for other aspects of our lives–from our body image to our careers to our most intimate relationships.

In “Cutting Through Fundamentalism,” the last chapter of the book, Freeman writes:

Practicing yoga is not always easy. Sometimes the biggest difficulty is arranging a time to do it: starting the session of practice. But if you can trick yourself into just beginning, it often works out. If you have arranged a time to practice but do not really feel like practicing, the trick is to convince yourself to simply stand up in a samasthitih, to take three breaths, thinking that you will allow yourself to go off and do something else after that simple ritual. Then after standing in samasthitih, it often turns out that the idea of taking a big inhale, raising your arms and doing half of a sun salutation is alluring. Having done that, one full sun salutation before quitting may seem reasonable. Soon you may find yourself doing two, and then three sun salutations; and then all of a sudden, you are in the groove and the practice continues. (p. 203)

First off, I think this is true of anything–hitting the gym, doing exercise videos at home, learning how to play an instrument, and on and on.

A few years ago, before I started a more regular yoga practice, I used to let my car decide if I went to class after work or not. By that I mean that I usually *wanted* to go to class after work, but often I didn’t *feel* like going to work. Usually, it was because I was so drained (it was a very taxing job) that even though I knew I would feel better after moving my body in coordination with my breath for 90 minutes, I also knew I would feel better if I simply went home and collapsed. But as time went on, my car pointed me in the direction of the yoga studio more and more consistently, to a point where it was routine to go to studio after work, even if I didn’t feel like it.

One reason the practice can be difficult is that the mind is a very strict taskmaster, and it often creates images of what practice is or it should be. The parameters your own mind sets for the practice may erode the foundation of the practice itself; if you cannot do a ‘good’ practice, why practice at all? (p. 203)

Once I started going to the power yoga studio two or three, then four or five times a week consistently, I knew the next phase of my practice journey would be to try to establish a home morning Ashtanga practice. A big hang-up there was that I hated how my body felt practicing in the morning–my muscles felt ice cold, for one. That first uttanasana (standing forward fold) was always awful. On the flip side, my mind wasn’t as cluttered as it would get in the evening after work, which meant I felt I had less mental chatter to try to quiet down–again, less motivation to practice in the morning. I sort of thought I should save practicing for when my body and my mind appreciated it more.

You may think to yourself that if you are going to sit in meditation, you must sit for forty-five minutes. If you are going to practice pranayama, you should practice it for one hour, and that if you are going to practice asana, two hours is the minimum. When, in fact, if you were to do any of these practices with true concentration even for two seconds, you would open up the core of the body and have remarkable insight and a sense of freedom–particularly a sense of release from the game you have constructed in your mind of what practicing is. Again, we run into the notion of drawing a circle (defining the parameters of our practice) and erasing that circle (having mercy on ourselves if we cannot meet the standards we set for ourselves). For beginning students, allowing some leeway in some of the parameters we set for ourselves about the structure and consistency of our practice can be the golden ticket to jump-start a routine of practice that, once it is going, automatically draws you back day after day, year after year. (p. 204)

As I’ve chronicled over the past few weeks, I finally, a few short months ago, started a six-day-a-week Ashtanga practice (not a moment too soon either, considering I took my first Ashtanga class around 1999 or 2000 and have loved it since). I was doing it for the discipline more than anything else. I’m experienced enough now (read: old! :-) ) to know that a guaranteed way to fail would be to say that if I couldn’t practice for at least 90 minutes, I wouldn’t start to practice. On most days, that means I practice for an hour. Once or twice a week, I get nearly two hours. Maybe once a week, I might get as little as 50 minutes. But as I’ve said in recent blog posts, I don’t beat myself up for it.

This has meant that since August, I have slowly but surely started to untether the act of practicing from the feeling of practicing. I no longer turn off my alarm after hitting snooze a couple of times and tell myself that despite my best intentions, I won’t be getting up to practice because how good could that practice feel if I’m this tired, if it’s this cold, and if I have such little time. I no longer step on my mat at 6:30 a.m. thinking, “Well, this won’t feel very good physically, which means it won’t feel as beneficial mentally or emotionally.” I just get on my mat and start.

It is what it is–and for that, I have started to realize that if there is any tethering, it should be to connect the act of practicing with the feeling of contentment and gratitude, no matter what kinds of sensations arise in the muscles, joints and everything else.

Getting back to what prompted Freeman to dive into this point, it’s an interesting exercise to think about what other games we have constructed in our mind of what ____ (fill in the blank: acceptable physique, ideal spouse, etc.) is–and how our practice might be able to free us from it.

(Photo credit: Tether ball by gzap via Flickr Creative Commons

© 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.)

 

Dig, or all dug out? Reading Richard Freeman’s ‘The Mirror of Yoga’

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I have this bad habit of buying plane tickets in the middle of the night when I’m tired and only half-alert (part of the multitasking reality of my life) and not looking at the itinerary again until the morning of departure. I’m on a flight from Detroit to Los Angeles right now, and because I didn’t pay enough attention to the ticket I bought, I am only now realizing that (1) I’ll be connecting at LAX with a really short stopover in which I have to change not just planes but airlines entirely–a pretty inadvisable thing to do during the heavy Thanksgiving holiday weekend traveling period and (2) this flight is a lot longer than I expected (we’re on our second beverage service already).

The good news is that I’ve had time to read the first half of Richard Freeman’s The Mirror of Yoga: Awakening the Intelligence of Body and Mind. I think a smart, well-written book is an extremely fruitful way to fulfill the 1 percent of Pattabhi Jois’ “99 percent practice, 1 percent theory” advice. A few favorites are B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Life and Guruji (although admittedly, I have only bounced around in Guruji,waiting for that international flight when I can have an uninterrupted period of time to start reading in earnest).

I’m enjoying Freeman’s as well. Where Light on Life is breezy (not to be confused with light), The Mirror of Yoga is heady, intellectual. Perhaps they are serve as good counterposes to each other.

Freeman writes that the purpose of The Mirror of Yoga isn’t to make the reader a “premature eclectic” or an “armchair enlightened being.” Its aim–obviously–isn’t to add confusion:

Instead it is to allow us to slow down a bit so that we can delve deeply into the subject rather than skidding along the surface side to side, from one school back to another. We are aiming at the core of the teachings. By sticking with it and going deeply, we find that the jewel at the heart of every valid school is that we are eventually invited to face ourselves just as we face reality. (p. 9)

Freeman then dives into the story — the allegory, really — of the man digging a well.

He would begin digging down and after five or six feet of digging, which is very hard work, he would find no water, and so he would climb out of the little hole he had made, move twenty feet over, and dig another hole for his well. But after digging about six feet down, he would give up again, move twenty feet in another direction and start digging again. This went on, and on, and on, and he never found water. So it is with the relentless ego pursuing yoga, seeking ornaments for an improved self-image and new ways of feeling better, but avoiding the true facts of life.

When the school or practice becomes difficult–which is precisely the entry point into reality–it is at this crisis point that you really have to drop your pretenses and keep digging deeper into the experience. However, all too often, it is right at this juncture that we tend to give up the practice.

We move on to a ‘better’ teacher or a ‘more interesting’ school, rather than sticking with it and investigating the inner work that is the purpose of the school and the teachings in the first place. (p. 9)

Much has been written in the Ashtanga blogging community about a recent New York Times essay in the Fashion & Style section by a purportedly formerly “addicted” (to the practice) ashtangi who found, after a decade of practicing Ashtanga, that personal training performed better at the task of shedding pounds than her practice had.

The writer, Deborah Schoeneman, seems to relish admitting that she initially lied to her L.A. yoga instructor about why she wasn’t attending practices. These days, she only practices yoga once a week — “for meditation, stretching and community.”

I guess in terms of this particular personal tale, I’m not terribly interested in the science of which method helps you shed more pounds. (For the record, I would have no problem believing that personal training, which is focused on burning calories and building muscles, drops more weight faster–but that’s not really the point of a yoga practice anyway.)

What interests me more is why the writer made that move when she did. Ten years is a long time. Why not after five years? Even seven? She mentions a few important developments in her life–a new career (a writer in Hollywood), a return to a life of wining and dining, an engagement and an upcoming wedding.

Was it that a juncture had been reached, and it had come time to start digging deeper?

In any case, back to the book. I’m looking forward to the second half. And at the rate this flight feels like it’s going, I might get through it by the time I see my family this evening.

(Photo credit: foamcow’s Flickr stream)

© 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.

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.

Eight things to know about March 2012

Tim Miller’s latest Tuesdays with Timji update begins with the fact that May 18, 2011, is the second anniversary of the passing of K. Pattabhi Jois. The blog post then leads into the type of very honest ruminations that is the hallmark of Tuesdays with Timji. Read it now.

At the very end of the blog post, Tim writes, “In the meantime, here is something we are cooking up for 2012.” When you click on the download, you get the flier above. How incredible is that?

I’ve posted it on the YogaRose.net Facebook page and scheduled a few tweets promoting it, but you should skip the middle yogi and follow this event on Twitter, like the fan page on Facebook and register on the new website. But do tell your fellow yogis the eight pieces of information they need to know about March 2012:

1. Richard Freeman

2. Nancy Gilgoff

3. Tim Miller

4. David Swenson

5. Eddie Stern

6. San Diego

7. March 1-4, 2012

8. http://ashtangayogaconfluence.com/

Did I mention this will be incredible?

© 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.