Wednesday, December 9, 2009


We've had a hectic fall and winter, with heaps of traveling, two weddings, and what the hell, a good ol' fashioned move thrown in for good measure. I still feel like I'm recovering. I've been immersed in several intensive physical practices which for all intents and purposes have drained me of the impetus to write.

Good news, however: we're traveling to Encinitas in a few weeks, and the free time and god hope the sun will recharge some of my batteries. So for the three of you who read this, don't worry. I'll be back.

I promise I'll drop more f-bombs, too, and we can discuss eating copious amounts of meat, the appropriateness of wrath, and other yoga topics probably not under discussion in the intellectual yoga salons in Gokulam.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I'm not really that smart. More accurately, I'm dumb-smart, in that I have a mind for minutiae and a steel-trap for trivia. I'm not so quick on the uptake, however, when it comes to translating abstract yoga concepts into everyday experience.

So I greatly admire the poetry of directions like "Lift your kidneys," "Open your heart," or "Practice non-attachment." Feel free to insert your most poetic, flowery yoga chestnut here.

Like, I get it. But only intellectually. Looking back at my experience in various led-class yoga settings, directions like the ones above immediately established in me a glaring gap between what I was really experiencing and what I thought I should be feeling. Like I said, maybe it's my own faulty wiring, but I just don't know how to "open my heart."

The instances when a great heart opening have occurred have never been intentional, and have always arisen independent of my own desires or efforts to do same.

So these aphorisms helped build a model of experience separate from my own, which turned the practice of yoga into my efforts to get to, or achieve, or attain that model.

Over time, the mundane and decidedly simple physical (and thereby mental) yoga techniques that one can actually do are what has grounded me: Inhale, exhale. Activate mula bandha, or "Take yanal control," as Pattabhi Jois used to say.

So don't ask me my thoughts on that book Mula Bandha: The Master Key. I will say that my thoughts on the subject currently are this: if you can stop the flow of urine and feces, you are intimately familiar with mula bandha. Otherwise, what use?

To have a goal or intention is okay — this is, after all, what the bandhas do for our ujjayi breath; that is, they anchor and give shape and direction to the in- and out-breath. So it's okay to want to perform an asana. But to paraphrase Shunryu Suzuki, you make the effort, and then lose yourself in the effort. It is that perpetual return to the breath, bandhas, and gazing points that allow the non-attachment and heart-opening to perhaps (or perhaps not) arise.

Yoga practice becomes an engagement with what we can do, and this relationship with what we can do right now is an engagement and relationship with the boring splendor of everyday, ordinary reality, just as it is, right now.


For all those of you (cough cough) planning to attend the pranayama class tomorrow at Near East: class has been cancelled as I'll be filling in from 8-9:30 AM at Yoga Pearl

A side note: the class at Yoga Pearl is an Introduction to Ashtanga Yoga, and it'll be very compassionate.

For those heavy breathers out there, pranayama at Near East will resume the following Saturday, October 24.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


All these years of practice and I could have just rigged up an iron contraption?



Friday, July 31, 2009


I especially like how it's titled "Hippie Weirdo Yoga Farmers." Because really, aren't they all?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Purple tank tucked into white spandex?! SHREDS YOUR FACE OFF.


New York Times douchebag Stanley Fish, in "Think Again" in the June 14 edition, reviewed Matthew Crawford's book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work.

The application of Crawford's thinking to an established, systemic yoga practice is apparent. As Fish writes, "Crawford associates ... 'remote control' knowledge with liberalism, a way of thinking that has at its center the individual self unburdened 'by attachments to others and radically free,' a self whose chief commitment and obligation is to its own 'creativity.'

Crawford prefers to the ethic of individual creativity and its 'rhetoric of freedom' the ethic of submission to facts 'that do not arise from the human will.' It is that submission, he says, that characterizes the work of craftsmen, artisans and musicians. 'One can’t be a musician without . . . subjecting one’s fingers to the discipline of frets or keys.'

Whereas craftsmanship 'means dwelling on a task for a long time and going deeply into it,' the 'preferred role model' of the radically free liberal self 'is the management consultant, who swoops in and out and whose very pride lies in his lack of particular expertise.'"

Here Crawford might as well be discussing the difference between buffet-style and systemic yoga practices, the former an extension of the self and beholden only to its practitioners' "creativity."

This in comparison to the latter, which has an established sequence of asanas, pranayamas and seated techniques that cannot "arise from the human will." One thinks here of Krishna's definition of yoga, in the Bhagavad Gita, as "skill in action," the residue of which — yoga — arises only after "dwelling on a task for a long time and going deeply into it."

Here we can also default to Pattabhi Jois' simpler, famous four-word dictum: "Practice, practice. Long time."

Then there's also the idea of "submission." It is a great paradox that freedom, liberation or moksha arises only after submitting to discipline. Richard Freeman uses the image of the ouroboros, the alchemical symbol of the snake swallowing its own tail. A practice like ashtanga yoga is, by its very nature, the limiting or closing off of potentiality, of choice, of freedom.

Yet it is only by rubbing against the edges of the practice — these poses, in this order, using these techniques — that both self and not-self can be transcended. Nowhere else is this made more apparent than in the application of one of the three tristhana, the fundamental techniques of the ashtanga vinyasa yoga practice: drishti. For, in order to see all points, one must fix one's gaze on a single point.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Well, the stories occasionally bleed out of here, but you're right — I'm definitely not writing as many anecdotal stories as I used to. I just glanced back at some posts from a trip to India (in 2005!), and realized posts here have drifted into tangential raving about my ideas relating to the practice of ashtanga vinyasa. What gives?

A lot of it stems from the fact that these last couple years I've been teaching a lot more, and more specifically, teaching ashtanga yoga at yoga centers (as opposed to fitness clubs). Who wants to practice where their daily tapas is potential grist for some storytelling mill? I sure don't. So I've toned the jibber-jabber way down.

What's more, as I've come to teach the techniques of ashtanga vinyasa, Leaping Lanka has come to serve an important humanizing function, lest anyone confuse me with the powerful effects of the ashtanga system itself. The system provides the tools, the techniques, that when practiced consistently and correctly, will engender evolution.

I'm merely the semi-half-wit (quarter-wit?) who kept showing up at my teacher's studio in order to practice it. For my part, I enjoy Lil' Wayne, comic books, and naughty words, and at certain nebulous and unspecified times of my life I allegedly may have enjoyed some forms of illicit chemicals. Every 6 weeks I enjoy a glass of wine or a mojito. Et cetera, et cetera.

I really do believe this practice will help us evolve. It shouldn't deform us to an ideal or an obsession. Our lives shouldn't serve our practice. Our practice should serve and enrich our lives.

There you go: more tangential raving. I swear I'll whip up a story that ties eka pada sirsasana to bong-loads, eightballs, and the yamas and niyamas. Next time.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Always easier to hate on dudes, nahmsayin'? I shit on Breaking Open the Head and 2012 before: fine.

Not saying you shouldn't read 'em — I just put 'em on the same level as books by Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Paramahansa Yogananda, or Jed McKenna: pulpy plane-flight entertainment.

Here're a couple books whose authors speak more lucidly, more eloquently and more experientially about practice, its means, its ends, and the various highs and lows in between.

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa

According to Georg Feuerstein's Crazy Wisdom, as well as many other accounts, Trungpa was one very weird dude who got up to some ultra-weird shit. Another instance of an Eastern adept unable to handle the West? Maybe.

Still, this book ought to be mandatory reading for anyone with a daily practice of any sort.

Two asides: First, isn't "Chogyam Trungpa" such a great fucking name? It's an amazing potpourri of consonants and syllables, all arranged most flavorfully. I often wander the house reciting aloud it and its many variations: Chogyam Trungpa, Chungpa Trogyam, Chogpa Trungyam.

Second, and this is empirically proveable in a laboratory setting, but Georg Feuerstein possesses the supernatural ability to string together words — any words! in any combination! — in such a way that sleep is automatically, instantaneously induced in the reader. Sorta like chugging a bottle of NyQuil or being sapped with a velvet-covered blackjack, only without the attendant aches.

Not only will a Feuerstein book stun its reader to unconsciousness, but all Level 3 characters or lesser within a 10-foot radius must make a Saving Throw against Sleep Spells or else succumb to a deep slumber that lasts for three rounds.

Remember, Feuerstein's Enchantment won't work on oozes, constructs, the undead, or Richard Freeman. Mainly because Richard doesn't actually need to read yoga books — he merely glances at a yoga book's Library of Congress summary to parse its contents.

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Sunryu Suzuki

I can neither confirm nor deny any weirdness on the part of Sunryu Suzuki, though I'm sure there're some tell-alls out there. As with Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, though, it doesn't matter. This is a collection of transcripts of many of Suzuki's talks. He hits on aspects of practice in a clear, lucid, no-nonsense manner.


I copped a pair of used Chuck Taylors (blue) at Buffalo Exchange ... what, maybe 3 months ago? They were $14.99. "Gently worn," as the tag said.

Some d-bag stole 'em this morning from in front of the door to the yoga studio. Never mind the logistics — like, who's trolling around at 8 a.m. in an empty building? Who would steal a pair of wet, dirty, well-fucking-worn pair of Chuck Taylors? (Well, a smack/crack/meth-head, of course.)

After the incredulity passed, I gleefully entertained fantasies of laying hands on this individual, catching him in the act, as it were, and administering "frontier justice," a stiff dose of pure himsa — "harm" or "wounding."

Also, maybe a little bit of himsa for anyone who chirps "Guess it's just another lesson in non-attachment!" Not so much for the sentiment, of course, but for refusing to acknowledge the dynamic, energizing reality of anger. Anger exists. It's not going away, nor would we want it to.

Reminds me of one of those Buddhist guys — I think Milarepa — whose son was killed by bandits. Milarepa weeps, ragged and wet with tears, and one of his students asks, "But Milarepa, I thought all was illusion?"

"Yes," said Milarepa, "but some is super-illusion."

The shoe-theft anger sparked, swelled, raged, faded. I commiserated with the wife and have since funneled that heat into this post. Consequently the flames have banked and cooled.

Of course, now I'm in the market for another affordable pair of Chucks. I'll take 'em "gently used," too.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


I've just been skimming the fat off my blog aggregator, Net News Wire. You know how sometimes you do things because you think you should be doing them, rather than because you actually enjoy and derive sustenance from them?

I labored through Breaking Open the Head and 2012 by Daniel Pinchbeck, and I attended an appearance he made at Powell's Books. I think I may've posted about it, too, or else I wrote the post but declined to publish it because, you know, if you can't say something good ...

Anyways, I just axed my sub to Pinchbeck's blog as well as that other bullshit site he curates, Reality Sandwich. Reality Sandwich seemed like it had the potential to be great, and on occasion I'd slog through postings that seemed interesting because occasionally they'd run yoga-related stories or posts or whatever. But it's bullshit and I'm done with it.

You know what? You can't get "it" by drinking ayahuasca. Whether or not there are tribes of hyper-dimensional machine-elves attempting to communicate with us via DMT and "spirit molecules" is not something that can either be affirmed or denied with any sort of certainty.

And congratulations, you now require a drug as an intermediary, which at best further externalizes Source and reinforces a sense of separation, and at worst deifies another omnipotent supernatural figure.

I guess when I was younger, Terence McKenna seemed kinda cool. But then, I was more occupied with chemically stretching the confines of consciouness. Maybe I've mellowed as I've aged, but really, any state of consciousness that refuses to stay "stretched" without some substance, and in fact, any technique or substance that induces days of depression or anxiety, or any substance that induces a state of consciouness in which I can't piss straight, tie my own shoes, or feed myself, let alone my daughter, is worthless.

Well, maybe not worthless, but let's call it for what it is — fantasy wish-fulfillment. You want to get wasted? Fine, get wasted — there are times when the radical reduction or expansion of consciousness is called for.

This sort of dovetails with my lack of use for mystic union in general. I mean, it's great to experience when it arises, and I'm not saying we need to run Rumi out of town — psychedelic cosmonauts can tell us a lot about the outer fringes of consciousness. Problems arise, though, when those fringes become enshrined as goals or end-states to be reached.

What's that bullshit book fobbed off to every aspiring yoga student, the Parahamsa Yogananda one? It's the one you can find a dozen copies of at any book swap in India. Diary of a Yogi? Confessions of a Yogi? Autobiography of a Yogi? The book in which Yogananda repeats stories of instances of mystic rapture so great, so deep, that he couldn't be bothered to talk or wipe his ass.

That pretty much covers a broad range of books, by the way — the field of pop yoga literature is filled with books by guys from India describing bouts of mystic rapture and union. Sai Baba and the Krishnamurthis, J. and U.G., the crabby one.

I just caught a book on Papaji at the local Goodwill; Papaji's the guy behind Gangaji, Eli Jaxon Bear, I think Andrew Cohen? He's got some interesting things to say about the state of non-dual consciousness or awakening. As for how he "achieved" it — his description of states of bliss sound a lot like the nitrous room in early-90's raves — rapturous, wide-eyed, drooling, insensate. I'm not kidding, either — they sound exactly like chillout rooms on day two of a three-day rave. In which case — hey! I've been there, too!

So what good is bliss? This is the Twenny-first Century, after all. I can get MDMA, ibogaine, DMT, ayahuasca: anything Burroughs, McKenna, RA Wilson wrote about, all that bliss is available on the Internets.

In addition to the inevitable hangovers the bliss powders provide — my favorite is the "chucha," or explosive projectile "sacred diarhhea" that ayahuasca causes during the experience — I'm highly skeptical about anyone or anything that glorifies some great, bliss-filled ecstatic condition. If only because life contains so much more than that.

Life is great and wondrous, sure, but it's ordinary, too, and it's shitty, and people can be mean and small-minded, and there's sadness, and despair, and all that. Plus it's just ordinary — terrifyingly, achingly ordinary. You get to wait in line at the DMV, you get to clean up cat barf off the rug, you get to hang out on hold when you call your cable company. All is ordinary bullshit is the package, too. It is not separate from all the wonder and awe, it's not separate from the suffering and pain.

We practice the yoga not to suppress or eliminate any of this — the good, the bad, the ugly — but to recognize them for what they are — momentary thoughts, emotions and evaluations that arise and pass away, and that can never touch what we really are.

Some oft-hoped-for "return" to an Edenic, pre-lapsarian relationship with machine-elves, Mother Earth, or the aliens who make crop circles smacks of Idealism, in which we attempt, through sheer force of will, to turn the Universe into what we desire or hope it to be.

This seems to only cause, at least in me, a ton of dukkha. Suffering. Ever try to make a 4-year-old do something you want? What actually causes stress and anxiety? Generally not her behavior (I'm talking to you, Rowan), but your own attempt to make the situation something other than what it is.

This doesn't mean I'm letting the kid run rampant through the Goodwill, mind you. It's just that it's hard to remain open, flexible, and spontaneous when you're rigidly trying to stick to your Saturday morning agenda, right?

So back to Pinchbeck: I don't know how sustained use of ayahuasca will help with anything more than momentary flashes of mystic union, which, if we take a moment to use the Ashtanga yoga structure, is but one of the eight limbs, samadhi. Samadhi being but one of the tools used to allow kaivalya to arise.

I know Patanjali suggests that ausadhi, or "herbs," can be one of the tools to use to remove the veils ... but he also lists "vyadhi," or sickness, as the first obstacle to practice. If one's use of "herbs" is causing sickness, it's no good. If one's use of herbs is causing any of the subsequent barriers to practice — doubt, "stuck"ness, langour, etc, etc — then it's not bloody well working, is it?

Sort of a long-winded way of saying I'm done with Reality Sandwich, and with thinking that one day I'll get around to reading it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


"The music is loud, primitive, insistent, strongly rhythmic, and releases in a disguised way (can it be called sublimation?) the all too tenuously controlled, newly acquired physical impulses of the teenager. Mix this up with the phenomena of mass hypnosis, contagious hysteria, and the blissful feeling of being mixed up in an all-embracing orgiastic experience, and every kid can become 'Lord of the Flies' or the Beatles."

--Communism, Hypnotism, and the Beatles, David Noebel, Christian Crusade Publications, 1965

From Jack Womack, on William Gibson's blog.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Had a brief discussion with Barb yesterday about speedy ways to insure flexibility, beyond the ol' "consistent practice" cliche. BOR-ING!

Here're some suggestions based on my experiences because clearly, the sooner you can fit your leg behind your head, the sooner life will get a lot easier.

1. Dysentary
Spend five or six days bed-ridden, pants tied off around your waist and ankles, and subsisting on crackers and soda water, you'll come back to the mat super bendy and pliable. Dysentary is also a great weight-loss plan! Your body will digest the muscles off your bones.

2. Food poisoning
Also another great weight-loss plan. You'll also gain the benefits of a bhakti practice, too, because you will never chant, pray or more wholeheartedly dedicate your existence to a higher power more fervently than when you have absolutely and utterly no control over your bowels. O lord, I surrender to Thine will!

3. Cip-Zoxx
I asked the chemists what they had for back pain and they sold me a sheaf of horse-pill-sized beauties called Cip-Zoxx. One part ibuprofen, one part acetominephen, one part why-have-my-legs-turned-to-jelly-and-my-face-gone-slack-as-a-stroke-victim? The third magic ingredient is some wicked muscle relaxer. You'll feel your vertebrae moving out of place during kapotasana and you won't care.

4. Sleeplessness
Practice after a three-day bender in Vegas is, shall we say, loosey-goosey.

5. Crystal Methamphetamine
Now, I've got no personal experience with this one, but in San Francisco I used to practice next to a guy with jaundiced sweat-stains on his shirt, and who emitted the sweet smell of ether and the sound of grinding teeth. He told me he practiced two or three times a day, and the crystal really helped him get into that groove.


There's an important distinction between "pain" and "suffering." Pain is a reflex reaction, a signal to withdraw from pain-causing stimulus.

Suffering tends to be thoughts and thought-patterns associated with that pain-causing stimulus.

The ashtanga vinyasa yoga gives us the tools to help us clearly perceive this aspect of suffering. This practice is not designed to relieve us of pain, however — though it's not designed to cause us pain, either, despite what other yoga teachers say. (So quit wrenching your leg into lotus!) The effect of physical pain relief through injury rehabilitation is but a secondary effect of the yoga.

The practice of ashtanga vinyasa gives us several tools to cultivate the practice of clear perception: the union of a breathing technique to movement, the internal focal points, and the cultivation of the discipline of a daily practice.

All of which are designed to allow a specific understanding to arise on a somatic level: Suffering is caused not by specific sensations, but by our thoughts associated with those sensations. This realization is the tip of a deeper understanding that we are not, in fact, the sum total of these or any thoughts. The true cause of all our suffering is our identification with our thoughts.

So I'm sorry to report that ashtanga vinyasa yoga isn't going to create a pain-free or even a suffering-free life. Banish from your mind any fantasies of sitting in lotus and floating blissfully miles above the tidal pull of life's glorious little catastrophes.

I've found that ashtanga vinyasa has given me the tools to see with great precision and clarity exactly when my thinking is causing me suffering. Often this suffering arises during the states of the asanas themselves, or transitioning between them.

Some days, a posture will feel much, much harder than it did the previous day, or when I was younger, or when I was uninjured.

The progression of thoughts usually goes like this: The physical stimulus is registered, whether it be stiffness, discomfort, or perhaps pain. Next, it is cataloged in comparison with a previous experience. Finally, I will go on to link a judgment to that comparison: "This sucks," or "This should be easier," or "This was easier last night," or "Why doesn't this feel like Friday night's class?"

Kaboom! Instant suffering arises when reality and my perceptions of reality inevitably fail to match up.

The more insidious aspect of suffering is created when the asanas are enjoyable or pleasurable. It's much easier to root out the thorn than spit out the honey. It's very easy to bask in the sensory pleasure of the endorphin rush of a full series of ashtanga vinyasa. But even this is merely setting the stage for future suffering, because your next practice, and the next one, and the one after that, will now invariably fall short of this internal mental benchmark.

So what to do? The human mind has evolved to organize and catalog, weigh and measure. The Indian goddess of worldy illusion is named Maya, which is derived from a root meaning "to measure, demarcate."

Maya is not someone to suppress, overcome, silence or eradicate. Attempting to do so only riles her up all the more, and gives the mind more to weigh, measure and catalog.

This is where the return to the fundamentals is critical: vinyasa, bandha, drishti. To paraphrase Tim, we work with the soma to influence the psyche. Practiced correctly and consistently, these techniques are simple and powerful enough to allow to arise observation of the maelstrom of the internal dialogue. When you are observing something, you are not participating in it.

One of the techniques to exercise a hyperactive dog, as employed by Cesar Milan in The Dog Whisperer, is to put a weight vest on the canine and let it run on a treadmill. The different series of ashtanga vinyasa will function as your very own consciousness weight-vest and treadmill. Perform them consistently and correctly to the best of your ability, and the hyperactive puppy of your mind will quiet of its own accord.

It's not that thoughts won't arise, nor is it that you'll stop experiencing emotions — the yoga is not a narcotic, after all — but their immediacy, their seriousness, will gradually come to have less an iron-clad grip.


When can it be okay to not practice? Indeed, when is it advisable to not practice?

The ashtanga vinyasa system is, after all, a practice, not a workout. Importantly, this means we want to practice smarter, not just harder. The mind-body is not a dumb muscle that we can batter into flexibility or strength.

So, as a practice, it is definitely possible to plateau. It's possible to burn out. It is possible to experience many of the symptoms of overtraining. (Fatigue, exhaustion, weakness, depression.)

Most casual yogis and yogins will not reach this level. Practicing 2 to 3 times a week — even 4 — isn't sufficient to exhaust the central nervous system.

However, practicing 5 to 6 days a week, every day, for 5 years ...

To plateau is definitely possible.

True burnout tends not to occur for many practitioners, though, simply because life, as is its wont, hurls those terrific curveballs at us, and we invariably take time away from our mats, whether due to family obligations, work, travel, illness, or injury.

Let's say, though, that you've managed to avoid those influences that pull us from our mats, and also let's say that, for whatever reason, you've hit a place in your asana practice where you are stuck.

This can manifest as failure to perform the state of the asana — which in ashtanga vinyasa also often includes the transition — even though you've been practicing that asana for a lengthy period of time.

What's lengthy? Well, if you're a casual practitioner, it may come as a bit of a shock that some of the more complicated asanas can take 8 months to 2 years to perform as indicated.

My wife Tara took perhaps 8 months to a year-and-a-half to comfortably address eka pada sirsasana.

I started with Tim Miller in 2001, and he adjusted me every single day in baddha konasana, until I returned from India in mid-2004, at which point he said, "You no longer need my help."

That would be The Squash every fucking day for 3 years.

(Don’t even ask me the lengths to which I went outside of class to facilitate this process, either.)

So what to do when you hit a pose at which you're stuck ... and a year slips past? And you're still on that pose, with no measurable progress?

First of all, allow me to repeat the old yogic chestnut, "Practice non-attachment."

Now let me add: That chestnut is utter horseshit.

"Practice non-attachment" has devolved into a cliché empty of meaning. It's become a yogic-New Age-Buddhist catchphrase.

Usually it's uttered like a mantra as a result of pain that has arisen when a desire is not gratified or an expectation fulfilled.

You didn't get the raise you were expecting at work? "Practice non-attachment!" you tell yourself.

"Practice non-attachment!" the guy on the mat next to you says after watching you struggle to reach your toes in kapotasana.

This “mantra” helps you avoid looking at and experiencing the disappointment, anger, sadness, and fear that your boss' frown and shaking head has created in you.

This “mantra” also creates a subtle sense of guilt and inadequacy, as though something were wrong with you for wanting to touch your toes in kapotasana.

And oh! If you only practice harder, more correctly, more fervently, then one day that glorious state of non-attachment will arrive. Then life will be one giant red velvet cupcake with cream-cheese frosting.

Well, it’s not going to happen.

Attachment and non-attachment are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other. They are not separate. As soon as you try to "practice non-attachment," you are practicing attachment.

So we don't want to utter a trite catchphrase as deferment or deflection.

Yoga is not teaching us to defer our feelings and thoughts. It is not training us to detach from them. It's teaching us to acknowledge them as they arise, see them for what they are, and then see that we are not those feelings and thoughts, though we become so when we identify with them.

So, what to do? What to do when the plateau hits and frustration arises? Frustration is a normal part of a daily and intense practice — it's the flip side of the coin of intense effort. Intense effort is essential to getting up every day to get on the mat, after all. Like our friends "attachment" and "non-attachment," "effort" is not separate from "frustration."

It can be helpful to know: are you the first person to ever experience the plateau and its partner, frustration?

Patanjali doesn't think so: in book 1 of his Yoga Sutras, verse 30 addresses nine obstacles that arise during practice. He calls them "antarayah," or obstacles, and they function as "citta-vikshepa" that “vikshepa,” or “scatter” the "citta," or mind.

The first antarayah he lists is vyadhi, which is illness or sickness.

Hopefully, your practice of the primary series of ashtanga vinyasa has strengthened your body and "purified" your mind and body of "toxins": hopefully, it's made you more aware of your physical, social, dietary, and personal habits, and allowed you to tune, tweak or adjust all of them to be more effortless, more in tune, in order to more consistently practice the techniques that will allow a still mind to arise.

The second antarayah Patanjali lists is "styana," or "stuck-ness." Sound familiar?

So now that you've been made aware that these are naturally occurring obstacles — which means there's nothing wrong with you — what to do?

As I mentioned before, the idea is to practice smarter, not harder. After a certain point, simply showing up daily and hurling yourself at an asana is not going to effect any further transformation on the nervous system.

Patanjali can again be helpful to us here, as he goes on to list in verse 31 some of the symptoms of the aforementioned obstacles.

If you've ever struggled with an asana, they should be familiar: "dukkha, "daurmanasya," "anga-mejayatva" and "shvasa-prashvasa."

That is, "suffering" or "dis-ease," a "sour" or "bitter" outlook (I like to think of the word "dour"), anxiety ("anga" meaning "limb" and "mejayatva" meaning "trembling," so this literally means "shaking of the limbs"), and "shvasa-prashvasa," which refers to an unsteady or irrythmic in- and out-breath.

So we end on the breath — which, as we practice ashtanga vinyasa, is a good sign, and which leads us back to my favorite horse-shit yogism: "Practice non-attachment." We can't practice non-attachment without practicing attachment.

But we can practice steadying and lengthening our breath (a technique Patanjali suggests in later Sutras), we can activate internal "locks," or bandhas, we can then synch our movement with our breath. Given a pinch of grace, we can allow a condition of non-attachment to arise.

In verse 33, Patanjali goes on to suggest that in order to stop the aforementioned mental projections, and their ensuing symptoms, we ought to practice, “abhyasah,” one principle or truth: “eka tattva.”

Personally, I take this to mean we should find a practice that resonates with us — and then stick to it! Don’t go switching it up because you want to do what “feels good.” But I digress to a previous post’s topic.

How can we translate "practice smarter" to real-world, concrete principles? It's not easy, it will vary from person to person, and it will take someone familiar with your practice to provide some perspective, scale and impartial observation for you.

The following ideas really only work if one is practicing 5 or 6 days a week, and has consistently for years. That is, if a daily yoga consistent yoga practice has become standard.

If you hit that plateau, and it's not budging after say, a whole year: why not take time off?


Don't come in.

Stay home. Sleep in. Take a week off, maybe 10 days.

(Usually, you will miss the practice. Trust me, getting back on the mat will be the least of your worries.)

It will be a very interesting exercise in noticing any grasping or hoarding tendencies you may have towards the practice, and by noticing and acknowledging them, hopefully the scrabbling, clenching intensity will recede.

Or, for example, you could practice all of the standing sequence ... and then you could sit!

I know, it's a rather revolutionary idea, but perhaps it's time you developed a sitting or breathing practice. There is a rigorous and, might I add, highly effective system of ashtanga vinyasa pranayama that ought to be practiced.

You could, perhaps, practice every other day for two weeks, so that you were only practicing 3 days a week. You could again use the free days to develop your sitting practice.

The main thrust of any of these techniques is that using your breath, your bandhas, and following the vinyasa, you will come to recognize that the disturbances of your mind are just that: disturbances of the mind.

I’ll close with by reiterating the fact that the above-mentioned strategies only work for someone who is doing the practice as recommended 5 or 6 days a week. They will have no effect if half-weeks or truncated sequences are your normal method of practice.

Friday, February 27, 2009


We leaned pretty heavy into Death Note and Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion for a while, but The Kid had trouble parsing the subtitles. Actually, to be more accurate, she can't yet read, so parsing subtitles is way out of the occasion. We've also watched 110 episodes of Yu Yu Hakusho. So we've gone back to Ben 10 and Spongebob.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Spongebob Squarepants is fucking hilarious. I'd be hard pressed to name a favorite character. They're more like the gunas — sometimes I'm feeling Gary's sattvic splendor, sometimes Patrick's tamasic tendencies, and sometimes Spongebob's rajasic energy. My like for each character arises, plateaus, and decays. And what about Plankton!

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I get asked from time to time if I ever get bored doing the same asanas, the same sequences, over and over again.

I'm going to come clean about the asanas: for the most part, they are fucking difficult for me. Whichever sequence I'm practicing still demands a ton of my concentration and breathing.

It's not that I don't juggle the sense of routine with an urge for novelty. Maybe I lack imagination or creativity.

Boredom is, in many ways, a blessing, at least during the seated practices, because for me it means a certain level of my mind is rattling its cage for novelty and stimulation, usually because it wants to avoid an impending quietude.

The question as to the boredom of a set sequence arises from people who have, I think, a fundamentally different conception as to the purpose of the asanas. Asanas can be therapeutic tools, they can make you fitter, stronger, more pliable, they can help you lose weight, they can prepare you for meditation. They can be tools and they can be medicine.

This is quite different from a sense of asanas as ends in themselves. If asana is the fourth limb of an eight-limbed plant, then asana is yama, asana is pranayama, asana is samadhi. None of them are separate. However, as Pattabhi Jois has said about the eight limbs: "The first four can be taught. The last four can only be caught."

I'll give it another 10 years. Maybe at that point I'll have sufficient physical mastery of the asanas, the transitions into and out of them, their sequencing, and the most skillful application of bandhas and drishti, in order to allow boredom to more fully arise.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Apparently the experiment required them to test it on the foxiest girls in London?