Sunday, December 5, 2010

DECEMBER 2010 NEWSLETTER

WE'RE BACK!

It was a privilege, an inspiration, and an honor to visit Mysore Tokyo. My friend Tarik is a brilliant, charismatic teacher. He's spent a lot of time in Mysore, India, as well as with many long-time
Ashtanga teachers. He's also fluent in conversational Japanese, and his space is in Shibuya, minutes from the city's second largest train station.

Suffice to say the space was utterly packed each and every morning, and next to the Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India, it may be the busiest morning Mysore program in the world. Tarik's students practice so diligently and so earnestly that it brought an unexpected surge of devotion to my own practices.

It's been even more wonderful to return to Portland. I'm a little hazy with jet lag — waiting, as William Gibson put it, for my soul to snap back into my body — though I'm recharged and re-energized to resume my classes.

Thank you very much to John Haag, who so ably and terrifically held down the space for Mysore and led classes to continue in my absence. I've gotten a ton of positive comments about him.

I look forward to seeing everyone in class soon!

NEW CLASSES
As of Sunday, December 5, we've added a new class to the Yoga Pearl schedule! The new Guided Intermediate class runs from 8–9:30 a.m. You must practice to at least dwi pada sirsasana to attend; there're a couple other
performance-based criteria as well, such as competency in primary series as well performance of its key asanas. Email me if you're in doubt. We've shifted the schedule to accommodate the new class. Led Primary now runs at a much more humane hour, 10–11:30 a.m.

HAND BALANCE INTENSIVE

Shoulder-angle check in Meiji-dori Park.
Want to work exclusively on handstands and hand-balancing? I've got a hand balance intensive scheduled at Yoga Pearl for Saturday, February 19, from 1-4 p.m.

Attendance will be capped at 12 to guarantee one-on-one attention.

Cost is $50. Reserve your spot today, or get on the wait list!

We'll explore the yogic principles manifested when you stand on your hands, we'll undertake an asana sequence designed to prepare for handstand and hand-balances, and finally, I'll work with each person individually to address their unique and specific needs.

Everyone will come away with practical experience of several key yogic concepts, as well as strategies to improve their hand-balancing and incorporate it into an Ashtanga vinyasa practice

MEXICO IN APRIL 2011

We still have spots left for our Xinalani Retreat, which will run
April 23-30, 2011!

It's gonna have it all: pranayama, led or Mysore class, asana
workshop, philosophy discussion, and stories and myths.

Did I also mention it's an eco-retreat on the beach in Puerto
Vallarta, Mexico? Amenities include an on-site spa, healthy cuisine,
and oh yes THE BEACH AND THE SUN.

More detailed information on the retreat!

Check out Xinalani Retreat Center!

Contact Tara to reserve your space today, or to get on the waiting list.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

TOKYO 2010 SNAPS

The Big Guy watches.

Where the magic happens, et cetera et cetera.

My favorite people. This includes Green Lantern.

Shoulder angle check? Still a little ear visible. Back to work.

Color coded. Also: pink blocks are SO hot.

Friday, November 5, 2010

2010 TRAVEL UPDATE: ENCINITAS, LOS ANGELES, TOKYO

Well True Believers, I spent last Friday in Encinitas. Tara and I practiced at the studio on Friday morning — full power!

Later, Andrew prepared sambar, dosas and idli ... it was great to reconnect with him.

Many of the relationships I have developed through Ashtanga run deep — unfortunately, it's a global community, and we're all very spread out. I wish I could spend more time with Andrew and many of my friends around the world, so it's a bit sad. The distance really sharpens the joy of being with them, though.

On Saturday, Tara and I drove to Santa Monica to swing on the rings, climb the ropes, and do handstands on the grass. After, we headed to another friend's wedding. The service was on the lake in Echo Park, and the reception was in the Echo Park Rec Center. It was a mega-blast.

We drove back to San Diego on Saturday night, and I left for Tokyo the next morning. Now, one week later, I've managed to slough off most of the jet-lag. I'm still having trouble sleeping past 4 a.m., though.

Ashtanga yoga thrives in Tokyo. I was last here 2 years ago, and am pleasantly surprised to find so many familiar faces still practicing at the studio. There are no dilettantes. It's simply stunning to see the degree of transformation that's taken place.

I've been very inspired by the Japanese dedication and devotion, so much so that my own time on the mat has been deep, rich and compelling.

Fam arrives on Monday night, so until then I'm reading Ramesh Menon's "Siva: The Siva Purana Retold," trying to eat my bodyweight in Japanese food (kilos or pounds, take your pick), and planning to crash a sento.

Here's a link to "Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods," a new documentary on Grant Morrison, one of my favorite authors. "Animal Man" and "Doom Patrol" changed my adolescent life ... and then, along came "The Invisibles," which did it again. I think "All Star Superman" is one of the best pieces of fantasy-science fiction of the last 10 years.

 I've got two words for you: Gnostic superheroes.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NEW CLASSES...

Expect to see this on Sundays.
Yours may not look quite like this, though.
Class promotion:

We're adding Guided Intermediate Series to the Yoga Pearl schedule, beginning Sunday, December 5.

Class time will be 8-9:30a.m.

This will be a challenging and advanced class. Completion of and competency with the Primary Series is required. Please contact me to attend and/or with questions.

The Sunday Led Primary Series class will now run from 10-11:30a.m.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NOVEMBER TOKYO

Hey True Believers --- I'll be spending the month of November in Tokyo, Japan, one of my favorite places on planet Earth.

The Fam will be joining me for three weeks, too, so we'll see how much kawaii we can soak up before our heads explode.

Why fearing, you! I've arranged for experienced, intelligent and compassionate ashtanga yoga teachers to fill in my classes during my absence.

So do your practice!

In Encinitas, there was definitely a dip in attendance when Tim would go out of town.  The longer he was gone, the greater the dip.

During my initial transition phase from led to Mysore-style classes, the first few times Tim was gone proved revelatory opportunities to turn up to morning pranayama and asana practice anyway, if only to see how practice would transpire without an authority or teacher figure on whom to rely.

It turns out my mildly grabby, clingy, clutchy feelings were baseless, and that the ashtanga practice works whether Tim is in the room or not, and whether there are 45 people in the room ... or just me in my bedroom, as is now the case.

So why were we paying Tim the big bucks? Sheesh.

Anyways, I'll be posting photos and stories at my teaching blog, at Leaping Lanka. 

As always, anyone's welcome to join the Yoga Pearl Mysore group on Facebook, too!

Monday, October 11, 2010

MYSORE FAQ!

It's a varied path to a Mysore-style ashtanga yoga practice. Where do you fall on the continuum below?

1. Sporadic led or guided evening classes.
You go to class when you feel like it and when you have the time.

2. Consistent led classes.
You make the time to hit class a couple times a week.

3. Scheduled led classes.
You go to class on a set schedule, for example, every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday.

4. Scheduled morning Mysore classes.
You start attending morning Mysore class on a set schedule, like every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

5. Daily morning Mysore classes.
You hit class every morning but moon days and holidays.

Generally, one's priorities change depending on the seasons and states. 

People tend to bail on classes during the dog-days of summer and during holidays.

More than just the weather, the seasons of life also affect one's capacity for the ashtanga yoga practice. I find young adults have a difficult time committing to a schedule, mostly because generally their life-stage is characterized by heavy flux.

Also, your capacity for yoga will vary depending on your state. For example, just have a baby, move to a new city, undergo a massive relationship meltdown, or catch mono? 

If you're somewhere between items 3 and 4 above, you may be considering attending a Mysore class. I resist strong-arming people, but at a certain point, after you've exhausted the led class setting as everyone does, a Mysore class is the next stage in practice.

So here's a FAQ regarding morning Mysore classes for those of you considering it.


How is a Mysore Class Different from a Led Class?
In a Mysore-style class, students generally practice an established, predetermined sequence of poses from among the various ashtanga vinyasa series.

They proceed at their own pace, which will depend on their unique situation that morning, and they will follow their own length of breath.

Depending on their current physical conditions, they will address problematic areas by remaining in poses longer or repeating them.

The instructor is available one-on-one for physical assistance and suggestions for scaling, and can therefore meet each student where they are at that moment.

Why Is It Called "Mysore?"
This style, an individual practice set amongst a like-minded group, originated in the south Indian city of Mysore, and was maintained by Pattabhi Jois, among others.

It's Not Called Mysore Because It Makes You Sore?
It's not called Mysore because it makes you sore.

I've Been to Some Led Classes --- Do I Have to Remember All the Poses?
Don't worry, you will remember more than you think. Trust me. Just make an honest effort. Relax. Do less. Try to show up consistently.

For a short period of time, you will make a concession to transition to a Mysore class from led classes. You'll relinquish an entire, familiar sequence for a usually shorter yet more profound practice, one that is entirely internally generated.

You'll move to a finishing sequence when you lose the thread of the practice.

This is either physically --- that is, you're trembling, shaking, exhausted, and quite obviously spent --- or, more subtly, when you no longer remember what comes next. Which usually means you don't know where you are now.

These terminal points differ for each person.

So you'll stop when you're quite clearly tapped out. For those not on the verge of cracking, I'm available to help guide you through those unfamiliar parts of the sequence.

Given consistent effort, you will very quickly learn the sequence that is appropriate for your current conditions. 

It's my hope, of course, that you eventually remember the sequence of the primary series poses.


We have print-outs of the sequence (a.k.a. "cheat sheets"), but they tend to become a distraction or worse, a laundry list.

I've Never Been to a Led Class --- Can I Show Up, Too?
Turn up off the street and we'll start in a more traditional style. I will show you surya namaskar A and B and perhaps a few more poses. Then you will sit down and breathe. Finally, you will lie down.

Each time you return, you will be taught another pose in the sequence, usually one or two poses per day, until you hit your first major road-block.

What Time Can I Arrive?
Doors open at 6 a.m.; you can arrive at any point until class ends at 9 a.m. If the door is locked, stand on the sidewalk and jab the button until I come out to let you in.

I'd prefer everyone start by 8, but if you have to choose between arriving at 8:30 or no practice, show up at 8:30.

Do I Have to Get Up That Early?
Listen Buttercup, it's time to rip off the band-aid. If you want to deepen your practice beyond the more mediated led classes, and take the benefit of the intention of a like-minded group --- I tell you, some morning Mysore practices are like stepping into a jet-stream, whoosh, you're off, and you don't do the practice, the practice does you --- if you want to deepen your practice in that way, you have to fucking get up in the morning.

How can I break this to you gently? "I don't do mornings" or "I'm not a morning person" are bullshit. Despite what your mom told you, you are not a unique snowflake. You, as a member of homo sapiens, are a diurnal mammal, which means you're hard-coded to be wired in the morning and tired in the evening (If the opposite is true, you've got other issues).

We're not even talking crack-head early, either, which I rate as a 4:30 a.m. wake-up, so I'm sorry I'm not sorry. We're all adults, and adults know how to prioritize their interests and their energies to meet deep needs.

What If I'm Not Flexible in the Morning?
To paraphrase a quote I saw posted at Vancouver Ashtanga, you're never too dirty to take a shower. Wait to be flexible enough to take a yoga class and you'll wait 'til death.

Morning practice is a ritualized way to welcome the sun into your day and into your life. It also re-establishes a vital psychospiritual balance and, as B.K.S. Iyengar calls it, an "equipoise."

On a purely physical level, consistent morning stretching eventually allows you to perform movements requiring considerable flexibility with little or no warm-up.

Do I Have to Go to Work All Sweaty?
The delightful environs of Yoga Pearl also include luxurious showers, organic soap, and towel service. Prasad Cafe features raw cheesecake, Bachelor bars and other brekkie items.

Failing that, you can always go with baby wipes or, as I used to do in my heathen "corporate" days, simply lather on the deodorant during the car ride to the office.

Friday, October 8, 2010

ASHTANGA YOGA FOOD FRENZY

The US mascot is a scavenger? Yuk.

Here are several eating modalities to which I've been exposed during my time practicing ashtanga vinyasa yoga.

The word "diet" has been emptied of relevant meaning, so I'm going with "eating modalities" until I come up with a better one.

Scavenger
My friend Tony's roommate was a scavenger --- someone help me with the correct name for this subculture --- but Tony's roomie was essentially a vegetarian. Except for scavenged meat.

As you can imagine, the scavenged-animal food sources in Southern California amounted to road-kill --- squirrels, dogs, the occasional coyote.

I heard there were Raw scavengers, too, as in: they ate uncooked meat.

Watermelon
When I lived in San Francisco, friends practiced with "The Watermelon Man." He ate only watermelon for four months.

Oranges
Apparently, at one point "The Watermelon Man" switched to oranges. I didn't hear for how long; I did hear the citric acid stripped the enamel off his teeth.

Stripped the enamel right off.
Fruitarian
In the same family as the Watermelon Man are the fruitarians, who eat only fruit. I'm not sure if they can cook the fruit, so perhaps they're also considered Raw?

Of note, I met a Fruitarian outside the yoga world. I was at a Fourth of July barbecue some years back where I met this kid with a shall we say interesting smell and glazed-over, sunken eyes.

He'd ridden a bike from Vancouver, Canada to San Diego down the 101. He ate only fruit, and mostly bananas. When was served at the barbecue, he pulled out a bunch of bananas and ate five.

I asked him why he ate only fruit, and he declared that one, the brain ran on sugar, and two, fruit is sugar. Therefore fruit was the ideal brain food.

I have a rough grasp of neurobiology, enough to know there were gaping holes in his logic as well as his knowledge of nutrition and anatomy.

He aggrieved a group of Southern California barbecue-goers, all with veggie burgers in hand, by telling them, "I used to feel like you did --- but I'm beyond that now. You wouldn't understand how I feel. You're just not capable."

Raw
These dudes are vegetarians who only eat uncooked fruit and vegetables. I'm not sure their dairy intake --- I imagine there are sub-groups within groups.

Alien fruit that smells like rotting corpses.
I met Doug in Mysore; he's a very charismatic raw foodist who once had the chance to meet George W. Bush. He shook the former President's hand, looked him dead in the eye, and said, "Mr. President, I believe raw food is the future American diet." He also told stories of utterly depraved orgies of durian consumption.

In his house in Mysore, there were hundreds of coconuts in the kitchen, stacked floor to ceiling and completely covering one wall, a feat I'd only ever seen accomplished before in a dorm room with empty Pabst cans.

Once a week, Doug had a truckload of coconuts delivered to his house. He'd also visited local machine shops to have fabricated a unique coconut puncturing device that let him quickly get the juice. This way, he didn't risk severing his fingertips with a machete.

There was also a fairly healthy sized raw community in San Diego, with several teachers and practitioners at the Ashtanga Yoga Center practicing this eating method. A couple guys who used to practice at the studio maintained a raw house, in which all members agreed to follow raw principles.

Oh man. Just like a
straight-edge X: bad idea.
Vegan
This is no meat, seafood, or dairy. I've met a few vegan ashtanga practitioners through the years, but I don't know any who have stuck with it --- doubtless they're out there, though.

Veganism appears to be very threaded in Portland culture, as many restaurants and cafes offer vegan menu choices and baked goods. Prasad Cafe, at Yoga Pearl, offers a vegan, mostly raw menu. The Bachelor Bars and the raw cheesecake kill!

Ayurvedic
The ancient Indian system of wellness emphasizes a healthy digestive system through eating according to one's dosha, or constitution type. What's interesting to me is that it's not inherently vegetarian or vegan, and diet is one of the first variables its practitioners adjust in order to address health issues.

I want to do a bit more reading to see if its principles are truly cross-cultural --- I'm sure Michael Pollan would agree that laying off over-stimulating and processed foods is a good thing.

Macrobiotic
I haven't honestly run into many macrobiotic yoga practitioners --- perhaps this manner of eating never gained popularity in the yoga world? I do recall hearing Mattew Sweeney jokingly refer to it as "macroneurotic."

There's a macrobiotic restaurant in Tokyo in which, to the horror of the assembled wait-staff, I attempted to eat my bodyweight in gobo root/burdock.

Vegetarian
No meat! This is a popular lifestyle choice within yoga circles. It's the food mode that appears to be the most popular first transition one makes when the practice of asana initiates a deeper look at other quality-of-life factors.

SAD
The "standard American diet." I'm not sure what this constitutes, though I imagine it means simply to eat "whatever, whenever." Most consistent yoga practitioners seem to think a bit about what they eat, though, so I'm not sure how common this modality is among yoga students. Certainly it doesn't seem to hold for long once a regular yoga practice takes root.

Friday, September 24, 2010

HOW TO GET SIX-PACK ABS DOING YOGA

It is difficult to find pictures of
non-freakish, non-drug-induced
female six-packs on the internet.
You must admit, that is a zinger of a blog headline, designed to generate one shit-ton of page traffic and drive my Google analytics through the roof.

Meanwhile, there's that scene in the documentary Ashtanga NYC in which a woman smiles like the cat with the canary and says,"Well, we all know ashtanga can give you a great body!" As if the particular brilliance of ashtanga vinyasa is that we can be spiritual and have tight buns. Nestled under that is the idea that the harder we work, the more spiritual we will be — that in order to reap the greatest benefits from this system, we really need to feel the burn.

It would be remiss of me to not answer the headline, so: body recomposition — a 'six-pack' of abs, or sub 10-percent bodyfat for men, sub 15-percent for women  — is 85% food choice, 15% effort. Eliminate grains, legumes, and fructose. Reduce dairy to the whipping cream you put in your espresso. Notice the words "food choice": do not "diet" or restrict eating. Give it 3 months of ashtanga practice. Submit your success photos.

That better be a real tattoo.
This occasional acknowledgment of the physical transformation this practice creates is interesting. We have this difficult primary series we are expected to practice 6 days a week, and that can and will transform your body in many ways.

The shadow aspect of this and any hatha yoga practice or physical discipline is narcissism. Thankfully we are not the first to confront these issues. Far from it: in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali balances disciplined practice with equal measures self-study and devotion.

So let's at least acknowledge and honor the desire to look good naked, but let's tease it apart from the samadhi that is the residue of this practice. Meaning, to look good naked does not equal samadhi. Let's also tease apart the Protestant work-ethic notion that the more we put into this practice, the more we get out.

I'm not sure if it's obvious, but I don't practice yoga to eliminate or extinguish desire. I don't believe that's possible; or at least, I've never met anyone free from desire. I've never met a saint. Desire makes life possible, after all, and there's a good argument for the idea that life is desire.

This one's for the ladies.
It's the practice of yoga that balances our desire with our consciousness, which helps clear the confusion of our desires and preferences with our essential nature. It doesn't mean we don't have desires and preferences. It's just that practicing samadhi means our desires and preferences don't lead us around by the scruffs of our necks.

To layer guilt for having the desire to look good naked — or for having any thought, really — will turn this or any practice into an insidious means of self-torture.

These desires will arise. Thankfully we have simple tools — the tristana, or ujjayi breathing, vinyasa, and drishti — that allow us to watch them, and then return to our enlightenment.

* Alternate headlines designed to drive up page-traffic:
"How to Chisel Six-pack Abs with Yoga"
"Easy Six-pack Abs with Yoga"
"Lose Belly Fat and Get Six-pack Abs with Yoga"

Friday, September 17, 2010

MYSORE GUILT

Nandi on Chamundi.
As of September 2010, it's been 5 years since we've returned to practice yoga in Mysore, India.

The decision to not return to Mysore hasn't been a negation; we as a family have instead chosen to pursue other interests.


For example, we've chosen to return to Encinitas more frequently, rather than make the increasingly larger, riskier, and complex choices we'd have to make to travel to Mysore for a month.

Still, my relationship with the place is a complex one, and from time to time I feel a small but noticeable pressure to return there.

The first time I traveled there, the decision was sparked in part by my first meeting with Pattabhi Jois in New York City. I had such a terrific time practicing in the Puck Building that I began to organize my life to spend an uncertain amount of time in India.

I sold, gave away, or threw out all my belongings beyond clothing, quit a great job, and virtually abandoned my car.

I never had a personal relationship with Pattabhi Jois, beyond that he vaguely recognized me as Tim's student, and maybe even thought my tattoos were vaguely humourous, but since his illness and passing, that gravitic pull to Mysore has lessened.

When I started practicing in Encinitas, a trip to Mysore was a steady if discrete current, because, “When are you going to Mysore?” was a topic of pre- and post-practice conversations.

The feel in Encinitas has changed somewhat during the last several years, of course, as Pattabhi Jois has passed. 

Ashtanga in Portland has a different feel, too, in that there's not as much social pressure to travel to Mysore, quite simply because it's not really a topic of conversation. Although I expect I may inadvertently encourage people to travel to India when I share India stories or pass along the aspects of this practice that I picked up in Mysore.

The occasional pang to return to Mysore, occurring less and less over the years, is sharpened by the fact that I'm not authorized by the Ashtanga Yoga Institute to teach. This in itself is the seed for small but nagging doubts about my own validity and legitimacy.

The idea of official recognition is tricky. I know I have the tendency to “collect,” and I know what that means for me — the pursuit of the recognition becomes a goal unto itself, a thing pursued for no other reason than to collect it.

The “Collector” mentality also gives the illusion of direction and meaning, but is another elaborate method of avoidance or disengagement with my life as it is now.

Getting authorized, or even certified — well, I guess it's something to do, right?

Idli.

I am now hungry.
The ashtanga vinyasa community is also so dispersed and spread out these days that it'd be nice to see Sharath and old friends, as well as meet new members of the growing community.

The tours were a great opportunity for everyone to come together in one place and for one reason, which is one of the reasons that, even if they were in an air-conditioned gymnasium, they were very powerful.

Ashtanga vinyasa is a solitary practice — only you can do it. In a Mysore setting, though, the yoga is not practiced in solitude.

The in-breath brings a great many people into your life, and of course the out-breath takes them away again. They come, they go.

Part of the yoga practice is to acknowledge and work with the current situation of your life — not as you wish it to be one day in Mysore, and not as it once was, the last time you were in Mysore, but as it is today, right now. 

So a journey to Mysore can be a holiday, a pilgrimage, or a flight. It can be a luxury or an imperative. But we don't need to be there to honor this tradition — we do that every time we practice it. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

DON'T FEAR! WHY FEARING, YOU?

Don't be sad. I'll be back.
It's interesting to me that, all things considered, I spent a limited amount of time with Pattabhi Jois. Yet the strength of the man's personality, combined with my experience practicing the yoga in his presence, indelibly seared many of his expressions into my mind.


Anyways, I'll be back on track this week with articles ... I've caught some freelance writing work, which is monopolizing my writing energy-units. 


However! As a teaser for the four readers of this blog, I will give you a sneak peak of upcoming topics. That's right, I have a publishing plan and an edit calendar. 


Topics will include "Mysore Guilt," an article sparked by Ragdoll's comment a few weeks back as well as the 5-year-anniversary of our last trip to Mysore, India;  "Those Damn Bandhas;" "Freedom in Captivity: The Benefits a Set Series;" "Captivity in Freedom: The Drawbacks to a Set Series;" and "Type A Versus Ashtanga Vinyasa." There're loads more.


So what's gonna happen is I'm going to drop an article a week, additional freelance writing work permitting, and then end of October I'm going to sling the best together, along with older posts, and release the first Leaping Lanka book as Print-on-demand, or POD.

Friday, September 3, 2010

THE AGONIES OF YOGA PHOTOS

Fruit basket.
It wasn't until I saw photos of myself practicing yoga asana that I became familiar with the term "fruit basket."

While in Tokyo, I'd purchased these blue Nike yoga shorts (on sale), and had my friend Kranti hoist me into kapotasana in order to shoot photos. I'd always wanted to see what I looked like in the pose.

It was the first time I'd ever had to consider my own fruit basket, coin purse, bean-bag or jewel sack. In the resulting photos it bulged prominently, gratuitous and shrink-wrapped in blue spandex.

My basket in photos was not a factor I had ever considered when I began teaching ashtanga vinyasa. The process of evolution by which I came to teach yoga asana — for a living, however slim — was a gradual one, filled with major and minor shifts, all in one direction.

Once the seed was planted that I might teach this style of yoga, it was watered a variety of ways — through conscious choice, the encouragement of my wife and friends, the support of previous teachers, and the occasional stroke of blind luck. The seed flowered because of multitudes of miniscule and seemingly inconsequential choices.

I really do feel very alive while "teaching" a Mysore class — that is, sharing what was shared with me —though I had no real idea of the full scope of what that means in the Twenty-first Century.

Not fruit basket
I'm talking about the fruit basket, but in a larger sense, I'm talking about the Yoga Photo.

Part of the consequence of deciding that teaching was something I might do to feed myself, my wife and my daughter was to approach it in the most intelligent and skillful manner possible. Y'know, like a yogi.

I like very much of Douglas Brooks' definitions of a yogi, someone who "makes the impossible look easy." Part of making the impossible look effortless is the skillful, efficient management of energy.

My practice of the ashtanga yoga system has led me to cultivate a deep appreciation for its maps of energy manipulation. Through the practice of this yoga, we purify, collect and finally direct our energies, personal and otherwise.

Jai.
As Tim Miller tells it, Pattabhi Jois suggested that all yoga studios should have an image of Hanuman the monkey god. As the flying, wind-borne agent of reunification between the divine masculine, Rama, and his wife, the divine feminine, Sita, Hanuman is the symbol of prana.

What Guruji was telling Tim was that Hanuman would help his yoga studio generate that most obvious manifestation of external life-force energy, or external prana: money.

At a certain point, studios, gyms and health clubs started to ask for photos of me for their Web sites or fliers.

It really flushed to the surface my insecurity and fear about teaching. The decision to put myself out there in a picture is somehow deeper and more significant than merely writing a blog. It caused me to face my choices. Was I worthy? Was I ready? Was I good enough? Did I actually have something to share? Did I really understand this yoga well enough to pass along the technique?

Ashtanga vinyasa is a powerful and potent practice, and I doubted my ability to awaken in every person the same feelings that it awoke in me.

Those doubts proved unfounded — not because I cannot deliver this experience, but because I realized that it's not my job to "deliver an experience."

I keep returning to a sentence from Tim's on-line biography — a line I have shamelessly plagiarized for more than 5 years: "My goal as a teacher is to inspire a passion for practice. The practice itself, done consistently and accurately, is the real teacher."

From that perspective, teaching ashtanga yoga is simple: all I have to do is get out of its way.

"Experiences" always and of necessity end. They're over as soon as you walk out of class, at which time the yoga is just another experience to be categorized and filed away. It has a beginning, middle and end, and becomes a memory.

This is similar to my experiences of Mysore — one can go there and have a wild time, a full 'awakening' experience.

Then that time becomes dutifully filed away as "Awakening Experience," and people return home to continually rehash that experience as their touchstone for the practice, either seeking to recreate it in themselves or their students. They also pass on the idea that their experience from last year in Mysore is an experience to which their students should aspire.

All the while, they anxiously await their next trip to Mysore to recreate this condition.

Not that I'm suggesting you shouldn't travel to Mysore! Or return there! I'm just asking us to recognize Idealism for what it is — the mistaken notion that reality and our conditions are what we wish them to be and other than what they are.

As I said, experiences come and go. That's the great thing about conditional reality — conditions arise, are sustained, and then decay, evolving into other conditions. This practice is about clearing up enough so that we can stop identifying with those conditions as ourselves, and perhaps respond spontaneously and creatively to conditions as they are at this very moment.

So once my nagging doubts about my validity as a teacher were addressed, or at least acknowledged, it became obvious to me that some sort of photo would be necessary. I was serious about teaching this yoga, therefore wanted to do it in the most intelligent and skillful manner. If that meant taking photos, then so be it.

Yoga photo? Plus: ass.
There are a host of issues that arise with shooting yoga photos nowadays. First, given the nature of digital media, photos are available at any time to anyone. Which means you have no say over the context or format in which people see them.

Second, the actual content of the photo is troublesome. Do you go for the 'craziest' asana you are capable of performing? Or something less threatening and more inviting? Do you try to look serious and profound, or more lighthearted and personable? What if you can only hold the photo for the second it takes to snap the photo?

Then, of course, you must consider the wardrobe choices ... Do you wear those skin-tight briefs you normally wear, when you're practically naked?

What setting? A yoga studio? Outdoors? Someplace exotic? There were a host of other aspects of yoga photos I had never thought about.

I imagine each teacher arrives at the pranic budget for how much they're will to allot to this.

For my part, I see no problem with wanting to make good, beautiful and, one would hope, true pictures.

Dena Kingsberg in kashyapasana.
You can look at that beautiful photo of Dena Kingsberg in kashyapasana, modeled after that painting. Or you can look at the photos of Eddie Stern on the site for his studio. You can look in vain, actually, because Eddie clearly and consciously chose to not invest any energy in photos.

The more recent photos of me were shot by my friend Kelly Hubert. They work for me, and are a conscious reflection of aspects of the practice that I value. It's a nice, non-threatening asana, there's a nice shot of Guruji in the background, I like the background colors — done and done.

And, it must be said, there's no visible fruit basket.

Friday, August 27, 2010

GRANT MORRISON AND THE MAHABHARATA



Grant Morrison, one of my favorite authors, is retelling the Mahabharata. "The tone is modern, gritty and emotionally real against a backdrop of techno-mythic super-war," he says. Techno-Vedic!


I haven't read it yet, so it remains to be seen if Grant's mailing this one in for the check, versus sinking his teeth into the project ... but man, All Star Superman was one of the best things I've read in maybe 10 years?


There's more info here at Betwa Sharma's article at HuffPo.

Friday, August 20, 2010

ASHTANGA VINYASA FOR CONTORTIONISTS AND GYMNASTS

A manna: active shoulder flex,
hamstring flex, pure abdominal strength.
Most people walk into a yoga class, do a forward bend, and have a religious experience. 


The pain in the backs of their legs is so immediate, and so overwhelming, that it demands complete and utter attention.


When, at age 23, I did my very first forward bend in my very first yoga class, any memories and any daydreams came to a crashing halt. There was only the grinding discomfort of the back of my legs, a nether region of whose existence I had never dreamt, let alone experienced with such excruciating immediacy.


So what to do when a practitioner folds forward and merely yawns? What if someone comes to a led first-series class and floats and contorts their way through the entire primary series?

Circus performers and competitive gymnasts demonstrate the most complete range of active, dynamic and passive flexibility I have ever seen.


They're both rare in that their annamaya koshas, or "food bodies," are highly trained and conditioned after years of daily, disciplined physical practices, and many if not all elements of first series pale in comparison to their usual training.


These people, and perhaps the odd martial artist or rock climber, during the practice or performance of their endeavors — whether hand-balancing on a set of canes, measuring breath during pommel horse swings, or gripping a large rock with their legs while looking for the next handhold — spend a lot of time in their bodies, integrating the annamaya and pranamaya koshas, the food- and breath-bodies, and absorbed in the latter limbs of pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.


So for these people the first inherent challenge in ashtanga vinyasa is to simply show up to practice the primary series until they've learned it by heart. 


It can be quite a shock to a contortionist to be held back or simply ignored when they amply demonstrate physical mastery of the asanas. Let's face it, the primary series isn't a challenge to even an 11-year-old with 2 years of modern gymnastic training.


The second challenge and therefore opportunity for these athletes and performers is to learn the correct breathing and transitions. A concrete and direct participation in inhale-up, exhale-down helps them shift away from a performance or competition mind-set, in which practice is only and merely a means to a much-delayed end.


If contortionists and gymnasts develop a love for the practice, or for their teacher, and their discipline and mental strength flows into learning the first series, they will progress through the various series until they find a particularly interesting pebble in their shoe.


Hollowback planche:
active spinal and shoulder flex.
Pattabhi Jois was, as Richard Freeman has frequently observed, quite a trickster. During one trip to Mysore, when I was practicing the Sunday led intermediate classes, Guruji had us hop up to a half-handstand after vatayanasana and parighasana ... and then he would have us hover there as he walked around and said, "Why shaking?" and laughed.

(Rolf Naujokat later mentioned Jois was just "having fun," and that we shouldn't take those transitions so seriously.)

There are several ways to critically shift the primary series to make it compelling to a woman who can perform 10 L-sit press to handstands, or who can lower and hold herself in a hollow-back planche.

Mostly we talk about scaling down the practice for the 99-percent of us who require it. However, for the 1-percent who require scaling up, I use two fundamental principles.

The first is rooted in the physics of the annamaya kosha: to increase difficulty, and therefore engagement, we must decrease leverage by increasing lever length.

The second principle envelops the first, and is rooted in the pranamaya kosha: the inhale creates expansiveness and corresponds with prana, or upward-flowing sensation. The exhale corresponds with the apana, or the downward, rooting sensation. We use the technique of vinyasa to yoke the different sides of the breath to the corresponding movement.

This last bit is important because it runs counter to the human tendency to forcibly exhale when pressing or pulling strongly.

To use surya namaskar A as an example, if someone arrives in class and slaps their forehead to their shins on their first go, but still hops back, I'd suggest to them to begin a deep inhale, and then use that inhale to begin to press their feet off the floor, with legs as straight as possible. The straighter the legs, the heavier the load, and therefore the more prana-collecting and directing the vinyasa will be.

To follow the vinyasa concept, the transition to chaturanga dandasana should be complete before the inhale stops — this is generally what stops even the most Herculean person from pressing to handstand all over the place.

There are several levels of transition possible from chaturanga dandasana to urdvha mukkha svasana, and from there to adho mukkha svasana, but remember, we're only discussing scaling up.

With that in mind, chaturanga dandasana becomes increasingly more interesting when the triceps approach parallel and the wrists approach the waist.

One-arm split elbow lever.
The movement from upward-facing dog to downward-facing dog can be made more engaging by reversing the entrance; that is, by rolling back down to the bottom of chaturanga dandasana and then curling up into downward-facing dog.

In the Yoga Works videos from 1993, Chuck Miller demonstrates this; they're also know as dive-bomber push-ups.

It is vital to inhale-up, exhale-back — if the breath becomes strained or stops, the transition is therefore too much for the person and should be scaled so that the breath can flow.

As I've heard Pattabi Jois quoted (in turn quoting Patanjali's Yoga Sutras I.31): "Breath shaking, body shaking ... mind shaking!"

The move from downward-facing dog back to standing mirrors the entrance: one can inhale and hop, with straight legs, to lower the feet between the hands, and then, fingertips on the floor, continue the inhale and allow it to raise the head.

It's a simple matter to make suggestions that use these principles and therefore stay true to the letter and intent of the traditional primary series.

Uth pluthi becomes more interesting when one adopts an L-shape rather than a curled-C, a detail I came to understand when, during led class, Sharath would say, "Don't touch your legs!"; ardha sirsasana is more interesting with the legs extended even further away from the midline and a slight tuck to the tail-bone; during seated vinyasas, lolasana can be done with straight legs in an L-shape prior to exhaling back to chaturanga; et cetera, et cetera.

By employing these two principles, the transitions of even the primary series can become incredibly compelling to contortionists and gymnasts alike and yet remain grounded in the tristana, the ujjayi breathing, the vinyasas (movement into, the states of, and movement away from the asanas, which incorporate the bandhas), and the drishti. The practice becomes a vital, immediate, and sensual dance.

Then, when standing and seated sequences are finished, everyone, gymnast and stiff white guy alike, can sit, breathe deeply, take rest, and invite the profound and splendid stillness that is the inevitable byproduct of the ashtanga vinyasa practice.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

SHASTA INTERMISSION

Tim, backlit for maximum halo effect.

I apologize for the delay in publishing last week's article. 

I have returned to Portland from a week-long retreat at Mt. Shasta, where I assisted Tim Miller. 

During my time in California, I went on an intentional Internet and cell-phone fast. 

So there you go — one week, no Internet, no phone, and nature surrounding me on all sides.

It was, despite all that nature, quite nice.

Normal publication will resume shortly. I aim to publish new posts every Friday (or more).

Friday, August 6, 2010

WHAT FIRST SERIES HAS TAUGHT ME

No flash allowed! 
I came to the primary series in my early 20s. I was stiff, weak, and suffering profoundly from the disconnect between my intellect and my physical and emotional intelligence. My consciousness orbited about 6 inches above and just to the rear of my skull, an unfortunate Cartesian ghost haunting the machine.

The primary series, "yoga chikitsa" as it's known in Sanskrit, or "yoga therapy," definitely fulfilled a therapeutic function for me. In my first yoga class, that consciousness spread to my skin, bones, muscle, and sinew in a way that was at once a total surprise yet entirely inevitable.

After the peregrinations of my early 20s, when I lived in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco, I once again settled down in Encinitas and began practicing six days a week. I had a flexible job that allowed me to drift in between 9:15 and 9:30 a.m., and so I began attending Mysore classes at Tim Miller's Ashtanga Yoga Center.

At that time I don't believe Tim taught the primary series in the old Mysore-style, pose-by-pose. I recall only ever hearing him teach one person that way — surya namaskara A, surya namaskara B, lie down, come back tomorrow. That person didn't come back after a week.

So I don't know if he taught that way because his Mysore classes had 25, 35, sometimes 45 people in them, or if beginners and newcomers just opted to attend the led classes.

It was during Tuesday's 7 a.m. led primary series class, in which Tim said nothing but the pose name and "Five," to indicate the ending of the pose, that I eventually learned the primary series in its entirety.

It taught me strength, both physical and mental. It showed me that discipline was a muscle and a skill that could improve with practice. I began to pay attention to what I was putting in my body because it directly influenced how I moved, felt, and thought. I began to more consciously organize my life and the direction of my attention to sustain an early-morning practice, which meant an earlier bedtime and less partying.

Primary series really worked for me — it still does — in that all the forward bending and hip mobility was so immediate and so intense that I simply had to breathe or I was going to die.

Yoga chikitsa was the way I learned and practiced the absorption, dissolution, and direct participation (the Brahma-Shiva-Vishnu aspect) that is the wonderful byproduct of engaging ujjayi breathing, vinyasa, drishti and the bandhas. It's how I learned to practice both the diffusion and collection of effort, attention and breathing, or what I understand to be prana.

Despite my monastic and ascetic leanings, there's something wonderfully communal about primary series. Every Friday around the world, rooms full of people inhale, exhale as one, folding and rising.

"Primary series, very important!" Pattabhi Jois used to say. It may not always be easy, but it's always there in some form to keep me grounded and focused. I practice the primary series and my ghost-consciousness is firmly exorcised. For a while, at least.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

READ ME

Released on Guru Purnima ... you best believe my copy is en route. Amazon's got more info!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

WHERE I CAN BE FOUND ONLINE, SUMMER 2010

My name is Jason Stein and I teach ashtanga vinyasa yoga in Portland, Oregon. I currently do Mysore-style classes as well as led primary.

I have also worked as an editor, copywriter, and freelance writer.

Occasionally I travel to teach this system of yoga, and will fill in for friends here and there.

I combined all that — writing about yoga and other odds and ends — on Leaping Lanka, which has been running since 2003.

My current teaching schedule can be found on my personal page, yet another blog.

I'm on Facebook, and also maintain the Yoga Pearl ashtanga group there. If you're not a member, join up! It doesn't matter if you make it to the morning Mysore classes or just enjoy the occasional bout with led primary.

(I was on MySpace before it was a wasteland of strippers and teenagers, but can't for the life of me recall if my account is still active there, which means it's probably not.  Also, I don't have much time left for Twitter, though we'll see if that changes.)

Ping me at any of these locations.

Friday, July 30, 2010

MY LEAST FAVORITE POSE

Everyone has one posture that they absolutely dread. Or do they? If you don’t, perhaps ashtanga vinyasa is not for you? I used to dread baddha konasana. That pose hurt. A lot. I couldn’t put my knees down. I couldn’t go forward. I couldn’t sit up. And yet there it was, every single day.

I went to Home Depot and bought two sandbags and filled them with sand from Moonlight Beach. I would get up every morning, put a sandbag on each leg, and watch CNN while drinking my morning espresso.

Now I quite enjoy the posture. What happened?

There was a gap, a blind spot, between where I wanted to be — where I thought I should be — and where I was. The dread came out of that gap, that disconnection or non-union.

The big dramatic fireworks, the emotional and physical elation, that sense of release that I so craved? It never came. Baddha konasana was for me a slow, steady polishing of perhaps three years. One day I could breathe, go forward, and become absorbed in the breath, the spine, the hips, the belly and navel, the tongue against the top teeth. The sound of my breath swelled and receded in my chest.

The beautiful limitations of practicing an imperfect sequence of postures, as they all are, as in ashtanga, is that there will always be another posture to spark friction between the fixed condition of what ought to be and the fluid condition of what actually is.

Mysore 04 ...  L-to-R: Harry, Douglas, Dirty Hippie.
Dread or fear is a byproduct, one I’m pleased to say is avoidable, and the simple, practical physical technique that facilitates a return to what is, a return to this, to this, to this, is quite simple: inhale, exhale.

My experience with hated yet revelatory postures continued predicably from baddha konasana to backbends, to standing from backbends, to bhekasana, to kapotasana, and onward. Over time my appreciation has grown for these opportunities to experience friction, though I still engage a deliberate and daily practice to stay with the breathing and the bandhas and allow the process to occur.

After baddha konasana, I went through the ringer with kapotasana. To strive to perform an asana to the exacting and impossible standards of a fixed, graven image in your head will break you. Perhaps the shards will be beautiful, but the breaking, the physical breaking — the pulling, straining or spraining of muscles, ligaments, tendons — is not yoga.

Mind you, it’s important to work hard. It’s important to have standards to which to strive. It’s important to show up and give your best each day. It’s important to be pushed, or held back.

But it is impossible and disingenuous for me to force my Sunday second series practice to replicate the led second series class in Mysore. To try to do this is to ignore the given conditions of reality as it is at that moment. I know this because I have tried.

The Big Boss
So while I light candles every single morning both Pattabhi Jois and Tim Miller, and they are both responsible in part for every inhale and exhale I take, I have worked hard to get Guruji, the icon of the man, off my mat.

Yes, he was stern, he was demanding, and he wanted us to work hard, but my interpretation of his teaching is that we were to take a living practice with us when we left, and not reduce the yoga to the worship of a memory of a man in Mysore. “Everywhere looking, God,” he would say, and that means looking now, and not backwards at some experience in the shala from 10 years ago.

As I continue with this practice, I’ve noticed that my self-illusions and tendencies don’t go away. I can recognize them for what they are, though: illusions, preferences, and tendencies.

Once named, they don’t seem to such power. The skill of the yogi is the skillful manipulation and enjoyment of those tendencies, and perhaps even the realization that those illusions are gifts to be skillfully shared.

I spent four months in India on my first trip, and on my return to the studio in Encinitas, Tim padded over to me as I prepared to take baddha konasana. He saw what must have been a transformation. He shrugged, and said, “Well, I guess you don’t need me anymore,” and walked off.

Of course, then came bhekasana, kapotasana ... ghanda berundasana, supta trivrkrmasana, raja kapotasana ... It never ends.

I hope it never does.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

UPCOMING CHANGES?

So I've gone for a new look ... Relax! It's just a template.

I'm still into Leaping Lanka. There'll be some big changes coming in the immediate future.

Well, one big change: I'll be publishing here on a schedule. Hooray!

So dust off your blog reader.

Also, catch my teaching schedule at jasonmstein.blogspot.com.

I'm also up on th' FB (Facebrillz), look me up. I've started a Yoga Pearl Mysore group, so look us up!

Friday, June 18, 2010

GBSK: SHIRTZZZ

Ganesh is my anchor.

My problem with yoga clothing in general and yoga-related T-shirts specifically is that although the sentiments on the shirts are usually heartfelt and, well, yogic, the execution of the designs tend to be, frankly, fucking terrible.

One of the myriad definitions of yoga in the Bhagavad Gita is "skill in action." Barry Silver's T-shirt company, GBSK, gets it right, both the devotional sentiment and the artful expression of that devotion. Barry is also one funny dude.

Shiva Rock City.
They're the only yoga-related T-shirts I wear, now that my friend Kaori from Tokyo has bestowed gifts to Tara and I.

Check out GBSK.

I got dibs on the Hanuman one, though, so back off.