Friday, September 24, 2010


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


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?


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 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


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.

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.