Tuesday, October 26, 2010


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


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


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.

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.

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

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.
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."

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.
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!

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.

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.

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.

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.