Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Photo by Kelly Lynn Hubert!
The book is quite cleverly called Ashtanga Yoga: Stories From Beyond the Mat.

It has 50 stories, essays, how-tos, and the occasional naughty word about Ashtanga yoga, all "with reverence and humor," as I believe the back cover says.

Actually, I know that's what the back cover says, because I wrote it.

This whole process has been like the extended labor of child birth, wrapped in an Ultimate Fighting cage match, sprinkled with Bergmanian Winter Light-style existential despair and angst. "The Chinese! The Chinese!"

I like Ashtanga yoga a lot, so I didn't (and don't) want to fuck this up, you know?

Anyway, I sent the whole package off (actually, just clicked buttons), and now it's under formatting and print review.

The book will be offered print-on-demand, most likely through the services of Amazon. I will have more details very soon.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


 I have been guiding and leading Primary Series (and the occasional Second Series) since 2005, and in that time. I’ve watched quite a few people move through the sequence, just as I’ve practiced it myself, week in and week out, and in that time I’ve had the occasion to discuss, speak about, and answer questions about the series.

The Primary Series takes root and flowers in bed of soil that is the tristana, techniques that emphasize that we are going to work with the breath, the body-mind, and our attention.

This emphasis says several things: first, we work from a fundamental, internal point — the breath — and move outward.

Second, everyone and anyone, of any economic class, physical disposition and background, gender, class, caste and inclination, can use these techniques. They are scalable and adaptable to all.

Third, the tristana are a pyramid — all three form fundamental points of the foundation. There is not one part of the breath, body-mind, and attention or consciousness that is superfluous or irrelevant.

This is an implicit and structural acknowledgment that we are multi-layered beings whose embodiments are not limitations or impediments, rather gifts and tools that can be used to experience and savor ever deeper realizations.

So Guided Primary Series classes are unique among Yoga classes in that they’re absolutely prescribed — every breath, movement and looking point is directed. At first glance there is no chance or opportunity for spontaneous free will or expression to arise.

One way to look at led Primary is as an overly formalized ritual. The tristana and the established sequence create a set of rules, boundaries and limitations (thank you, Cesar Milan) that in effect form a container or vessel.

The Sanskrit root “dhri” generally means to carry, to bear, to hold  — “dhara” is “the one who bears” (or the earth), while “dharanam” can mean prop, support, pillar, stay, hold.

You see where this is going? The practice of Tristana plus Primary Series can be thought of as dharana itself. This versus dharana as a byproduct or result of the two.

I am indebted to Dr. Douglas Brooks for this more esoteric notion of a collection or grouping of the last three limbs of Ashtanga.

This vessel creates and sustains value and meaning, and therefore relationship and intimacy (Holy shit, Yoga!) — value and meaning are never inherent, and rise from the delimiting of choices: by choosing to practice this posture and not that one, in this order of postures, and not that one, we say that this posture and that sequence have value and meaning to us.

Even the most freewheeling and loose hippy-dippy types (“No limits, man! No boundaries! Freedom! He's Captain America, man, and I'm Billy!”) create implicit value and meaning through kala and desha, space and time.

Meaning, we choose to begin practice at 10 a.m. at Yoga Pearl, not in the parking lot of a 7-11 at midnight. At first glance this seems arbitrary, but the consequent value and meaning of these details play a powerful role in creating deeper relationship and connection.

However, the conception of tristana plus Primary Series as a rigid container of dharana, like all large, firm structures such as skyscrapers and suspension bridges, paradoxically also contains a tremendous amount of flex.

The expression of the shapes/seats/asanas, the individual expression of the transitions, the length of breath, all vary from person to person, day to day, often moment to moment.

It's this inherent flex that allows the series to be so "rigid."

What follows from this conception of dharana-as-vessel is the question: with what do we fill this vessel? 


Again, this is an esoteric understanding of this meaning. The vessel of dharana collects the “single flow” of attention in one direction (as Patanjali says, “pratyaya-ekatanata”). We fill this vessel with our object of contemplation, be it devata or otherwise.

Samadhi becomes then not so much an ecstatic one-ness but a deep and abiding savoring (svada) of this “single flow.”

Thursday, December 1, 2011


I'm once again in Encinitas. Why keep returning to the Ashtanga Yoga Center? It seemed fitting to unearth this quote:
"It is said ... that a man once came from a great distance to study under Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of the Lubavitcher Hasidim ...
To this distinguished tzaddik ... came the distant visitor. On learning of his quest, the villagers of Ladi all asked with pride if he wanted first to hear their great rabbi read Talmud or to hear him pray. 
Neither, he said. He wanted only to watch him cut bread or tie his shoes. 
The villagers were stunned as the visitor simply observed the rabbi sitting absently in thought in thc light of the afternoon sun, and then went away edified." 
—"The Ordinary as Mask of the Holy," Belden C. Lane, Christian Century October 3, 1984, p. 898
Lane goes on to add: "One begins to suspect that the contemplation of any ordinary thing, made extraordinary by attention and love, can become an occasion for glimpsing the profound."

Ashtanga Yoga Center: shoe-tying, bread-cutting. That is all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


This just in The New York TimesYoga Addict’s New Mantra: ‘Mix It Up’

Random thoughts; I've been adding to it; now it's more random and rambling.

Seems to run from food-body-related thoughts to comments on subtler layers:

1. Calories in/calories out:
Body comp (lean-ness versus otherwise) is 90% food quality. Do a lot of "wining and dining, with renewed vigor" (i.e. wine ((sugars)), refined carbs) and you get fat, most likely (as a woman) around thighs/buttocks (men: umbilicus/low back/obliques).

Doesn't matter if you're running 50 miles a week (in which case you're most likely skinny-fat, like most marathon runners), lifting weights, or practicing Ashtanga: jack your insulin levels and you store fat. No amount of "burn" will reverse insulin and cortisol issues.

2. Adaptation/hormetic response
The body, as is its wont, adapts to stressful stimulus. For fitness, strength, and health, variation is critical in order to elicit a hormetic response. Not enough to kill you, but enough. 

For upasana/'adoration,' however, ritual and repetition are critical.

To expect continued physical adaptation to the same series/sequence, practiced day-in, day out, for years, is a clinical definition of insanity (i.e. identical inputs but expect different outputs).

3. Novice effect
Also, she experienced the novice effect. Any novice/beginner/untrained person — I am talking strength and active flexibility (vs. passive) — will experience phenomenal strength gains immediately due to any physical stimulus.

For a sedentary person, untrained person, and quite frequently endurance athlete (i.e. typical American jogger, marathoner, etc) this could be playing Wii, doing Ashtanga or knitting. Doesn't matter, they will show demonstrable increases in strength.

Adaptation is logarithmic, however. When beginning, there are frequent and large gains made close together.

Over time, as adaption occurs, gains plateau and occur with less frequency.

(I could also make the case that deepening/expanding sense of connection arising incidental to Yoga practice follows same logarithmic curve.) 

3. Protestant Work Ethic
Displays the embedded notion that long, hard practices built spiritual equity — and six-pack abs. However, we are human. A strong desire to look good naked is integral to existence. 

As we age there ought to be strong, ever-increasing acceptance of physical conditions as they are. Enlightenment is your ability to share this expanding sensibility.

4. Comin' Around
I find it great that it took visits with a trainer for her to come around to a deeper, more profound aspect of practice. Practice for its own sake! This is, no joke, seriously wonderful.

5. Conflation of physical difficulty with fitness
This is a logical fallacy. All physical activities that are difficult do not equal fitness or strength. I.e. archery versus Olympic weightlifting; juggling versus pentathlon.

Ashtanga is challenging, true, and will make you a bit more fit than the couch-bound, but gains stop and plateau very soon in context with other physical endeavors.

If you wish to test this, there are many metrics with lots of recorded results with which you can compare yourself; Army Physical Fitness Test, etc.

(As an aside, my old friend and a long-time practitioner Dr. John K. and I both laughed about this after being tasked with workouts that involved push-ups and 400 meter runs ((that is, around ONE city block)), and we both discovered the 'fitness' of Ashtanga was, as the Kevala Advaitins like to say, confusing a snake for a rope. After the workout, we realized the snake ((our fitness)) was just a rope ((not at all fitness)), and this confusion was the result of ignorance ((avidya)).)

6. Tracy Anderson is a joke.
I recall one of her quotes: women should never lift more than 10 pounds. Also, her stretch band exercises are ridiculous, and her advocation of baby-food diet is also bullshit.

Succeeding in a Tracy Anderson 'exercise' class is like beating a 5-year-old at Monopoly.

7. Ashtanga as Renunciation
As Swenson has been quoted, "Don't let Yoga ruin your life." What's this about going to Mysore and not having sugar, coffee or dairy?! Clearly she missed some facets of traditional Yoga diets as well as typical Indian diet (i.e. ghee, milk, chai, jageri, etc). 

Strong indicator of how much projection takes place in our heads versus what we think the Yoga practice is supposed to be.

8. Acceptance
Obviously, article tweaked a strong chord in me. Despite its repetition of bullshit fitness myths, author airs out many typical Ashtangi myths. Sunlight is good for numbers 3 and 5 above.

9. What Lies in Ashtanga's Implicit Structure?
Is this over-reliance and over-emphasis on physicality implicit and therefore inseparable from Asthanga?

As a teacher in the Mysore room, does 'rewarding' the 'perfection' of one asana with the next foster this do-or-die, attain-at-any cost mentality? What is the tone or tenor of your Mysore room? How much is in your head?

Also note that I could make the argument that Ashtanga 'selects' for those with contortionist predisposition (i.e. there are mostly genetic components for leg-behind-head, spinal flexion, femur-hip rotation).

As an incredibly obvious example, I have practiced with one blind woman and the Japanese couple with no legs (three total) since 1998, so we could say Ashtanga selects for people with all their limbs and sight. I.e. selects for the fully abled.

What other selection processes are made? Age? Gender? Economic class? Athletic predisposition and experiences (samskaras, karmas)?

"All Ashtanga Yoginis are Type-As."

It's like saying "All basketball players are very tall," or "All swimmers have long arms and broad shoulders," which is not the case — at each increasing difficultly level more favorable genetic predispositions are generally selected for, i.e. Michael Phelps/Olympics, Michael Jordan/NBA, etc.

So is this true? Does the practice select for Type-As?

Does it foster (reward) so-called "type-A" behavior"? (Obsessive posture-seeking.)

(Leaving aside for a moment the issue of the bullshit factor of the whole personality "type" classification system.)

Interestingly, article does not mention much of practitioner's asana 'attainments,' such as, "I finally completed third series."

One could make the case that an over-emphasis on physical attainments creates the so-called "type-A" behavior. So "type-A's" do not find Ashtanga, but stringent focus on physical postures brings out posture-tunneling.

10. No Quote From Eddie
Would have been nice and dare I say, balanced. Also would have been nice to hear something about 'traditional' emphasis and focus of this practice (i.e. 'Citta vrtti nirodha'). No mention of Patanjali? Did I misread?

11. Connection, Relation, Joining Does Not Result From A Series Practiced Perfectly
"Yoga" is not caused by the perfect practice of an entire and complete sequence of Ashtanga Vinyasa. This is the confusion of "correlation" with "causation." A profound not-two-ness arises — or does not — independently of practice, which I have found through life's vagaries can be 20 minutes or 2 hours. This lucid luminosity is an accident; we practice to make ourselves, as Trungpa said, "to make ourselves more accident-prone."

12. Yoga as Success
This is nothing new, but to reread the Yogic texts as well as the Vedas as well as Upanishads and even Puranas reiterates Yoga as nothing more than a means to attain success independent of morality.

This as Ravana (and every other Asura) demonstrate through the success of their tapasya and achievement/attainment of some rather radical gifts and powers.

Independent of morality, ethics (Patanjali here as brutally utilitarian; yamas and niyamas only serve to smooth out life enough to make kaivalya possible), the question ought to be then, Does your yoga work?

Does it satisfy the claims its adherents make?

For author of the article, clearly she thought that Yoga would flatten her tummy, keep her butt high, help her look good naked.

Clearly, it did not serve to flatten her tummy, keep her butt tight and round, help her look good naked.

This is a "tragedy of small enlightenment" on her behalf (i.e. I submit she is guilty not of desiring the wrong things, but of not desiring enough.)

How to determine if your system does work? Not enough to gaze around a silent Mysore room and admire all the bodies you see there (e.g. you could be at Eddie's studio the day Cirque du Soleil is in town.)

Conversation and engagement (Holy shit! Yoga!) is required, as well as self-study (svadhyaya) and surrender or devotion — I have really been vibing off 'adoration' lately (isvara pranidhanani).

Deeper questions: are your teachers and co-practitioners emblematic of what they promise this system to deliver? Which is what, exactly?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


More from Geoffrey Samuel's The Origins of Yoga and Tantra:
"The Yogasutra has noticeable affinities to the dhyana and jhana meditations of the Buddhist tradition and has generally been regarded as strongly influenced by Buddhist meditational procedures, with Samadhi seen, as in the Buddhist practices, as a state of withdrawal from external concerns and focusing of the body-mind...
 Rather than seeing this in terms of ‘Buddhist influence,’ we should perhaps again see this more in terms of participation within a shared ascetic sub-culture...
Thus the Yogasutra I.17 defines an initial meditational state (samprajnata Samadhi) in terms close to the Buddhist definition of the first dhyana state, while I.33 recommends the practice of the four states (friendliness, compassion, sympathetic joy, equanimity) known in Buddhist texts as the four brahmavihara states (Satyananda 1980: 33, 57).”
The Origins of Yoga and Tantra, page 222
Samuels goes on to suggest the idea of kaivalya not as a withdrawn "alone-ness" but an "internal reversal rather than necessarily involving a cessation of existence in the world," (p. 223).

Though he does go on to mention that a "consistent emphasis on world-rejection is certainly found in major figures of later Indian philosophy such as Sankara." (p. 223)

What's challenging in reading of Shankara is to consistently remember that he appears to only write from the perspective of One-ness/Singularity/Non-duality.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Re-reading Geoffrey Samuel's The Origins of Yoga and Tantra; thought I'd share some of his comments on the Yogasutra:

[David Gordon] White argues against the frequent modern interpretation of yoga, based in large part on Vivekananda’s selective reading of the Yogasutra, as a ‘meditative practice through which the absolute was to be found by turning the mind and senses inward, away from the world’ (White 2006: 6) ...  
Yogic practices are about linkages between the microcosm and macrocosm, and they postulate an ‘open’ model of the human body, not a closed one. 
In particular, White notes that the commonest use of the term ‘yoga’ in the narrative sections of the Mahabharata is to refer to a dying warrior transferring himself at death to the sphere of the sun through yoga, a practice that links up with Upanishadic references to the channel to the crown of the head as the pathway by which one can travel through the solar orb to the World of Brahman (2006: 7). This channel is called susumna in the Maitri Upanishad, a term that recurs some centuries later in the Tantric context. (page 221)
What do we expect from an Ashtanga Vinyasa practice: a great turning in, or a great turning out? How much of our expectations of this practice descend from Vivekananda? How much from the renunciate tradition of Shankara?

(I have had a tendency to post questions; this morning however I thought I'd share my own journaling/svadhyaya on the questions.)

Shankara, it must be said, viewed practice as useless — well, not entirely: as he says in the Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya, it is of some use "for those of inferior intellect."

Personally, I find introversion and withdrawal easier than extroversion and energetic engagement. I notice I have the tendency to simplify complexity and clarify confusion, and this thread has insinuated itself into aspects of my Yoga practice, maybe from a less mature understanding of vairagya, or dispassion or non-attachment.

However, perhaps the idea that vairagya as an ideal stems from a "closed body" model of Yoga, one descended from Vivekananda's prurient take on the Yogasutra and sprouting from the sramana ("strivers") era of renunciate-ascetic tradition circa 2,000 years ago.

An "open body" model of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga suggests acceptance and understanding of both increasing complexity and confusion, and consequently increasing difficulty.

It's an interesting perspective or stance to adopt. Rather than dispassionate observation, an "open body" model suggests more appreciation and savoring (svada) of various states.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Most initiations are about the devolution of responsibility. At the same time, initiations often double as a long and confused moment of shared truths. Essentially, what the adults, elders, or senior members of the group share with the initiates is the knowledge they possess, and then they admit to a terrible secret, the secret of the “tribe”—that beyond the knowledge the initiates have just been given there is no special knowledge.

—Anna Simons, The Company They Keep

 There is no specific "initiation" as such when one begins the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa, though I consider learning the Primary Series an initiation of sorts.

This is markedly different from almost other Yogic as well as other, larger institutions and cultures; the quote above is taken from Simons' book about U.S. Special Forces culture, for example.

With regards to Ashtanga Vinyasa, upon completion of First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth Series, or the Pranayama sequence, there is no "special knowledge" that is transmitted.

(I think here of Tokyo Ashtanga teacher Barry Silver's blog handle: "Nothing Special.")

The "knowledge possessed" by the "Guru" (who has since passed) was the techniques of the breath, gaze, internal focus points — and the practice of discipline!

So then the "secret" of the Ashtanga Vinyasa tribe is that there is no secret.

There is no "special knowledge" contained in, inherent to, and separate from the series themselves — beyond the very intention, attention, and consistency (discipline) that we bring to this practice.

Are most initiations about a "devolution of responsibility"?
Do you feel there is an "initiation" to the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice?
What are the pluses, minuses, neutrals to thinking of surrender/submission to a system as a "devolution"?
Is initiation a surrender/submission? 
Might we consider initiation an empowerment and invitation?

Sunday, October 2, 2011


‎I saw a great quote the other day on Facebook from Sarah Wells, a teacher at the Eugene School of Yoga:
"The yogi should ignore the personality of his/her yoga teacher, thus focusing on the lineage and practice." — Narasimhan
In Mysore, India, Professor M. Narasimhan used to teach the philosophy portion of Dr. Jayashree's Yoga Sutra chant class.

This really echoes Pierre-Sylvain Filliozat, as quoted in The Yoga Body:

The orthodox pandit is not in the least concerned to restore an ancient state of affairs...
If he were to point out the ... differences between the ... text and his own epoch, he would have to reveal his own share of innovation and his individuality...
He prefers to keep this latter hidden...
For him, the important thing is to present the whole of his knowledge — which contains both the ancient heritage and his new vision — as an organized totality.
(Filliozat 1992 : 92, translation by Singleton, The Yoga Body.)
 As Narashimhan observes, if we can side-step or look beyond (look through?) our teacher's personality, we're able to receive the entirety, the totality, the sum of her knowledge — which contains both "ancient heritage" as well as her "new vision."

Often, though, the richest transmission seems to arise from the frisson of realization that there's a seam, a gap, however small, between a teacher's personality and practice and their very own lineage.

If only because then we have to hold onto the seeming paradox ourselves without "solving" it.

Friday, September 30, 2011


There's a full interview with Grant Morrison now on Comic Book Grrrl.

Morrison is, of course, a practicing Chaos magician:

"[T]he idea of magic is actually really simple and down to earth --- it's all just about enchanting the world you live in ...

It's about not just taking that [lamp] as something boring to be ignored, but looking at that light and seeing a manufacturer behind it. There are human hands in there, there are atoms that go back and probably appeared in Christ's body, all the way back into the Big Bang.

This is this immense magical process that we're all caught up in, and magic is about being aware of that constantly, making everything special."

I love the correlates between ritual magic and puja; both are an elaboration of the sacred in which we make an offering and receive gifts.

Both Yoga and puja are the practice of one's entwinement with the sacred.

The ritual elements with which I think many of us are familiar, at least in Ashtanga Vinyasa, are the establishment of intention (sankalpa) and the 'application' onto our bodies (nyasa) of that intention, or the archetype that represents that intention (ista devata).

For those who are curious, there are a few more ritual elements in an Ashtanga Vinaysa practice: the summoning or invocation (avahana), fulfilled partly by our opening chant or invocation.

We create a boundary (avarna) or container into which we summon our intention or archetype (ista devata); quite literally, this may be the length/breadth of our sticky mats, or as Richard Freeman once described it, our own "dharma kshetre, kuru kshetre," quoting the opening lines of the Bhagavad Gita and comparing our sticky mats to the "field of dharma" and the "field of the Kurus" (dharma kshetre; kuru kshetre) onto which the drama of the Gita plays out.

Then begins the rhythmic pulsation of the ujjayi breathing as the breath-movement of the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice begins. This heat (tapasya) turns our insides into a blazing fire onto which we heap ... what? That which is inessential, perhaps.

I quite often simply dedicate each breath to my own archetype or intention.

The practice of intention, invocation, and boundary-setting can create a profound and intense inner experience (antaryaga).

The ritual practice ends with the closing chant, which signals the end of the practice, the ritual, as well as the dismissal (visarjana) of the archetype or intention that we established at the beginning.

With visarjana, perhaps we have inhaled/exhaled the sacred such that we now in turn see this archetype or intention everywhere we look: "Everywhere looking, is God!" as Pattabhi Jois used to say. "You look at wall, not seeing wall --- seeing God!"

To paraphrase "Arthur Avalon" (Sir John Woodroffe), it's not that we have shrunk the sacred to fit --- it's that we have stretched our minds to more fully encompass the sacred.

We have, as Grant Morrison suggests, "enchanted" the world in which we live. We've made "everything special."

Sunday, September 25, 2011


I've been around Crossfit for maybe 4 years now, so I take some resources for granted that I probably shouldn't.

Probably one of the biggest at the moment is Kelly Starrett's Mobility WOD, or Mobility Workout of the Day.

My buddy XX and I took a mobility seminar with Starrett in 2009? Maybe it was 2010. The guy is as charismatic, knowledgeable and inspiring in person as in the videos on his site.

Starrett is a PT who owns Crossfit San Francisco. He's been posting a mobility-flexibility tutorial video a day for almost a year.

The guy is only concerned with results, as in pain/no pain, more mobile/less mobile.

He provides a sharp contrast to a meme that has imbued many depths of Ashtanga Vinyasa: that of the improper amplification of Pattabhi Jois' famous "Practice, practice, long time coming." 

In many instances this becomes shorthand for repeated application (sometimes years) of a posture with little to no change in range-of-motion/mobility/flexibilty, and often accompanied by increased and growing pain.

A sip of the venom often builds tolerance. Want more fluidity and stability in urdhva dhanurasana? Do more urdvha dhanurasana.

But a definition of madness is to repeat the same behavior and expect different results.

So I found Starrett to bring a ruthless, brutal and refreshing test/re-test binary approach. Better/not better? Yes/no?

Pain/no-pain is one I use during Mysore class, usually the key and ultimate limiter for both asana and adjustment.

The other dimension Starrett adds is aligned with sauca, or cleanliness. As the sub-head of Starrett's blog says, "Every human being should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves."

His approach encourages us to examine on a daily basis our (if any) persistent pains, tweaks, pulls from a more rounded and deeper perspective, and then use a multi-tiered approach to address any issues.

Perhaps you have a "mechanical fault" or "movement error," and are gliding in/out of an asana in a less than ideal way (e.g. shoulder position for chaturanga).

Perhaps you just have some soft tissue (fascia) "tacked down" due to repeated shortened ROM.

Perhaps you have pain or limited ROM from a traumatic instance (car crash, bar fight).

Starrett is a fresh perspective for someone like me, who's practiced Ashtanga Vinyasa for well-nigh 15 years. 

The practice of the series of Ashtanga Vinyasa can become all-consuming and all-encompassing, 6 days a week, 2 hours a day. 

The series are brilliant, but by nature limited and exclusive --- by necessity they must leave out certain postures and approaches. 

The risk is to see those series as unlimited and all-inclusive, and from this follows a bit of Yoga myopia. The risk with the practice of Yogasana period is to see Yogasana as the horizon line that addresses all your health and perhaps fitness needs.

These needs often run parallel to sadhana, often overlap --- but equally as importantly, can often diverge.

As the practice of road-biking, and then Crossfit, and now other avenues continues to inform me, these lines are not the same.

I'll post the video from today. Browse the site, look up your problem areas. Don't have any? Congratulations.

You can test the carryover of your Ashtanga Vinyasa practice by doing today's 10-minute squat test; or you can continue to wonder why your heels are not (and will never) touch the ground in pasasana. 

"Pistol" drills are revelatory regarding leg-to-leg strength imbalances, as well as ankle flexibility.

Can't recommend MobilityWOD enough, check it out. If you've got the dough, I also recommend seeing Starrett in person --- if only because the Yogi/O-lifter/Crossfitter crossover is hilarious.


"A good map is ambiguous; it is one that intrigues you, manipulates you, instils enough confusion to keep things sparkling -not a nerdy attempt at so-called realism. Just like language. Just like conversation. Like life. (Venice, Dorsoduro - tore the map)
---Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Some of our maps below, and perhaps the realms under which they might fall. 

Do they "intrigue," "manipulate" and otherwise "instil [sic] enough confusion to keep things sparkling"?

Realization/Transcendence The eight limbs

Social/Interpersonal: 5 yamas/niyamas ("do's" and "don'ts"?)

Psychospiritual/Body/Heart nadis, koshas, bandhas, granthis

Awareness tattvas, gunas, Brahman/jiva, kevala kaivalya

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Asana practice lends itself to different lenses of varying depths and utility.

It’s easy to get trapped on the materialist and reductionist side of the map, a place where asanas are mere assemblages of body parts.

Consequently, there then follows a tendency to view our personal list of physical injuries, tendencies, and idiosyncrasies as problems to be solved, or obstacles to be overcome, through Yoga. This view in effect reduces Yoga asana to physical therapy.

The subtler and trickier thinking that accompanies this reduction is the deep cherishment of these idiosyncrasies and injuries, and their acceptance as limiting beliefs.

A.G. Mohan writes that Krishnamacharya, Pattabhi Jois’ teacher, had a useful multi-level framework to view asana practice: as spiritual practice (upasana), therapy (chikitsa), and fitness (shiksa).

So this means we're not shallow for our curiosity about anatomy and physical expression, as though we're somehow less “serious” for not seeing Yoga asana practice only in “spiritual” terms.

I believe an intense focus and interest in the mechanics of asana and anatomy is a stage through which we who practice this system for longer lengths of time must pass.

Also, it's useful to observe that Patanjali suggests that attention to our body (sauca) is essential, and that sickness (vyadhi) is an obstacle.

The Taittriya Upanishad, which Guruji loved to quote, suggests that our food-body (anna maya kosha) is the first of five nested shells or sheaths.

Both Patanjali and the Panchakosha map of our experience suggest that our bodies are vital, important, and inextricably related with other, subtler levels and layers.

So while I don’t necessarily believe one needs to be an anatomist to teach asana, it can still enrich one’s practice to pay attention to the physical food-body realm.

I’ve been fortunate to hold space for Mysore-style classes since 2004, and most of the gift of that time has been quite simply to watch and observe hundreds (thousands?) of bodies as they move through the same ritualized sequence of interlinked postures.

In that time I’ve come to observe a couple common tendencies, whether in people off the street/couch, athletes, dancers or performers, or long-time yoginis.

These are broad generalizations, of course, and don’t apply to all equally.

Also, I have chosen to ignore medical terminology.

Humans are an anterior and front-facing species.

So it’s pretty much inevitable that the muscles on the front of our body are stronger than the muscles on the back, especially on our grabby bits.

We push and pull with our chest and the front and sides of our arms.

So generally, this means our upper back, as well as the the backs of the shoulders and arms, are a bit weaker.

There is the belief that Ashtanga Vinyasa people have hurt shoulders. Given the high repetitions of chaturangas, lolasanas, uth pluthis, jump-backs and urdvha dhanurasanas, this is definitely a shadow element of which we ought to be aware.

Generally when a person tells me they have shoulder pain, I watch them lower into chaturanga and, nine times out of 10, the top of their arm bone rolls forward in their shoulder --- the muscles that support the wing-bone and the backs of the shoulder are unable to keep the arm centered in its socket.

This imbalance is also why, for example, your hands slide together in pinche mayurasana, or you have a hard time keeping the elbows in when pushing up into urdvha dhanurasana.

I’m not sure why I see this so frequently. Maybe if we all squatted a lot this wouldn’t be an issue.

This generally is not an issue in former ballerinas or martial artists, that is, people who have done a lot of kicking and leg swings.

This is why you have to pay conscious attention to make sure your knee tracks your toes during virabadrasana.

Usually I see the knee waggle inward and the foot flatten.

Generally, we sit a lot, so the front of our hips shorten and the backs of our legs get weak.

We do no hip extension in the Primary Series until backbends, so this one's harder to untangle, though tiraing mukkha eka pada paschimattanasana is sometimes a good clue.

I didn’t want to present a problem and then not offer a solution; however, I wrote five pages of postural suggestions that, upon re-reading, caused my eyes to dry up and fall out of my skull from boredom.

So there’re a lot of great technical manuals out there: Maehle’s book, if for nothing but the technical info. Swenson's book is also always great simply because it's simple.

The act of writing out the alignment suggestions was therapeutic for me, though, because look, let’s face it: you just have to show up consistently and practice the Primary Series with a teacher/friend who has a good eye for energy lines --- or at the very least, has practiced for a little while themselves and can tell when something may hurt further on down the line.

To get too worried about correcting structural imbalances and we drift into the realm of physical therapy and denude the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice of its inherent power, and also become mired in the problem/solution dialectic.

I think this can be okay for a period of time because it can also reveal a lot about our expectations of a Yoga practice.

Do we expect it to take us from one state to another, one totally unlike the one before?

Do we consider life a problem to be solved?

Are we inherently broken and in need of fixing?

These feel like more important questions to savor ... they just have to be asked before they can be contemplated.

Monday, September 19, 2011


There's been an influx of new people to Mysore class, so I thought it'd be nice to go over a couple principle differences between the different Yoga systems.

It's useful to know a bit about Advaita Vedanta, the system and philosophy of non-dualism that underpins Ashtanga Vinyasa. 

It's also useful to reflect on the similarities and differences between Advaita Vedanta and the other systems of non-duality.

This triangulation is useful to acknowledge any unexamined and implicit goals, values, and world-views.

Kashmir Shaivism is the second great non-dual (advaita) system that informs and inflects modern Yoga practice.

The Kashmir Shaivites assume the same monism as Advaita Vedanta, the non-dual system of which Pattabhi Jois (Guruji!) was a modern practitioner.

Both Advaita Vedantins and Kashmir Shaivites hold that all is Brahman, the expansive, unchanging absolute.

The Advaita Vedantin Shankara maintained that Brahman only appears to us to go through changes (vivarta).

The One (Brahman) doesn’t change to become the many --- it can’t, as it’s expansive, unchanging and absolute.

So the appearance of separation is caused by ignorance (avidya), and is nothing but illusion (maya).

This illusion has no reality. It is only the appearance of fleeting names and forms (namarupa) which are all unreal and, like a mirage, vanish when ignorance ends.

The Kashmir Shaivites take a different tack.

An initial and key detail is that they personify the One (Brahman) as Siva.

They hold that the One (Brahman) does become the many ... and also remains unchanged.

The One’s essential nature is vibrant creative energy (spanda). 

This vibrant creative energy is inclined towards the outward and joyful manifestation of its creative energy (shakti).

This manifestation is brought about by the free-will play (lila) of the One.

The Kashmir Shaivites replace the idea of appearances (vivarta) with that of reflection (abhasana).

The many are as real as the one, and are in fact nothing but the reflection of the One’s consciousness.

For the Kashmir Shaivite, names and forms (namarupa) are real. They appear as a result of contraction or limiting of consciousness (maya). This contraction (maya) cannot be separated from the One.

To bring this back to Ashtanga Vinyasa, Pattabhi Jois frequently elaborated on the Panchakosha map as elaborated in the Taiitriya Upanishad.

The fifth or most inner layer or covering (kosha) is the bliss covering (anandamaya kosha).

For the Advaita Vedantin, the anandamaya kosha is equated with the One, and we can say nothing about it (anirvacanÄ«ya). We do not experience the One (Brahman), because that would imply change (an experiencer, an experience, and that which is experienced --- all are separate).

For the Kashmir Shaivits, this sheath is active and self-conscious, and our experience is meant to be and can be savored (asvada).

Friday, September 16, 2011


No Crossfit clickbait today, sorry! However, a cross-post from Portland Ashtanga Yoga.

Some recent posts have discussed Pattabhi Jois' (a.k.a. Guruji's, The Boss', The Big Guy's) lineage as a Smarta Hoysala Brahmin, that caste and sub-caste of Brahmins who hold Adi Shankaracharya, the famous Advaita Vedantin, as their root-guru.

It may surprise you that there are several streams of non-dual thinking, of which Advaita (a="not," dvaita="two-ness") is one. 

(That's not a pun.)

In a nutshell:

To the Advaita Vedantin, reality or that-ness (tattva) is appearance only (vivarta).

The world is created by error (adhyasa); to use one of their most famous analogies, this is similar to confusing a rope for a snake in a darkened room.

The world is also created by ignorance of the one (avidya), as well as our captivity by appearance (maya).

The One has always been and, most importantly, has never changed.

Interesting, no?

Both Buddhists and Kashmir Saivists have slightly differing ideas. I'll continue with both in future "Nutshells."

Saturday, September 10, 2011


We're coming up on a Full Moon --- no practice on Monday! --- thought I'd share a little more of the philosophy that girds the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa as taught by Pattabhi Jois.

Jois (or Guruji!) was of the Hoysala Brahmin caste, a subset of the immensely popular Smarta Brahmins whose root teacher or sadguru was Adi Shankaracharya.

Shankaracharya, who most likely lived in the Eighth Century C.E., was one of the giants of Indian philosophy and arguably the forefather of Advaita Vedanta.

Much of Shankaracharya's work is available online; there are of course also later Tantra texts that bear his name that were not written by him.

His Aparokshanubhuti is online and worth a read on your moon day, especially as it addresses many techniques and practices we cultivate in Ashtanga Vinyasa, among them mula bandha.

As lines 114 and 115 read:

114. That which is the root of all existence and on which the restraint of the mind is based is called the restraining root [mulabandha] which should always be adopted since it is fit for raja-yogins.

115. Absorption in the uniform Reality should be known as the equipoise of the limbs [dehasamya]. Otherwise, mere straightening of the body like that of a dried-up tree is no equipoise.

The practice of mula bandha is fit for a King! Also doubtless Rajarajeshwari, the Queen of Kings. You can get an idea of the tenets of Advaita Vedanta by reading the text.

Finally, we'll return to Mysore class to once again to practice "equipoise of the limbs" on Tuesday!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


This is written from the perspective of someone practicing a full sequence (and change) five to six days a week.

I could probably add to this and get real specific.

1. Eat More
Food and nutrition are highly personal and emotionally charged practices and beliefs.

This suggestion isn't about the content of your food, however, that is veg, vegan, omni, what-have-you. It's about quantity.

I've had conversations with lots of people who practice Ashtanga Vinyasa and, y'know, I've been around for a couple years, so I've seen how some Ashtanga Vinyasa yogis and yoginis eat.

If you commit to Crossfit a couple times a week, you are going to need to ratchet up your food intake.

This is usually not a problem because you will be ridiculously hungry after doing both.

I only have one suggestion as to what you should eat if you do Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga plus Crossfit, though mostly it's a suggestion of what not to eat — processed foods.

2. No Really — Eat More
By "eat more," I don't mean an extra bowl of popcorn, an extra spoonful of cottage cheese, more yogurt, or an extra banana.

You're going to need to put away some protein, fat and carbohydrate in order to recover from your efforts and support your future practices.

3. Sleep More
At least nine hours a night. Seriously.

This is usually not an issue because you will be tired. You will need the sleep.

However, you will dig yourself into a hole if you try to slide by doing both Ashtanga Vinyasa and Crossfit (plus work, family, happy hour, pranayama, meditation, puja) on six hours a night

4. Off Days Are Off
Saturdays and moon days are opportunities for reflection and relaxation. Do nothing.

5. Less Flexible
I'm not going to sugar-coat it for you: high reps plus reduced range of motion (ROM) means your nervous system will shorten muscles accordingly.

You will get less flexible by doing hundreds (Hundreds? Yes, hundreds.) of pull-ups, push-ups, squats, thrusters, dips, muscle-ups, et cetera, et cetera.

Good thing we are not practicing Yoga to get more flexible, right?



6. More Strength
Maybe you trade off a bit of flexibility — for a period of time.

You will, however, get stronger.

If you've never done resistance training, like I hadn't, you will get a shit-ton stronger.

Your maximal strength, strength-endurance, and endurance will increase (though these last two will diminish when you stop practicing Crossfit). 

7. Enjoy Yourself
Ashtanga Yoga's not so hard. Neither is Crossfit.

I mean, they're both challenging, and some days are like a warm, effortless shower and some are like a root canal, but that's not unique to either discipline.

A serious-as-death attitude doesn't help, either on the mat or in the gym. Plus those people aren't as much fun to be around.

So go ahead and enjoy yourself, both on the mat and in Crossfit.


Sorry, nothing at the moment about more Crossfit/Yoga crossover (doublecross?).

I recently discovered Eddie Stern, director of Ashtanga Yoga New York, runs a blog.

I know, I know: get a late pass!

Anyway, Mr. Stern's blog is, as you would expect, essential reading.

Of note was an article on Pattabhi Jois called "Hoysala Brahmin," reprinted on the AYNY blog from Mr. Stern's magazine Namarupa.

I highly recommend Namarupa. It is bar none among the very best Yoga magazines, though to call it a magazine does it a great disservice as it's more of a journal.

The first several issues were in print, and last I heard they'd gone to downloadable PDF and print-on-demand. It's a great read. Check out for more.

Mr. Stern's article "Hoysala Brahmin" is a fantastic story about the rich social, religious, and spiritual context in which Pattabhi Jois grew up and which, in turn, informed his teaching of Ashtanga Vinyasa.

I've excerpted two paragraphs below. It's important to know that Pattabhi Jois was a Hoysala Karnatkan and a Smarta Brahmin.

"[T]hough Shankaracharya is known as an Advaitin – following a philosophy which is commonly associated with a formless, nameless and unthinkable conception of the Absolute his followers in India, the Smartas, engage in the elaborate worship of several deities for the sake of generating devotion, love and surrender, that create the quality of mind needed for subtle contemplation. They choose an object – an object of devotion – and through the linking of the mind and heart, bring their consciousness into a state of concentration."

"When we look at Guruji’s system, we should understand that the yoga he taught was grounded in the body first and foremost, for we are embodied beings, and we should not negate this fact of our existence. His enthusiasm for yoga, however, was not simply physical – the physical is the gateway."

Check out the entire article on the AYNY blog.

Friday, August 26, 2011


I received a great question from Matthew, who asks:

"I read the book Yoga Body by Singleton. The entire last chapter seems to try to disprove the validity of the order of the series in our style. How do you feel about that? I don't care whether or not the Yoga Korunta is responsible for the order of the postures, but I feel that there is a wonderful logic to it because of the way my body responds. I used to do "arbitrary" yoga and it doesn't come close in effectiveness for me. What are your thoughts on this matter?"

My response:

I don't feel Singleton's book disproves the validity of the various series of Ashtanga Vinyasa, nor does it raise questions about its efficacy.

What the book does do, however, is pretty well demolish any link between the specific series and either Yoga practices of antiquity (as in the Vedas, Upanishads) or medieval periods (the Sutras, Pradipika, Gheranda Samhita, et al).

The Yoga scholarship of the last 15 years supports the theory that the modern body practices go no further back than modern, 20th century authors. This means we are not practicing techniques handed down in an unbroken lineage from days of yore.

Like I said, though, this does not discredit the efficacy or power of the sequences, or of practicing a set, determined series.

Rather, it means we have to acknowledge they, like all practices, have evolved to meet our needs and conditions as they are now.

What's more, this idea frees us from the notion that we are simply and merely trying to recreate some ancient yogi's experience.

I hope this is useful to you.

Enjoy your practice!

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I saw the following on John Gruber's Daring Fireball this morning: "Stanley Kubrick in his 1968 interview with Playboy: The most terrifying fact of the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light." I submit that what Kubrick refers to here as a "fact" — that the universe is inherently "indifferent" — is nothing more than the meaning he himself has ascribed. I also suggest that we can expand out Kubrick's perspective to view three possible perspectives, postures or "seats" (asanas) one can take on the universe: 1. The universe is against us. This is the belief that the forces of the universe are deeply inimical, antithetical, or opposed to our desires, dreams, and very being. I have known people like this in my life (for example, my own brother) and have, at times embodied this view myself. Ah, the teenage years, when I thought, in alphabetical order, that Bierce, Bukowski, Camus, Celine and Sartre, among others, had really figured it all out, and were offering the best way of thinking about my life. There is a victim mentality that seems to accompany this posture. This asana reminds me of Abel, of Cain and Abel fame, a story that, among other things, tells us that there are predators and there are victims. One of life's questions then becomes, which one are you? 2. The universe is indifferent to us. Kubrick's quote above is typical of this view, though it seems to me there's underlying this asana is the idea that the universe is in fact a "vast darkness." It also seems this view is typical of what's considered the modern Western materialist view — that the universe is reducible to tiny components that inhabit a separate space through which we move. On a mythic level, I think of Sisyphus: we are here to roll the rock up the hill again and again, an inherently futile effort, yet one in which we must find beauty and meaning. 3. The universe supports us. As emanations of the universe, the "one turning," we are in fact not and never separate from everything else. Different, yes; separate, no. From the perspective of this asana, we are here to move in synchrony with and to participate in it. In this way a Yoga practice becomes the practice of not freeing ourselves from life or overcoming it. Ram, Sita and Hanuman embody this: conditional love, unconditional love, and the agent that re-unifies them, each moving according to their capacities, desires and duties. I think it's important to know how your system of Yoga addresses these postures, as each one does so differently. To look at these three views as asanas is helpful, as the implication of a consciously chosen seat implies personal choice and the power of our intention and attention. Which of the three views do you choose to invest in, knowing that in turn, this view will inform and infuse your life? I think it's also possible to hold opposing seats at different times, too. What situations cause fluctuations in your asana? Family, work, relationships? For example, how does spending an afternoon at the DMV (to choose one of my favorite examples) affect your asana? To return to Stanley Kubrick: his perspective, that of the vast indifference of the universe, infused his films, from Dr. Strangelove and Barry Lyndon to The Shining and Full Metal Jacket. So while his films are among those I respect, admire and am moved by, I find I can't love them like I love Truffaut (and not Godard), Renoir, Pasolini, Anderson.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I came across copies of Sir John Woodroffe’s books Sakti and Sakta, Kundalini Yoga, and Mahanirvana Tantra back in 2006 at the Community Resource Center in Encinitas.

The CRC is one of my favorite thrift stores in the world, if only because the books were (and, to my knowledge, still are) between $1 and $2, which means I spent $4.50 for all three.

It wasn't until this year, however, that I finally got around to reading these dense and weighty books. They are chock full of gems. I’ve been especially inspired by Woodroffe’s analysis of the differences and similarities between Samkhya Yoga, Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta, and Shakta Tantrism.

One of Woodroffe’s explications of an aspect of Mantra Sadhana, or practice, was especially relevant to those of us who practice the breath/movement-based practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa:
“Japa is recital of Mantra ... One of the great Mantras is the physical act of breathing. As this is done of itself so many times a day, now through the right, and then through the left nostril automatically, it is called the Ajapa Mantra — that is, the mantra which is said to be without Japa or willed effort on man’s part.”
(page 454, Sakti and Sakta)
As Dr. Douglas Brooks has mentioned, to add the prefix “a” before a Sanskrit word often means “not” or “without.”

So to add an "a" to “vidya” or knowledge, for example, turns the word into its opposite, “avidya,” or ignorance.

However, occasionally, as in the case of japa/ajapa above, the prefix “a” can also mean “never without.”

Dr. Brooks cited “ghora” and “aghora.” If ghora means terrifying, why then is Kali, considered the most terrifying, called aghora? She is not "without terror." In this instance, she is “never without” absolute terror.

As Woodroffe states, the breath is considered Ajapa because it is continuous, and we are “never without.”

In the Ashtanga Vinyasa system, the volume of the breath is turned up ever so slightly using the ujjayi breath technique, and as a result, attention comes to one place. In so doing, the breath comes to have specific meaning and intentionality during the time we have chosen to turn up on our Yoga mats.

The Japa of the ujjayi breath allows engagement in Nyasa. As Woodroffe says:
“Nyasa ... means the “placing” of the hands of the worshipper on different [body parts], imagining at the same time that thereby the corresponding parts of the body of her Istadevata are being there placed. It terminates with a movement, 'spreading' the Divinity all over the body.”
(page 454, Sakti and Sakta)
The idea that the asanas, and the transitions between them, are the process of the "meaningful application" — or vi-nyasa — of my intentions and Japa onto my body is one that adds an expansive and progressive richness to my own Ashtanga Vinyasa practice.

Woodroffe is quick to observe that Brahman/Absolute/Source/Istadevata — or the archetype, quality, or icon of choice — is, of course, not something that can be physically spread:
“[W]hat may be and is spread is the mind of the worshipper, who by his thought and act is taught to remember and realize that she is pervaded by Divinity, and to affirm this by bodily gesture.”
(page 454, Sakti and Sakta)

Saturday, August 13, 2011


An Ashtanga practitioner named Norman Blair has written a three-part op-ed on Ashtanga Vinyasa that's now on Elephant Journal. 

Two narrative strands run throughout the piece. The first is Blair's disenchantment with Ashtanga Vinyasa as a vehicle to get him where he thought it might take him, a presentation of the model of enlightenment to which he subscribes.

The second strand is Blair's criticism of Ashtanga Vinyasa both as a system and as the current lineage-holders, Sharath and Saraswati, are carrying it forth.

I was disappointed that his discussion of the latter are full of speculation, rumor, and the re-presentation of third- or fourth-hand quotes, stories, and oft-repeated Ashtanga Vinyasa cliches.

So while he introduces general quotes about the nature of practice from people like, for example, the Zen Buddhist Dogen and a Tibetan Buddhist monk, Blair's criticism of Ashtanga lacks the citation of any sources, the attribution of any direct quotes, and any of the statistics to support any of his more serious claims.

For example, a teacher of Ashtanga Vinyasa broke someone's femur? Really? Who, when, and how? The practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa breaks knees? How many, how frequently, and in comparison to what other systems of Yoga?

In effect, how do I know that any of the anonymous quotes or sentiments he uses were in fact made by real, valid, and most importantly, sane people? There's absolutely no context.

What's more, in any statements that might be taken as critical of Sharath and Saraswati, Blair engages in verbal distancing and does not directly mention them, the Mysore Jois Center, or the Jois Centers now opening worldwide.

The Box: Being Outside, Looking Inside: An Ashtanga Story

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


This is where the magic happens. The magic, and the suffering.
“Jason? Is that you?” Ben, an acquaintance from Near East Yoga, leaned his head into the gym door and squinted at me.

I was in the middle of a workout — to be precise, I was in the middle of a practice session — at Crossfit Portland.

It's a typical Crossfit gym. There are pull-up bars along one wall, ropes and gymnastic rings hanging from the ceiling, and racks of barbells and bumper weight plates.

A class was in the middle of a row/clean-and-jerk workout, so barbells were clanging and people were grunting on the rowers.

Back in winter 2006, during Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practices, I tore the meniscus in first my right and then my left knee.

So in spring 2007 I had both knees scoped, about a month apart. I had 25% of the meniscus scraped out of the right knee and 20% from the other. The surgery was ridiculously easy, as much as you can ever say that of surgery. I pretty much limped out of the operating theater within an hour of the 90-minute procedure, and two weeks later I walked down the aisle at my wedding.

The scarring, swelling, and stiffness lingered, though.

Meanwhile, for many years my close friend Nate had bugged me to try this thing called “Crossfit.” was a Web site that posted daily workouts, and Nate’s older brother, a Navy SEAL, had trained this way for years. They both swore by the system.

People around the world would perform the workouts and then post their weights lifted and times recorded in the comments section of the site.

The workouts themselves were high-volume intervals that blended rudimentary gymnastics movements (push-up, pull-up, dip, muscle-up, air squat), the Olympic lifts, powerlifts, and anaerobic and aerobic work, such as running, rowing, or jumping rope.

Crossfit founder Greg Glassman had defined overall fitness as sustained power output, or “the ability to move large loads long distances over time,” and the workouts were designed to increase this ability.

I wanted to do something to help heal and strengthen my knee, and I didn’t know the first thing about working out on my own, so I took a group class at Crossfit Portland in fall 2007. At the time, the gym was just a small room in the corner of the Academy of Kung Fu in Southeast Portland.

I believe my first workout involved five sets of five deadlifts (5x5), followed by a workout called “Christine”: a 500 meter row, followed by 12 bodyweight deadlifts, followed by 21 box-jumps, repeated 3 times as fast as possible.

I had done interval work/lung-death during hard chaingang road-bike rides before, so I was used to the lung-bursting aspect of the interval work.

However, I had never lifted a weight in my life, nor rowed, nor done pull-ups — any of it. I found that I liked it. More than that, I liked Scott, the owner of the place. Over time I've come to be great friends with him and the other owners, his wife Rochelle, and Xi Xia.

They weren’t jocks, they weren’t aggro, they weren’t meat-heads, and they weren’t dicks — all associations I’d had since high school about sports, athletics, and athletes in general.

If I hadn’t loved riding a skateboard I would’ve been driven to it anyway, simply because I had poor experiences with high-school athletics, in that, at least at James Robinson High School in Fairfax, Virginia, the jocks were fucking douchebags.

I also greatly liked the community feel of the Crossfit classes. Everyone sweated, strove, suffered and triumphed together. There were no hamsters-on-treadmills-watching-TV as at the many gyms where I taught Yoga. It was a lot like a Mysore or led Yoga class, as both touched the same desire for connection and conversation (or Yoga!) that we all have.

So, beginning in fall 2007 and until roughly winter 2009, I began practicing Crossfit two to three times a week.

An established and long-time Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice really helped me in certain areas. I had an active, usable flexibility in many areas. It meant I spent less muscular energy on exercises like overhead squats, toes-to-bar, L-sits, or squats.

I had also always considered my shoulders and back “stiff,” but practicing Crossfit in a group let me see just how much the concepts of “stiffness” and “flexibility” are absolutely and utterly context- and goal-based.

Basically, in Crossfit, flexibility was not a pursuit in and of itself. It was only a variable to be considered when practicing or performing a movement. This viewpoint coincides greatly with my appreciation for Ashtanga Vinyasa, in which flexibility is the means and not the end.

I also found I had a fair amount of proprioception, meaning I was able to pick up certain movements fairly quickly. As they say, “Flexibility breeds skill.”

Unfortunately, as far as effort goes, greater flexibility and proprioception were irrelevant. To paraphrase three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, “You don’t suffer less — you just go faster.”

So although I was able to quickly figure out certain movements efficiently, and my flexibility meant I had much less muscle resistance, it just meant I could do more reps. I was still pushed to my limits.

When I say "more reps," don’t mistake me. I was only ever a sub-par or mediocre (at best) Crossfitter. Towards the end of my Crossfit days, I was able to perform at least most of the bodyweight-only exercises with decent proficiency and mediocre times.

I finally worked up to several (but not all) workouts with the recommended barbell weights, such as “Diane,” which is 21-15-9 reps of 225-pound deadlift and handstand push-ups, though I want to say my best time for that was 10 minutes. Many guys typically do it in 3 or less.

I feel like I had a good sense of how to regulate, lengthen, and employ the breath for whatever effort was required, whether it was a short, sharp explosive exhale in a max-effort lift, a rhythmic in-out during lots of push-ups, or a deep belly breathing between rounds to help bring down my heart-rate in order to recover.

These techniques didn’t always work or work well — part of the point of Crossfit is to push you to the point where your systems break down to expose weakness. So don’t misunderstand me: the workouts could be hard and grueling.

Years of smooth and steady breath-movement vinyasa had also utterly detrained my fast-twitch muscle fibers. I had to relearn and practice any explosiveness or speed. Both my wife and I did these ridiculous graceful and balletic slow-motion burpees, absolutely at odds with the purpose of the exercise.

Finally and quite obviously, the most glaring lack of carryover from a Yoga practice was an utter lack of strength. I could handle most of the bodyweight exercises okay, as when I started, I weighed in at a near-starved 140ish pounds.

However, when it was time to move a fixed weight, I was a total novice. I was weak.

The press, the back squat, the deadlift, the snatch, the clean and jerk: I began all of these as a pure beginner, with entry-level weights.

This was humbling because, as most of us know, Ashtanga Vinyasa can be hard, tiring, and sweaty. I often left the Yoga studio and felt I had just worked hard.

Unfortunately, there was little to no carryover in this regard.

The Ashtanga Vinyasa did nothing for muscular endurance, either. All these years of chaturanga dandasanas did not carry over in any way toward performing 20 push-ups, for example.

Also, years of daily pranayama might’ve expanded my lung capacity, but it had done nothing for my use of that lung capacity. Meaning, I still struggled during intense bursts of strength and after 500-meter rows or 400-meter sprints.

I speculate that a seasoned Ashtanga Vinyasa practitioner can perform several of the Ashtanga series with their heart rate at between 100 and 120 beats-per-minute.

So it was absolutely revelatory for me to back-squat a heavy weight 10 times, drop the barbell, then sprint for 400 meters, my heart-rate pinned at 180.

To use a subtle energy-body map with workouts like that, they opened and used radically different nadis than I had been accustomed to.

Crossfit provided did provide some great benefits, too. It greatly aided in rehabbing my knee. I strengthened and supported all the muscles, ligaments, and tendons around, above, and below the joint.

I felt that Bulgarian split squats, back and front squats, single-leg deadlifts, and standard deadlifts really helped.

The Crossfit system tends to pair exercises that work complementary muscle groups. The workouts are generally arranged to work different energy systems as well, which let you work harder and longer than if it had been related muscle groups.

For example, a pull exercise is paired with a push, and then followed by a low-body heart-stopper such as box-jumps or sprints.

The system also favors exercises that strengthen the posterior chain, as in back, glutes, and hamstrings. I believe exercises built around both of these principles cleaned up a couple small but persistent injuries. Specifically, kettlebell swings and glute-ham raises (GHRs) really sorted my low back.

In a much larger sense, Crossfit helped me realize the true importance that strength plays in health, longevity and performance. I got a bit stronger and I felt better, both during Yoga practice and just walking around. Of course, I've also gained 15 pounds.

Crossfit really made me appreciate the various active flexibility components built into the Primary Series. For adults, merely increasing your passive flexibility is not the smartest, safest, or even efficient way to become more “flexible.”

The key, which is a by-product in the intelligent application of the Primary Series, is to get stronger and more flexible at the same.

The practice of Crossfit also led me to greatly appreciate my own unique cycles of effort-adapt-recovery. I began to notice this cycle in my own asana and even pranayama practice.

Crossfit training worked best when it followed the following classic formula: build a foundation or base, follow it with hard efforts, then reduce or back off. This always resulted in super-compensation or break-through.

That formula as transposed to traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa would be: accumulation, or to work “pose by pose” or “one by one”; intensification, or the addition of a new pose; and finally, reduction, or Moon Day, weekend, or holiday.

This explained why I frequently felt stronger after a few days off.

I don’t have a perfect application of these principles to the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice, but understanding them has led me to better understand and work with my energy levels and experiences on the mat.

Still, Crossfit didn’t help the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice in all ways.

I would feel immediate loss of range-of-motion (flexibility) during and after some of their notorious high-rep or high-rep and loaded movements.

For example, after “Angie,” which is 100 pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups and squats for time, my pec minor and pecs in general really shortened to the new range of movement.

After any workout with thrusters (a barbell front-squat push-press) my hip flexors would noticeably shorten and my Hanumanasana depth decreased.

I personally have never been an immediate and gifted back-bender, so I had to be diligent about maintaining that area of flexibility.

Often I would intend to practice backbends after a Crossfit workout, but this didn’t always happen, often because I was so smashed.

The fatigue from three or four Crossfit workouts a week often added a richness and depth to my practice.

This fatigue, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and neural drain forced me to reframe why I practiced Ashtanga Vinyasa as well as how I could practice it when I couldn’t lift my arms over my head or walk up a flight of stairs, let alone practice an entire sequence.

The relationship between Ashtanga Vinyasa and Crossfit was reciprocal. The practice of samyama, or pratyahara, dharana, dhayana, and samadhi was possible during the short and intense workouts, though not as much during 20-minute or longer workouts.

Certain Crossfit skills, once learned, were simple enough that I was in no danger of muscular or aerobic failure, and the workouts were short enough and timed, which meant I couldn’t dissociate from my body, as I’ve experienced on long bike rides or runs.

Attention was immediate and total. Concentration would subside into contemplation, and absorption would arise. During some workouts and then immediately after there would be the experience of a luminous clarity.

My good friend David Kennedy laughed when I told him that I really liked the flush of health and vitality that accompanied back-squatting. “You think the only way to wake up kundalini is to wear a turban and do funny breathing?” he asked.

It’s like, duh. Of course a universal and pervasive energy isn’t beholden to specific culturally derived techniques.

Don’t tell the Kundalini Yoga people, but that energy arises under a barbell as well as it does performing ustrasana or bhastrika breathing.

Another huge revelation I had during hard efforts was the immediate and somatic confrontation of fear, of failure, and of the unknown.

Personally, it was revelatory to gaze over the edge of absolute muscular and aerobic shut-down.

This to me is similar to a Yoga practice. Not that in Yoga we barf on our mats! At least, I don’t. No, it’s more living with an emotion or thought long enough for it to wear thin and be exposed for what it really is: an emotion or thought.

Some of the workouts also dramatically expanded my horizon as to what I consider difficult, even what I consider possible.

For example, I used to consider the limits of physicality the Sunday led Intermediate series class in Mysore and at Tim’s Encinitas studio.

Spending time under a barbell, though, or doing a “Full Mission Profile,” or any of these other “mental toughness” workouts really expanded my sense of what was really “difficult.”

They drove home one of Pattabhi Jois’ constant points: “Body not stiff! Mind stiff!” A lot of my perceptions of my abilities turned out to be just that — perceptions.

These workouts and this training really made me okay with doing what I could do.

During a 100-percent effort or a max-effort attempt on a barbell lift, often there was literally nothing else physically I was able to do. That was absolutely okay. I put forth honest, sincere effort, and then let go. I simply tried to never quit. To paraphrase Krishnamacharya, “Do the Yoga that can be done!”

Eventually, though, by winter 2009, I began to lean into my passions and interests and away from Crossfit.

Once I learned the movements and the novelty wore off, I realized there was also a routine to it. I didn’t have an event or activity to train for, and without that, Crossfit was just a numbers-collecting game: add one more pull-up to my max, add 10 more pounds to my press, 10 more pounds to my deadlift, ad infinitum.

So, on that day Ben poked his head into Crossfit Portland, I wasn't actually doing Crossfit. I was doing my recent physical practice, of which I’ll write more later.

I wrote this for two reasons. The first was because, some days after Ben saw me, his girlfriend asked my wife Tara, “Does out?”

The novelty, minutiae, and exhiliration of the Ashtanga Vinyasa sequences can be profound, stirring and all-consuming.

It’s important to remember, though, that the asana sequences are not the be-all, end-all of physical expression and/or personal devotion.

I also found Crossfit to address fundamental physical, emotional, and psycho-spiritual needs that the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice and culture either ignored or disdained.

The first of these needs was pure physical exertion. Ashtanga Vinyasa is derived from Smarta Brahmin culture, and so there is a veneer, however thin, that physical exertion is lower caste and class.

Group physical exertion also opens the door to competitiveness, aggression, and anger — but also absorption, ecstasy, compassion, and empathy.

In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga culture, and in Yoga culture in general, we seem intent to play up those latter qualities while ignoring the former, even though they are a fundamental part of human experience.

My understanding is that one of the many questions that Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga asks is not, “How can I get rid of aggression, anger and competitiveness?” but rather, “How can I savor, use skillfully, and work with those qualities?”

So I'm thankful I was exposed to Crossfit. I'm tremendously grateful for the friend's I've made through it.

It has also really made me appreciate the beauty, subtlety and simplicity of the breath-movement that is Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. It's fun to leap around like a spastic monkey, but the breath-work and the internal focal points, as well as the connection to people of the same interest, are what draw me back to my Yoga mat.