Friday, March 18, 2011


I had a brief FB conversation with Lisa (and Charles) about how to start, build, and grow Mysore-style classes, and then I was ranting and raving at poor Andrew and Jess the other night about Ashtanga Vinyasa taught in the Mysore-style. Like, for-real ranting.

My experience practicing and transmitting has been a continual reaffirmation that to show the Ashtanga Vinyasa sequence, one posture at a time, suited and scaled to each person's physical and mental conditions at that very moment, is the best way to teach a Yoga asana practice.

Look, we can get into the issue of whether the Primary Series is the most ideal sequence for that person, and we can also get into the shadow aspects of the Primary Series, as well as the implicit assumptions and belief structure woven throughout. But still, this shit really works.

1. Get a space.
To find a satisfactory space is very tricky. This might be the second most difficult part of hosting, holding, facilitating or, god help me, teaching Ashtanga Vinyasa in the Mysore style.

A lot of people just rent a storefront or warehouse space. This means signing a lease as well as a series of other issues with which I have no experience, such as parking, insurance, renovation, maintenance, front desk and employee management, retail, etc., etc.

A lot of the older Mysore studios in the States were in shadier or run-down neighborhoods, simply because floor space was cheap. The Ashtanga Yoga Center in downtown Encinitas, It's Yoga in SOMA in SF, Yoga Works on Third Street in Santa Monica, Ashtanga Yoga Los Angeles in Los Feliz then Silverlake, Ashtanga Yoga New York, as well as tons of others. Some of those places stuck around long enough to watch their neighborhoods gentrify.

I practiced with Noah and Kimberley at their first space, on Sunset in LA. It had cement floors onto which I poured copious amounts of sweat. I believe the place had been a hair salon or barber shop, because when I left I had 8 pounds of hair trimmings glued to my mat.

The actual physical requirements for a Mysore space are small. It's just a room. Thank god we practice a style of yoga that doesn't require elaborate props, such as these belt-and-wall contraptions I've seen at some studios, as well as elaborate blocks, bolsters and blankets. Sure the props are helpful, just not a necessity.

The best yoga prop I use is an old fold-up massage mat that Kristin, a long-time yoga practitioner, donated. The only "yoga" prop I would ever buy is a Swedish ladder or Stal bars.

We have at Yoga Pearl, where Portland Ashtanga Yoga is hosted, stacks of various blocks. I'm not adverse to using them as the situation arises, though I don't see them as essential.

So if you want to rent your own space, you can sign the lease. You might want or need to put down a wood floor, which would then be the main expense.

There are other ways to find studio space, though, some of which might more organically serve the current needs of your community, which, let's face it, might be five people.

I've practiced at many different places during my global vagabondage. Maybe some of these locations might ring a bell with you.

Yoga studios are the obvious go-to. Once, when I traveled to Michigan, I rang the local studio and paid a drop-in to use their space during an open slot. It's not a far cry to then offer to rent the space each morning to hold Mysore class.

Some other places I've practiced that you might consider leasing: Pilates studios (we had to move the "reformer" machines out of the way each morning), climbing gyms, boxing gyms, martial arts studios, dance studios (the mirrors are always a bummer), the Sandcastle Room and the buffet room at the Encinitas Best Western (cigarette smoke in the carpet in the former, breakfast crumbs in my mat in the latter), living rooms in Tokyo and Mysore, of course, as well as on an enclosed roof-top at Monica's house in Auroville.

Regardless of dirt, mosquitoes, carpet, mirrors, or croissant crumbs, hopefully the space is warm, safe and available daily.

2. Let people know about it.
I have the firm conviction that not everyone will want to practice Ashtanga Vinyasa in the Mysore style. But a lot of people come home to this practice as though it were a long-lost friend.

Those people need to know about it.

The obvious outlet is the Internet. Do not waste your time or money with print ads. Register a web-site for $10 on Google Sites, or get a free blogspot, and put up the particulars: time, location, cost, maybe a brief description of what you offer and of Ashtanga Vinyasa and the Mysore-style.

Get that shit on Facebook. You could also try Craig's List. It's free, so why not? (I've never done this, so let me know how it goes.)

For meatspace promotion, you could always flier New Age bookstores (if you've got one) as well as coffee shops.

Finally, maybe the most important detail of all, if you've attended teacher trainings or workshops, tell everyone with whom you attended that you're hosting a space.

In fact, tell everyone you know, period.

Word of mouth is huge.

3. Show up every day.
This may be the most difficult part of hosting a Mysore space. Constancy is the queen of kings. Constancy is also gnarly. But to grow your community, you've got to show up every day, or as you've scheduled. Be present with the people in the room. Be active. Be engaged, whether there're two people or 50.

As a teacher, a Mysore class hums and crackles with more people than fewer. However, I always feel that regardless of how many turn up to practice — and I've taught Mysore class with 2 people and with 65 — these people woke up early, established their intention and their commitment, turned up at the studio, and unrolled their mat(s). I try to meet that intention and commitment with my own.

Just something to be prepared for.

4. No really, show up every day!
This is not a workshop, a retreat, or a hobby. A Mysore class is every day. Be ready for that! It can also be an additional physical demand. In my case, I am moving around constantly for three hours a pop.

Physical burnout is a real issue, and a key symptom of physical over-reaching is mental and emotional fatigue. I can tell when I'm frying out because my desire to get on the mat evaporates.

I define "over-reaching" as when my physical output has outstripped my recovery. The one-on-one exchange of energy in a Mysore setting can be intense and, if you're not careful, enervating instead of innervating.

Personally, I also have my own Ashtanga Vinyasa practice that I tend, as well as other physical pursuits and interests. I try to be careful when I dial up the intensity of each, and I try to get enough sleep and food.

My personal strategy thus far has been to plan or program chunks of time away from the studio once every month or six weeks. This has been a process, though, and not a fixed schedule. The moon days really help in this instance. I try to plan a trip if the moon days fall on several Saturdays.

I also think there's a lot of value if you can offer a Mysore class Monday thru Friday, or even Sunday through Friday, although I know conditions vary.

5. Stick to your guns.
The longer I've done this, the more I've come to realize that it's the rules, boundaries and limitations that we agree on that add depth, value, and ultimately meaning to our practices.

I teach the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga pose-by-pose because I've seen again and again that it's the best, safest, most approachable way to learn it.

If someone is interested in exploring their own sequence or another style of yoga, there are other studios in Portland that are better suited to their needs.

I believe this works best for almost everyone, so I try to explain it to them in this way. If they're interested in practicing, great. If not, then, as I said, there are other studios that can help them.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Fellow yogini Ghretta Hynd (and yogi husband Rick and daughter Macy) has graciously agreed to host a "spring" potluck on Sunday, April 10!

Will it be spring by then? Who knows. 

Either way, the usual applies: bring either a food item of your choosing, or just your company.

Significant others as well as children are welcome!

It will run noon-3 p.m.


4223 NE 18th Street
Portland, 97211

Friday, March 11, 2011


Note: I haven't posted here in eons as I'm working on a book, of which the first draft is now complete! Cheers.

I love the practice of yoga asana, so much that quite frequently I drop in at classes around Portland or whichever town I'm in (Bend, Los Angeles, Encinitas, San Diego, et al). I also attend workshops as often as my time, budget and personal interest allow. For example, in January I dropped in at an Anusara workshop by Sianna Sharman here in Portland.

I do all this that I might hear a teacher's wonderful turn of phrase, watch their presentation, or experience their asana sequence. I also like to simply practice with a group of like-minded people drawn together in mutual interest.

There's a lot to refract back through my own daily practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa. It's compelling to me to see and feel the similarities and differences between systems, and to consider what works for me, what doesn't, and why.

I'm not going to talk right now about the fundamental differences between Ashtanga Vinyasa and other systems; rather, I want to focus on the physical presentation of asanas.

The various "key" teachers of the different traditions all observed common physical tendencies in the people performing asanas, and almost all have responded by systemizing alignment cues as to what's "correct" and "incorrect."

These cues are often quite different, though they're all trying to achieve similar goals, whether it's to protect the lumbar spine, the shoulders and wrists, or the knees.

I've heard several variations of cues for chaturanga dandasana. Chaturanga dandasana means "four-limbed staff" in Sanskrit, though you may take comfort and hilarity in that "danda" has also been noted as slang for penis. 

This pose is ostensibly the near-bottom portion of a push-up. The two most strident directions I've received have been:

1.) Keep the upper arm just above parallel. 
2.) Never let the upper arm descend below parallel.

One of Ashtanga Vinyasa's greatest strengths is this lack of directives like these, although this disinterest in anatomy can cast quite a large shadow. Still, a one-size-fits-all approach ignores individual anthropometry, or specific bone and joint characteristics.

I've questioned these cues for chaturanga dandasana for a while because I have trained daily with guys who have performed dozens to hundreds of full-range, chest-to-floor push-ups on a regular basis, many of them for at least a decade. Basically I've observed a population of guys doing with no ill effects what many yoga teachers might consider anathema.

During chaturanga dandasana the hand is fixed and can't move, so the pose is what's called nowadays a closed-chain movement. If the pose is done correctly, musculature is triggered sequentially through the legs, trunk, and the scap muscles. The pose should activate and strengthen your serratus anterior; our friend the serratus anterior works with lower and upper trap to upwardly rotate the scapula.

As you lower from the top of the plank down to chaturanga, you'll get both "core" stability training and proprioception as you resist gravity's attempt to pull your lumbar spine or low back into an arch or extension. It's also a great proprioceptive exercise for the shoulder girdle. 

Chaturanga dandasana ought to help you gain an active range of motion and make you stronger. These are good things. It can be a great asana to perform to maintain or improve shoulder health.

However, poor movement patterns or weakness in this chain caused by poor scap stabilization can contribute to shoulder injuries.

What do these movement patterns or weaknesses look like? If your hips and low back sag to the floor, you're gonna arch your upper back, and your shoulder blades will hike up and tilt forward. This is gonna impinge your rotator cuff. This is not good. This also means you're using your pecs and not your serratus anterior, which is what we want.  

Your shoulder girdle works best when its muscles work together to do their jobs. In the case of the rotator cuff, one of its main jobs is to keep the head of the humerus centered in the glenoid fossa.

I take a simple approach. Do what you need to do to maintain this.

This works best in a Mysore-style setting, where a teacher can watch someone's chaturanga dandasana and then make suggestions tailored to that person's specific needs.

For example, one way to scale down surya namaskar is to use scapula chaturangas, in which the person holds an engaged plank with straight arms. They would inhale and retract the scaps, exhale and protract them, and then, still exhaling, move to downward dog.

Scaling might also mean quarter-chaturangas or half-chaturangas, as the person moves through whatever range they're able to maintain a stable, centered arm position.

It also might mean hands by waist, chest a quarter-inch off the floor — chest below upper arms. Heresy, right? As long as the arm remains centered. Also, hips shouldn't sag, and don't lead with the chin! Meaning the chest would hit the ground first, not the chin or the hips.

Personally, nowadays I like my hands near my waist and my elbows, rather than hugging my sides, out a bit less than 45 degrees (like 30). I also try to actively pull myself down to the bottom, chest almost reaching the floor. I experimented for a while with hands turned to the sides, and also the hands turned completely backwards, which torched my biceps and made for an interesting transition to upward-facing dog.

There's a wide range of possibilities for the way this pose can look dependent on the person's features and their current strength levels.

I teach both led and Mysore-style classes, so I appreciate the need for blanket alignment statements designed to decrease overall risk (and therefore teacher liability), though it's a scattergun approach at best — short on details in order for maximum coverage. The verbal cues in many systems are designed to hit the middle of the class' bell curve. People at either end of the curve are either under- or over-challenged.

A led class is a great way to learn a system and to challenge the dozens (hundreds?) or personal tics and nuances in your personal yoga practice. But to learn one-on-one, pose-by-pose, is really the best, healthiest way to learn Ashtanga Vinyasa, or any system of yoga.