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.