Friday, December 28, 2012

HANDSTANDS & STIFF SHOULDERS

Left: Iyengar and the antique. Right: Yuval and the modern.
First, about the photo above. I emailed my friend Yuval Ayalon for permission to use the montage /assemblage he created. Yuval was a National-level competitive gymnast, and now performs as a generalist in the Le Reve Circus at Las Vegas' Wynn Casino.

Yuval responded, "Oh, you mean the duet photo?" 

It was a delightful response, and typical of Yuval. To him, to place the photos side by side both displays and honors different approaches to handstand practice.

Handstands do not make your shoulders stiff.

In fact, an active "modern" handstand both requires and builds active shoulder flexibility. The anterior and lateral delts as well as the trapezius (as well as pec minors and musculature around lat-tri insertion) must be flexible enough to achieve 180 degrees of flexion with no spinal extension.

I first heard the arch-y/banana handstand called "antique" by  equilibre master Lu Yi of the San Francisco Circus School. A student inquired about a curve-y, Yoga-style handstand.

"Yes yes, very pretty!" he said. "Like antique!"

What do I mean when I say "flexible"?

The concept of "flexibility" never exists separately from context, which is what I understand Pattabhi Jois to have meant when he used to say, "Body not stiff --- mind stiff!"

The sense of "flexible," as well as the "I" that owns the idea of "stiff," are only always relational and contextual.

The context for "flexible" in this case is movement --- so by "flexible enough," I mean "able to perform the requested range of motion."

What is the specific myth regarding handstands and stiff shoulders?

I believe that generally people refer specifically to difficulty with backbending.

So the criticism of handstands is not that they make your shoulders stiff (this lacks context), but rather they make your shoulders too stiff for backbends of a certain quality.

Andrey Moraru.
Based on my observations, typically gentlemen who have the upper body strength to more easily hold an "antique" handstand (see Iyengar in the photo) have developed that upper body strength and mass doing push-ups, handstand push-ups, dips, pull-ups, rope climbs, bench press, etc, etc.

So it's not so much that handstands make your shoulders stiff for backbends.

In fact, I suspect practicing a "modern" handstand will help your urdvha dhanurasana by improving active shoulder flexion while subtracting lumbar hyperextension.

I think it's more the case that men who could do handstands easily had stiff shoulders. What they lacked in shoulder flexibility they made up for with upper-body strength.

Association or even correlation are not causation.

Also, here are some movements that make shoulders "stiff," that is, will shorten range of motion of shoulder flexion by shortening the pec minors and the musculature around the lat-tri insertion: high-volume push-ups, pull-ups, rope climbs, muscle-ups ... bent-arm jump-backs and bent-arm jump-throughs ... static holds in chaturanga dandasana.

(Mostly repetitive, load-bearing, and shortened range-of-motion pulling and pressing exercises.)

Pavel is strong enough to do a straddle maltese...
These last movements --- bent-arm jump-backs and jump-throughs, and sustained chaturangas --- are a huge part of Primary Series, and of guided Primary Series classes.

What I'm suggesting is that perhaps Primary Series itself contributes to reduces shoulder flexion and therefore can reduce or limit facility in urdvha dhanurasana.

Primary Series is not designed for more than gentle back-bending (all the upward-facing dogs). For changes in backbending, as expressed by urdvha dhanurasana or kapotasana, Primary Series is much less than ideal preparation. It's better than nothing, yet let's not confuse a C-minus grade (barely passing) with an A. The Primary Series is not designed to meaningfully improve the spine and the typical limiting points, shoulders and hip flexors.

You have to ask, is Primary Series better at improving expression in those poses than, say, playing Nintendo Wii Golf, or Dance Dance Revolution, or taking a Pilates class?

... yet clearly shoulder (spinal) flexibility is not an issue.
To work within a tradition, however, means as Ashtangis we choose to follow and observe rules and limitations. We choose to focus on one thing, steadily, for a long time. By choosing a specific drishti, we choose to focus on certain practices at the expense of others.

We draw a fence around practices, techniques, and methodologies. Everything inside is Ashtanga; the practices beyond this fence are Not Ashtanga.

It's these boundaries that enrich and give meaning to our practice, because we agree to focus on this sequence, not that one, this posture, not that one.

Other practices, techniques, jargon, and sequences are not bad, or less --- they are just Not Ashtanga.

When I zoom in and focus on the borders between Ashtanga and Not Ashtanga, the fence tends to get a lot more fluid. But then clearly I am not a fundamentalist.

Personally, I practice the hell out of handstands. It is deeply rewarding for me.

However, at this time I practice them at a separate time and place from when I practice Ashtanga.

My back-bending has definitely gotten a lot less fluid and grace-filled (such as it ever was) over the last 6 months not from handstands per se but because I am practicing a lot more pressing and pulling. I'm also not practicing that many backbends because, well, for a long time my foot hurt like a motherbitch.

For now, I have cherry-picked some examples of tremendous handstand skill and strength coupled with ridiculous shoulder and spinal flexibility, just to show they are not mutually exclusive.

(Note: cherry-picked.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

MORE ON THE ASHTANGA DUCK TEST

What is the duck test?

To paraphrase Dr. Douglas Brooks, until more recent times, Ashtanga Yoga has passed the duck test of being religious --- "scriptures, concepts like revelation and ultimacy, moral imperatives," an [expert] who looks like clergy or a shamanist or an expert of a kind, "mysticism, pilgrimage [to Mysore], duck, bill, feathers, waddles, it’s a duck."

I'm not saying Ashtanga Yoga is only or merely religious, but on first glance to, say, ardent Christians --- I can see why they're aggrieved it's being taught in public schools. 

I believe they're right in their claims, too, despite my feeling that students would benefit greatly from the practice.

I would feel as uncomfortable with non-denominational prayer, too.

Friday, December 21, 2012

YOGA MUSIC

I weary of Yoga boutique music (or boutique Yoga) sometimes: Jai Uttal, Krishna Das, Deva Premal, Shantala; or on the electronic tip there's Cheb i Sabbah and Tabla Beat Science.

Earnest and heartfelt, to be sure, but I dunno. Sometimes that sweet spot is only hit by music so heavy my skull melts out my fucking ears.

Michael Stone, in one of the Centre of Gravity podcasts, mentioned that the experience of Yoga is universal, yet is only ever communicated through language, culture, society.

(I can't remember which one! I guess you'll have to listen to them all. I can recommend starting with the talks on Book 3 of the Yoga Sutras ... "The Superpowers.")

This subculture expresses Yoga through the kirtan of hypnotic cosmic doom metal.



At age 16 the band Sleep melted off my face; Om contains two guys from that band. Also of note: Shrinebuilder.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

ASHTANGA IN PUBLIC SCHOOL

Turns out some parents are complaining about Yoga classes held in a public school.

The New York Times wrote about it recently.

Ashtanga Yoga passes the duck test for religion with flying colors (if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, etc, etc).

A practice designed to allow us to "see God everywhere" would seem to violate our ideals of separation of church and state.

Even if the woman quoted in the Times piece comes across as ridiculous!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

VIA NEGATIVA & THE YAMAS

Further thoughts on Taleb's Antifragility: Things That Gain From Disorder:

Via Negativa: the removal of exposure to things that cause harm is more beneficial than adding preventative measures, safeguards, or additional supplementation.

In fact, often excessive preventative measures cause more harm, e.g. iatrogenics, when excessive medical intervention causes more harm than the original illness (i.e. going to hospital for illness and catching an infection in hospital; or over-prescription of medicines.)

This idea of Via Negativa runs through several of Patanjali's Yamas.

I find the Yamas that don't explicitly incorporate Via Negativa greatly benefit from this perspective.

Patanjali suggests to Do No Harm (Ahimsa), not Help Others.

Satya: Truthfulness; a Via Negativa approach would be Absence of Falsehood.

Asteya: Non-stealing, as opposed to a directive toward Giving.

Brahmacharya: Absence of sex, or abstinence, or celibacy.

Aparigraha: Absence of grasping, as opposed to Letting Go.

(Regarding Brahmacharya: You have to do some linguistic contortionism to arrive at any translation other than celibacy. Celibacy does not appear to be a good idea for most people (not all), and appears to reflect the Jain influence on Patanjali ((as all the Yamas are taken wholeheartedly from earlier Jain texts)).

However Brahmacharya is an important Yama as it brings front and center the complications inherent in most (not all) sexual relations.)

The takeaway for me is that many of the Yamas emphasize that it's more important to not do wrong than it is to do right.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

ASHTANGA: FRAGILE, ROBUST, OR ANTI-FRAGILE?

I'm working my way through Nassim Nicholas Taleb's latest book, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder.

I am of course considering the application of antifragile to various yoga systems and methodologies; for example, Anusara yoga was itself decidedly fragile: one rather unpredictable shock and the whole system crumbled.

Ashtanga Yoga would seem to be robust rather than antifragile. I suspect it would weather any unexpected shocks, scandals, or outrages (i.e. revelations of the usual groping guru and/or economic swindling), though I don't know that the system itself would necessarily benefit or return stronger from such shocks.

One detail of Taleb's concept seems applicable to Yoga, however: all these singular catastrophes that drive individual schools or brands of yoga into the periphery and out of relevance (Maharishi Mahesh, Satchidananda, Swami Rama, Muktananda, Kripalu, Anusara, Osho, Desikachar, the Hare Krishnas) would appear to greatly benefit the practice of Yoga as a whole.

People seem to be more aware, more sophisticated, more leery of the many pitfalls. The conversation and thinking around the guru-student relationship has changed and, one would hopes, evolved.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

LECTURE NOTES #1


I took an online course on Yoga last year given by Dr. Douglas Brooks; while in Tokyo I am re-listening to these lectures, and rereading some of the notes that accompanied them.

There is, I think, an obvious parallel between the goddess traditions and Tantric yoga practices of India's deep south and the householder-yogi "living in plain sight" as personified by Pattabhi Jois — Jois was a yogi who, rather than renounce, retreat, or withdraw from the world, fulfilled his dharma in it.

(He would be horrified to have his name associated with anything Tantric-related.)

Topic: Evolution of the Goddess tradition as it moves into the deep South; teachings of mantra

Kali expands into Sri Kula—goddesses who are Saumya ["beautiful"]

As Shiva and Kali move into the deep South, their appearances change:

Kali moves beyond the protective, horrific, and fierce

She takes on roles as princess, lover, wife, partner, consort, queen (Rajarajeshvari—queen of kings)

Kaliʼs ferocity is transformed into Bala
Bala—young child
Kumari—princess
Sumangali—wife, lover, mother
Lalita—the lovely one
Tripurasundari—presides over all triads

In the South, Kaliʼs blood is re-assimilated as the potency of power:
1. In the Kumari goddesses—in the fulfillment of the recursive energies creativity and fertility
2. In the Sumangali goddesses—potency of the self in most self-fulfilling form
3. In the Jyestha (the post-menstrual, wise woman)—subsumes everypossibility, takes on the matriarchal role

Rather than posit the tantric path as outside the boundaries of a Dharmic society, the saumya goddesses invite us to the possibility to see the transcendent within the life of the everyday life of the householder.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

IT'S OKAY TO WANT THE NEXT POSE

It's okay to want to do the next posture.

It's more than okay: it's to be expected. It's a byproduct of the practice of Mysore-style Ashtanga.

I mean, we're all in a room with umpteen people, some of whom are floating around and doing fantastic stuff.

If as the Gita suggests the yogini is one who makes the difficult look effortless (skill in action), who wouldn't want to be the floaty, jumpy, bendy yogini, who demonstrates (seeming) mastery of the postures, which we have all gathered daily to practice, often early in the morning, and at the expense of the easy path?

(That is, sleeping in.)

There is also an interesting power dynamic in a Mysore room. An authority figure, who literally physically stands above and over you, rewards your efforts by permitting you to practice another pose; this recognition occurs in front of a group of people, too.

There's probably a rich side vein of thought to explore here — for example, the last time I had to look up at someone physically for approval, recognition or physical assistance was when I was a small child looking up to my parents.

What other atavistic or elemental feelings can and does this dynamic call up?

It's also quite logical to come to the conclusion that, because the different series are linear and progressive, that the earlier poses will "unlock" the more difficult ones.

What follows might be a sense of wonder and curiosity. "If first series makes me feel like this, I wonder what second series will feel like? If pasasana feels like this, I wonder what krouncasana will feel like? I bet I could do dwi pada sirsasana — it doesn't look that hard. I wonder what it will feel like?"

This is natural, and to be expected.

Curiosity and wonder are not a problem to be solved, or a wound to be healed, or a condition to be overcome.

One perspective to adopt is that curiosity is a sthayibhava, an 'abiding emotion,' and an expression of the corresponding rasas ("flavors" or "tastes") adbhuta (wonder) and vira (the heroic).

As such, to want to do the next pose, to be curious, is a gift.

This curiosity will teach you about yourself. It may draw you to practice with more consistency. It may (god willing) help you start a conversation with your teacher. It may help you articulate why you are, in fact, practicing yoga in the first place.

"The important thing is not to stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existing.  One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.  It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.  Never lose holy curiosity." -- Albert Einstein.


Monday, December 10, 2012

ASHTANGA DOKUSAN/SANZEN

Fellow Ashtanga practitioner Angela turned me on Shinzen Young via Facebook. I have really come to enjoy his YouTube videos because he appears to speak plainly, simply, and enthusiastically, without the accumulated crust of the expert.

In the video below, he talks specifically about what he learned in sanzen with his teacher, Joshu Sasaki Roshi.

Sanzen, which people in the Rinzai sect call dokusan, is (roughly) a formal, private meeting between a Zen student and the teacher, often during a retreat or period of extended meditation.

I wonder what Ashtanga would be like with this type of formal, structured meeting. I imagine it would clear up a lot of projection, reverse-projection, and transference that can take place in the silence of the Mysore room.

Friday, December 7, 2012

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

Have you all been listening to Michael Stone's excellent podcast from his Centre of Gravity?

You ought to subscribe to it.

I'm sorry, but I can't find the talk from which I'm quoting to directly link — you'll have to listen to them all — but there was one, however, in which he stressed the importance of knowing what you want.

This is a practice that has become for me over the years a process. I would encourage it. What do you want? Why do you practice?

One of my favorite responses is from Shauna in Portland: "I practice because it makes me more patient."

For my part, my wife is my (unfortunate for her) sounding board: she gets to listen to what I want and why I practice.

The asking and answering of a question also implies a conversation between teacher and student. This is vital and important. One should have a teacher who knows you well enough to ask, "What do you want?"

Thursday, December 6, 2012

"NON-YOGIS NEED DISCIPLINE TO KEEP PRACTICING; YOGIS NEED DISCIPLINE TO STOP"

A few days ago I posted a quote from Thomas Kurz' blog regarding how to address an injury.

You can click through to read the article, called Groin Pain, or On Athletes, Pain, and Discipline.

(His book Stretching Scientifically, is one of the best on flexibility I've ever read.)

I've paraphrased and applied some of his words to specifically to an Ashtanga practice.

Non-[yogis] need discipline to keep working out; [yogis] need discipline to stop.

"Groin pain happens. It happened to one [yogi] ... who then asked me for advice on dealing with it.

[Yogis], and especially [Ashtanga yogis], have high pain thresholds and high internal motivation. Those two traits combined make [yogis] vulnerable to self-inflicted chronic injuries—near certain if the [yogis] and those directing their [practice] proceed oblivious to the signs of trauma.

Anyway, here is the [yogi's] question on dealing with his groin pain and then my advice, which applies to any pain:

Since a few months I am afflicted with pubalgia, a pain inside my groin tendons, a sort of inflammation of the inner right adductor and the inner low corner of my right abdominal muscles. I think it is beginning to heal during these last days. In those months when I felt the pain, I did fewer and fewer side splits, while continuing to do front splits and some easy early morning stretching. But I want to resume my usual [practice] with no pain anymore.

I would like you to advise me what to avoid and what to do to solve my problem. Probably I could find the answer reading articles on your website but I need prompt advice from the source. I didn’t go to a physician because generally they say to cease any exercise, do an X-ray, then therapy, but I cannot stop [practice].

Reply:

It was an error to continue doing any splits and dynamic stretches (early morning stretching) when feeling pain in your groin. You could have gotten a hernia and adductor strain. Doing splits and dynamic stretches kept irritating the inflamed tissues of your lower abdomen and inner thigh and made them weaker. You can hope it has not made them weaker permanently, but only postponed your healing. Here is my advice:

1. Do not do any [asana] that gives you any feeling in the injured side that is different from the uninjured side. 

When you have been injured, any [asana] that is not approved by a physician treating your injury, any [asana] that causes you even the lightest pain or an abnormal feeling, sets you back by weeks or months from the full recovery. It may even keep you from ever recovering. 

If you would like to never regain your full ability, all you have to do is to keep [practicing] through discomfort. Stopping [practice] and following a proper injury treatment and rehabilitation program takes discipline.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

ASHTANGA YOGA SILVER BULLET

There is no silver bullet for Ashtanga yoga.

If your back hurts, there's a good chance you pulled, sprained or strained something — muscle or god forbid ligaments or tendons.

This means there's no magic solution that will un-injure your back. No amount of Tiger Balm, deep tissue massage, Rolfing, or chiropractic adjustments will "fix" you.

They may at best mitigate some of the symptoms of your injury.

Also, no amount of Tiger Balm, deep tissue work, Rolfing, or chiropractic adjustments will significantly improve your active flexibility — that is, your ability to hold a posture for a sustained, even, and steady length of time.

In other words, there's no silver bullet that will overcome a lifetime of continually reinforced movement patterns, or a traumatic injury, or your current range of motion.

I have experienced muscular fatigue and soreness in my back — "sweet pain" — but unfortunately not from practicing Ashtanga yoga. 

I have also experienced bitter pain, which made tooth-brushing and tying my shoes quite difficult.

My suggestion and my own practice is best summed up by a paraphrase of Thomas Kurz, who has written some of the best books on the science of flexibility and training.

"Do not do any [asana] that gives you any feeling in the injured side that is different from the uninjured side...

When you have been injured ... any [asana] that causes you even the lightest pain or an abnormal feeling, sets you back by weeks or months from the full recovery. It may even keep you from ever recovering. If you would like to never regain your full ability, all you have to do is to keep [practicing] through discomfort. Stopping practice and following a proper injury treatment and rehabilitation program takes discipline."

I will post the entirety of his comments at a future date. But this is an interesting proposition to the Ashtangi — what if your back hurt, and so you felt mild pain during upward dog? How would you then practice Ashtanga yoga in a Mysore room? How do you practice Ashtanga yoga in a Mysore room if you have torqued your shoulder, and are unable to do chaturanga?

One hopes we all have the teachers with the experience to design an appropriate Ashtanga practice.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

ASHTANGA ANATOMISM

Study and understanding of anatomy can be useful and helpful.

However, beware "Ashtanga anatomism," as derived from "scientism."

Ashtanga anatomism refers to anatomical knowledge applied to one's Ashtanga practice "in excess."

Friday, October 5, 2012

BROKE HELL OUT OF MY FOOT



I broke holy hell out of my heelbone at the end of July; a piece of it was poking out of the back of my foot. This is probably old news to many.


The hospital experience was rather overwhelming. I did in fact practice Ashtanga Vinyasa in my hospital bed during the interminable waiting periods, or as I was wheeled to and from various tests, and then the operating theater, and as I lie in wait to go under.

Inhale --- tense fingers and toes; exhale --- relax.

It helped, a little, with the anxiety and the fear.


After 9 weeks of no walking, I received a walking cast last Wednesday, and of course now my foot hurts like holy hell as I relearn to walk.

During this time I chose to let go of the traditional Ashtanga postural sequences in favor of the seated practices, breathing and otherwise.

This injury really swept the pieces off the chessboard, so it's been a real gift. Can't play chess? Time to play something else. I'm grateful I'm able to just sit and take practice.

And I am so grateful for the intricate and delicate webs of attachment that bind me to my family, my friends, and my community, here in Portland and abroad.

There're some lines out of the Rig Veda --- if I'm misquoting, I hope a reader can correct me --- that suggest that only one-fourth of the universe is manifest here, while the remaining three-quarters remains abstract. Meaning the wellspring or font of creativity is always more, always greater, always plus one.

I'm continuously surprised at the ingenuity and humor and creative expression of people everywhere. Never more so than after watching this video. I wish I had seen it just out of surgery. It might have changed my perspective on asana practice. It's very inspiring, and is a testament to dedication and determination.

Oh, and we'll be heading to the Confluence in early March, with our daughter and our newborn son in tow. If you read this and are going, I can't wait to say hello. Even if we've never met. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

JULY 2012 NEWSLETTER


July 2012 Newsletter

SUMMER POT-LUCK!
Hey, it’s summer — let’s hang out!

Bring food, fam, friends and fun to Irving Park on Sunday, July 29, from 12-1:30 p.m. for our Summer 2012 Pot-luck!

Bring foods, friends, fam, and fun. Not necessarily in that order.

Please bring food you want to eat, not food you think you should want to eat in front of other yoginis.

Bonus points awarded for bringing Mommy/Daddy Juice.

Points deducted for sprouts, wheatgrass, unfermented tofu.

Also, Irving Park has water features on the playground, so you can bring your suit and your kids' suits, too.

WHEN:
Sunday, July 29, 12-1:30

WHERE:
Irving Park

BOOK RELEASE PARTY SATURDAY, AUGUST 25!
I like to practice Ashtanga Yoga, and writing about it has been one of the ways I have teased apart its nuances. Well, I compiled and released a collection of past writings called "Ashtanga Yoga: Stories from Beyond the Mat." 

The book is now available on Amazon, and the Yoga Pearl boutique will have some again shortly.

We’re going to hold a belated book release party at Yoga Pearl most likely on Saturday, August 25 — Karen (the owner) and I are hammering out the time, so dust off your party hats (and birthday suits) and stay tuned.

There will be snacks, beverages, and a selected reading.

MY BOOK ON AMAZON
DR. SHANKARANARAYANA JOIS AT PORTLAND’S AMRITA IN JULY
Amrita Yoga Studio in John's Landing is hosting Dr. K.L. Shankaranarayna Jois from July 19 to July 22.

This is a rare and wonderful opportunity to study with an "acarya" (lit. “he who knows the rules”), a spiritual teacher who has mastered a particular branch of knowledge; Dr. Jois isalso a Sanskirt Vidwan (lit. "the learned"), equivalent to a Phd.

From Amrita's description: 

"Dr. Jois off ers rare teachings and insight into the ancient Indian arts and sciences. He holds a Phd in yoga, an MA and Vidwan in Sanskrit, has practiced asana, pranayama and mudra for 6 years under the guidance of Sri Pattabhi Jois at the Maharaja’s government Sanskrit College between 1968 to 1974, and is a hereditary Vedic astrologer going back multiple generations.

A retired assistant professor of Sanskrit, Jois, called "Acharya" by students, has a keen and nuanced understanding of this ancient language."

You can attend all or part of Jois' workshop. All fees go directly to supporting Acharya and his yoga school in India, the sadvidya foundation. Consequently, Amrita is accepting a sliding-scale tuition.

I plan to attend a few of Jois' lectures, so I hope to see some of you there!

LINK: http://www.amritasanctuary.com/our-offerings/workshops/#jois

Friday, June 22, 2012

PORTLAND ASHTANGA YOGA: JUNE 2012 NEWSLETTER

1. New Sunday Mysore Time: 9-11 a.m. Starts June 24!
As of this Sunday, June 24, Sunday Mysore class will begin at 9 a.m. and finish at 11. See you there!  

2. Photographer Wanted!
I want some shots of Mysore class in the new studio space — however, the lighting situation means I need an experienced photographer. 

If anyone has a photographer contact, please respond to this email. 

Even better if your photographer friend despises money, although I am prepared to pay for services and/or exchange Yoga instruction.

3. My Book is on Amazon
What? You haven't bought my book yet? You really need to get one in order to keep abreast of water cooler conversations.

If you have purchased, read, and thoroughly enjoyed my book, I think that your friends, family and co-workers all need their own copies. 

I will gladly sign them for you.

LINK: http://www.amazon.com/Ashtanga-Yoga-Stories-Beyond-Mat/dp/1467949981

4. Upcoming Moon Days
We've all been "that guy," that is, the person peering into the dark, locked, and empty Yoga studio as the sun rises. 

Get in the habit of checking and knowing upcoming "moon days," which are when Mysore classes are not held. 

Tune in to the cycles of the moon!

Upcoming July Moon Days:
July 3 and July 18

List of 2012 Moon Days
LINK: http://www.portlandashtangayoga.com/moon-days/2011-moon-days

Why No Practice on Moon Days?
LINK: http://www.portlandashtangayoga.com/moon-days/why-no-practice-on-moon-days

5. Dr. Shankaranarayana Jois at Amrita Yoga in Portland
Amrita Yoga Studio in John's Landing is hosting Dr. K.L. Shankaranarayna Jois from July 19 to July 22.

This is a rare and wonderful opportunity to study with an "acarya" (lit. “he who knows the rules”), a spiritual teacher who has mastered a particular branch of knowledge; Dr. Jois is also a Sanskirt Vidwan (lit. "the learned"), equivalent to a Phd.

From Amrita's description: 

"Dr. Jois off ers rare teachings and insight into the ancient Indian arts and sciences. He holds a Phd in yoga, an MA and Vidwan in Sanskrit, has practiced asana, pranayama and mudra for 6 years under the guidance of Sri Pattabhi Jois at the Maharaja’s government Sanskrit College between 1968 to 1974, and is a hereditary Vedic astrologer going back multiple generations.

A retired assistant professor of Sanskrit, Jois, called "Acharya" by students, has a keen and nuanced understanding of this ancient language."

You can attend all or part of Jois' workshop. All fees go directly to supporting Acharya and his yoga school in India, the sadvidya foundation. Consequently, Amrita is accepting a sliding-scale tuition.

I plan to attend a few of Jois' lectures, so I hope to see some of you there!

LINK: http://www.amritasanctuary.com/our-offerings/workshops/#jois

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

ASHTANGA YOGA: HOW PURE IS PURE ENOUGH?

Ashtanga is steeped in purity.

We're taking part in a tradition that is at once a social, cultural, mythic, and philosophic stew of ideas about pure and impure that has, what's more, now been lashed to a Western capitalist work ethic myth — "Get to the top through hard work."

The root texts that inform and shape our practice, the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, as well as Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and subsequent Hatha Yoga texts, are infused with the idea of moving between states of purity and impurity.

Consequently we're told that the practice of Ashtanga purifies the body and the mind.

Rather paradoxically and recursively, purity itself is also one of the means to that end — we practice becoming more pure in order to become more pure.

What's interesting and often rarely discussed is that the idea of pure and impure is one dependent on constant failure.

"Purity," such as it is, is continuously and forever encroached upon by impurity, whether it's thought, deed, or emotion, so much so that we then must practice this ritual act of purification (that is, whatever series) six days a week, for a long time (As Patanjali says, "Sa tu dirgha kala ... ").

What's compelling is that Shiva in ultimate samadhi (purification) is just as much a problem to us and the universe at large as when he's wild-eyed and destructive (impure).

To paraphrase Wendy Doniger in her book on Shiva, it's this friction that results from the movement between pure and impure — rather than the absolute banishment of one or the other state — that generates the heat of practice.

Where does that leave Ashtangis? As the cliche goes, "I can't x because I have to practice tomorrow."

The danger is that the choice to say no to typical recreational past-times can be deformed into self-mortification. It can become a refusal to participate in relationships, and even a refusal to take part in one's dharma.

(My favorite quote from Mysore, for example: "I don't want to have children until Guruji's given me third series.")

Also importantly, how do I know when I'm pure enough? What does purity look and feel like?

Can I update my Facebook profile from "Impure" to "Pure" accordingly?

When I'm pure, can I stop doing the various series? For example, for the last 30 years of his life Guruji didn't practice first through sixth series.

Purity is an aspect of this practice I certainly never took too seriously; in fact, I generally associate ideas of pure and impure with their use in the West — that is, to accompany genocide (racial, ethnic, and religious "purity," and the corollary that follows, "cleansing.")

As I've said before, I love comic books, and so I appreciate and savor the adolescent wish-fulfillment inherent in supernatural saviour figures (superheroes, gurus as parent-figures, and white-bearded sky-gods) and ultimate, transcendent states that are categorically other and different from our experience of reality now (that is, Avenger's Mansion or Heaven).

I don't think we can expect a final state of ultimate and perfect purification.

There is no ultimate freedom from the mind or thoughts, as though yoga practice is to climb up the wall from your thoughts and then kick away the ladder.

So what use, then, are models and systems of purification?

One model, for example, is the Ari Shadvarga or shad ripus, a Brahminical favorite that descends from the Atharva Veda.

(We could pick from your favorite list, such as the Seven Deadly Sins or the Near/Far Enemies to the Brahma Viharas.)

The Ari Shadvarga are commonly known as the Six Enemies or Six Poisons, and they are lust - kāma, anger - krodha, greed - lobha, delusion - moha, arrogance - mada, and jealously - mātsarya.

They're often considered "enemies," which creates a relationship of struggle — "We must defeat our subconscious enemies."

In this use, both "enemy" and "poison" must be entreated with — they aren't banished or erased so much as they're purified, detoxified, or transmuted.

It was through my Crossfit and training experience that I was first exposed to the idea of hormesis.

Hormesis is defined as "a theoretical phenomenon of dose-response relationships in which something that produces harmful biological effects at moderate to high doses may produce beneficial effects at low doses."

With regards to Crossfit and training in general, if you move very heavy weights very far, and very quickly, it can shock or deplete your system enough to kill you.

At the right doses, however, these weights, distances, and speeds elicit an adaptive response and make you stronger, faster and more durable.

So rather than an ultimate victory, transcendence, shedding, or leaving behind of these "enemies" or "poisonous" thoughts and emotions, the Ari Shadvarga serve to shock us, stimulate us, provoke us, and spur us. 

That is, they spark us into deeper and more expansive growth and evolution.

The Ari Shadvarga, our "impurities" and "poisons," can be painful.

Our practice of Yoga then helps enfold them into an adaptive process in an ever-deepening and ever-unfinished process, as they ask us again and again to rise to the challenge, to be better and greater.

ASHTANGA YOGA: INFRATHIN

"Marcel Duchamp’s concept of the Infrathin—a state between states—might apply here. Duchamp defines the Infrathin as “The warmth of a seat (which has just been left)” or “Velvet trousers- / their whistling sound (in walking) by/ brushing of the 2 legs is an / infra thin separation signaled / by sound.” Like an electronic current, the Infrathin hovers and pulses, creating a dynamic stasis, refusing to commit to one state or the other. Like much contemporary writing, it is concerned with the expansive fusing of opposites: ephemeral and permanent, digital and analog, becoming multidimensional, flexible, and radically distributive."

A state between states: it is not those states, it is something like those states, it is nothing but those states. Hm.

Friday, April 27, 2012

ASHTANGA YOGA: BUT DOES IT WORK?


Just as there was never an actual Garden of Eden, there was never a literal age of enlightenment (Satya Yuga), from which we have now degraded to an age of darkness (Kali Yuga).

Humans in general today are not more confused or stupid than they were 5 or 10,000 (or 100,000 or 1 million) years ago.

What we can say, incontrovertibly, is that there are now many millions more of us, and so both the best and worst — the most and the least realized of us — are now prominently on display.

Still, we address the same problems as the Rishis: what is this universe, and what does it want?

More importantly, what do I want — and how do I get what I want?

Most schools or systems of Yoga implicitly acknowledge that the universe, and our role in it, is knowable and actionable.

There are codes and systems expressed in ritual as well as esoteric body maps (prana, vayus, koshas, bandhas, chakras), and through the use of these maps, codes and systems, we can then influence if not create our part in the universe.

Why, then, should we want to create our own roles in the universe?

Different schools of Yoga answer this in several ways.

Guruji was a Smarta Brahmin, which means his root teacher (sadguru) was Adi Shankara (or Shankaracharya), and that he participated in a school of non-dualism known as Advaita Vedanta.

The term “advaita” here tells us that Ashtanga as taught by Pattabhi Jois is one (of several) traditions whose central tenet is the fact that the universe is, as its name suggests: a “one” (uni) “turning” (verse).

“Advaita” literally means “not” (a-) “two” (dvai).

So Shankara and the Vedantins tell us this world, the world we are in now, is not the one we want: “One-ness” is what we want.

The world we’re in is merely “names and forms,” an illusion founded on delusion or ignorance (avidya).

Both the means (samadhi) and final end (kaivalya/dharma megha samadhi) of this Yoga is an understanding, realization, or attainment of this one-ness.

From this perspective, Vedanta and therefore Ashtanga can be seen as a strategy of enlightenment and attainment.

If this is the ultimate goal, I think it’s then fair to ask: how successful is it?

To what degree and depth did Guruji have this understanding or experience of attainment?

I can't answer that, partly because, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my personal one-on-one time with Guruji was minimal. 

But also partly because we as Ashtangis are not of typical or traditional Indian spiritual traditions, which feature root teachers whose realizations are formally recognized by their own teachers, and who formally initiate students.

This is the process of transmission that is referred to as "parampara."

How do I gauge if Ashtanga and thereby Kevala Advaita Vedanta is delivering on its promise, that of attainment of ultimate one-ness or Self-realization?

Certainly proficiency in advanced postures or sequences is no metric.

I could perhaps derive some calculus of Self-Realization based on whichever sequence the person is currently practicing, subtract from that their initial gifts and background, and divide this by their years of practice.

Unfortunately this practice is also not one based on tenure. 

Meaning, investing time into practice is no guarantee, as it turns Ashtanga into some kind of Self-realization layaway program: "Oh, it'll all work out when I'm 'older' or 'old' — 'Long time coming' and all that!"

It is one of my regrets that while in Mysore I did not endeavor to learn Kannada — more than having Guruji help me/laugh at me in mayurasana or vatayanasa (“Why falling?”), it would have been richer and more fulfilling to have had an actual conversation with him, if only to flesh out nuance and context, both of which were steamrolled into mere sloganeering by both his accent and grasp of English.

I also wonder at exactly how much profundity, understanding, and mystique was projected by us English speakers into that gap between Guruji's English and our own fluency.

(Why didn't anyone master Kannada? I mean, so many people spent three to six months living in Mysore — year after year?! What the fuck? Two to three years of this and I would expect essay-level fluency. I understand Norman Allen was fluent, and I remember Kim Flynn helping with rudimentary translation at conferences, but ... only one guy was fluent? Out of hundreds, even thousands?)

In the coffee shop conversations I have been fortunate enough to have with Tim, I’ve come to appreciate his sense that there is no final attainment — only an eternal process of opening and deepening.

(These are, importantly, my own words on what I have taken from time spent with him, and I am of course projecting my own agenda.)

So is it possible that Shankara’s understanding — and by extension Ashtanga Yoga — rather than merely decaying or atrophying in this "Kali Yuga," has evolved — and continues to do so?

I think it's vital to understand that it's not technically Shankara's understanding that is evolving — rather, the expression and transmission that lead to it.









Monday, April 23, 2012

TRAINING VERSUS PRACTICE

How is practice different from training?

To nod toward Patanjali, practice (abhyasa) means "persistent effort to attain and maintain a state of stable tranquility" (1.13)

"To become well established, this needs to be done for a long time, without a break." (1.14)

Deeply braided together with this idea of practice is non-attachment (vairagya), or "holding apart" (vai) one's "passions" (raga). (1.15)

There is nested within Ashtanga however an element of training — to me, to train is to set a road map or plan, establish a structured practice, and move toward a specific goal.

To learn this system we first focus on the physical minutiae: arms up, head up, head down, jump back, etc, etc. This immediate goal or the object of "training" would be something like "to learn the primary series."

It's hoped over time attention and consciousness enlarges to encompass more subtler layers of self (koshas).

As Jois used to say: "One year? Two year? No — lifetime!"

This enlargement is contingent on setting an appropriate intention (sankalpa), as intention steeps and suffuses practice.

What starts as training becomes practice.




Friday, April 13, 2012

HOW ANUSGATE RELATES TO ASHTANGA

I was putting together links to some articles, interviews, and essays that I will disperse to interested practitioners at Portland Ashtanga Yoga, and among them is “Grounding Anusara, Part 3: Intimacy, Methods, Therapy, and Making It Open Source,” by Matthew Remski.

Have I melted your face off with boredom about how resonant I found Remski's three-part series?

"Part 3" is another great article that sprung from the Anusara meltdown, or Anusgate, if you will.

The questions that Remski raises regarding Anusara are ones we as Ashtangis should ask, both of ourselves as students, and of our teachers.

Among those questions: Do economies of scale obstruct relationship? How is your relationship to your Yoga teacher affected in a room with 60 to 300 people — versus six or nine? Is a personal relationship still possible in larger class settings?

Is a “personal relationship” what we, as Yoga students, are in fact after? Is it essential to the process and experience of Yoga?

In my experience, a daily Mysore-style practice inadvertently cultivates an impersonal intimacy. For example, my teacher Tim saw me struggle — and fail — day in and day out, for many years. Full-depth and intense hands-on adjustments and synchronized deep breathing often left me feeling exposed and vulnerable. 

I never felt I was met with less than respect and empathy (sometimes, with baddha konasana, sympathy). 

Yet in a month often we would exchange five or six words — at most.

So when Remski uses the word “relationship,” what kind of relationship is he talking about?

Should your Yoga teacher know your name? Should she know your birthday and the names of your kids?

What do we gain from our relationship to our Yoga teacher? My sense is that much of Remski's use of "Yoga teacher" is as "therapeutic friend."

I think this has a different flavor than what is presented as the typical guru-shishya relationship (itself rife with a history of abuse), in which the teacher has had an "understanding" of the deeper (derper!) aspects of Yoga, an understanding recognized as such by that teacher's peers or teacher, an understanding that can then be transmitted to others.

What understanding do we expect Ashtanga teachers to have? Should they be able to articulate their understanding of kaivalyam/dharma megha samadhi? How is their understanding then verified or knowable? How are they transmitting that understanding to us?

The Ashtanga sequences and principles (unlike Bikram Yoga, for example, and unlike Anusara) are not trademarked. (Yet?)

So Remski ends with a call to making Anusara open-source, which I’m not sure is entirely applicable to Ashtanga — though reflecting on this question is vital, because it raises an interesting question: exactly what makes Ashtanga special?

It’s not the separate pieces of breathing, breath-body movement, or gazing. It’s certainly not the wonderfully strung garlands of postures.

Beyond an adolescent magical-thinking perspective of the practice — that to practice the postures perfectly will unlock some new, different, and other experience —the sequences and principles leave us with an overall gestalt.

So while I think the (semi) decentralized aspect of Ashtanga has rendered it in some ways open source — anyone can utilize or take advantage of parts of the Ashtanga principles and sequences — for me, at this time in my life, this gestalt only arises when Ashtanga is practiced as a system, or as Ol’ Dirty Bastard said, “raw and uncut.”

The aspect of open source that doesn’t work for me — that of crowd-sourced modularity — seems to me the reason we now have power yoga and the other Ashtanga derivatives that are tailored to the aerobics room in gyms.

(Salient features: air conditioning on high, mirrors, windows into the weight room, blaring house music. During class a Bro in a skintight rash-guard is not interested in Primary Series. He arrives late, does not take off his running shoes or remove the ear-buds from his ears, and tells me, “Bro, I just finished a bench workout. I just want to stretch out.”)

When we practice the Ashtanga sequences and employ its techniques, we maintain the “authenticity” of the external “tradition.”

This allows us to pass along the experience of Yoga allowed to arise through the application of these sequences and principles.

Still, I think Remski points out an interesting fact — method does not exist beyond the way it's shared. Put specifically, the parampara of Ashtanga yoga exists to serve students and the transmission of Yoga — and not the other way around.

That is, the students do not serve the parampara, the results of which T.S. Eliot so beautifully evokes in “The Waste Land": “Lips that would kiss/form prayers to broken stone.”

Remski also points out that to reduce a system to a trademarked product would indeed force us into the “one-way relationship of producer and consumer,” which would “derail the therapeutic.” I would submit it also goes a long way to derailing the luminous. 

I highly recommend checking out his first two articles.

Friday, March 30, 2012

DUDE IS A BIT BITTER?

"The notion of an original yoga is a just-so story that is constructed about the cultural context of yoga, which is transmitted (often by ill-informed students) at the time practices are taught.

The aspect of yoga that involves extensive physical discipline and the exploration of the anatomical-physiological bases of spiritual practice, that is, the yogic tradition known as haṭha yoga, was never a major part of “classical” yoga, if we can even speak of classical yoga, given the paucity of historical records, which are mostly shrouded in mythology or iconography ... "

"The Reflexivity of the Authenticity of Haṭha Yoga," Kenneth Liberman
Yoga in the Modern World: Contemporary Perspectives, page 100

I'm always curious as to the degree and depth with which modern Yoga scholars discount or disregard the role of orality within Yoga and the Hindu tradition in which it flowered. 

It seems that if something isn't written down, it didn't happen.

I guess what I'm inching toward is the question of the limits of knowledge about ancient, medieval, and modern (and post-modern) Yoga.

From social and historical viewpoints it seems that our knowledge is often limited to existing texts — often written on banana leaves and, what's critical, supplemental or auxiliary to oral transmission.

This reminds me of that story (a Calvino story?) of the man looking for lost house-keys under a streetlamp in front of his house.

A passerby helps the man search. The two search on their hands and knees for an hour, but to no avail. The passerby finally asks, "Well, where did you last see your keys?"

The man points toward his darkened doorway.

"Why are you looking out here on the street?"

"Because," says the man, "this is where the light is."

Again, in Black Swan, Taleb mentions a line in Will Durant's The Story of Civilization in which the Phoenicians are described as a "merchant race" due to the absence of a written legacy; it turns out that the Phoenicians wrote prodigiously — only they used a highly perishable type of papyrus that did not weather the passage of time.

The parallels between banana leaves and papyrus, as well as the limits of certain kinds of knowledge, seems to me rather striking. 

Also, I am noting a circular web of references and citations. Yet if we're all citing, for example, White's The Alchemical Body, and no one has scrutinized his scholarship, how are we not building a house of cards? 

There are, however, many heat-rocking mega-bangers of articles in Yoga in the Modern World.  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

COLOR OF INTENTION

I’m hip-deep in Gudo Nishijima’s translation of the “Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way” by Nagarjuna.

(Published by Monkfish.)

I understand (based on Amazon comments) that Nishijima’s translation, as well as his understanding and presentation of Buddhism, may be non-traditional, perhaps even a bit iconoclastic.

However, I find that he speaks simply and plainly about what can often be abstruse.

His reading of verse 7 of the Skanda Pariksa section was of interest to me, especially as how it relates to our establishment of sankalpa (intention) at the beginning of our Ashtanga practice.

People often establish private, personal intentions for their practice, which can be done by verbalizing a sentence or flashing on an image. 

Patanjali lists some great suggestions for this, by the way.

I personally find it easier and more resonant to “sprinkle” myself with seed-sounds that constitute various archetypal figures. (Okay, you caught me: bijas that make up various deities).

However, even if one doesn’t call to mind a mantra, inspiring figure, or deity, among others, to merely recite pranava (om) and the Ashtanga opening invocation is to establish an intention of sorts.

The opening invocation is also just that: an invocation, a ritual summoning that calls together thoughts and intentions that will shape, direct, and guide our practice.

We then end our practice by banishing or dispersing those energies when we reciting the closing chant.

The opening and closing chants of Ashtanga mark out the boundaries of our practice and therefore give it shape, duration and, as a result, meaning and value.

Anyway, Nishijima speaks simply and powerfully about the role of intention during practice, as it turns out that our intention (coupled with action) can affect the entire universe:
“When we want to acquire knowledge about anything, the intention of that study is always included within the study itself. Thus our intention will always color the outcome of that study, no matter how carefully we try to avoid doing so … Furthermore, all action is very much related with the inclusive totality, or the entire universe. No action takes place without affecting the entire universe in some way, and no object exists by itself unrelated to the rest of the universe …”

LATE PASS: HIPSTER YOGA

I know I'm late to the party, but have you seen "Hipster Yoga"?

"Step 1. Begin in extended trust-fund pose."

I laughed so hard I sprayed Pabst everywhere.

Of course, the trouble is that I just see photos of kids dressing crazy.

I thought that was what being young was all about: dressing crazy. Excessive partying. Maybe both together at the same time?

Oh Internet, you strip the context out of everything!

Also, can't be mad at a My Bloody Valentine T-shirt.

Monday, March 26, 2012

ASHTANGA MARKETING REPORT


I had a conversation some months back with a power yoga teacher, in which it was suggested to me to consider playing music during class. "People love hearing good music!" she said.

If I played music, I asked, how then could people hear their own breath? Alas, I believe this suggestion fell on deaf ears, as it were.

It did get me thinking, though, about the various niches and demographics that not just Yoga but Ashtanga Yoga could invade, penetrate, or insert some your favorite masculine-encoded corporate term.

All we have to do is jettison this notion of lineage and tradition. God knows, the marketplace could certainly use several more Yoga For Insert Title Here.

I present now a series of marketing ideas that for sure will make my Ashtanga DVDs Target and Wal-Mart best-sellers. 

1. Ashtanga Crossfit
I see 400 meter sprints between sun salutations, rope-climb uth-pluthi, and 45-pound weight vests in class; binding might be challenging during the twisting postures, but then I understand the Crossfit people love difficulty.

2. Ashtanga for MMA
Look, laying aside this whole ahimsa yama (clearly ridiculous), this is a no-brainer, given the overwhelming popularity of MMA and Ultimate Fighting. I envision people moving through sun salutations and standing postures while their teacher attempts to punch, kick and otherwise hurl them to the ground. Consider the lucrative merchandising tie-ins — we could see a Tap Out sticky mat! Also, imagine the quality of your ujjayi breathing when someone has you in a choke hold!

3. Ashtanga for Fixed-gear Bike Riders
I don't really have any thoughts about what the practice would look like, but I had spun out various titles like "Ashtanga for Pabst Drinkers," "Ashtanga for Mustaches," and "Ashtanga for Williamsburgers, Portlanders, and Silverlakers." Basically, they all amounted to Ashtanga for hipsters. Though it has always seemed to me that the term hipster is such a cliche.

Also, I can't front on dudes with Pendleton flannels and neck tattoos who like to drink shitty beer, skateboard and ride fixed-gear bikes and home-made choppers. (Hits a little close to home.)

4. Ashtanga for Stockbrokers
The beauty of this is that I don't change the series or sequences at all — I just market to stockbrokers, high-power corporate execs, beleaguered lawyers, and basically anyone in a high-stress, exhausting job. Then I simply shout at them more.

5. Ashtanga for Free Spirits
The beauty of this is that, again, I do not change the series or sequence at all — I just market to jam-band-concert-goers, hoopers, Burners, and any and all Patchouli-wearers. Then I simply tell them they're beautiful more.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

POMEDA'S "REFLECTIONS ON SPIRITUAL AUTHORITY"

Okay, no more weather updates — commenting on spring weather in Portland is like, as has been observed, commenting on traffic in Los Angeles.

In addition to the series of articles by Matthew Remski, another great bit of Yoga-related writing popped up earlier this year, an essay by Carlos Pomeda called "Reflections on Spiritual Authority."

I think this one is a great read for those of us who practice Ashtanga, as Pomeda discusses the tension arising from the intersection of traditional Hindu guru-shishya relationships, one of absolute ultimacy, with a more Western, individual-centered humanistic perspective.

The editors at Elephant Journal draw some obvious parallels to Ashtanga, as they feature a photo of Pattabhi and Sharath Jois in addition to John Friend.

In the article, Pomeda clearly spells out the different distinctions between types of teachers, from shastri and upadhyaya to acarya to guru. The question becomes, as he asks, "How do we determine the degree of authority?"

Ashtanga doesn't seem to me to currently have a sadguru in the sense of how Pomeda defines one, that is, a teacher whose authority rests on his or her own "spiritual attainment, which must be accompanied by scriptural knowledge and by the ability to transmit such knowledge and experience. This authority is conferred on such gurus by their own preceptors."

He does make the point that the "boundaries among these terms [for different teachers] are often blurry."

The article makes for an interesting read, at least to inspire consideration of where on the continuum our own teachers sit — to use the two models that Pomeda introduces, do they occupy an academic role ("The teacher holds more technical knowledge, and as students we will defer to him or her as much as he or she is best elected to the task." This idea of deference is quite different than that of submission)?

Or do they hold a seat within a more humanistic model ("The true guru is within").

As a side note, I still can't figure out the deal with Elephant Journal — I think you can read this article for free?

Also, I see that it's just part one; part two oughtta be a good one.

Carlos Pomeda "Reflections on Spiritual Authority"

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"PALM TREE AND SPA ROBE" YOGA?


I may (or may not) produce a later post whose sole content will be titles and one-sentence summaries of posts I've written and subsequently lost the steam to finish and publish. Maybe this tendency is a consequence of the hunker-down in winter mind-set?

However! Spring popped in Portland yesterday (Friday), today it's 64 and sunny and the whole city is hot to party — the only other time I've felt a comparable manic spring madness was in Tokyo during cherry blossom season; San Diego springs were much more laconic.

Despite the dearth of posts of late, I do hope to share a few articles written recently that I think are worthy of further consideration.

The first are three by Matthew Remski. I confess I know nothing of Remski but what I've read in these posts, which he published at the end of February.

They're responses to the apparent collapse of the style of yoga known as Anusara.

I was and remain awe-struck at the pure blinding speed with which this system appeared to implode.

Part of what compels me to share Remski's series was a line that jumped out at me just a few days after attending the first Ashtanga Confluence in San Diego.

In Part 3, Remski writes: 
"[T]he airplane and hotel-bound modus operandi of any transglobal yoga corporation will have a hard time fostering grounded relationship, because it mimics the alienation of all late-capitalist structures. How could it not? Either cynically or unconsciously, the corporation will try to hide its relational weakness behind escapist/transcendental philosophies, exclusive knowledge hierarchies, classist economic barriers, distractive marketing copy written in Shringlish, and the palm trees and spa robes of its resort-retreat-intensive gatherings."

 This was striking, as just a few days prior I had worn a spa robe — well, my wife and kid grabbed the spa robes, but we had all basked in the San Diego sun and gazed at the token palm trees that littered the Catamaran Resort in Mission Bay. Tara and I had attended Mysore class, workshops, and discussions in a banquet hall full of hundreds of fellow students and teachers.

In his series, Remski offers not just a critique of Anusara specifically, but global yoga "brands" generally.

To paraphrase Remski, "In yoga it is obvious that economies of scale obstruct relationship. Go big or go home? Let’s go home, thank you very much. Let’s think smaller ... more than six mats in the room and you lose relationship."

The irony is that, at the Confluence at least, all five long-time students of Pattabhi Jois shared (to several hundred people, in a resort-like setting) what they felt were among Guruji's greatest strengths and gifts: that he invited small groups of students into his home to teach them yoga — through the application of postural sequences — with no bureaucracy in place. He took them in and he treated them like family.

I think Remski inadvertently spells out some of Mysore-style Ashtanga's greatest strengths, chief among them that Mysore classes are settings in which a teacher addresses the person directly in front of them.
  
As the articles are titled, Remski talks about the need to "ground" Anusara and its principal teacher John Friend in the day-to-day routine of work, family and practice.

For those unfamiliar with Anusara, the closest and best analogy I can use to describe how it was taught by Friend is that it was (is still?) similar to jam-band concert events — hundreds, thousands of people would gather for extra-large classes held during extended weekends at banquet halls, resorts or retreat centers.

This "grounding" feels to me to be a chief strength of Mysore-style practice. The people who find this practice love it, and do it every day, and enfold and entwine it into their daily lives. During this process and relationship, we all get to know each other, our spouses and significant others, our children, our pets, our careers, our home and work lives.

His series are worthy of a read, and the questions he raises are worthy of further and deeper discussion for Ashtanga people. 

Among them: Does Mysore style as it's currently practiced hide any "relational weakness" behind "escapist/transcendental philosophies"? Thankfully, as Eddie Stern indicated at the Confluence, there isn't yet any explicit Ashtanga company "brand" as there was with Anusara, as in, a registered property with trademarks.

Still, do we have "exclusive knowledge hierarchies"? At first glance, Ashtanga is also, in many ways, very much not "open source," though I think this perspective falls away on closer examination of the specific and individual situations in which it's taught.

Are there "economic barriers"?

While we don't have "Shringlish" to consider, Ashtanga does contain its own jargon.

Does a Mysore class size inhibit, or perhaps even diminish the practice of Yoga? How big should a Mysore room get? Does it even matter? 

This begs another question: Is it necessary to have a personal relationship with your Ashtanga yoga teacher? What exactly does a "personal relationship" entail, and what does this look like?

At any rate, I recommend his series. 

And anyone well-versed in Ayurveda: I would love to read some thoughts on Remski's prescriptions. What would are Ayurvedic pitfalls to Ashtanga, which can become overly grounded or routinized? 


Oh! And I included the link to Part 3 on Elephant Journal, rather than Remski's own blog, because  there are some BANGING discussions in the comments. Here's one: 

Shyam Dodge:
"While I'm not advocating for a pedagogy devoid of teachers or of connection to lineage, I fear that an over-emphasis on non-authorship (for much of the sastras while attributed to a mythic figure are in fact a product of many nameless authors)--and the traditional model of sampradaya--has the tendency to reinforce archaic educational dynamics that are in themselves tyrannical. This is because the metaphysics are inextricably wedded to the pedagogical theory. 

Because, in reality, JF's downfall was not just the product of “late-capitalism” but also of the metaphysics underlying Anusara and the traditional model of the guru-student-sastra paradigm."
Is the traditional guru-student-sastra model inherently "tyrannical"? Is the way Ashtanga is traditionally taught, posture-by-posture, "tyrannical"? Do we skate around this by proclaiming "I'm not and never said I was a guru"? Is some "tyranny" acceptable, or even necessary? 





Friday, March 23, 2012

MARCH NEWSLETTER

I don't want to oversell Portland to everyone, but I really feel there's a burgeoning Mysore scene happening here — the community at Portland Ashtanga Yoga is growing, Casey Palmer's coming up on his 10 year anniversary at Near East Yoga (10 years! Read it and weep!), and Johnny at Yoga Space has to be closing in on his 6-month anniversary.

Point being, there are three great places to take part in Mysore-style Ashtanga, each space inflected and infused with a different vibe.

At any rate, I send out a monthly newsletter, and last week the March edition went out. There's almost too much Ashtanga stuff going around at the moment, it's ridiculous.

Hey everyone,

I'm still waiting for the lamb of March to turn up — so far we've had nothing but lion! Alas. At any rate, thank you for continuing to practice and support Mysore-style Ashtanga in Portland, and Portland Ashtanga Yoga!

1. Thank You Kevin Kimple!
Thanks for coming to Portland, Kevin! This is the second time Kevin Kimple’s been here — and hopefully not the last! The guy is awesome, and I'm thankful he's able to fill in for me while I'm away! Everyone had a phenomenal time.

2. Confluence Notes!
I’ve been feeling rather underwhelmed when it comes to writing about my time at the Confluence, which was down in San Diego April 1-4. 

Basically, it was an opportunity for five highly regarded leading lights of the Ashtanga community to come together to teach and discuss. It was also a way for the community to come together, Stateside at least, in a way that hasn't been possible since Guruji's world tours.

Suffice it to say, it was a lot of fun to see so many long-time and dear friends.

Regarding the classes and discussions, I came away with the sense that Ashtanga is moving forward under the auspices of many talented and trained stewards.

As a further note: I had great conversations with many great people, and I got to practice next to my wife IN THE MORNINGS. This last — a morning practice with my wife — is an  incredibly rare occurrence.

3. Richard Freeman Will Visit Portland!
Richard's coming to Portland. This is an opportunity not to be missed. Richard's an incredibly erudite yoga teacher, and one of the guiding lights of the Ashtanga tradition.

He'll be at Norse Hall on May 4-6. Sign up ASAP! This will fill up!

LINK: http://www.theyogaspace.com/workshops.php

4. Living Yoga Yogathon
Portland Ashtanga is proud to help sponsor Living Yoga. We're putting together a team for their annual Yogathon.

You know the benefits of your practice and how much yoga means to you — Living Yoga, a non-profit outreach program, helps spread the positive aspects of yoga by teaching it as a tool for personal change to people in prisons, alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers, and transitional facilities.

The Yogathon will run for the month of May, with a celebration party on June 16 at Castaway Portland. The cost to join the Portland Ashtanga Yoga team is $20, which includes registration, tote bag filled with goodies, a personal fundraising website with fun social media, free yoga classes throughout Portland, and more.

Dedicate your practice for one month by setting goals for fundraising and make a change to our community. All you have to do:

• Sign up today at www.firstgiving.com/livingyoga. Our team is Portland Ashtanga (not to be confused with Yoga Pearl)!

• Get your friends, family, co-workers, etc. to donate money to this great cause.

• Do Yoga!

For more information you can go to www.firstgiving.com/livingyoga. or contact Karen Leib at yoleib@gmail.com.

5. Spring 2012 Portland Ashtanga Yoga Reader
During the last several months I've collected several online essays and articles that deserve more serious contemplation; I have trouble reading long-form pieces on-line, so these are writings that I've printed out to read.

(Though apparently the new Kindle app for the iPad 3 is supposed to be RE-DICULOUS, so maybe it will solve this problem for me.)

I want to share this "Reader" with anyone who's interested, so I'm going to print them out, staple them together, and give them to anyone who might be interested.

Sound like you? Email me if you want one.

6. Sharath in Encinitas
Sharath will be holding several weeks of classes in Encinitas in April. For those of you looking to make a direct connection with the grandson of Pattabhi Jois, and a long-time teacher and practitioner in his own right, this is a rare opportunity to do so outside of India!

LINK: http://www.joisyoga.com/events-and-news.html

7. Find Me Online
Facebook Page? YES: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Portland-Ashtanga-Yoga/165562886861620
Blog? YES! http://leapinglanka.blogspot.com/
You're not seriously on Twitter? YES I AM EVEN ON TWITTER! @leapinglanka

Sunday, February 12, 2012

EURO EDITION: ASHTANGA YOGA: STORIES FROM BEYOND THE MAT

To my friends in the U.K. (and Europe) ---

Here it is on Amazon.co.uk!

Also, here it is on Book Depository UK!

For our German friends (with my surname I should be a big hit there), here it is on Amazon.de!

For my French friends, here it is on Amazon.fr!

Unfortunately I have absolutely no say over shipping and handling fees, but the Euro and British Sterling prices correlate to the cover price I am asking in US dollars.

As for Kindle versions — I'm working on it. It won't be available until after the Confluence in March.