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A few changes

June 30, 2015
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This will be a quick one with a few announcements. Nothing major, but…

After going daily with this blog for several years, work and life (and maybe sometimes the actual practice on the mat) have gotten a bit busier, and there are the occasional day when finding something relevant is fairly hard.

Which, strangely, feels like things were in the beginning. Back even four or so years ago, when the Confluence first got announced, the main Ashtanga teachers we focus on weren’t doing much to promote themselves online. That changed a lot, with Eddie Stern posting regularly and the Yoga Workshop also being pretty consistent in getting stuff online. David Swenson for a while was updating his website regularly. Tim Miller keeps on keeping on with his Tuesday posts. For a while, I thought the main reason behind this blog — to be a resource where people could find news and info about the Western teachers we would loosely call our influences — had run its course. And then people started pulling back.

And people’s online habits changed. More mobile, less on the computer. Facebook — which during our most trafficked year was a big source of views — altered its ways, severely limiting how much people see unless you buy advertising. (A hearty “boo” to Facebook.) At that point, it felt like what we do was more unusual and hopefully useful.

Lately, the Ashtanga news has continued to be pretty quiet. And that combines with our being busier. And so that means this little change:

Rather than posting every day, we’re going to take Saturdays and Moon Days off, just like we all do with practice. Otherwise, we hope you won’t notice a big difference, and we hope that won’t alter your interactions with this here blog/webpage/whatever. We hope it will allow us to be a little more relevant and targeted to Ashtanga, yoga and coffee.

We’ll also keep gearing up for Tim Miller’s first Third Series training this August. I’d call that the next big thing on the horizon. And then the Confluence in the spring, perhaps, after that.

Alright. Anyway, thanks for everyone who consistently reads, comments, sends us emails, interacts with us on Facebook or Twitter. And thanks to those who pop in every now and again.

Posted by Steve

Forget ‘yummy’ yoga, bring on the popping and fizzing

June 29, 2015

Right now, an incomplete list of places that are paining me includes: my wrists, my quads, my shoulders, my hamstrings, my lower back and the top of my head.

If you’re familiar with Second Series, Nadi Shodhana, you might be able to guess I just went through that series. Under someone’s watchful eye.

Not Bobbie’s, this time. My occasional private with our friend/fellow Tim Miller student Maria Zavala on Sunday focused on Second Series. Yes, with plenty of modifications, but no other forgiveness.

It seems like everyone who is planning to be at Tim’s for his Third Series training, even those of us more intent on the beach and the waves, are having to up our game in preparation.

Those who know Tim and his approach to Second know it involves a fair amount of research poses, particularly before the serious backbends and again before all the legs behind your head craziness. One of the pre-legs behind your head poses, to help open up stubborn hips, is Eka Pada Rajakapotasana — pigeon pose.

It’s one I sneak into my regular practice, and of all my many stiff parts, my hips may be among my least stiff. So Maria seemed a little surprised at how near to the floor my hips were, how straight behind me my leg could be.

It was at this point that I went on a brief little rant about how this seems to be one of those poses people describe as “yummy.”

Just to be clear: This description annoys the heck out of me. (More so when hashtagged on an Instagram picture.) Nothing about asana ever feels “yummy” to me. The idea is so alien I only can surmise people are doing the pose wrong if that word can even enter their minds.

After putting up with me for many, many years, Maria gets me, so she was able to suggest that maybe someday that pose would be “yummy” for me — maybe even not too far off.

“No way,” I answered, even as the right description jumped firmly to mind, much more gracefully than my attempt at Bakasana B. (Just to prove Maria didn’t shower my poor, stiff self with forgiveness, I got to try it three times since I couldn’t “land” it.)

“It’s more like why you’d eat Pop Rocks,” I said (full of self-pleasure, of course, at figuring this one out).  It isn’t yummy like a piece of dark chocolate, but it does satisfy some strange craving, with maybe a little, teeny hint of sweetness in there somewhere.

But mostly it’s popping and fizzing and that lure of the possibility that your stomach will explode.

That’s asana to me.

Posted by Steve

What to Expect from a Tim Miller Yoga Teacher Training

June 28, 2015

I have a few friends who are part-time yoga teachers who did not do Ashtanga teacher trainings, and to them I say, good for you. But pretty much nothing of what I’m about to say applies to you.

And perhaps I’ll also preface by saying that my knowledge of other kinds of teacher trainings—Ashtanga trainings included—is purely anecdotal. Although I have trained with other senior Ashtanga instructors (Nancy Gilgoff, David Swenson, Dena Kingsberg, David Williams, Annie Pace), Tim Miller’s trainings have had the greatest impact on me, so that’s all I’m going to talk about here.

Ashtanga does have a certification/authorization system centered in Mysore, but the beautiful thing about Ashtanga is that the best teachers emerge from an ancient and time-honored system, the apprentice teacher. I wish all forms of teaching still used this: A potential candidate emerges from a group of long-time students that the teacher feels would be an excellent teacher as well, and the teacher begins to pass along that knowledge over time, working side-by-side with that student.

The student-teacher not only learns from the master, but also has a set of watchful eyes around that can correct mistakes. The student-teacher, in other words, has the luxury of being able to learn from screwing up. Without that kind of feedback, improving as a teacher is very difficult—teaching should never be done in private, in a vacuum. And from this growth, innovation happens. There is a cooperative, student-master conversation. That’s very different from signing up for a training, absorbing some information, then heading out the door with your certificate. Or just paying to show up to practice for a certain amount of time with the teacher.

Tim’s Encinitas-based trainings seem to try to encapsulate and concentrate the apprentice model. For two weeks, his trainees swoop down on a working shala and soak up all the information they can. This summer, I’ll be in my fourth training with Tim. But it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever teach Third Series. No, what I’m going for is the gravy that spills over from the that ostensible purpose of learning to teach: What is the deeper meaning of this series? How does it fit in to yoga in its wider sense? I’ll get my Third Series Manual when I check in, and off I’ll go.

Tim’s shala remains open to its regular classes during his trainings, and he continues to teach them. This includes Tim’s daily 6 a.m. pranayama practice, which includes the entire Ashtanga pranayama sequence. Once this concludes, the daily classes start, and the trainees either take, observe, or assist in these classes (although we’re only allowed to adjust our fellow trainees). This also includes some late afternoon/early evening classes he teaches after the training sessions, which has led me to dub Tim “the hardest working man in Ashtanga.” It seems like he never leaves.

The middle part of the training day is divided into two parts: Practice and Theory. Trainees go through each pose in order, part by part. Each asana and its possible adjustments and modifications is anatomized, scrutinized, and demystified (including the magical incantation of the counts). If you never intend to teach yoga, this aspect of Tim’s training alone is worth the price of admission. In the moving target of daily practice, so much goes unsaid. Here, it gets said. There are lots of questions, and they get answered. Trainees demonstrate, and this is most useful when the trainee can’t quite make it to the state of the pose. Tim diagnoses why, and looks for a way forward. For each pose, we practice the counting and adjustments on each other. The vibe in the room is warm and full of good humor. Lifetime friendships are made.

The “theory” part of that day involves the deeper underpinnings of Ashtanga, and this is my favorite aspect of Tim’s training. There are stories, chants, singing, philosophy and astrology. Exhausted and with minds blown, trainees disband for the evening (or attend another class) and come back in the morning to start it all over again.

Does any of this teach you how to teach? Will you be a good teacher when you walk out the door? If you weren’t already good when you walked in, probably not. But what you will have is a great bank of knowledge to use in your practice, and in the practice of teaching if you’re into that. Teaching is an art form, so neither study, time, or even experience will bestow that skill on you—certainly a teaching certificate can’t. But Tim’s trainings will help you make the most of the skill you have, whether that be in teaching or on your own mat. And they offer an opportunity to watch a master teach, and teach teaching. But beyond all that, they offer a way to integrate the greater benefits of Ashtanga into your daily life, a priceless and precious gift.

Posted by Bobbie

Getting a little juice into your practice

June 27, 2015

Summer, finally, has arrived — at least in Los Angeles.

And that means practices are getting hot. Even early morning ones are suddenly a lot sweatier.

What’s been strange is that the added heat and streams of sweat have made me notice the stiffness of my joints more than normal. Just when I’d think I’d be feeling, in Tim Miller’s words, “a little more juicy,” I’m feeling less so. Maybe I’m just quickly burning away the lubrication.

One way to cultivate that juiciness is by building up the bhav — pursuing a little extra bhakti.

So I’ve taken note that on Sunday, Ram Dass is having a webcast that focuses on his guru’s, Neem Karoli Baba, relationship to Hanuman. You can sign up (and submit questions) at this link. It takes place Sunday, 8 p.m. Eastern time in the U.S., 5 p.m. Pacific. A perfect way to wind down the weekend.

Posted by Steve

Lululemon’s latest: Face-attacking tops!

June 26, 2015

It seems the good people at Lululemon just keep on giving.

The latest “really?” news from the uber yoga power is a recall of more than 300,000 women’s tops that include drawstrings that, if pulled or yanked on, can snap back and strike the wearer in the face with a nasty hard tip. More from Slate:

Lululemon is recalling 318,000 women’s tops in the United States and Canada that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports led to “seven injuries to the face and eye.” How did these injuries occur? The offending items—more than 20 styles altogether—were manufactured with “an elastic draw cord with hard metal or plastic tips in the hood or around the neck area.” Because of this, when the drawstrings were “pulled or caught on something and released,” they could “snap back, impact the face area and result in injury,” the commission explains.

How severe were these injuries? It’s unclear. When I called the CPSC late Thursday afternoon, the case officer for Lululemon’s recall had left for the day. It’s similarly unclear over what period the seven reported injuries occurred, though a CPSC spokeswoman pointed out that the relevant merchandise was sold from January 2008 through December 2014. Lululemon, for its part, says in a statement that there were “no serious injuries reported” and no lawsuits filed.

As Slate notes, that isn’t very many injuries, which is the good news. The great news? More schadenfreude, which is a very advanced asana indeed.

Posted by Steve

Eddie Stern exhorts Capitol Hill: Do reach across the aisle asana

June 26, 2015

I know I promised no more International Day of Yoga coverage, so please consider this one Eddie Stern coverage:

A day later, June 22, the Embassy joined the Hindu American Foundation to host the first-ever “Yoga on the Hill Day.”

“Before we move onto the filibuster pose, where you do nothing, we’ll go to the ‘reaching across the aisle asana’. If you’re a Democrat, pair up with a Republican, and vice versa,” instructed Eddie Stern, renowned Ashtanga yoga teacher, as 50 Congressional staffers and DC insiders stretched over to their partners.

[snip]

Participants took part in one of two 30-minute long yoga sessions, led by Stern. Before and after the session, they were encouraged to contemplate the broader teachings of yoga, as detailed in a visual exhibit prepared by HAF. Karthik Krishnamurthy, a local volunteer from the Art of Living Foundation, led a guided meditation session to complement Stern’s asana course.

I’ll of course be incorporating filibuster pose into my practice.

Posted by Steve

From prison to yoga retreat

June 25, 2015
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We’ve highlighted Robbie Norris’ work in the Richmond City Jail a few times. Others, too, are working to bring yoga to current or former inmates.

But this story is about turning a former prison into a yoga retreat:

Two years ago, Shekhar Patel bought Camp Georgetown for $241,000 with plans to open a seasonal camp for high school students to foster their interest in sciences and technology. He had planned to open the camp this past spring.

That didn’t happen. Instead, he’s now considering a year-round yoga and retreat center for the Madison County site.

“We do see there is good potential,” Patel said in April. “There is a lot of interest from the investors.”

He still wants to open the science camp for teens, after getting the place open for year-round yoga business.

He’s serious. So serious, he says, he quit his job at PepsiCo to work on the Georgetown project full-time. He says he visits the site often, driving 3 ½ hours from Westchester County to the southeastern tip of Madison County.

I’d think someone might imagine a world where all the prisons have become yoga retreats.

Posted by Steve