Countdown time: Reintroduction to David Swenson

Are you packed yet?

Well, that’s OK. All you need is a few yoga outfits, right?

We are officially hours from the start of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, and we are conveniently nearing the end of our “reintroductions” to the teachers. This one: David Swenson. It’s an in-house job, by Bobbie, from back in July.


David Swenson, the wandering yogi. If you’ll be meeting David Swenson for the first time at the Confluence, then perhaps a short summary of his role as a senior Western student is in order. His DVDs, particularly the First Series DVD, are the mainstay of home practitioners and new learners. Swenson is famous for breaking down the practice with his affable, approachable style, removing a lot of the intimidation factor. This is true even though his demonstrations of poses are jaw-droppingly awesome. Somehow, he manages to radiate humility, make you feel like the impossible is possible. His practice manual has the same tone, sturdy and spiral-bound for ease of use. Forget where a drishti is? You can look it up in the manual. Can’t get your feet behind your head? Here’s what you do until you can.

But it’s the workshops that make him the Johnny Appleseed of Ashtanga. David travels the world, giving Ashtanga to all walks of life. In the workshop I took with him, he was asked about “personal space” in the practice room. For an answer, he described demonstrating at a workshop in Japan. His students were crowded together to watch, with their toes practically touching the edge of his mat (count your spacial blessings was the subtext). He brings his travels to each workshop. Google for videos of David Swenson, and you’ll see a wide range of faces in the background of videos shot all over the world.
You may not know, however, that he has a website that answers a lot of the nagging questions of practice, like Ashtanga and agedrinking (as in booze, not water, which is a different question), and my personal favorite, Where Does the Spirit Live?. You can’t get a bigger Q for your Q & A than that.


Hopefully you are prepared to be “seeded.”

Posted by Steve

If you’re driving to the Confluence, fill up before you go

OK, just a very quick information piece: Gas prices in San Diego are the nation’s highest.

So if you are driving down to the Confluence (as we are), better fill up before you leave or do so on your way. (Last I checked, prices in Orange County — at the Westminster exit off the 405, in fact — were always below the norm.)

Here’s a little bit on this from the U-T San Diego:

SAN DIEGO — San Diego gasoline prices have reached levels never before seen in a February, according to the Utility Consumers’ Action Network, and nationally the numbers aren’t looking much better.

According to UCAN’s Fuel Tracker at San Diego’s average price for regular hit $4.32 per gallon Monday morning, while premium is averaging $4.52 per gallon and diesel has hit the $4.45 mark.’s San Diego site, lists the regular average at $4.31 per gallon for regular in San Diego and at $4.28 per gallon for regular statewide average.


The survey said San Diego has the most expensive gasoline in the country, listing the average at $4.24 per gallon, and Denver has the cheapest at $3.07 per gallon.

I’m guessing this means the folks from Yoga Worskshop are in for a shock! I think it also means we need to find places to eat that are walking distance from the Catamaran.

Posted by Steve

I know it’s San Diego, but don’t pack for summer

If you’re arriving early for the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence — in other words, on Wednesday — you might want to bring an umbrella.

No, no, the Confluence hasn’t moved from San Diego. But, amazingly, there is rain in the forecast for Wednesday. And temps only in the mid-50s.

It does appear that it will get marginally better from there. Both Thursday and Friday, as of now, are being forecast to bring partly cloudy conditions and temperatures from a low around 50 to a high in the low 60s.

Saturday and Sunday get better, with the sun coming out but temperatures staying in the same neighborhood.

I thought it was always 70 in San Diego?

It will be a little warmer inland. Keep in mind, the Confluence is right on the beach, so the weather is always a little cooler and a little cloudier. You might find some 70 degree weather if you go a few miles inland on Saturday.

We’ll get a few other “news you can use” updates over the next couple of days. Stay tuned.

Posted by Steve

Countdown time: Reintroduction to Nancy Gilgoff

We are just days away from the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, and next up in our reintroduction lineup is Nancy Gilgoff. (This is the first of two we had.) This one is a little different. We asked friend Pranidhi Varshney a few questions after she spent a week at Nancy’s House of Zen and Yoga studying with Nancy and Manju Jois.

Since we posted this in late November, I believe Pranidhi has started teaching yoga. And she’s singing kirtan and lots of other things that you can learn at her website:


1. First off, how did Nancy’s shala compare to others you have been to?

There’s some serious shakti in the House of Yoga and Zen.  The place has been around for many years and some of our most treasured ashtangis have practiced and taught there.  There are pictures on the walls of Guruji, Manju, Nancy, and others in action, doing what we’re all so grateful for- passing this practice on.  One of the fellow trainees this time around was jokingly saying that she doesn’t think the carpets have ever been changed!  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that were true, and I’m glad for it.  There’s something raw, grounded, powerful, and spiritual about practicing where so many have practiced before.

2. How would you describe Nancy and Manju’s teaching styles? Are there other teachers you’ve studied with that you can compare them to?

Pranidhi, from her website

Well, Manju was one of my first Ashtanga teachers and I’ve been totally spoiled because of that.  The bar was set high for me from the beginning.  He’s easy-going, funny, non-dogmatic about the practice, and he has magic hands.  The energy that passes through his hands while he adjusts is a healing warmth.  And he’s strong!  I overheard Nancy saying that in the old days, Manju was often able to take her into postures that she wasn’t able to get into on her own.  Nancy also has a great touch and is a really humble, down-to-earth person.  One can tell she has a deep knowledge of the practice and she cares about passing it on correctly, but there was no sense of “my way is the right way,” which I think sometimes there is with ashtanga teachers. Actually, that was one of the best things about the whole week.  Both Nancy and Manju are from the old school.  No dogma, no militaristic rules, just practice- taught the way it was taught by Guruji back in the day.  There’s something authentic and special about that.

3. What was a highlight of the week on Maui?
All the stories!  Having both Manju and Nancy there was such a treat. David Williams also joined us for Manju’s birthday celebration and for a couple of morning mysore practices.  Talk about a confluence of energy.  We heard stories about how pranayama saved Manju’s life, how he tried to escape doing baddha konasana in his youth, how Ramesh, Manju’s brother, is responsible for everyone using a spray bottle for garbha pidasana, and many more.  It was also really cool to hear Nancy ask Manju about alignment points for different postures and listen in on them talking about how things have changed over the years.  It was a great reminder that one way is not the only way.  If these senior teachers are still open and humble enough to learn from each other, we need to make the effort to remain that way as well.  Also, for me personally, it was a delight to meet and spend time with the newest teacher-in-training, Sathu, Manju’s daughter.  She has ashtanga in her blood and she’s already quite a good adjuster, as many people in the training can attest to.

4. Do you feel like anything about your practice in particular evolved or changed? How so?

Absolutely.  Every time I practice with Manju, I feel like my heart and body are blasted open, and time takes on a different quality. Manju talked this time about flow- how teachers cannot force students into postures.  Rather, that they must enable them to tap into the flow.  The flow of the breath, the practice, the energy.  My practice flows when I’m with Manju and for that I’m forever grateful.  And practicing in Maui is a dream in and of itself.  The climate is so good for the body and spirit.  I’d recommend a trip to the House of Yoga and Zen for any ashtangi.

5. For people who might be encountering Nancy for the first time at the Confluence in March, how would you tell them to get the most from here in the relatively short time?

I’d say listen.  Nancy seems to me to have a quiet power.  I was really struck by her humility.  If there’s one thing people should pay attention to, I’d say it’d be that.  It’s so easy for us in LA, in America, in the ashtanga world in general, to feel somewhat inflated by our practice.  Nancy reminded me that we’re all just people, using the gift of yoga as a tool to make our lives better.  I’d also say be grateful.  What a privilege to be able to practice and study with someone so close to the source.  For us female ashtangis especially, Nancy’s an inspiration.


Everyone get that? “Listen.” And in just a few days.

Posted by Steve

First-timers in Mysore: ‘Can hardly wait to go back’

One of the great things about Tim Miller’s annual retreat to Mt. Shasta — along with the obvious of all the time with Tim — is the people you meet and get to know.

Last summer, among the new people we met were Elizabeth and (good) Bill. (In deference to Bad Bill, and his absolutely wonderful wife, we won’t name names!) Both have wonderful practices, and both are wonderful people.

I’ll give you an example of their nature. We asked them — after following their first trip to Mysore via Facebook — if they would write us something about it. They did. But that’s not the illustration of their nature. This is:

We always try to offer the kind folks who write us something a little something in return; this being the Internet, that often comes in the form of a link to something of theirs or a cause or … you get it. So I asked Elizabeth if there was something along those lines they wanted, and this was her response:

We did become very close with a wonderful rickshaw driver in Mysore, named Shiva Shanka.  He was a fantastic, helpful tour guide, and a safe and comfortable rickshaw driver (lovely family man, too).  He may be contacted thru his website:
Shiva’s cell phone number is:

 So if you are making a trip to Mysore, give him a buzz. And now, their tale from Mysore:


My boyfriend (at the time) and I traveled to Mysore for a five-week trip beginning on December 7, 2011.  Bill and I have been practicing Ashtanga in Denver with our teachers Joan Isbell and Eric Stauffer for a couple of years, and have also had the good fortune to practice with senior Western teachers Tim Miller, Richard Freeman, Annie Pace, David Swenson, Melanie Fawer and Kino MacGregor.  Bill would celebrate a BIG birthday while we were in India, so we anticipated that our time together there would be especially memorable.

(We have 5 children between us, ranging from 8-13 years, so leaving them for such an extended period of time, during the holidays, required more than a small bit of maneuvering and negotiation, but it was well worth the effort.)

What we didn’t anticipate was HOW MUCH FUN we would have in Mysore.  “Shala Time” was an eye-opener for us on our first day of practice (rookie mistake). We thought we might miss such comforts from home as: a taco stand (those cravings were quickly sated by savory dosas), hot showers (in 80 plus degree weather it wasn’t necessary), and our children (they were, in fact, having a blast in the States, and the handful of children at the shala willingly shared their smiles and effervescence, so we felt connected to the younger set through them).

Saraswathi absolutely glowed – what warmth and strength! (Probably a party foul, but I couldn’t help hugging her after she assisted me in an especially opening series of half bends.) And Sharath deftly embodied leadership, authenticity, thoughtfulness, and a sense of humor. Bill and I so enjoyed our 8:30 a.m. start time, as every morning we witnessed Sharath interact with his beautiful family (coffee was delivered to him, and his children came in sharing giggles and giving kisses to their father and grandmother before they headed off to school). Seeing these householders wearing dual hats instilled an even deeper respect for the tradition.

The practice itself felt lighter – more buoyant – in temperate Mysore. Our fellow practitioners were generous, inclusive and funny (Tim Feldmann gets a special shout-out there). We were thrilled to have been at the shala for the filming of Mysore Magic, the film which vibrantly captures a bit of the current KPJAYI landscape.

Regarding packing for our journey: we were comforted to have brought along our favorite coffee and peanut butter from home. On our next adventure, we will remember to add: Cetaphil and a loofah (the dermatologist here told me that I brought back half of India in my face!), along with our 5 children.

To summarize, Bill and I feel really lucky to have been encouraged by our teachers to go to Mysore, and we can hardly wait to go back.  My then-boyfriend became my fiance during my most memorable Mysore practice … the twists in Marichyasana C and D allowed just enough time to see Bill mouth the question from several mats away, “Will you marry me?”  I breathed, quickly processed, and on the next twist enthusiastically mouthed my answer, “Yes!”

Very special place, the shala is.


Do Mysore stories get much better than that? Both Bill and Elizabeth will be at the Confluence, so there will be plenty of time to offer them congratulations.
Posted by Steve

Countdown time: Reintroduction to Tim Miller, II

Being here in Southern California, we hope we can beg your forgiveness that Tim Miller is the Confluence teacher we’ve not only had the most contact with — but so have our friends. Here’s a piece we ran from Ashtanga teacher Maria Zavala. She will be among the assistants at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. Find out more at her website:


I had been practicing yoga for a couple of years when my path crossed Tim Miller’s in Chicago. I had been taking Vinyasa classes with my friend, Daren Friesen, who now owns Moksha Yoga. I was a faithful student of yoga, mainly Iyengar, but needed something more. I had taken some Ashtanga classes, but it was quite challenging practicing Ashtanga in those days – back in 1996 in Chicago, no one was really teaching it on a consistent basis.  Combining breath with movement along with the dynamic flow of these classes offered a fun challenge for me that Iyengar didn’t.

At the time, Daren had been hosting Ashtanga teachers from around the country for special workshops, but I always seemed to be out of town when they were being held. On this particular occasion, I had just come back from a trip. After class, Daren mentioned that Tim Miller was in town, and I should take the last day of his workshop.

I had no idea who Tim was at the time. I was very new to yoga, only practicing 2 years, and my life was very busy with world travel, a lustrous career in hairdressing, socializing, etc. I was in my mid-20s, and thoroughly enjoying life. Yoga was just becoming a part of it. I’m not sure if it was the tone of Daren’s voice when he mentioned the workshop, or that he seemed to be telling me to take the workshop rather than asking.

I chose to participate.

I showed up the next day for Led Primary Series. I realized that many of the students were from other states, not just local folks.  I started thinking this guy must be pretty special for so many to make the trek to see him. It didn’t take long to realize that I was in the presence of greatness. Now, I don’t want to put Tim on a pedestal, but let me tell you, I knew he was the real deal by the way he conducted the class. A focused, disciplined, traditional class with the Sanskrit counts, coupled with his dry sense of humor, which I learned to appreciate as I got to know him better. This was part of his way to make you realize that “all is coming” if you practice diligently.

Later that day, Tim conducted his “Yoga Asana Doctor” session during which students ask a question and he answers by having them come up and demonstrate the pose, dissecting it anatomically. I had a question concerning Parivirrta Trikonasana. At the time, it was an awkward, uncomfortable pose for me as my hips were tight and not cooperating in the pose. I have to admit, part of the reason I asked about this pose was I wanted an adjustment from him, as I hadn’t received one in the led class. For those who have studied with Tim, you might be familiar with this famous adjustment. It’s more like a chiropractic adjustment than anything else, and it’s heavenly.

Little did I know at the time that I took this workshop with Tim that the stage was being set for something bigger not too far in the future for me. I was blessed on this occasion to be invited to share the rest of Tim’s stay with Daren, Tim and a few folks who were close with Tim, including Jodi Blumstein. There was a special dinner and the honor (though at the time, I was still a bit oblivious to my great fortune) of being part of a small group that did self-practice with Tim in Daren’s apartment the next day before Tim left town. It was awesome.

Fast forward five years later. I had by then become a serious Ashtanga student, spending two summers in Crete, Greece practicing with Derek Ireland and Rhada. Jodi was teaching Ashtanga in Chicago and I would alternate taking classes with her, self-practice, and taking class with Quinn Kearney, who was teaching at Moksha at the time.

By now I had been immersed in the practice long enough to realize that the frigid Chicago weather was detrimental to my practice – there were many times that I would walk in knee deep snow for a quarter mile or so just to get to class on an early Sunday morning. It would take me the first 40 minutes to practice just to thaw out. I not only felt the need to study with a senior teacher, who was directly linked to the source of Ashtanga in India – Pattabhi Jois – I needed to get to a warm environment, fast!

I immediately thought of Tim in Encinitas and knew instinctively that I needed to move there. And by now, I knew that teaching yoga was going to be my path. (Had someone told me five years earlier that one day I would be teaching yoga, I would have laughed. It seemed so unlikely at the time that I would be a yoga teacher.)

Looking back at this time, I feel that yoga chose me to teach rather than my doing the choosing. I ended up staying in Encinitas for eight years, studying with Tim, participating in his two Teacher Trainings, assisting him in class, and teaching at his Shala. I never got the chance to travel to India, (that’s another long story), but I felt so connected to Mysore because of Tim’s connection to Guruji and his closeness to him.

Studying with Tim is so special. He brings so much knowledge, love and devotion to the practice. Hearing him recount story after story from The Mahabharata during his Improv class. Kirtan chanting on Thursday mornings after Pranayama. His thorough knowledge of Yoga Philosophy imparted in such a way to make it interesting and practicable to our own lives now. . In teacher trainings the countless stories about Guruji. It was more than evident how close Tim was to Guruji by hearing the stories and how much of a presence he was in Tim’s life.

I’m very thankful to have Tim in my life as my teacher. Out of everything I learned from him, I feel the most valuable lessons were gained by his example; being there for his students on a daily basis, even after just returning from a long trip of teaching; he would be in the Mysore room the very next day, 6 a.m. sharp for Pranyama and teaching his full schedule without even a day to rest from his travels.

I’ve always been quite impressed by this, as it’s not an easy task. Tim has always said he learned his work ethic from Guruji – always being there for your students and teaching. Selfless devotion to this practice and to students. That is part of the path of a true teacher.


Posted by Steve

Sunday conversation: What are you looking forward to at the Confluence?

We may have asked this question early on, but with the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence now just a few days away — and the Confluence’s sending out an update and a list of assistant teachers earlier this month — it feels like a good time to ask it again:

What are you most looking forward to?

It might be the simple chance to practice with one, or all, of the teachers. Perhaps it is one of the sessions. (Surely not the backbending one?) Maybe it is the chance to be around 350 Ashtangis.

Or maybe it is something else?

Posted by Steve