The wireless Ashtangi — Nancy Gilgoff

Nancy Gilgoff teaching, from her Picasa site.

Unlike the other quartet of teacher/students at the Confluence, Nancy Gilgoff doesn’t seem to have a regular blog or anything of the like.

A wireless yogini, indeed, in this day of constant Facebook updates, Twitter feeds and, yes, blogs like this.

I’ll admit I know less about her than I do the other four — perhaps as a result of her not being quite so present online. Yes, her site exists, but the “about” page is pretty short. Perhaps on purpose?

That leads, then, to other searches. I know, from a one-day session with David Williams, that he introduced her to Guruji and that she had a serious of ailments. But I was shocked to find out what they were.

This old Yoga Journal piece lays it out in pretty stark detail. (Note to Yoga Journal: It might be good to date these articles; I have zero idea when it is from.)

Here are some key moments:

The earliest of Gilgoff’s injuries began when she was a child. She loved horseback riding, but it put such a constant pounding on her lower spine that she was left with chronic back problems. “By the time I was a teenager,” she says, “it had manifested in my neck, where a vertebra was jammed forward.” Along with this, childhood dental work had been performed with her mouth left open so uncomfortably, she would literally scream in pain, a torture she believes compounded the neck injury. Later, as a junior in college, she began getting severe migraines she believes were triggered by the then-new birth control pills. This experience left her with jaw pain so intense, she couldn’t open her mouth for days at a time.


Her pain was so acute, doctors suggested surgery to deaden places in her brain, in effect to numb the pain. But Gilgoff had other ideas. She had watched a close friend go through hospital treatments for cancer, and the idea of surgery appalled her. “I knew I didn’t want to end up in that situation,” she says, “so I started looking around, taking the first steps to another way of being.”

When Gilgoff left college at age 24, she’d already become a vegetarian, and it wasn’t long after she took up yoga under Williams’ tutelage that the couple traveled to India, where they ended up at Jois’s Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore. The challenge of Ashtanga would change her life.

I’ll be very intrigued to see how that beginning manifests itself in her teaching and what she has to say about the practice; and it makes me a bit disappointed that I didn’t sign up for her Led class.

Her story also reminds me of something else, something that seems strangely common to Ashtangis: A lot of them have had some injury at some point, whether before finding the practice or some time during it. Shoulder and knee injuries are common; I’ve heard stories about recovering from car accidents; there are those who were athletes who got hurt and then found Ashtanga.

Is it, I wonder, because at its heart it really is a healing practice — or is there something about it that attracts folks whose dharma passes through injury?

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

One thought on “The wireless Ashtangi — Nancy Gilgoff”

  1. I had the good fortune to retire from a corporate job back in 2002 and decided to go to India to study with Guruji, but he decided to be on tour that summer lol. So I picked a place on his tour to visit, Maui, and quickly discovered that I could take class with Nancy the whole month I was there, other than the week that he was to be there. I’ve never had such a profound experience, having had a degenerative spine I came from similar circumstances and she was the right one to help me through them, mostly through her work with me and my uddiyana bandha, which eliminated any strain I felt from my back. She also moves you into intermediate series quickly, rather than keeping you stuck on a pose you cannot do in primary, because thats how GUruji taught her and believes the primary can be agitating without the second to balance it out, and I agree, so by the time my month ended I was doing all of primary and most of second, and had no more back pain, it was wonderful. And I’m excited to be coming to the confluence in 2013 to see her again!

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