As we’ve been keeping this blog, we’ve sought the input of our friends and fellow Ashtangis who have practiced with the “senior western students” who are participating. We asked our Shasta friend, Heidi Quinn, to write up something about Nancy Gilgoff. We’ve practiced beside Heidi with Timji, and hiked in the mountains with her and her family–she had a kind, loving way about her that comes through in her account of Nancy. Heidi teaches at Monterey Yoga Shala–you should take her class if you get a chance.
I met Nancy Gilgoff at the beginning of my Ashtanga yoga journey. After hearing about her from a devoted student, Christine Hoar, I was determined to meet Nancy and flew to Vermont to attend a weekend workshop. This Vermont workshop was a precursor to admission to Nancy’s primary series adjustment clinic scheduled for the following month. Because I hadn’t been practicing Ashtanga for a full year, I had to seek special permission from Nancy to attend the week-long clinic. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now. As more experienced practitioners know, the Ashtanga practice goes beyond a series of physical poses. Nancy wanted to ensure participants had integrated the Ashtanga practice into their bodies. Nancy is not just looking at the physical body and alignment – she is tuned into the flow of energy in the body. This comes from how she learned the practice.
Nancy Gilgoff was the first woman certified by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Many also know her as the former partner of David Williams, and one of the key people involved in bringing Pattabhi Jois to the United States. She studied with him for more than 30 years. Unlike many other well-known Ashtangis, Nancy came to the Ashtanga practice with illness and injury. And Pattabhi Jois treated the whole of her person, building her strength and wellness from the inside out. Nancy is greatly influenced by Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, and this may be due, in part, to Pattabhi Jois’s teachings. Nancy told many stories of Guruji’s instructions to change her health by changing her diet to a more cooling one (to calm Pitta dosha). So Ayurveda infuses her teachings.
As a result, Nancy’s approach in the yoga room is marked by her perception of the subtle. While many teachers focus on alignment, she focuses on the movement of energy. Nancy teaches to give adjustments with clear intention and purpose, and to offer connection and support. Pressing down on a student’s sacrum in a seated forward bend, for example, is a way to nurture the student and provide a sense of stability. At the same time, the adjustment offers insight and feedback to the teacher.
As one of the few female voices in Ashtanga yoga, Nancy offers a unique perspective. Her practice has spanned several decades and several female milestones. After hearing various theories regarding the Ladies’ Holiday – Should I practice or not? – Nancy finally offered an explanation I could support. She explains it as a way to honor our bodies, a way to respect the body’s natural inclinations toward depletion and fatigue, and to support the downward flow – apana. From Nancy, I learned to be kind to myself during the “maintenance yoga” phase of life – when the needs of my children expanded (rightfully so) into that precious early morning practice space and far beyond. I learned that this too, is yoga. Her approach to Ashtanga yoga goes “off the mat” in other ways. She closes each practice with a mediation that creates a certain spaciousness – to fill ourselves with “loving kindness,” and take it out into the world.
This past summer, I attended Nancy’s workshop in nearby Mountain View. Despite my best intentions, it had been many years since I last saw her. I was curious as to how I would experience her teaching years later – and after the influence of other wonderful Ashtanga teachers along the way. I knew she wouldn’t remember me and I didn’t expect her to. And yet, my experience was as profound as ever. I recognize her as the source of many of the philosophies I have integrated into my teaching, and into my practice. For this, loving kindness.
Posted by Bobbie