Random thoughts from Friday at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence

Here’s a few of our thoughts from day 1 of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence:

Bobbie: Hundreds of yogis breathing in the same room with four masters teaching. Occasionally, you’d hear laughter.

Steve: The opening prayer, led by Tim Miller: Really one voice, with hundreds of tones.

Bobbie: Eddie Stern’s Paschimotanasana adjustment after backbends was this: Here’s the base and here’s the top of your spine, and this is where it can go. Two hands, it might have been two fingers.

Steve: Here’s a sense of the room where Mysore is: Long, with a triangular ceiling, of wood. Carpeted floor, which makes for forgiving backbends but sore wrists. High up at either end are windows.

Bobbie: David Swenson’s floating class: He’s all about news you can use. Practical. Simple. Helpful. Humor with a purpose. He had everyone rolling in the aisles. (Steve note: Aisles in this case is the little strips between mats.) But, at the same time, part of that point was that we take ourselves too seriously. “I am a good person,” whether or not you can jump through. You’re still a good person. And you ought to be able to laugh about it, even if you can.

Steve: I can jump through, but I’m not a good person.

Bobbie: Write something real.

Steve: Fine. His session on flying and handstands is about the realms of weight distribution in our practice. Flight is just the control of movement. Activate where necessary and relax where possible. Remember, asana is a “posture comfortably held.” It is very easy to make things difficult and very difficult to make things easy. Even if you are frightened, remain calm.

Bobbie: David said the practice is like a painting. One brush stroke too many changes the painting. Practice with efficiency. Least amount of effort. “Do not attach self-worth to these types of things.”

Steve: Jumping forward has the same dynamic as jumping back, he said. He used a metaphor of shooting a basketball. You want to find the balance point between forward and upward and where it comes down — in the basket — is where your feet land. Also, Eddie Stern showed up halfway through (we later learned he’d spend the first hour in Tim Miller’s pranayama class), and their occasional banter was priceless. We wonder: Has Eddie ever seen David do these classes?


During the afternoon session, the five senior Western students talked about Guruji and:

Changing the sequence. The old shala. His visits to America. Teaching, above all. He loved few things more. (Amma was one.) The future of the practice. Neti. Being a householder. The experience of yoga. His influence on each one of them. The way Mysore has changed.

Now, a few specifics:

Bobbie: When each of them would talk, they would talk as much to each other as to us. They laughed together and nodded and riffed off each others’ ideas. It was a beautiful chemistry between them. Each one of their personalities came through.

Steve: David talked about the perfect storm of enthusiasm. Guruji’s for teaching; theirs (and others from the early days) for learning.

Bobbie: They all emphasized their personal experience with Guruji and that each is conveying that experience to their own students. And all, in that way, are offering “correct method.”

Steve: Experience was one of the big themes. It doesn’t matter if the sequence has changed a little (although, they pointed out, it changed very little if you think about it). “It’s not a system,” Eddie said. “It’s an experience.” And Nancy Gilgoff: “It is the experience of moving energy through the body. You really only need the breath.”

Bobbie: The future of the practice is in each individual teacher. Both the senior teachers and new ones. And how each teacher conveys the practice to each individual student. Organization isn’t what keeps it alive; the individuals and their experience are.

Steve: On Guruji’s legacy, Nancy said that Guruji told her: “You teach the way I taught you.” All of them up there, she said, were taught differently, in different contexts. “Each of us got a different story from Guruji.”

Bobbie: From Nancy: “We were his research.” They talked a lot about what makes a good teacher, and a good teacher learns from his/her student. Guruji learned from them.

Steve: On how the Ashtanga sequence changed, Tim Miller looked over to David and asked how long a time there was between his trips to Mysore. Twenty years. So when David returned, he was practicing as Guruji had taught him two decades earlier. As David practiced, Guruji was yelling at him. “Who is teaching this?” Guruji asked. “You did,” David replied. “No, you forgetting.” But, really, the changes were slight, they all agreed. “There were rearrangements that took place,” Tim said. “I think he added a few things, over time.”

Bobbie: Because Tim hosted Guruji so many times — a dozen — it was always their honor to figure out how to entertain him and Amma. One time, someone had the idea of taking them to Disneyland. There were many trips to Disneyland after. It touched the child-like side of Guruji. His favorite rides were Pirates of the Caribbean, aka “The Ocean Thieves”, and the Haunted Mansion, aka “Dracula’s House.”

Steve: Richard spoke about organization versus the individual, that it isn’t the system we should be holding on to. It is, again, the experience. “We don’t have to hold it so tightly, we strangle it.”

Bobbie: I really liked what Nancy said. Despite the fact she was practicing twice a day, doing the equivalent of first and second in the morning, and then first with advanced in the afternoon. Despite that, she said, with nods all around: “He made it fun.”

Steve: And so did they.

Posted by Bobbie and Steve (and sorry, our computer is refusing to let us post photos)

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

3 thoughts on “Random thoughts from Friday at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence”

  1. Dear Bobbie, dear Steve, sitting here on the other side of the world, (munich) i really want to thank you guys for this wonderfull opportunity to take part on this so, so special thing going on in San Diego…..ooohhhlala you guys have made my lazy Saturday…..thanx again greeetings bettina

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