Report from Tim Miller’s: “The Physics and Metaphysics of Asana”


South we went!

It was a packed house at Tim Miller’s on Saturday. “We’ve oversold,” Tim informed us, “We may need to pass out vouchers for the next flight.” Steve and I got there early, though, and parked ourselves in the front row.

It was Tim’s at-least annual benefit for the Sean O’Shea Foundation. This one was titled “The Physics and Metaphysics of Asana,” and he jumped right in.  Even before he got started, I informed him my shoulders were sore from the previous day’s class. “Some opening there,” he said, “Sweet pain.”

Sweet pain. That might sum up both our practices.

Tim began simply. He talked about his first, amazing encounter with Ashtanga 35 years ago, how it took him internally, to a place of expansion and peace that “felt like home.” Much of his study since, he says, has been trying to explain what happened that first practice.

His talk reviewed the Yoga Sutras: the purpose of yoga, the gunas, the koshas and our relationship with eternal truths. The purpose of yoga, he told us, is to cleanse the organs of perception so that we aren’t bothered by duality, to see through impermanence, and to use that clarity of vision to see only truth—the thing that never changes.

Obviously, this is the meta-physical bit. Why is Ashtanga, the most physical of physical practices, a unique way to access it? Its intensity produces heat, heat that not only purifies but softens.

Tim gave us a wonderfully consoling insight: We should be thankful for our resistance. It’s the resistance that produces friction, conflict. It’s the conflict that produces the heat we need to melt those outer layers, to go in and allows for surrender. Although I’ve  heard Tim say things like this many times, this insight had a big impact for me–it’s sticking with me, and I pondered it all weekend. Really, Tim gave us a direct connection between the physical reality of the practice of asana (“Why do we have to do all these damn asanas?” he asked at one point) and seeking truth, between prakriti and purusha.

That brought us to sthira sukham asanam—Patanjali’s description of what should happen in an asana—a “seat.” Stable, but happy. Tim described this as “Fifty percent making it happen and fifty percent allowing it to happen.” A wonderful ideal to aspire to, one that requires surrender.

He also described Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga as a particularly effective tool to make this happen, of its use of a “physical methodology to get at something metaphysical” and its “dance of duality”: Forward bend, backbend; upward- facing, downward-facing; movement, stillness; inhaling, exhaling.

It’s also the cultivation of the breath in Ashtanga, he told us, that makes it so well suited for sadhana. It allows us to gain control, so that “you feel you have a body instead of the body having you.”

Speaking of the body. Tim then took us through a “greatest hits” of the primary series (he was mindful of the crowded room, and the high percentage of those unfamiliar with Ashtanga). He was his usual good-natured self, with some gentle jokes here and there. And he ended with a short but intense pranayama practice,  and of course some singing in gratitude to Hanuman—all connected carefully to yoga, and pragmatically to the practice itself.

Look for Steve’s report later today.

Posted by Bobbie


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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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