Keep Ashtanga Weird!

Agni. Fire=transformation.

My first Ashtanga teacher training with Tim Miller was his intensive, one-week Tulum, Mexico version, in 2008. I was practicing with Diana Christinson then; when I told her I was thinking about going, but had some serious doubts about my readiness, she was nothing but enthusiastic. “Don’t worry,” she said, “By the time you go, you’ll be ready.”

I should say here that in hindsight, I’m not quite sure what made me say I was thinking about it. I had actually never met Tim, in spite of living within an hour’s drive of the shala—I’d only heard about him. The list of checkbox poses that you might think would indicate readiness was long and unchecked. I had an uncertain grasp on the sequencing itself. I couldn’t bind on my own in…almost everything. I couldn’t do anything like a backbend. I was terrified of headstand. I’d just  discovered the nagging pain I’d been having in my shoulder for years was a torn labrum and I needed surgery. The list goes on. What was I thinking?

So I had mentioned this (what now seems like a surpassingly stupid) idea to Diana (in passing, after practice) about eight months away from the training. The mere hint that I might go seemed to give Diana a laser-beam like focus on all aspects of my practice. She got on me for drishtis, for breath, for “dinking.” She made sure I got to a bind of some sort. She worked on my alignment. She gave me Second Series adaptations to help me in backbending. Before long, I actually started to think it might be OK if I went to see Tim at his shala (an account of that here). So I did. And through that experience, went to Tulum, which turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Now, I find myself in the exact same position I was in back when I’d started my first training. I’m studying the poses like a kid in a sandbox, throwing myself all over the place. My teacher Maria Zavala is on me like Diana was, minding my breath, making fun of me so I check my awareness. Making me repeat a pose until she sees some understanding going on. Every practice, she jams the information in, both physical (with her adjustments and research poses) and mental (with her advice and experience). I’m in awe of her, of what’s happening. But: Do I feel ready for my Second Series teacher training with Tim in two weeks? No way. Am I freaked out? Yes. And I’m so excited I can barely stand it.

All of this intensity comes with some wisdom I didn’t have in 2008: I’m aware that the existence of the trainings themselves is controversial. I was still fairly new to Ashtanga when I went to Tulum. I had no idea that the mere fact that there were things called “teacher trainings” outside of Mysore, India was a contentious issue. I had no intention of being an Ashtanga teacher, so it’s likely I wouldn’t have cared. I just had a deep thirst to know more, and I sensed there was a lot more to know, and that I wanted Tim to teach it to me. He’s still doing that.

So as I’m memorizing drishtis and transitions and sequences, I’m thinking I’ve learned a few things since I started. I’ve got some perspective on it as a life-long student and an ex-academic, and I’d like to go on record with the plea in my headline:

Keep Ashtanga weird.

Eddie Stern said something like this at the Confluence—that it was a remarkable thing that with no formal bureaucracy, no system of distribution or middle management or committees, or even, really a “central authority” that called itself such, the teachings of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois spread with such consistency, and always accompanied with such passion for teaching more.

Sure there are controversies, starting with what a senior teacher calls his/her trainings (or even more basic, the use of the term “First and Second Series” over “Primary and Intermediate”—I’m never sure what to call it, really, beyond nadi shodana). That, I believe, is what makes it a living practice, like a living language. Stop adding to it, stop adapting, and it freezes up, becomes dogma, and dies.

There are all sorts of ideas of “correct” among the teachers I’ve practiced with—I’ve been a wandering yogini, and had to maneuver my way to where I am now. There have been times when that’s been frustrating, but as I prepare myself to get tossed back into the fire that will be two weeks with Tim Miller, I’m taking stock, and I’ve decided that not only is that OK, it’s a sign of life, and I embrace it.

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

4 thoughts on “Keep Ashtanga Weird!”

  1. Bobbie, lovely post and I can relate. I’ve been learning second series for about a year and a half with my teacher, who has been my teacher for a long time but who I only get to see a few months out of the year. I’ve felt the time is right to throw myself into the fire of learing it for a variety of reasons – not the actual timing in terms of our life schedules, but the heart timing if that makes any sense. I’m going to see Kino and Tim for an intensive second series week in Oct. (I’ve never met them). I couldn’t sum up my feelings better than you have here. I feel unready. I am freaked out. At the same time, I also embrace it completely. Thanks for sharing. Hope to do such a study with Tim next year when the actual life timing permits.

    1. I remember the first day of the two week first series I did with Tim, we were all waiting in front of the shala for the doors to open, and a woman next to me looked totally terrified. I chatted with her a bit, and she whispered to me, “I can’t bind in marichy D.” “You’ll be able to by the time you leave,” I said, and added, “You’ll be fine and love every minute.” She was, and she did! You go!

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