“More Research”: Tim Miller and the evolution of Ashtanga

Research is going on here. More benefit!

It’s early Saturday morning, and a day of rest for me and my fellow teacher trainees (perhaps for you as well). There’ll be an afternoon training session, though, starting with more on the Yoga Sutras and ardha matsyendrasana.

There are so many wonderful things going on, it’s hard to sort out where to start, but my mind keeps coming back to one aspect of Tim’s teaching that I think is important to stress. I’ll give you a concrete example to illustrate.

As I’ve said, we’re going through Second Series pose by pose. A student volunteers to demonstrate what’s “correct,” and while s/he’s doing so, Tim walks around points out the pertinent aspects of the pose—where the emphasis should be (he’ll ask, “What’s the point of this pose?”), alignment, effort, drishti, etc. Then, students who are more shall we say challenged in the pose volunteer, and Tim will demonstrate modifications and various adjustments for us. The volunteer gets help with difficulties, and the viewers learn solutions. (I’m a frequent volunteer for this part—you know how I love to be of use.)

But this is no mechanical set of instructions. It’s true there are some old standbys; at the same time, the room is full of Ashtanga teachers who have learned their own solutions. We ask questions, and make suggestions. Then, we pair up and try them on each other.

Cases in point: dhanurasana and parsva dhanurasana. For dhanurasana, a student suggests trying the pose with a bolster under the sternum, lifting the chest, allowing more ease in connecting the loop and giving lift to the legs. As we break out into pairs, I glance up at the front of the room, and I see Tim trying this modification. This is a frequent occurrence. He’ll walk around while we’re adjusting each other, and then he’ll try the things we’re suggesting and give feedback.

In the illustration in our manual for parsva dhanurasana, the head is straight. Many of us ask about the drishti—most of us have learned to look over the shoulder and up. “I don’t like that,” Tim says—but he never leaves it at that. He always says why: “It twists the neck at an odd angle. I prefer to keep the extension going in the neck. The pose is an extension, not a twist.”

There’s more: In our manual, the knees are apart in this pose. Tim’s demonstrator has her knees together, which heshows us as “correct”: gravity takes them down. He adds, however: “Knees apart, o.k.” A few of us, including myself, have a little freak out. I’ve been told always, knees together. “No, apart’s o.k.” We break out, and I see Tim walking around watching, answering questions, trying the pose out. When we come back as a group, he says this:

“I revise my previous statement.”

The knees, he says, should be slightly apart; it allows for more extension, more quadriceps opening, allows more opening of the chest and even the possibility of getting into the psoas.

Which brings me to the point I’d like to emphasize about Tim’s training. Back in my training with Nancy Gilgoff, she made the point that in the early days of Mysore with Gruruji, she felt that work on the series was ongoing. “We were the research,” she said, meaning the early students.

In that post, I mourned the fact that Guruji called his shala “The Ashtanga Research Institute,” and that word “research” had fallen out of the title, which I find…problematic.

Tim is emphasizing the need for research all throughout our training. “We’re not robots,” he says. We’re thinking, feeling practioners in a constantly changing world. He believes strongly in the continued improvement of the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and he is teaching a generation of new students to follow this path. Not only is he teaching us what is “correct,” but he is teaching us how to correctly research.

More to come.

Posted by Bobbie

Published by

theconfluencecountdown

Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

10 thoughts on ““More Research”: Tim Miller and the evolution of Ashtanga”

  1. This is one of your best posts ever! The research with intelligent application is an exciting part of Ashtanga!
    On second thought, maybe your best post ever was the one that led me to a job teaching Ashtanga on an island in Honduras. Big thank you to you both!

  2. One of the most simple, yet profound blog posts I’ve ever found… It is encouraging as we teach the same way and this really boosts us…Thank you for the wonderful piece of article… !

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