After Bobbie and I got back from our trip down San Diego way for Tim Miller’s workshop, we saw that we’d missed — by a day — seeing our friend and frequent Ashtanga teacher, Maria Zavala. There she was (well, on Facebook), talking about being at Tim’s for his Sunday morning Second Series Led class.
There were a few gems in what she said, and so we asked — insisted really — that Maria send us something about it. She did.
Before jumping in though, I’d encourage you to find our more about Maria at her website. And for our extra cool readers who live near West Hollywood, she’s now teaching Ashtanga from Monday through Friday (a mix of Mysore and Led) at the Yogaworks on North Fairfax.
Here’s what Maria sent:
This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to practice with my teacher. Since moving to Los Angeles almost six years ago, it has been quite a challenge to get to Encinitas to practice with Tim Miller, so those rare moments are truly treasured. Going to his Shala is like going home to where one grew up, filled with the comfort of familiar faces, welcoming smiles, and warm hugs. I am missed there as I miss Tim and the community he has built in his 30-plus years of teaching.
I clearly remember the day I asked him if I could attend his Second Series class back in 2003. I had been practicing with him for almost two years and was up to Eka Pada Sirsasana (one leg behind head pose). I had been struggling with this posture for more than a year, and it didn’t seem to be improving much. Sunday morning, all the great memories of practicing in Tim’s room came flooding back to me in his opening remark before class, “Let’s take the scenic route since most of us here today are over 40.” I quickly realized I was one of those people now. Yikes! The thing is, he has always taught Second this way. Scenic route means that “research postures” are incorporated into the practice before some of the most challenging poses in the Series — the places where most people can use any extra help they can get. Research happens before Kapotasana, the deepest backbend in the series, and before the “leg behind head series” as I like to think of those three postures smack in the middle of the practice that a lot of students can spend many years on, including myself.
Tim’s way of teaching Second is his and not traditional. He explains this in length during the Teacher Trainings so that students truly understand why he teaches this way. It’s always made sense to me. He found a way to keep a challenging practice safe and accessible for everyone. I teach it the same way, in Mysore class to the students who need it. I used the “research postures” for many years before letting them go, though on occasion, I will incorporate them when I feel they are needed. Intelligent discernment for longevity in practice.
This past Sunday I was reminded of how wonderful and special of a teacher Tim is. There’s his dry sense of humor, especially, sprinkled throughout class. Like when he asked, “Why? Do you have a doctor’s note?” to a student who wanted to skip Karandavasana (forearm balance, legs in lotus, lower to arms and back up again).
I practiced across from him, as he does the practice on this day with his students. After having spent the day before in my car driving to Encinitas, my body was feeling a bit stiff; I was thankful we were taking the “scenic route” through Second.
It’s pretty inspiring practicing with Tim, as he is a testament that one can do this intense vigorous practice our entire lives safely. He may use a prop here and there, but he can still bust out Second beautifully. I noticed that he did a quick Kapotasana (can you blame him), then adjusted students. He altogether skips Dwi Pada Sirsasana (I so wish I could also skip that posture). So he came over to adjust me in it. As he approached me, I heard the all-familiar, drawn out, “Hmmmmmmmm” as he adjusted me. It’s my least favorite and most challenging posture in the series for me, and though I’ve been practicing Second for more than 10 years, this pose doesn’t get any easier or better. I’m fine with that. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that, as Tim had told me many years earlier, “ I don’t think you are anatomically correct for this pose.” At the time he made the remark, I was initially horrified, then realized he was right.
I was also avoiding practicing Second or skipping practice altogether because I did not like the posture I was on at the time — Eka Pada Sirsasana. His remark made me realize that avoiding practice or Second wasn’t helping. He was actually being honest, and at the same time, letting me know that “avoiding was not the answer,” another favorite phrase of his. Tim has always given me light, but effective adjustments in these postures (he has compassion), as he did on this day, thankfully. The love Tim has for the practice and for his students can be felt and seen even in the comical faces he sometimes makes when he’s looking down at you, about to adjust you in a challenging posture that you know is nowhere near what the pose should look like, or on this particular day, as he stood across from me, the furrowed, raised eyebrows and wide eyes, right before diving into Uttanasana (standing forward bend), after having done nine backbends.
It’s a special, intimate relationship one builds with an Ashtanga teacher. There is a lot to be said for spending two hours a day, six days a week with one teacher. You learn the system the old school way, just by being in the energy of your teacher. Almost by osmosis. I’m ever so grateful to have Tim as my teacher. Through his stern, yet loving discipline, he taught me so much about the practice. I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today if it weren’t for him.
That pretty well sums up Timji and his love of the practice. (Oh, and his Ram Navami-focused blog post is here.)
Posted by Steve