David Swenson on using humor to teach Ashtanga

Our highlighting Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Melbourne’s first video of David Swenson a week ago was pretty popular, so you all will be happy to hear that there are more to come.

I found that good news via their blog, which I didn’t see when I discovered the first video of David. Link to it is here. It also notes that the videos were shot by Darius Devas of Being Films. I’ll be taking a look since there’s plenty of surf videos there.

Here’s the latest from David on using humor to teach Ashtanga:

Here’s a great quote from it: “The yoga is difficult but he brought a joy into the room and we were inspired to try and do more.”

We’ve touched on humor and the practice a bit. Here’s an old one focused on irony.

Posted by Steve

Richard Freeman and David Swenson remember BKS Iyengar

A few of the senior Western Ashtanga teachers have taken some time to remember BKS Iyengar. Richard Freeman, for whom Iyengar was a first teacher, put something up today. Link and excerpt:

Samadhi, attention to depth, and details of asana form were all that he asked. His razor sharp intelligence and the twinkle of humor and compassion in his eyes have caused a profound deepening of our understanding and practice.

From all the yoga world, Thank you Mr. Iyengar.

David Swenson posted a piece last week:

My brother and I started to practice in 1969 when we only had access to books as our teachers. One of the first ones we came across was Light On Yoga. The power, grace and presence displayed within BKS Iyengar’s asanas conveyed an ocean of energy and depth far beyond his mere physical prowess. We would sit for hours in the park trying to emulate what we saw on the pages and attempt to gain just a small taste of what we knew he was experiencing so purely. His concise and erudite discourse and explanations of yogic philosophy dazzled us.

Those are the ones I find. I’m sure there are others.

Posted by Steve

Timely enough: David Swenson on how you know you’re doing yoga

Here’s a timely capture of some thoughts from David Swenson, during a happening-this-weekend workshop in Milan.

He talks about how you know you’re doing yoga, which builds nicely from the current in the media and online discussion around yoga photos/selfies.

Post is right here. Key part:

“Practicing yoga has nothing to do with how flexible you are. It is not that the more you are flexible, the more you are spiritual. Only the practitioner knows if he is truly doing yoga when on the mat. In some way, the greatest yoga is what you can’t see, though we are very attracted towards what we can see.

If somebody asks you ‘how was your practice?’ most likely answers will be: ‘oh, it was awesome / terrible BECAUSE’…. and than a list of items such as balance in this posture, touching the toes, grabbing the wrists in that other posture are brought forward. This has nothing to do with yoga. That doesn’t mean we’re supposed to ignore our body, though it has to be used as a tool, it’s not the end in itself. Yoga is about breath and mind control…Yogashchitta vritti nirodhah (Patanjali 1.2)… yoga is the mastery of the fluctuations of the mind… that is yoga.

Check out more at the link.

Posted by Steve

Mag gets Q&As with David Swenson, Tim Miller and Richard Freeman

Yoga International today posted Q&As with David Swenson, Tim Miller and Richard Freeman. (And yes, I’ve edited after I saw all three were online.)

Link right here to the David Swenson one. And a couple excerpts:

How can students apply Ashtanga Yoga to their daily lives, and how can they keep Pattabhi Jois’s legacy alive in the Western world?

Pattabhi Jois was fond of saying “99% practice and 1% theory.” Practice did not just mean flowing through asanas on our mat but rather the utilization of the beneficial aspects of the asana practice within the realms of the rest of our day. The goal was never to spend more time on the mat. The ultimate goal was to increase prana while practicing on the mat and then to take that positive energy back into our daily life and make the world a better place. What does that mean? Well, our mat can become a microcosm for the rest of our life. How do we deal with the asanas that are challenging and the ones we love? Breath, focus, and patience are the tools. When confronted with the challenges of daily existence we can draw upon the strengths we gain from our practice on the mat.

There are many aspects of life that we do not have control over. For instance, the economy, weather, accidents, traffic, unkind people, and myriad other instances and situations we may confront within a day. Though we do not have control of these things surrounding us, we do have control over how we react to the circumstances, situations, and challenges that life presents to us. Through the practice of yoga our reactions, actions, and general demeanor are refined. The greatest respect that can be given to Pattabhi Jois is for his students to demonstrate the benefits they have gained through their practice by acting with greater compassion, patience, and overall integrity in their lives. In this way, the legacy of Pattabhi Jois and his teachings will carry on for generations to come and his positive energy will continue to shine through the lives of his students.


How is the Ashtanga Yoga community today with Pattabhi Jois no longer here?

Of course the physical loss of Pattabhi Jois was followed by a deep pain and feeling of loss for anyone fortunate enough to have known him. For me, as I sat with the sadness of loss and contemplated his life and the powerful effect he had on me and countless others, I came up with an image that made it more bearable and brought peace to my heart. The image is of a grand old tree in the forest. Pattabhi Jois was like one of those magnificent trees that stands taller than the rest with a commanding majesty, presence, and fortitude. We gravitate naturally toward these big trees. People gather there and bring family, friends, and loved ones to relax beneath the comfort and security of its massive limbs. The tree provides shade and shelter and also becomes the fulcrum of a community. People travel from far and near to be near the tree.

And the Richard Freeman one:

What do you hope people take with them into their daily practice? What does the yoga community need to do to take the practice of yoga to the next level?

I would hope that people take from their daily practice a taste and enthusiasm for mindfulness which can be experienced as a brighter flame of intelligence that allows one to work more subtly and precisely with sensations, feelings, and thoughts as they arise. Also I would hope that all of us could be a little more curious about the roots of the yoga tradition, the variety of its expressions, its philosophies, languages, art, and its various beliefs. In other words, I would encourage us all to remember to come back again and again to an open-minded application of the attention of samadhi to everything in the whole world.

Practicing with mindfulness in this way can help us to take the practice to the next level because it requires that we act compassionately toward both ourselves and all others. This can remove the obstacle of hiding within a communal narcissism and can open the door to self-reflection and the ability to truly experience the interconnectedness of all things that is reflected through the practice.

Finally, the Tim Miller interview:

Ashtanga yoga in the West has come to mean a set of hatha yoga sequences taught by Pattabhi Jois. What were his main teachings and legacy?

Pattabhi Jois always claimed that he taught exactly as his teacher,  Krishnamacharya, taught him. Based on my experience of being his student for 30 years, I can attest to the fact that, over those 30 years, there were some new asanas added and some sequences rearranged.  If anyone ever questioned him about the changes he would say, “Now is correct.” Guruji was a combination of yogi, scholar, and scientist—he called his school the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute. He knew all of the important yogic texts and incorporated these teachings as he refined the system taught to him by Krishnamacharya. Pattabhi Jois practiced and taught this system for 70 years, making little changes here and there.

Eventually there were six asana sequences—primary, intermediate, and four advanced series. The Primary Series is called Yoga Chikitsa—yoga therapy. It is designed to detoxify and heal the body, particularly the gastro-intestinal system, and to build strength and restore the natural range of motion to the joints of the body. The Intermediate Series, or Nadi Shodhana, works at a deeper level to open the energy pathways of the subtle body to increase the flow of prana. The Advanced Sequences, collectively known as Sthira Bhaga, stabilize this awakened energy and further strengthen the body and mind. The different asana sequences give us a very sophisticated and progressive method of cleaning, opening, and strengthening the body, and of steadying the mind and refining our awareness.

Check all the links for all the interviews. 

Posted by Steve