Ten years on…

I have a few friends who will be going to the Ashtanga Yoga New York shala today, not to practice but to watch a screening of “Ashtanga New York.”

My understanding of the documentary is that it was intended to follow Guruji’s time spent at the shala; however, as fate would have it, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened during Guruji’s visit. His time in New York, and the documentary, obviously changed.

From my “critical” perspective, that probably compromised the quality of the film as a documentary about Ashtanga and Guruji. But it captured something else and provides one view on New York in the days and weeks immediately after the attacks.

This excerpt is about the “benefits” of Ashtanga. And, yes, that’s Gwyneth Paltrow.

Posted by Steve

A look inside the Broome St. Temple

While I’m posted videos, here’s one — it’s about 12 minutes long — on the Broome Street Temple, which Eddie Stern calls “my temple,” with a laugh. (And then “clears that up.”)

Honestly, I’m not big on watching videos on the computer. But I know lots of other people who are, so this one seems worth a gander.

It gives some more good insight into Stern, I think.

Posted by Steve

Yoda and Guruji, according to Eddie Stern

Eddie Stern has the following up at the Ashtanga Yoga New York blog:

My Favorite email Tagline on the Day

September 8, 2011

“Try not. Do! Or do not. There is no try.” –Yoda, Master Jedi

Guruji could not have said it any better himself. Actually, I think I might have heard him say it in almost that order once or twice…

We all know that about 46% of the draw of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence is the promised stories about Guruji. I wonder who will do the best impression of him?

Posted by Steve

AYNY preps for Ganesh Chaturthi celebration

Ganesh image via Exoticindia.com

I’ve been hearing from my reliable sources that Ashtanga Yoga New York was going to be closed the first week of September for a Ganesh celebration. Now the word is official at Eddie Stern’s Internet home. It’s an understandable moment when the Broome Street Temple takes clear precedence over AYNY.

(I can understand how the typical Type A Ashtangi might be annoyed, though. Two words: Home practice.)

The AYNY page gives a wonderfully succinct rundown on Ganesh, which probably is a taste of what we can expect when Eddie and Tim Miller talk about their respective Ishta Devatas during next year’s Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. Here’s a bit:

Ganesha’s head symbolizes the Atman or the soul, which is the ultimate supreme reality of human existence, and his human body signifies Maya or the earthly existence of human beings. The elephant head denotes wisdom and its trunk represents Om, the sound symbol of cosmic reality. In his upper right hand Ganesha holds a goad, which helps him propel mankind forward on the eternal path and remove obstacles from the way. The noose in Ganesha’s left hand is a gentle implement to capture all difficulties.

It goes on to give a couple of stories of how Ganesh got his elephant head and a few other pieces of information on the Hindu deity who has to be the most popular here in the U.S.

“You come!”: Newbies at the Confluence?

Last night, as I was chatting with my students after a great class, one of them asked this question:

The author with Tim, not too cool for school.

“Would it be o.k. to come to the Confluence even if you’re a new student?”

I pulled up a bench and told a little story. Back in 2005, I was a brand new, shiny Ashtanga student. I had strong feelings of loyalty to the practice, but was still very uncertain of my ability to “do” it. I was still at what I call the self-denegrating laughter stage: When my teacher would say, “Jump your feet to either side of your hands,” I would sort of snork. As if, I would think.

So when the Ashtanga world was abuzz with excited word that Guruji was coming to Los Angeles, I was all, “Gu-who-ji?” In spite of multiple offers of rides and places to stay (I lived in Orange County at the time), I didn’t go.

You can imagine how I feel about that now. When my student asked that question, I could see the same look I must’ve had on my face back in 2005. I was intimidated by students I thought were “more deserving”–you know the ones I mean, the ones that send off that air of privilege that can make Ashtanga feel like a private club. I was more scared of looking stupid than I was of actually learning. From the master!

So should you come if you’re new? YES! Especially if you’re new! My shala in Los Angeles is new, and it’s a total joy to see new people walk in the door and experience Ashtanga for the first time, to see Jörgen explaining a suryanamaskar–something that seemed an impossible task for me when I started–and to see that clean, shining look of..well, shock at the end of class. Something learned. Imagine. To be brand new, learning from Eddie Stern, David Swenson, Nancy Gilgoff, and my own guru. From Tim Miller. Yes, in my best Guruji voice, “You come!”

Posted by Bobbie

Eddie Stern takes ‘The Economist’ to task over India article

In a bit of a break from our Ashtanga-focused posts here and, more importantly, among the Confluence teachers, Eddie Stern’s latest blog post picks up a controversy over an article in The Economist magazine.

Here’s the link to Stern’s blog, and the opening part:

The Economist ran a bizarrely derogatory article on India and the Kashmir conflict on July 21st. Among the things that jumped out were

1. The subtitle of the article: ‘A Brighter Mood Brings an Opportunity. Expect India to Squander it.’

2. A photo caption below pilgrims that facetiously read: ‘Oh look, a five star military checkpoint’.

Amazingly, that’s not the worst part. You’ll have to head on over to the blog to find out.

(I’ll wait. I just took a lesson on “long tone” vocal warm-up so I’ll do that for a bit.)

OK, back? Surprised by what you read? I hate to say, I’m not.

Now, first, as both Stern and the person from the Hindu American Foundation note, The Economist is a top-flight publication. (There aren’t many left.) But — speaking as a former journalist — I can tell you that not a single journalist I’ve ever known wouldn’t go for the cruder description of the piece of ice. It doesn’t help that it’s also a very short, quick one, which is music to a journalist’s ears.

I’ll also be the downer who says that the campaign HAF has started won’t do much good. “Astroturf” campaigns to the media do little other than annoy, infuriate or humor journalists. And if people aren’t even giving the chance to personalize their letter a bit, it will be all to clear that the (same) letter from a different person is just more of the same.

That said, if you really are upset by The Economist piece, I’d urge you to write the magazine on your own. It’s easy: “To share your thoughts about anything you have read in The Economist or The Economist online, please e-mail letters@economist.com and include your mailing address and a daytime telephone number.”

A handful of original letters will go much further than hundreds of the form one.

Judging an Ashtanga teacher by the website

Over to the right, you’ll find two lists of websites. One relates directly to the Confluence — the five teachers’ sites, the Confluence home page, the Mysore site and an intro to Ashtanga — and the other is a list of some blogs and sites of note, which we’ll keep adding to as we find new interesting ones. (That’s to help with our goal of being a resource for you — we hope you can come here and get a regular fix of Ashtanga news and information.)

The five Pandavas, with Krishna

It’s worth taking a little bit of time to look at the five teachers’ sites, especially the teachers you may be less familiar with from the … I’m tempted to make a Pandava reference, but I don’t think it quite works.

Obviously, there are storehouses of information at each one. But for the moment, I am going to talk just about a quick glance, a look, if you will, at the “covers” of each.

What I find from the quick look is the following, which in some ways reinforces my impressions of them and in others tears away those preconceived notions:

  • Richard Freeman’s site suggests to me his combination of influences and his joint interest in the practice and the philosophy. There’s also a certain serenity to it (via the bamboo) that corresponds to the way I expect him to be in person.
  • Nancy Gilgoff’s seems more like it is the site of one of the first people to trek into the (then) unknown of India and find Guruji. It is less slick than Freeman’s, and it seems to emphasize her less. It also seems a bit withdrawn, or maybe just that it doesn’t quite invite you in as quickly. I take that to reflect the on-the-edge of America quality to her moving to Maui all those years ago.
  • Tim Miller’s site, of course, is one I’m most familiar with of these teachers. It seems to me to emphasize the lineage to Guruji quite a bit while also being straight-forward — after all, this is his lively and his living: his shala. When he is traveling for weekend workshops, Tim is at his shala — in the tradition of Guruji — and I think his site lays out for you how to come, how to practice, how to get on the mat at the shala. It reflects that he is there, teaching.
  • Eddie Stern’s site, from what I’ve gathered about his shala, picks up the vibe and community that’s there. There aren’t any signs pointing AYNY out; you have to know and want to come. It also stresses the teaching line of Guruji in a very plain and traditional (since that’s the reputation Stern has) way. (A deeper dive, which I’m trying not to do here, on purpose, lets you into Stern’s writings and intellectual interests; but, again, there aren’t any flashing lights leading you that way.) I’m going to be very curious to see what Stern’s “presence” is like.
  • David Swenson’s site is the one that gave me the idea to just quickly glance at each and see what the impression was. His suggests he is everywhere, moving about, spreading the word of Ashtanga yoga. It’s the most market-driven site, fitting his role. It also clearly isn’t tied to a shala, as the other four are. It certainly stands out among them — and I have to imagine that the “Ashtanga Yoga Productions” branding rubs some people the wrong way. But I think he has an important role to play in bringing Ashtanga to the masses.

Those are my quick thoughts, without bringing any real value judgments to the table. Is there one I like the most, one I like the least? Of course. But right now, I’m just interested in how they may, or may not, reflect the teacher behind them — on a purely first-glance, judge the book by the cover, impression.

Do you come away with a different sense of any of the sites or teachers? Are there places I’m off the mark? Do they seem like good reflections of each teacher?

Posted by Steve