The breath and Ashtanga

I know lots of people are reading and sharing Nancy Gilgoff’s quick set of thoughts we linked to this weekend. One thing, as I’ve been reflecting on it, particularly strikes me:

The perfect pose is without bad pain and without stress… only breath. The correct method is finding that in our own practice, and our role as “teacher” is to help others to find it. Once one finds it then how quickly or slowly we learn primary and intermediate will have little relevance. Keep practising, always coming back to the breath… and enjoy. This is Guruji’s system of yoga, I think.

Sound familiar? One of the revolving pieces on the Yoga Workshop home page says this:


If you’re new to yoga, that’s all you need to know how to do.

In both cases, it is breath that is fundamental. Everything else, as the saying goes, is just circus tricks.

Sort of a nice reminder.

Posted by Steve

Nancy Gilgoff on why ‘didn’t I “change” with the updates’

It’s relatively rare when Nancy Gilgoff puts something out there online, so her response to some comments in a post at the Ashtanga Brighton blog are worth a look:

Another thing to make mention of… While we were shown the primary and intermediate one after the other, Guruji told us that in our daily practice we should take primary one day and intermediate the next. We were not to continue practising both series in one go. The folks I see today are not following this method. They are doing all of both series almost daily and then they even add some third on to that too. So I’m not surprised they experience “burnout”.

In Mysore that is fine to do, but at home when we have “life” happening (jobs, families, school, etc.), we should take one series at a time or split them in the prescribed method. This comes directly from Guruji.

I don’t think there’s anything strikingly new there — no surprise, as she’s reiterating her rationale about teaching how Guruji taught her — but she does discuss what the “perfect” pose is in a terrifically succinct way.

Posted by Steve

Check your 2015 Ashtanga calendar: Nancy Gilgoff, Tim Miller, Sharath travel schedules

We’ve already noted Saraswati’s travel schedule for the year. Here’s three more.

Nancy Gilgoff earlier this week sent out her full schedule for 2015. You can find it online at this here link. A few highlights:


through MARCH 25th Nancy will be teaching on MAUI.


5 – 10 APRIL BALI Ashtanga Yoga Conference


5 – 6 SEPTEMBER, ASHBURTON, DEVON, Weekend Workshop

8 – 10 SEPTEMBER, PUTNEY, Mysore Classes


19 – 20 SEPTEMBER,  BRATISLAVA, Weekend Workshop

21 – 25  SEPTEMBER,  BRATISLAVA,  Primary Adjustment Clinic

29 SEPTEMBER – 3 OCTOBER,  BERLIN, Primary Adjustment Clinic

5 – 9 OCTOBER, BERLIN, Mysore Classes
these classes are open to those who have previously taken class with nancy.
space is limited. registration opens february 2015.


17 – 18 OCTOBER, ATHENS, Weekend Workshop

And then there’s Sharath’s slightly shorter one. You can see it at the Mysore site (along with Saraswati’s if you missed it):

Copenhagen, Denmark: August 8-13, 2015 (Register)
Stockholm, Sweden: August 15-20, 2015 (Register)
London, England: August 22-27, 2015

Since travel schedules were on my mind, I looked to see if Tim Miller has his up, and he does. Here are a couple of his farther ones:

July 17, 2015 – July 19, 2015

Air Yoga – Zurich,Switzerland

July 24, 2015 – July 26, 2015

Tri Yoga – London, UK

September 18, 2015 – September 25, 2015
Ashtanga Yoga Athens – Athens, GREECE

Our luck has been bad lately. He’s been at an out-of-town workshop twice, I think, on Sundays when we had managed to clear the time to get down to San Diego. I hope our luck improves after he returns from Tulum.

Posted by Steve

Nancy Gilgoff’s big message about the Ashtanga practice

Michelle Ryan at Florence Yoga just spent a few days (not for the first time) with Nancy Gilgoff, and she came away with a big, central message from Nancy. It goes like this:

“You have to do this practice every day, six days a week with moon days off (and menses off if you are a woman) in order for it to work.”

Michelle goes on to relate that Nancy also says you shouldn’t call yourself an Ashtanga practitioner if you don’t practice six days a week.

The caveat is what “practice” means. You’ll have to check out Michelle’s post to find out. (Although if you’ve been paying attention, here and elsewhere, you probably can guess.)

Posted by Steve

Nancy Gilgoff releases her 2014 teaching schedule

If you aren’t on Nancy Gilgoff’s email list, do yourself a favor and get to her contact page and sign up. (I think you will want to shoot her an email to the address listed.)

In the meantime, on Monday she sent out her 2014 teaching schedule. It is below, for those who may want to plan well in advance and work a workshop or clinic with Nancy into your year:


Nancy will be teaching on Maui from NOVEMBER 12th until 22nd of APRIL 2014.


25-29 NOVEMBER, MANJU JOIS, Intermediate Teachers training, contact: hyz0 @


1, 3-6 DECEMBER, MANJU JOIS, Mysore style class, contact: hyz0 @

During MANJU JOIS classes on Maui, Nancy will not be teaching. During 25-29 Nov, Casey will teach 7:30 am classes.


MAUI – Primary Series Adjustment Clinic with NANCY GILGOFF


NANCY GILGOFF, Primary Series Adjustment Clinic

During this week, Nancy will not be teaching the regular morning classes. Asst. Casey will teach the normal classes at 7:30 am. Except Sunday, which will start at the regular 8:15 time.

The adjustment clinic will begin with 9:30am Mysore practice (except Sunday’s clinic class will begin at 10 am). The afternoon will be from 1-4pm. (sunday afternoon will be 1:30-4:30).

contact: hyz0 @


26-27 APRIL 


Weekend Workshop

contact: gregorysimpson @

29 APRIL- 4 MAY 

MONTAUK, NY (Bristol Yoga)

Intermediate Adjustment Clinic


choar @


6-7 MAY 


Mysore classes

contact: kate.ashtangi @


10-11 MAY 


Weekend Workshop

contact: info @

12-16 MAY 


Intermediate Adjustment Clinic, 14th is a moon day so no a.m. practice

contact: info @

19-23, 25-27 MAY 


Mysore classes

contact: hyz0 @

This week is for a limited number of practitioners. Previous study with Nancy is required to participate.

31 MAY-1 JUNE 


Weekend Workshop

contact: @

3-5 JUNE 


contact: @

7-10 JUNE 

PORTUGAL, Vila Nova de Milfontes, Alentejo

4 days practice + discussions

contact: loveashtangayoga @

13-17 JUNE 


Primary Adjustment Clinic

contact: francesca.rosso @


21-22 JUNE 


Weekend Workshop

contact: admin @

28-29 JUNE 


Weekend Workshop

contact: info @



Nancy will be teaching on Maui.

SEPT-DEC to be announced.

I know. A long blockquote. (I’ve taken out the hotlink to try to avoid emails being spammed.) But a worthwhile one, I think.

Posted by Steve

Couch Potato Ashtanga

In addition to Steve’s disturbing Moon Day poem, I spotted these two videos posted on the Facebook by William Wilson as I tooled around with my extra Moon Day time. I met the wonderful William at an Adjustment Workshop Nancy did here in Los Angeles. Although just a week long, I never practice without thinking of Nancy and bringing something she taught me into play. “I can’t hear you breathing,” she announced one day, “They should be able to hear you outside!” One day, I’m going to go to Maui.

So on this Moon Day, kick back and watch Nancy’s Led Primary at the last Confluence. Thanks once again to SACTV8 for posting.

And part 2:

Posted by Bobbie

Some Ashtanga news via David Swenson and Nancy Gilgoff

Two quick pieces of news about two of the Confluence teachers, although one — Nancy Gilgoff — isn’t going to be featured next year. The other, David Swenson, will.

But I’ll start with Nancy, who sent out an updated schedule through April 2014 today. The long and short of it: She’ll be teaching on Maui from Nov. 12 until the end of April 2014. Included in that time is an intermediate teachers training with Manju from Nov. 25-29 and Mysore-style classes with him on Dec. 1 and from Dec. 3-6.

In 2014, she is doing a primary adjustment clinic from Jan. 25-29. After April, according to the email “is still being sorted out…..”

Nancy also highlights two February 2014 Costa Rica retreats with two of her long-time students, Christine Hoar and Kimberly Dahlmann. For more, go here.

And Nancy sent along the Namarupa effort to raise money for a flood-ravaged village in northern India. If you have’t donated… you still can.

David’s news is even shorter: He’s got practice cards and posters back in stock. Bobbie was just saying how his book helped her in her early Ashtanga days….

Posted by Steve

Mala report: Nancy Gilgoff-style Sun Salutes are hard

So… how’d your yoga mala go today? (Feel free to comment below.)


While we normally eschew “practice reports” — how what I felt or experienced relates to you is beyond me, unless I really think something more “universal” transpired — I think a few things did occur this morning that might be worth your time.

So let’s get to it:

  • I mentioned in my build-up to the mala post that when Bobbie and I last did our one, on New Year’s Day in India, I experienced the greatest sense of prana — flowing and moving through the body — ever. Although not quite a repeat, this morning’s practice felt extremely energetic. The body tingles, the sweat pours (I was on my 17th Sun Salute when it started, to give you a sense of the cold room I was in), the muscles at times rebel and at others are willing partners. I assume a good deal of this has to do with the extreme vinyasa nature of the practice: lots of breath, lots of movement, and thus lots of movement. My less rational side can see where being able to harness that energy in a controlled way could lead to “feats” like melting snow, staying awake, etc.
  • In some ways, the mala practice is like Ashtanga on steroids. What I mean is that one of the distinguishing characteristics of Ashtanga is the set routine; knowing what’s coming is one reason, I’ve found, that I can focus more inwardly than in other styles of yoga. I wouldn’t call it zoning out; I’d call it zoning in. (A nod, I suppose, to Tim Miller’s “Working In” workshops.) Just repeating Sun Salutes heightens this; I also find that you immediately realize when your mind is wandering (outward). How? You forget what number you’re on. Which stinks.
  • I’ve done malas now both solo, like today, with Bobbie (quite a few times), in a group that just powered on through it and then in what’s perhaps its most “traditional” form: Setting clear intentions, up to and including something being said before each Sun Salute. (Diana Christinson did one this way in honor of Guruji after he passed.) Each has its own particular strengths and, I suppose, weaknesses, although I can’t say I really think about them. The “full version” really can be a moving experience.
  • But you’re really waiting for me to justify the headline. OK, here goes. I broke — I think in the traditional manner — my mala into four sets of 27 Sun Salutes (the first five included the five breath down dog that begins the Ashtanga practice). The second set I did in the style/form that Nancy taught in her “How I was taught” workshop. Most critically, that means hands on the floor during the forward fold, even if that means bending your knees to do so. Given my lack of flexibility, that means bending my knees. And as a result, two things: 1. my quads got the extra workout of, essentially, mini-Utkatasanas; 2. because I wasn’t extending out as much as if I were bringing my hands to my calves (as I do), I had a lot less open space to breath. And so those 27 Sun Salutes were hard. I’m interested to see if there’s physical after-effects tomorrow. (So far, I’m not too sore.) At the same time, there was a notable sense of being “grounded,” one of those words I hear all the time in yoga circles and don’t really “get.” I get it more now. (And, no, this isn’t my most “universalized” moment of yoga reflection.)

A more succinct way of saying all that is: I’m a big advocate of this four-times-or-so-a-year practice. If you haven’t ever done one, give it a try come the Summer Solstice.

Posted by Steve

How Pattabhi Jois taught Nancy Gilgoff, as taught by Nancy

As promised, a rundown of Nancy Gilgoff’s “How I was taught” workshop from the Confluence. I want to stress that I can’t call this definitive; I took some notes, and then practiced, and some of it becomes hazy in between. Hopefully there will be some ideas and changes that are fresh and useful.

As an important reference point, here’s a link to the 1973 asana syllabus that is the touchstone for much of what’s to come, although it isn’t exactly the same. Here’s page one:

The basic organization of this workshop, which went for about two hours, was that Nancy talked for about 30 or 40 minutes up front and then we went through most of the asana sequence, “primary series,” as she learned it 40 years ago. (A few poses into Second/Intermediate by our reckoning today.) For her, that meant many fewer vinyasas, neither of the twisting standing poses and — here’s a notable point — no backbends. (Hurrah, I say! Also, no shoulder stand or headstand.)

The most important message to get out, though, is this: Nancy stressed the “compassion of the guru,” of Guruji. That compassion, combined with his well-known fierceness, came through as one defining characteristic of his. And I mean one: It seemed as though both traits were braided together in a fundamental way.

It also should be noted that Guruji essentially adjusted her in every single pose. And when I write that, I mean it to a greater extent than how we now think of that. At the beginning, Nancy recounted, she was so weak that Guruji would pick her up and throw her back in the vinyasas and toss her back through, as well. Plus, Guruji’s English was limited enough that he had to be hands-on. He effectively put her in every pose.

(Another point. Nancy said she and David Williams recently had been “comparing notes” about their initial interactions with Guruji, and while Nancy wasn’t getting vinyasas, as Guruji was picking her up, throwing her back, tossing her back forward, he was teaching David to jump back on his own. So for David the vinyasas were there. This, I think, sheds light on the individual teaching the early Western students received.)

As for breathing, Nancy learned to focus on having the inhale and exhale be the same length. You’re not trying to length the breath, she said. It should be natural. And, she said, you can breath more quickly in the difficult moments.

“It’s a much more inward practice,” she said. “It’s much more nurturing. What’s going on inside is what’s interesting.”

She made another point, which we’ve talked about before: No dinking. She said this a few times during the weekend. Quit adjusting your clothes, brushing your hair out of your face, etc. You get into the pose — and as far as you can go that day is where the pose is — and breath and move on to the next pose.

That’s the extent of what I can get from the notes I took as she talked. Here are my impressions of the practice:

  • She’s right. It is much more inward. Perhaps it’s because there are fewer opportunities to let your gaze wander.
  • Here’s a difference: In the Surya forward folds, she wanted palms on the floor/mat even if it meant bending your knees. As someone who has his fingers on his calves at “trini”, this was substantially different — especially the transition back to chaturanga.
  • Essentially, there are no vinyasas between sides of the seated poses, and — I’m about 99% sure I have this correct — there are none during the whole Janu and Marichy sequences. You move directly from a to b to c to d. That is just about 100% different. (Obviously, the point here is for you to try this.)
  • There were plenty of times when people starting into a vinyasas when there wasn’t one. We are fairly pre-programmed.
  • The other major changes: No uthkatasana or warriors and, originally, Uttitha and Arda Baddha came at the end. (Again, I think I have that correct, and this counters the 1973 syllabus.) Also:  3 Surya As and Bs (not five) and only three navasanas. She may have mentioned a Prasarita E?

I hope that makes sense. Honestly, as I think back I’m blanking on whether there were vinyasas between all of the seated poses. I think there were — just not within them (between sides). If anyone else who was there can shed more light on this (warning, Iyengar pun?), please do!

Update: Kate O’Donnell posts about her “pre-teen” Ashtanga years with Nancy, with some thoughts about how the teaching of the practice has shifted. Kate’ll be back in Boston at the end of the Month for y’all in that area.

Posted by Steve

Sweating Ashtanga’s Small Stuff

The other day in a crowded Mysore room at Jorgen’s, Steve on my right, a new guy sidled in to my left. I am cool with that. I don’t mind stopping and making room—in fact, it’s on my Mysore cheat sheet.

What I did mind was his suryanamaskaras. I’m making my way through the standing sequence, and out come his arms in front of me as he got in touch with his inner pelican. “Sorry,” he says, as he bops me in virbhadrasana B.

“Arms straight in front of you, keep them straight, set the hands down and don’t move them,” says Nancy Gilgoff. “Better for the badhas, and it’s the way Guruji taught it. It was Richard Freeman that started taking the arms wide.”

She says that like it’s a bad thing. Nancy also tells the story of Guruji coming to Maui, and stating very clearly that parvritta parsvokonasana was a “crazy pose” and to stop doing it. But the students loved it, so it stayed.

This seeming contradiction got me thinking. The gentleman next to me dogmatically winging out his arms should’ve chosen that day to go straight ahead and respect the space of his fellow mortals. But when there’s room, is there good reason to go wide? How much should I be worried about this, and when should I be flexible about it (pun intended)?

I’ve heard from other teachers that it’s “bad for the shoulders” to go wide (Nancy included). But when Richard teaches this move, it’s the first backbend of the series. But only if you do it correctly. I’ve got a rotator cuff tear, so I know immediately if I’m doing it wrong—it hurts.

I think I’m more of a cormorant than a pelican. Via (the Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

It was Russ Pfeiffer who really brought this home for me. The move needs to be initiated from the bigger muscles—the laterals—so you’re pushing the arms up from below, rather than lifting them from above. It works a totally different set of back muscles, and instigates a dropping of the shoulder blades. This is Richard’s ekam—a backbend in the top of the spine as the tailbone slides down. Russ taught me to keep these muscles engaged all the way through the suryanamaskar. Richard teaches this as well, advising maintaining a slight bend in the elbows in adho mukha svanasana.

But there are days when I need to find the bandhas fast, days when I’m tired, or even days when I’m thrumming with so much energy that I take those arms straight out, keep them straight, and connect with the ground. Or, there are days when the room’s packed; I might slap the woman next to me if I went wide. Or Steve, who would shoot me a dirty look.

What I garnered out of this little meditation is, once again, an appreciation of the keen relationship focus and awareness have with the practice. And with teaching: I teach my Ashtanga students both ways, and the reasons for the choice—small stuff, but with big lineage.

Posted by Bobbie