Here’s an answer to the Ashtanga in Helsinki question

Fellow Los Angeles Ashtangi (and in her case, teacher) Jodi Blumstein provided an answer to our earlier question about why there are so many authorized Ashtangis in Helsinki.

I can sum it up in two words: Lino Miele.

It is a bit more complicated than that, and other teachers were involved that studied with or worked alongside Lino, notably Gwendoline Hunt. But Helsinki was among the places to which Lino spread Ashtanga. And, as we noted, Guruji did include Helsinki on his European tours.

As Jodi pointed out to me, Lino was an obvious missing element to my dream Ashtanga retreat. He was definitely in the mix, though, I just — in my pseudo-trying-to-be-realistic effort — figured getting him from Italy to Hawaii might be a bit much.

But I’ve heard terrific things about him, including from one of his students who was at Tim Miller’s Tulum retreat a year ago.

Speaking of retreats, Jodi, you might recall, is the organizer behind Nancy Gilgoff’s post-Ashtanga Yoga Confluence workshops in Los Angeles. There’s the week-long adjustment clinic, but for those who maybe can’t get that much time free, Gilgoff also is leading a weekend workshop — more traditional-sounding — the weekend of March 16-18. Here’s the schedule:

3 Classes in 3 Days
Friday, March 16th 6 – 8PM
Saturday March 17th 9AM – Noon
Sunday March 18th 9AM – Noon
$150 for the weekend
$60/class

You can contact Jodi at shantishala at gmail dot com. Or find out more at her webpage.

Posted by Steve

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Not enough Nancy Gilgoff at the Confluence? You’re in luck

Given this is happening in our backyard and is being organized by an Ashtangi we know, it isn’t a stretch for us to note that after Nancy Gilgoff takes part in the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, she’s heading up the coast to Los Angeles for a weekend workshop followed by a week-long adjustment clinic.

I think the latter of those two is really worth a bit of a highlight. So, I’ll repeat: Nancy Gilgoff is giving a week-long adjustment clinic in Los Angeles.

A week. Hours and hours. That’s lots of time with someone who is about as close to the source of Ashtanga as you can get.

Here’s more, via an announcement sent out by the organizer of the event, Jodi Blumstein, who teaches Ashtanga in Los Angeles:

Mysore practice in the morning followed by afternoon class. In this Primary Series workshop, you begin to learn the principles of hands-on adjusting, of working therapeutically, and of sensing energy movement and blockage in the body. All participants should be practicing the full primary series regularly.

March 19th – 23rd
Monday thru Thursday
8:30 – 10:30AM Mysore
Noon – 3PM clinic
Friday
8:30AM – 1:30PM

Price – $650
This group will be limited to 18 students

Since I saw Jodi share this news on Facebook, well… consider it shared! If you think you can make it — note the 18 student limit, so you might want to not dally in deciding — I’ll go out on a limb and expect that Jodi won’t mind my providing an email contact: shantishala at gmail dot com. (No spam for her!)

The weekend workshop with Nancy is March 16-18, which includes a couple hours on the Friday night. Saturday and Sunday is 9 a.m. to noon. Price? $150. Same contact email. Get your spot while it’s hot.

Posted by Steve

What we can learn from the naked yoga Kardashian tale. Seriously

OK, readers. Sit back. I’m going to go as “bloggy” as I can here. When you reach the point you can no longer bear with it, realize that chances are I quit reading, myself, even sooner.

Due to serious and significant work-related travel, I was unable, in a timely manner, to respond to the wonderfully provocative challenge on Thursday from Rose at YogaRose.net to talk about the Kim Kardashian naked Ashtanga teacher story. Bobbie, instead, felt obliged to do the heavy lifting in my absence.

Naked yoga scene, via the Hollywood Reporter

Well, as I traveled today, and watched the coverage (more at Claudia’s terrific virtual home, too) unfold, I actually discovered substantive in the tale.

Yes. Substantive. I just connected substance and Kim Kardashian. Don’t tell me I don’t know how to “yoga” things together.

But first off, a correction. Some people seem to think KK’s first foray into celebrity-hood was via her sex tape with rapper Ray J. While that may have been when she busted on through, she already had a leg up as the daughter of attorney Robert Kardashian.

Robert Kardashian, you’re thinking. Robert Kardashian. I know I know that name.

Indeed you do. He was OJ Simpson’s defense attorney during… well, if you don’t know when, knowing KK may be the least of your worries.

Let’s fly from there, as if through an airport, to the substance of the KK story. If you missed it, this weekend, on her reality show, KK and her sister, also KK if I’m not mistaken, had a “naked yogi” teach them yoga. Skip a few key details (not by me, but via the editing of the reality show) and you have the end of KK’s marriage to an NBA player. Which already happened, and the show aired this weekend. Ah, the future in which we live!

But here is the substance, from the Hollywood Reporter’s coverage of the sordid tale and its central “playa”, yogi Ralph Craig:

As to future TV appearances, Craig would not be averse to doing a yoga reality show. “That was how yoga became popular in the United States. There are many older adults who remember that yoga show in the 60s. And there are so many random shows about fitness. But fitness is much more than just being fit.”

That stopped me. Does yoga — and even more specifically, Ashtanga — need a reality show to boost interest, take it to whatever the “next level” is given that yoga is something like a $6 billion industry in America these days? Maybe, I thought. Maybe this is something that could work.

Of course, it maybe couldn’t. I am aware of the Kino MacGregor pilot that had many abuzz this past spring. And I do think it is a lesson for us as we consider this point.

Back in the 1960s, TV — media in general — was vastly different from today. You could have some vaguely counter culture person appear on TV, demonstrate a few yoga poses, gently urge viewers to calm their breath and seek inner peace and, if all went well, build a whole PBS pledge drive around it.

Today, “reality TV” is actually less real. It is what we see the Kardashians putting on. It is “Survivor” and, amazingly, may have its most “real” example in American Idol. It also is, I think, why the editing of the Kino pilot rubbed some people the wrong way. Viewer expectations are that the “real” lives of people who would be on TV are a whole lot more interesting and full of drama than our own.

After all, if not, why not just live our own lives, right?

Still, I wonder if there is some middle ground, some Patanjali-approved direction that could succeed and spread the message of yoga, the way an introductory TV show to yoga might have in the 1960s. Who might star in it? Is it Kino? (Does anyone know the status of that show?)

If you don't know him, your loss

What about any of the Confluence teachers? Could a slightly more dramatic “Ashtanga New York” (as if the month after 9/11 isn’t dramatic enough) work on Fox with Eddie Stern? Why not? How about David Swenson on the Travel Channel? He couldn’t do an Anthony Bourdain-style look at his travels? Richard Freeman could put something together for OLN, bringing in rock climbing, hiking, snowboarding, etc., right? The remake of Hawaii 5-0 is still on, last I checked. What about at least a guest spot by Nancy Gligoff? Build off the Kardashian “reality” with a script that has a celebrity couple come to Maui for a combo yoga retreat / couples therapy (without going anywhere near the horrible movie of the similar themes) and then have one get murdered. In comes the 5-0 team.

Any and all of them would make compelling ambassadors for yoga and Ashtanga. They already do. So why not go to the “next logical step?”

And then there is Tim Miller’s show. Since he is the teacher I know best, and at risk of earning some kind of perpetual ban from Ashtanga Yoga Center, honestly, I can see him in the role of a less milquetoast Mr. Rogers. Maybe mix in a little of Eddie Murphy’s take from the old SNL. Tim could come in, take off his AYC pull-over, replace it with a different AYC pull-over, slide off his go-aheads, and sit down and talk to viewers about Ashtanga. Run it on Tuesday and call it “Tuesdays with Timji.” There could be a different lesson each episode, perhaps based on one of the Yoga Sutras or a bit of Vedic astrology. There could be a land of make believe behind his wall that looks suspiciously like Mysore, filled with coconuts, dangerous foods and a frightening rush of cars and scooters (in place of the train)…

Hang on a second. Forget you ever saw this post. I have to go get in line on the alley of broken dreams here in Los Angeles. I think I have come up with my ticket to fame and fortune.

Posted by Steve, with stepped-up irony

A look inside the House of Yoga and Zen

We’ve just had a friend, and fellow Ashtanga practitioner, Pranidhi Varshney, return from a double whammy: a week at Nancy Gilgoff’s House of Yoga and Zen and a week of teacher training with Manju Jois.

Pranidhi has practiced with Manju before; he was one of her first Ashtanga teachers. We’ve practiced alongside her in a few different spots in Los Angeles. She has a light, beautiful, even and very balanced practice — one I’m sure is that much better since we’ve last seen it.

Also since the last time we’ve seen her, she’s started working on a CD of Sanskrit chants, which she hopes to get out early in 2012. You can check out more at her site: pranidhivarshney.com. You’ll find out there’s more to her than just a yogini. Much more.

We asked, and she kindly agreed, if she would answer a few quick questions about her week with Nancy and Manju. Thanks much, Pranidhi! Your dedication to the practice, Manju and Guruji’s lineage of Ashtanga sing through each word.

1. First off, how did Nancy’s shala compare to others you have been to?

There’s some serious shakti in the House of Yoga and Zen.  The place has been around for many years and some of our most treasured ashtangis have practiced and taught there.  There are pictures on the walls of Guruji, Manju, Nancy, and others in action, doing what we’re all so grateful for- passing this practice on.  One of the fellow trainees this time around was jokingly saying that she doesn’t think the carpets have ever been changed!  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that were true, and I’m glad for it.  There’s something raw, grounded, powerful, and spiritual about practicing where so many have practiced before.

2. How would you describe Nancy and Manju’s teaching styles? Are there other teachers you’ve studied with that you can compare them to?

Pranidhi, from her website

Well, Manju was one of my first Ashtanga teachers and I’ve been totally spoiled because of that.  The bar was set high for me from the beginning.  He’s easy-going, funny, non-dogmatic about the practice, and he has magic hands.  The energy that passes through his hands while he adjusts is a healing warmth.  And he’s strong!  I overheard Nancy saying that in the old days, Manju was often able to take her into postures that she wasn’t able to get into on her own.  Nancy also has a great touch and is a really humble, down-to-earth person.  One can tell she has a deep knowledge of the practice and she cares about passing it on correctly, but there was no sense of “my way is the right way,” which I think sometimes there is with ashtanga teachers. Actually, that was one of the best things about the whole week.  Both Nancy and Manju are from the old school.  No dogma, no militaristic rules, just practice- taught the way it was taught by Guruji back in the day.  There’s something authentic and special about that.

3. What was a highlight of the week on Maui?
All the stories!  Having both Manju and Nancy there was such a treat. David Williams also joined us for Manju’s birthday celebration and for a couple of morning mysore practices.  Talk about a confluence of energy.  We heard stories about how pranayama saved Manju’s life, how he tried to escape doing baddha konasana in his youth, how Ramesh, Manju’s brother, is responsible for everyone using a spray bottle for garbha pidasana, and many more.  It was also really cool to hear Nancy ask Manju about alignment points for different postures and listen in on them talking about how things have changed over the years.  It was a great reminder that one way is not the only way.  If these senior teachers are still open and humble enough to learn from each other, we need to make the effort to remain that way as well.  Also, for me personally, it was a delight to meet and spend time with the newest teacher-in-training, Sathu, Manju’s daughter.  She has ashtanga in her blood and she’s already quite a good adjuster, as many people in the training can attest to.

4. Do you feel like anything about your practice in particular evolved or changed? How so?

Absolutely.  Every time I practice with Manju, I feel like my heart and body are blasted open, and time takes on a different quality. Manju talked this time about flow- how teachers cannot force students into postures.  Rather, that they must enable them to tap into the flow.  The flow of the breath, the practice, the energy.  My practice flows when I’m with Manju and for that I’m forever grateful.  And practicing in Maui is a dream in and of itself.  The climate is so good for the body and spirit.  I’d recommend a trip to the House of Yoga and Zen for any ashtangi.

5. For people who might be encountering Nancy for the first time at the Confluence in March, how would you tell them to get the most from here in the relatively short time?

I’d say listen.  Nancy seems to me to have a quiet power.  I was really struck by her humility.  If there’s one thing people should pay attention to, I’d say it’d be that.  It’s so easy for us in LA, in America, in the ashtanga world in general, to feel somewhat inflated by our practice.  Nancy reminded me that we’re all just people, using the gift of yoga as a tool to make our lives better.  I’d also say be grateful.  What a privilege to be able to practice and study with someone so close to the source.  For us female ashtangis especially, Nancy’s an inspiration.

Posted by Steve

Is one of the Confluence teachers coming to a town near you?

Today, the Confluence feels a long ways off.

Part of that, I know, is because it’s been a while since we got down to see Tim Miller. At the worst, we plan to alleviate that during the holidays, take a few days down in San Diego and practice at Tim’s and… do whatever one does when spending some time in San Diego.

Or not. I doubt we’ll go to Sea World or the Zoo.

I was just checking Tim’s travel schedule, and it looks like that plan will work out. And, heck, he’ll even be a little closer, at Diane Christenson’s shala in Dana Point, in early December.

Then I thought: Check all their schedules. So, for all of you, so you don’t have to keep up on the five teachers’ schedules, here’s what I can determine about where they will be in the near future

UPDATED JAN. 20:

Tim Miller

January 28, Maya Tulum, his teacher training

February 10, Las Vegas Yoga, Las Vegas (you’d guessed that, right?)

Richard Freeman

February 7, virtual

Nancy Gilgoff

After the Confluence: March 9, Miami Life Center

March 16, Los Angeles

Eddie Stern

February 11, Philadelphia.

March 27, Rio

May 11, Oslo

May 19, Helsinki

July 10, Zurich

Sept. 28, Durham

David Swenson

February 10, Miami

March 16, Kripalu

Posted by Steve

Ashtanga and irony

I’ve been reading a whole rash of “list” blog posts. Some of them have been yoga-related, some not; but the yoga-related ones seem to focus on, “things I wish I’d known,” “things I do I shouldn’t”–that sort of thing. Steve even did one.

These posts were knocking around in my head while I was watching this video of Guruji teaching part of Intermediate to Richard, Maty, Chuck, Tim, Kate, and Eddie. Everyone is young, focused and earnest. Drishtis are in order. Ujayi perfect (look at those ribcages move!). I wondered what these Ashtangis would think of our lists. But I was also keeping my eye on Guruji, listening to the count (which is a rare thing to hear these days, since second series is mostly confined to the Mysore room), and I was struck once again by his voice.

Even though I wasn’t lucky enough to ever meet Guruji or practice with him, I’ve practiced to that voice before. I’ve done any number of led classes at this point in my life, and those teachers who heard Guruji teach imitate his voice when they teach a led class.

Now, that probably comes as no surprise to you. But what I detect in the imitations is just a hint of irony.

I had a teacher years ago in grad school who had an amazing Romanian accent. I sat in on one of her undergrad classes once and listened to her read parts of  “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” with that accent, and to this day, when I read that poem, I hear her voice. When I read the poem to my students, I sometimes imitate it, putting an exotic twist on its sound. I do it with an emphasis on twist, though: with humor.

So it struck me that something’s been transferred with the lineage, some quality of lightness that maybe the first generation students heard, and then magnified in their imitations. Or maybe they didn’t exactly hear it, but they feel it. Some wry affection for the teacher that, perhaps, and with love, will keep growing.

Posted by Bobbie

Manju heading to Gilgoff’s Maui studio

It’s a little hard to get a lot of fresh information on Nancy Gilgoff.

Manju, via Nancy's site

I suspect that’s not not on purpose. Her Internet site seems a fair reflection of her physical one, as it’s been described to me.

But here’s some news: Manju Jois will be a guest teacher at the House of Yoga and Zen next month.

Here’s a link.

He’ll be there from Nov. 14 to 19 doing a “Primary Teachers’s Training.” That would be an interesting experience, no doubt.

I can’t help but wonder if Manju will be around San Diego in March and make any appearance at the Confluence.  I do know that following the Confluence, Nancy will be doing some teaching up here in Los Angeles. Bobbie and I are checking to see how our calendars look.

Well, and I’m trying to figure out how much intense Ashtanga I can take in one month or less.

Posted by Steve