A glimpse inside Nancy Gilgoff’s studio

Do you miss “old school shalas?”

Then I think a trip to Maui and Nancy Gilgoff’s House of Yoga and Zen is mandatory.

The below video spans 15 years at her shala. There is a 48-year-old or so Tim Miller beginning at 2:48.

Posted by Steve

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“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

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

The wireless Ashtangi — Nancy Gilgoff

Nancy Gilgoff teaching, from her Picasa site.

Unlike the other quartet of teacher/students at the Confluence, Nancy Gilgoff doesn’t seem to have a regular blog or anything of the like.

A wireless yogini, indeed, in this day of constant Facebook updates, Twitter feeds and, yes, blogs like this.

I’ll admit I know less about her than I do the other four — perhaps as a result of her not being quite so present online. Yes, her site exists, but the “about” page is pretty short. Perhaps on purpose?

That leads, then, to other searches. I know, from a one-day session with David Williams, that he introduced her to Guruji and that she had a serious of ailments. But I was shocked to find out what they were.

This old Yoga Journal piece lays it out in pretty stark detail. (Note to Yoga Journal: It might be good to date these articles; I have zero idea when it is from.)

Here are some key moments:

The earliest of Gilgoff’s injuries began when she was a child. She loved horseback riding, but it put such a constant pounding on her lower spine that she was left with chronic back problems. “By the time I was a teenager,” she says, “it had manifested in my neck, where a vertebra was jammed forward.” Along with this, childhood dental work had been performed with her mouth left open so uncomfortably, she would literally scream in pain, a torture she believes compounded the neck injury. Later, as a junior in college, she began getting severe migraines she believes were triggered by the then-new birth control pills. This experience left her with jaw pain so intense, she couldn’t open her mouth for days at a time.

[snip]

Her pain was so acute, doctors suggested surgery to deaden places in her brain, in effect to numb the pain. But Gilgoff had other ideas. She had watched a close friend go through hospital treatments for cancer, and the idea of surgery appalled her. “I knew I didn’t want to end up in that situation,” she says, “so I started looking around, taking the first steps to another way of being.”

When Gilgoff left college at age 24, she’d already become a vegetarian, and it wasn’t long after she took up yoga under Williams’ tutelage that the couple traveled to India, where they ended up at Jois’s Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore. The challenge of Ashtanga would change her life.

I’ll be very intrigued to see how that beginning manifests itself in her teaching and what she has to say about the practice; and it makes me a bit disappointed that I didn’t sign up for her Led class.

Her story also reminds me of something else, something that seems strangely common to Ashtangis: A lot of them have had some injury at some point, whether before finding the practice or some time during it. Shoulder and knee injuries are common; I’ve heard stories about recovering from car accidents; there are those who were athletes who got hurt and then found Ashtanga.

Is it, I wonder, because at its heart it really is a healing practice — or is there something about it that attracts folks whose dharma passes through injury?