What’s the ideal temp for practicing Ashtanga?

Richard Freeman answers that question, in his latest “Ask the Experts” post. An excerpt:

In general one could say that having the studio warm, but not overly hot is ideal. Whatever the temperature, it is advised that the room should be well ventilated yet not drafty. The exact temperature is somewhat a matter of personal preference.

In Boulder—which is a very arid climate—we keep our studio at around 80 to 82 degrees F. in the winter and also have a humidifier running. In the spring, summer and fall we rely more on the outside air temperature to determine the indoor studio temperature and it seems that with a full class the studio temperature is usually between 75 and 80 degrees F. We are comfortable with that.

That’s the nuts and bolts. Richard goes on talk about how it is the practice, not the room temperature, that should make you sweat. (And, in my mind at least, he takes a least a little jab at hot yoga; I realize he’s far too evolved to do that, but my devolved mind reads it as such.) And he warns how injuries can occur; so check it out for that reminder.

I’m forced to recall the first Ashtanga practice on our summer Yatra. It was outdoors, essentially on the roof of our hotel in Calcutta. Even at 6 a.m. or so, it was warm and humid. And it felt great. Both Bobbie and I intended to finish up a pretty routine practice, and we both went above and beyond. I don’t remember exactly what she did, but I practiced First — I think that was my original plan — and then all the Second Series poses I do in the privacy of my own home.

That’s my “Bustin’ It Out” practice.

Neither of us got hurt, but we were a teeny bit drained. For my money, whatever combo temp and humidity that was — I’ll guess 82 degrees and about 85% humidity — felt just about ideal.

It’s not too easy to replicate in LA.

Any of you have an ideal tempt/humidity? Or do you want to share hot yoga horror stories?

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

Changes at Yoga Workshop announced and thoughts about losing yoga teachers

Not sure how long this has been out there — a few days, maybe — but I noticed that there is an announcement at the Yoga Workshop’s webpage about a change in “ownership responsibilities”:

We are excited to announce a restructuring of the Yoga Workshop, which will take place in November. Richard and Mary will be giving ownership responsibilities of the studio to their trusted friends and fellow students, Ty and Shayan Landrum. From a day-to-day perspective it will probably not seem like much has changed EXCEPT that with fewer managerial responsibilities, Richard and Mary will have more time available for teaching at our beloved studio. We will all work together to keep the overall teachings and tenor of the studio as it has been for all these years and we look forward to you being part of the evolution of the Yoga Workshop.

There is, in my mind, a little looseness to that language and phrase “ownership responsibilities.” It doesn’t mean Richard and Mary aren’t owners anymore, although you could interpret it toward that meaning. It sounds more like the start of the process. Because Richard and Mary, and all of us, aren’t going to be here forever.

BKS Iyengar’s death this week is ample reminder of that.

And so — even as I was celebrating my birthday yesterday, which can be reason enough to think about the future and your own future’s end — a thought kept creeping its way unavoidably to the center: Our yoga teachers are growing older (as we are), and they won’t always be there — and what happens after they go, even if it is not something as dramatic as death, just “retirement.” (Can yoga teachers retire, though? There doesn’t seem to be much precedent for it.)

I wonder about the practical implications: Will the Yoga Workshop continue to be a magnet once Richard and Mary are not active there or even less active? What about, closer to my home and heart, the Ashtanga Yoga Center? (I’ll admit that when reading his blog post this week, I focused on Tim Miller’s mention of being tired as his Second Series Teacher Training started. He’s had a busier month and even summer than I’d want to tackle.) What about the House of Yoga and Zen, Nancy Gilgoff’s home base? Will these great communities — great sanghas — continue once the teacher is no longer leading them day-to-day?

Most practical of all, perhaps: Will the doors stay open? Who will run them? What’s coming next?

These are questions, of course, that have occurred countless times with gurus and teachers, including the Buddha and Jesus Christ.

I wonder also about the less practical and more esoteric implications: What about the ongoing teaching of yoga, of Ashtanga? What will be lost when their individual experiences aren’t being directly passed on to students? With Iyengar’s passing there was much talk about his influence on yoga’s rise in the West — which direction will yoga continue in the decades ahead?

I’m not kept from these semi-morbid thoughts by a piece that Leslie Kaminoff had posted at Elephant Journal — which, I know, we officially don’t link to for any number of reasons discussed in the past — but I saw it via Facebook and given the time and topic, had to look. (I didn’t look at anything else.) A link for you and a key part:

Unavoidably, my thoughts turned to my teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar, Krishnamacharya’s son and—at 20 years his junior—Iyengar’s nephew.

I lost my teacher years ago not to death, but to an advancing dementia that has turned his healthy body into a prison for a devastated mind. The cause of his condition remains a mystery to me; if his immediate family has knowledge of it, they have not publicly stated so. By writing this I am breaking an unspoken code of silence that has surrounded my teacher’s fate and that of his family.

I am immensely sad for the tragic turn that Desikachar’s life has taken. I don’t know if his condition was avoidable. But what is avoidable is the denial surrounding his gradual decline and the resulting damage to the teaching community he built.

We are, of course, not supposed to worry about things that are so out of our control. But it is human nature to do so — and perhaps our yoga nature to try to fight that urge, to be calm, to — as Ram Dass wrote, “be here now.” I worry, though, that our desire to fight it might devolve into just ignoring it.

Perhaps that’s just my own issue, though. Although Leslie’s piece suggest it isn’t just me.

Posted by Steve

Richard Freeman talks about Ashtanga’s opening chant

This weekend, the Yoga Workshop uploaded a talk Richard Freeman gave back in October 2012 about Ashtanga’s opening chant.

You can listen to it at this link. Can and should.

Here’s the little blurb accompanying it:

How do turtles, fire-spitting snakes and demons apply to your yoga practice? Find out as Richard talks about the Opening Chant and the nature of practice. This talk was recorded on Oct 21, 2012.

A good use of 53 minutes of your time.

Posted by Steve

Richard Freeman and the relativity of yoga

There’s a new “Ask the Experts” up at Yoga Workshop, and it is both totally basic and highly complex.

Would you expect anything less from Richard Freeman? (Maybe that’s a good “Ask the Experts” question for him.) Link to it is here, and the core of the question — do you do the left or right side first in asana practice — and a part of the answer:

When I was in the Bihar school of yoga, doing my yogic studies, I was told to do asanas always on right side first. That is to say if I am doing janu sirshasana I have to stretch out my right leg in front of me first and have the left leg folded before repeating the posture other side. However when I studied Ashtanga, I was made to do janu sirsasana with my right leg folded and left leg stretched out first.

[snip to part of the answer]

Welcome to the world of relativity! One of the wonderful aspects of yoga is that it teaches us to be comfortable with complicated situations and paradox. As you know, in a temple one always allows the right to lead—so you walk clockwise around the temple and you always rotate clockwise. Counter clockwise is considered inauspicious. However “clockwise action” is context dependent. If you look at a dancer spinning clockwise from the point of view of the earth itself, that dancer is actually turning counter clockwise. If, you look at the same dancer from above they are turning clockwise. This could seem paradoxical, but in fact it is a matter of perspective and yoga allows us to feel comfortable with this kind of paradox!

Click on through the find out a very practical reason to lead always with the right leg in a Mysore room.

Posted by Steve

New workshop with Richard Freeman goes online: Dropping into Asana

On Monday, I think it was, Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop posted a new recorded workshop with him titled “Dropping into Asana.”

Link is right here.

It looks to be just about an hour long.

There are two different descriptions. From the Yoga Workshop page (linked to above):

We are always practicing asana, whether we realize it or not. In this recording Richard talks about how the movement of breath corresponds with our thoughts as well as our physical form. Various verses of the Yoga Sutra Sadhanapadah are discussed. 

And from the Soundcloud page where the talk is at: “Richard Freeman speaks about asana as contemplative form.”

Posted by Steve

Friday asana aid: Proper breathing

Not sure why this happened, but this week turned into the week of studying my breath closely during practice.

I can’t say what triggered my focus on my breathing. Maybe Bobbie said something to me… probably along the lines of, “You’re not breathing deeply enough.”

I’ve been practicing Ashtanga long enough to know that any first feelings of “I figured this out” or “Oh, this makes sense” are invariably followed by utter confusion and total disarray. So I want to hold back on talking about what I may be learning, in anticipation of the inevitable two steps back that will follow my one step forward.

It has gotten me looking for some assistance, though. Here are a few (and we get away from some of our usual suspect teachers):

And then:

Next up:

Followed by:

Lastly, a couple from Richard Freeman:


Posted by Steve