Stiff yoga guide

Here’s our complete, but by no means or intentions definitive, stiff yoga guide. It is one guy’s way of modifying and adjusting the Ashtanga practice to emphasis both alignment and the stretch of the pose.

Yes, the goal here is pretty physical: To get more flexibility.

Tweaks and changes are based on suggestions from several handful of Ashtanga and yoga teachers. Perhaps something will help. We posted these in the fall of 2013. To reiterate: These are suggestions, perhaps for someone you know who is starting yoga and finds the stretching to be intimidating.

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Yogi diet: No hybrid wheat, being mainly raw

Since Ashtanga is the “yoga of no,” and that leaves us fewer interesting things to talk about — no late night band reviews, can’t try out the newest happening bar, won’t be running down LA’s best donuts anytime soon — we are left to talk about other things: our restricted diets, our curious Saturday regiments and other unmentionables.

We’ve had quite a bit of interest and emails about our giving up wheat, following Bobbie’s foray into the book “Wheat Belly” and her leading a writing course at UC Irvine with a food theme. (It wasn’t a fun food theme, it was a here’s-all-the-terrible-things-we-eat theme.)

So, for those with ongoing interest in this subject, here’s our diet- and wheat-based posts. We’ll add to it as we add new ones.

And, on the benefits of coffee: No coffee, no prana:

Yeah, you should be able to surf

Crystal Pier, courtesy Surfline

I know I’m not the only Ashtangi who comes back from morning practice and heads to the beach for a surf session. (Example: Today, although there isn’t much surf here in LA.)

So it didn’t take me long to look at where the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence is being held and think, “Umm… maybe I can just walk a few blocks and do a little surfing, too.”

Turns out, I — we — can. There are a few different types of breaks to choose from. And given it isn’t going to be summer yet, it might not be totally crowded. (I’m eying Friday as the best day to paddle out.)

Pacific Beach and Mission Beach includes longboard heaven at Tourmaline Surfing Park, which is a little trek from the Catamaran Resort, maybe 1/2 mile. Much closer, but a bit more aggro, is Crystal Pier. North past Tourmaline is Pacific Point.

Or, really, you will be able to walk across Mission Boulevard, a whole beach block — we’re talking 400 feet — and be on the beach, and walk from there until you find a little peak. That’s probably my plan.

Given it will be March, the water temperature will be in the upper 50s; San Diego has a fairly deep water shelf, so although it is south from LA, Orange County, etc, it doesn’t necessarily reflect it in the water. (Much like northern Baja Mexico.) Full suit, in other words.

What board to bring will depend on where you think you’ll go, and maybe any last minute checks of the surf.

At the worst, we can hope that the rumor about San Diego turns out to be true: That’s it’s always 70 degrees and sunny. At least we can go lay on the beach post-two Ashtanga classes and before the afternoon talks.

New to Swenson?

David Swenson

David Swenson, the wandering yogi. If you’ll be meeting David Swenson for the first time at the Confluence, then perhaps a short summary of his role as a senior Western student is in order. His DVDs, particularly the First Series DVD, are the mainstay of home practitioners and new learners. Swenson is famous for breaking down the practice with his affable, approachable style, removing a lot of the intimidation factor. This is true even though his demonstrations of poses are jaw-droppingly awesome. Somehow, he manages to radiate humility, make you feel like the impossible is possible. His practice manual has the same tone, sturdy and spiral-bound for ease of use. Forget where a drishti is? You can look it up in the manual. Can’t get your feet behind your head? Here’s what you do until you can.

But it’s the workshops that make him the Johnny Appleseed of Ashtanga. David travels the world, giving Ashtanga to all walks of life. In the workshop I took with him, he was asked about “personal space” in the practice room. For an answer, he described demonstrating at a workshop in Japan. His students were crowded together to watch, with their toes practically touching the edge of his mat (count your spacial blessings was the subtext). He brings his travels to each workshop. Google for videos of David Swenson, and you’ll see a wide range of faces in the background of videos shot all over the world.
You may not know, however, that he has a website that answers a lot of the nagging questions of practice, like Ashtanga and agedrinking (as in booze, not water, which is a different question), and my personal favorite, Where Does the Spirit Live?. You can’t get a bigger Q for your Q & A than that.

Wait, don’t have all the facts?



At risk of having put the cart before the elephant (see the great book “The Hindus” for much information about why horses are/were so important in early Indian culture), here’s the information for the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence.Right. Makes sense to have that here. Although there is a link over there to your right.Here’s a more pronounced link, and below is the schedule:

First Annual Ashtanga Yoga Confluence Schedule

Thursday, March 1st
6:00 p.m-6:30 p.m. – Ganesh Puja
In India the elephant headed god is known as the Remover of Obstacles and the Lord of Beginnings. He is honored at important ceremonies to insure an auspicious beginning and successful completion of the event. The Ganesh Puja will be performed by Eddie Stern.

6:30 p.m-8:30 p.m. – Catered Opening Ceremony

Friday, March 2nd
7.00 a.m.-9:00 a.m. – Guided Intro Class taught by Richard (asana)

7:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m. – Mysore taught by Tim, David, Nancy and Eddie with certified and authorized teacher assistance (asana)

11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. – “Working In”– The Art of Breathing taught by Tim (pranayama)
Pranayama, literally “the extension of the life force,” is an important practice that cultivates clarity of mind, longevity and pratyahara (the inward turning of attention). Tim will introduce pranayama techniques to explore aspects of the pranamaya kosha (subtle body) such as the chakras and the pancha vayus (the five pranas) and to serve as the vital link between external methodology and internal experience.

11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. – Flying, Floating and Handstanding taught by David 
(asana with partner)
Flying, Floating and Handstanding: In this fun-filled exploration of vinyasa and arm balances, we’ll break down the vinyasa into its components and explore handstands and arm balances through the avenue of partner work. All levels can attend – even if you’ve never done a handstand.

3:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. – Panel Discussion with Tim, David, Richard, Nancy and Eddie for the entire group to attend together (lecture/discussion)
Q & A discussion, stories about Guruji, etc.

Saturday, March 3rd
7:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m. – Guided Intro Class taught by Tim (asana)

7:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m. – Mysore taught by Richard, David, Nancy and Eddie with certified and authorized teacher assistance (asana)

11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. – Intro to the Second Series taught by Nancy and assisted by Tim Miller (asana)
An introduction to Nadi Shodana (purification of the little rivers), the intermediate series of Asthanga Yoga.

11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. – Backbending on the Current of Breath taught by Richard (asana)
An energetic exploration of integrated whole-body patterns found in backbending. We’ll work with the internal alignment mirrored in the pelvic floor as it moves around the central axis of the body. Using these patterns, combined with integrated muscular patterns within the hamstrings, abdominal wall, shoulders and arms, we’ll construct a series of deep backbends that are grounded, open and free of pain.

3:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. –The Symbolic Meaning of the Hindu Deities: Ganesh & Hanuman taught by Eddie and Tim for the entire group to attend together (lecture/discussion)
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra II.44 states “Swadyaya Ishta Devata Samprayogaha – Union with the chosen deity comes from the study of self through the sacred texts”. Eddie and Tim will shed light on their chosen deities Ganesha, the remover of obstacles and Hanuman, the dispeller of afflictions.

7:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. – Music by M.C. Yogi

Sunday, March 4th
7:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m. – Guided Intro to Ashtanga taught by Nancy followed by Loving Kindness Meditation (asana)

7:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m. – Mysore taught by Tim, David, Richard and Eddie with certified and authorized teacher assistance (asana)

11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. – The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga with Tim, David, Richard, Nancy and Eddie for the entire group to attend together (lecture/discussion)
The first five limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are known as the external limbs. Pattabhi Jois said “The first five limbs of yoga are very difficult-the last three are easy!” Each teacher will illuminate a yama and a niyama, as well as discuss the the lager context of the first five limbs, or even all eight if time permits.

3:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. – Ashtanga Yoga and Daily Life with Tim, David, Richard, Nancy and Eddie for the entire group to attend together (lecture/discussion)
All of the teachers will reflect on what it means to be a yogi in the modern world, as a westerner and a householder and how one’s practice changes over time in relation to the aging process. Questions submitted in advance will be answered.

The toughest decision for me was the Friday 11 a.m. classes. I knew “Working In” meant Tim; I’ve seen him call his teaching that, before. And I don’t lightly miss an opportunity to sit with him. (Side note: Two weeks from now we’ll be in Mt. Shasta with Timji; we’ll see how the blog posting goes from there. At worst, we will try to have lots of pictures. Shasta is wonderful if you ever get the chance.) But I’ve also done pranayama with him, so I chose — reluctantly — the other course. And while I’ve had a weekend course from David Swenson before, I think his jumping and handstanding lessons will come at a perfect time in the Spring. I’ll be much more ready.

I also assumed Tim would be involved in the Second Series intro; again, something I’ve done though Second is a bit beyond these stiff bones. So it was hard to go against that current, too. But I’m very excited to get a chance to have some teachings from Richard Freeman, whose books and thinking on Astanga and yoga are very interesting to me — and I think, very different from the strand from Guruji I’ve received so far.

So that will be one of many highlights, even though right now my backbends are more “backthings.”

— Posted by Steve

So what’s the hotel going to be like?

Catamaran Resort

A lot of the initial talk I heard about the AYC — besides overall enthusiasm and excitement — was about having to book a room at the hotel.

Right off, I’ll get this out of the way: The price seems pretty reasonable to me. And I think staying there — being in the chaos of all those Ashtangis — will be part of the fun.

But not everyone was enthused about that. So I thought, “Well, how good is the hotel?”

The answer: Seems OK, to pretty good.

At least that seems to be the consensus from the Yelp reviews, which I’ve run through so you don’t have to. (See how we are helpful that way?)

As with any Yelp, there are always the outliers who absolutely hate the place or have a bad experience. And there seem to be an equal number of people who just gush and gush over it.

All said, from 94 reviews it gets 3.5 stars, but I’d say it’s fair to say that a few really bad reviews probably pulled it down from being closer to 4. I will warn, though, that some of the poorer reviews are from 2011. So I don’t know if the place had a bad run this Spring.

If anyone’s stayed there or knows about it, comment away.

Posted by Steve

Bad Yogini!

Most practitioners of Ashtanga have experienced it. You get settled, happy with your practice, and life intervenes. You have to move. Now, you need a new teacher. Or your job means you can’t practice at your shala anymore (no shower? stinky yogi!). Or you have to go to school and can’t afford it. You practice at home, go to workshops, or wander around in a new town looking for a new teacher.

Tim Miller

My first Ashtanga teacher was Pamela Ward at Yoga Path in Irvine, CA. I’d just gotten comfortable with the practice, and bought a year’s membership, when I showed up for class one day and the doors were locked–the studio went bankrupt.

I found Shayna Liebbe at YogaWorks in Mission Viejo. Shayna’s life ended tragically, but through her amazing teaching I found Diana Christinson and Tim Miller. I was home. I had not one shala, but two.
Then, we had to relocate to Los Angeles. I was lost. I had shoulder surgery. I wandered around. I wanted to love. I went to retreats and teacher trainings with Tim, drove for two hours to get to Carlsbad whenever I could. Finally, Jorgen Christiansson opened Omkar108. A new shala, a new home.
It seems to me that this is part of being an American Ashtangi, why the Confluence seems so right, so needed. There are many different paths to practice, one Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. I remember Tim saying to me, “Two gurus, bad yogi!” The amazing thing, really, is that all my teachers have taught the same practice, the same breath, the same drishtibandhasasanas.
At the Confluence, we will get a chance to see the incredible continuity Guruji gave the practice, across teachers, across continents.