‘Reasons to love Ashtanga yoga’

I’m probably not a good one to comment on these, although I can agree with this assessment from this piece in the Times of India (although it may have originated at the Huffington Post India): “Ashtanga is not a practice for the faint-hearted.”

It goes on to list not quite a handful of reasons “to love this practice.” Here they are; click this link for the full explanation of them:

Dedication. Strength. Letting Go. Mirror Effect.

Kudos to the piece for getting this part right: “consisting of six series, and each series contains its own sequence of asanas.” You may recall that can be easy to mess up.

Posted by Steve

Apparently someone broke his thigh in Marichyasana B

Here’s a story that could get the “yoga can hurt you” drumbeat going again.

According to the uniquely unreliable Mail in the UK, a guy practicing in a Mysore room tried to do Marichyasana B and broke his thigh:

A man suffered a painful break to his thigh bone while carrying out a yoga pose.

The 39-year-old man, who remains unidentified, had been practising yoga for two years, and had recently begun exploring Mysore-style Ashtanga yoga.


In the emergency department, doctors found the man’s lower limb was shorter than usual and had rotated due to the injury.

X-rays showed he had a fracture in his ‘femoral shaft’, the long, straight part of the thigh bone.

Doctors said they believed this is the first documented case of a healthy person developing such a fracture while following a yoga stance. 

Here’s a link to the report on this that is the impetus for the Mail story. (Warning: X-rays that may make you think twice about doing Marichy B.) What strikes me is the description of this as a “low-energy” break. The report also concludes in part with this: “Yoga-related injuries are becoming more commonplace.”

(And note, we’ve now “broken” our taking Moon days off from posting twice today.)

Posted by Steve

What’s the big deal about quitting Ashtanga?

During the past few months, I’ve seen — but, I’ll admit, not read — a couple handful of posts, from something as big and mainstreamish as Huffington Post to individual blogs, all about quitting Ashtanga.

Judging by the titles and the first line or so (which is about what I see in a Google alert of via Facebook), they are anguished, soul-wrenching accounts of giving up Ashtanga or having Ashtanga, seemingly, give up on the writer.

What’s the deal, I ask.

I know the easiest answer here is: Read them for yourself, dude. And a fair point. But I like to spend my time reading things I think will be productive, and for me these aching accounts aren’t that. I think my discrimination about such things is pretty consistent here.

Perhaps some of you have read them and find something… I don’t know, is it uplifting or affirming? Is it a certain schadenfreude? Do we all really agonize so much about our Ashtanga practices?

And if so, why exactly?

Posted by Steve

Mysore a top yoga school in India plus eight places to make an asana of yourself

A couple of lighter things to get your through the weekend.

First up, KPJAYI makes this list of the top five yoga schools in India:

Ashtanga Institute is located in Mysore and is run by the descendants of Guru Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois, who has been teaching yoga since the 1930’s. The yoga institute offers intensiveAshtanga yoga classes throughout the year. The institute emphasises on vinyasa as the central component of Ashtanga yoga. Vinyasa is breathing and moving while performing the asanas. One needs to apply at least two months in advance as this is a much sought after yoga institute. The institute does not provide any accommodation although there are many nearby.

But I actually like a line from its description of an (the?) Iyengar school in Pune: “The renowned yoga centre attracts several students from all over the world, but it could be difficult to get a place in the institute as it is always full.” Wow, several students! Sounds crowded.

The second piece is from the LA Times: Eight “cool” places to do yoga. For instance:

OK, forget all the names of yoga poses you’ve learned. At the Sofitel Paris Arc de Triomphe in the heart of the French capital, guests receive a deck of cards with yoga poses based on Parisian landmarks.

The downward dog becomes the pyramids of the Louvre; the cobra pose, the gargoyles of Notre Dame. And of course the Eiffel Tower is the tree pose. You can do the self-guided workout anywhere in the city or in your room.

But there’s also this:

The Montage Laguna Beach adds a spiritual and healing component to its 2015 Mind and Body offerings. On Sept. 19-20, participants may take a two-hour yoga class and then receive 60-minute spa treatment and lunch at the Spa Montage.

As part of the series, Diana Christinson leads what’s called the Manomaya kosha (one of five koshas of yoga). The session costs $329 per person (not including hotel room).

An Ashtanga teacher gets in the mix.

Posted by Steve

Friday asana aid: Ushtrasana

It gets harder and harder to find poses we haven’t yet featured on a Friday. I can report that the frontier of Third Series seems pretty untraveled, at least as far as online instruction goes.

But I found a Second Series pose; maybe not a tough one. But that just means you ought to be able to explore the full expression of the pose: Ushtrasana.

Here’s the Internet’s favorite:

And, I know you’ll be surprised, this familiar face has a video:

(She actually has a few on this pose.)

This might be the second most popular:

Finally one of a different “tradition”:

And here’s a bonus bit of news: The YogaWorks empire grows:

Back Bay Yoga Studio on Boylston Street – renamed to YogaWorks Back Bay – and Sweat and Soul Yoga on Commonwealth Avenue – now YogaWorks Allston – have been acquired by YogaWorks for an undisclosed amount, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based chain said Wednesday.

Founded in 1987 and now known for its Teacher Training program, YogaWorks has 40 YogaWorks studios in Southern and Northern California, New York, and Boston. All locations are owned by Boston-based Great Hill Partners, which bought YogaWorks in 2014 for $45 million from Highland Capital Partners, according to theWall Street Journal.

It may be time for Rebel Alliance Yoga to rise — imagine the tie-ins toward year’s end.

Posted by Steve

Yoga, the world and the fact of futility

By now, you’ve seen the photo of Aylan Kurdi, and you’ve probably heard the stories of all the refugees trying to make their way to Europe.

It is in the face of such news that stretching myself into asana positions and, even more so, thinking that does any good beyond lowering my blood pressure, always strikes me as both absolutely ridiculous and ultimately self-serving and naive. I invariably think about the words of German philosopher Theodor Adorno: “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”

To paraphrase it: “To practice yoga as refugees walk their way into Europe is barbaric.”

I’d been thinking of this for much of the past week. And I suspected we’d touched on this topic before. I was right. Back in December 2012, days before we left for our first trip to India, Bobbie wrote this (the bold was originally a block quote):

It can be difficult to believe, in the face of horror, that creativity can go on—that anything can go on. The images from Connecticut shock the soul. And seeing them over and over, with no chance for catharsis, can be emotionally exhausting.

Comfort came from Robert Moses, in a message to the readers of Namarupa. I thought I’d pass it along to you. He wrote:

Hearing troubling news on a daily or almost hourly basis these days is indeed unsettling. Yet there is always hope. There is always the glimpse of love no matter how clouded things may appear to be.

Robert suggests—prompted by a message from Ammachi—chanting what we recognize as the closing prayer of the practice. It’s ancient prayer from the Rg Veda, known much more widely as the “Mangala Mantra.” It’s a reminder that there is, of course, solace in the practice itself.

svasti prajabhyam paripalayantham nyayeana margena mahim maheesah
gobrahmanebhya shubamsthu nityam lokah samastha sukhino bhavanthu
om santih santih santih

Unlike Bobbie, who found solace in that (as you’ll see if you take a look back at her post), perhaps I’m a tougher case. I’m more likely to feel the futility of one person, two people, 2,000 or 2 million practicing yoga and expecting to wake to a brighter, more perfect world.

I also realize the opposite — better to say the contrary — is worse. But it does not make getting to Samasthiti much easier.

Posted by Steve

It’s OK to research some poses

As promised, video is coming out from the Third Series training via Ashtanga Yoga Hong Kong. Here Tim Miller talks about research poses:

The description is nice, too:

Answering a student question about how much Research is acceptable, the answer also serves as preparation for the “awkward transition’ in Third Series that happens between the first half of the series, which is all the Leg-behind-the-head extreme forwards bends and Arm-balances, and the latter half of deep Back-bends. In other words; from Viranchasana B to Viparita Dandasana. As usual with Tim, there are some laughs along the way…

The laughs help with the research.

Posted by Steve

In Ashtanga, facing the difficulty of the difficult

We’re partway through our second week in Encinitas where, I kid you not, it rained on Tuesday.

That’s not about to stop me from going surfing in a bit. (In fact, I’ll probably pause midway in this post.)

What’s more likely to stop me from surfing is the fact that we’re partway through our second week here. That means nine or so practices under Tim Miller’s watchful (and thankfully at times less watchful, given the overflowing room) eye, and the accompanying ache, tiredness, weariness and exhaustion that comes with it.

We talked today after practice briefly with a blog reader (Hi to you if you’re reading this!) who is a regular at Tim’s. I think I said, long and short, that that would kill me. It might not, quite, but I’m not sure how’d I’d manage it.

When Bobbie took Tim’s Second Series training a few years back, I only stayed a week, and after the Sunday Led Primary, I told Tim I was off, which was a good thing: Any more time hear would break me, I said.

He responded that I was took stiff to break.

This time, spending two full weeks, might be the proof I was correct.

I’ve only ever had Tim doses of a week at a time: Tulum, Shasta, that Second Series week. I really am not sure how people do it, day in, day out. Perhaps the overwhelming shakti — which I realize is not just from Tim, but from his students and assistants, a whole boiling kettle of tapas that is difficult to ignore — gets blunted by time and familiarity. Surely one would figure out how to dial things back, a bit?

(Add into this that, while I’m working this week, it is only about half time, and it is in shorts and a T-shirt, with a break for surfing. So how I would have my real life … I don’t know. But I think that’s a good opportunity for me to get wet.)

(OK. I’m back. Best session of the trip.)

But perhaps not. And even if one does, there remains the practice itself — the difficulty of that. There’s the asanas, most obviously. But try keeping up with Tim in pranayama, and you’ll likely add it. And then think about the first two limbs. If those were easy, we wouldn’t be focused on Syria and U.S. immigration policy, just to name a couple of things off the very tip top of my head.

This isn’t the first time we’ve pondered the difficult, by the way. I’m tempted to think perhaps Bobbie and I share what she described in that post as the fascination of the difficult. Like attracts like, after all. But I can’t believe we’re alone, not after mornings practicing at Tim’s.

This utter difficulty is, I suppose I’m trying to say in too long-winded a way, one key aspect of Ashtanga that differentiates it from other “types” of yoga: Yin, Kundalini, whatever John Friend is up to today. (I say that only because our most recent post about him got a bump of hits on Tuesday. Did he do something?) Forcing ourselves, most days — most mornings — to face the impossible is a pretty crazy thing to do. But then you conquer a little piece of it.

That’s the esoteric side. What I’m facing today, now, is just the difficulty of the effort, of the physicality, of Ashtanga — arms that are noodles in the first down dog; hamstrings that aren’t having any of it from the very first. I’m facing it, wondering how I will face it tomorrow. And whether I’ll conquer any little thing in the process.

Posted by Steve

The teacher wails on you until you get the point

I’ve posted plenty about taking classes from Tim Miller. And Bobbie pointed out yesterday that they follow roughly the same formula: A description of how much Tim wailed on me.

The same happened Wednesday night, in his evening Led Primary class. But from there the story takes a turn.

First, though, the usual suspects: Tim adjusted the hell out of me. I can’t even give you a count; I know I more or less woke up in Tiryam Mukha Eka Pada Paschimottanasana, wondering how we’d gotten there. I know there was Tim and an assistant (I don’t know which one, but Chungsue and Lauren were the two working the room [side side note: Thanks again!]) on me in down dog. And again in backbend. And, according to Bobbie, two other times.

I want to pause for a quick second. I think we’ve referred to Tim as the hardest working man in yoga before. I suppose that might rile some folks up for think their teacher deserves that title. Well, as Evidence A: Tim was doing all this work — and it was hard work, because I’m no cakewalk to move and adjust — 12 hours after arriving at his shala. By the time he brought us back to life from savasana, he’d been there 13 hours. Even on days when he isn’t training 40 people about Third Series, his day on Wednesday starts with 6 a.m. pranayama and ends with that 5:30 to 7 p.m. Led Primary.

That’s hard-working.

Here’s the turn to the story. I realized (with no little help from Bobbie) that Tim isn’t just trying to wrench me into the closest approximation of the poses as possible. Well, he’s doing that. But he’s also attempting to show me both where it is possible for me to get myself and where I should be trying to get myself — in order to move deeper into the pose, into the yoga. My head should be closer to my knee here — and it is possible. The twist ought to be deeper, and it can be.

He’s trying to show me what’s possible and what the poses offer, if I keep going.

Call me a slow learner.

But I was able — to some extent — to put that learning to practice this morning during Mysore practice. Tim was busy with a lot of the Third Series people, who provide him other problems to address as they learn those poses, I imagine. (No offense intended!) And I probably waved him off at the start (which always is stupid, but… jump up a paragraph: That comes with being a slow learner). But being left mostly alone allowed me to seek out where he’d gotten me in those poses just 14 hours or so earlier.

I think I have a little sense of what he is trying to do, so undaunted by my intransigence not to let him. And that’s some sort of start.

Posted by Steve

Ashtanga Higher Math

Eddie Stern posted a little video on Instagram you’ve probably seen by now, and we’ve posted about, but in case you have not, here’s Steve’s post about it, which links to Eddie. The gist is this: A fit and stately TV host on The Today Show runs down an oddball collection of yoga names in front of a really unnecessarily large board with the heading, “What kind of yogi are you?” Leaving aside for the moment the obvious problem of there being “kinds” of yogis, as well as the numerous other factual errors she makes in her other categories, the deceptive organization of the list (which seems to be in order of perceived difficulty–Ashtanga is apparently harder than Bikram although Bikram will get you more cardio), and the inclusion of “barre” as a kind of yoga that will make you some “kind” of yogi (!), all Ashtanga eyes and ears turned to this sentence:

Advanced yogis may like Ashtanga yoga, six poses that are physically demanding.

Six. My Ashtanga Facebook/Twitter/Instagram feed explodes. Hilarity ensues. “Can I pick which six?” “Like an idiot, I’ve been doing ten times that many.” “From now on my six are all savasana,” etc. Sure, she probably meant six series; however, considering the mistakes she makes when describing the other categories, and the fact that she makes this mistake more than once, it’s probably not so much as a slip as just blithe ignorance, but it got me thinking: Let’s say we wanted to correct The Today Show. Has anybody counted the poses?

This is not my first encounter with doing Ashtanga math. Back when I started practicing, an early teacher of mine claimed to have counted the exact number of breaths in First Series. This makes sense, since all the breaths are accounted for in all the series, even those that aren’t numbered by the teacher in a led class. You can, in theory, count the exact number of breaths for all the Series. Unfortunately, since I was actually physically practicing First Series when she said this and did not have a pen handy, I don’t remember what the exact number was. Since then, I’ve tried every now and then to count them, but truthfully, as an English major, numbers make me bored. I make it to navasana and wander off. Which I’ve just done in the post, so back to the question:

How many poses are there?

Depends on how you count. Do you count samatitihi? The number of poses in suryanamaskara A and B (is chatrurunga dandasana a pose?)? Urdhva mukha svanasana or adho mukha svanasana? Do you count both sides? Repetitions such as navasana and bakasana? Opening? Transitions? The backbend sequence at the end? Savasana? It reminds me of an old question of my youth:

So there’s this: Who cares?

Obviously we care. Look how ticked off we get when someone gets it wrong. Granted, she got it comically wrong. But still.

You could just count. According to the John Scott drawings in Tim Miller’s First Series teacher training manuals—and let’s say for the sake of argument only asanas count and that you know what I mean by that—there are 46 in poses First, 51 in Second. Let’s just say I gave the Today Show’s expert a call to correct her. Do I correct her with 46? But wouldn’t it be more accurate to total up all six series and give her that number? When I first started, I only practiced up to navasana, and I was in no way advanced, so wouldn’t it be more accurate to tell her that you don’t have to be advanced and there are only as many poses as you can actually do? Because, basically, it’s not really the number of poses that defines Ashtanga.

But I think about all those old videos of Guruji assiduously counting, the careful metronome of Ashtanga he regulated and his students maintain, and I think, well, that’s the most important number in Ashtanga, isn’t it? Five. Why is it five breaths? Why not four, or six, or the eight or ten it is in closing? And yes, Monte Python and the Holy Grail is running through my head, the number so important to the Holy Hand Grenade…

So now that I’ve totally geeked out on my practice, I’ve gotten it out my system and I’ve effectively passed these questions on to my fellow practitioners and can just go practice.

Posted by Bobbie