Reminder: You’re probably doing Chaturanga wrong

There was a short period of time when I wasn’t doing the full Ashtanga Primary Series but I was doing the full vinyasa sequence up to Navasana.

Grimmly has a nice post on it here. I agree with his assessment of doing the full vinyasa — basically coming to standing between every seated pose: “Really nice practice, felt light and airy somehow, perhaps all that coming up to standing and getting a breath of fresher air.” It can make you feel more stretched out and less compacted than the half vinyasa, when you just go through the dogs, so to speak.

What also caught my eye was the video of Lino Miele he posted. But it wasn’t because of the full vinyasa. It was his Chaturanga. And the fact he paused at the bottom, with eyes looking ahead.

Oh! Right. It’s an actual pose, and not something you are supposed to move right through on your way to updog. Pause. Breath. Look forward. I know this, of course, but it is so easy to forget the importance of the basics.

Here’s the video:

Today, during what ended up being a long and pretty great practice, I focused on making sure I didn’t blow past that pause at the bottom of the Chaturanga. A few times, I found myself in updog — or even worse, down dog — and realized I hadn’t stopped. But I mostly remembered, and I can report a couple of things:

  • It definitely provides a moment of grounding, a feeling of stability and “here-ness.” In some ways, it is the opposite of what Grimmly describes a full vinyasa as being. It isn’t stifling or anything, but I felt very conscious of my vinyasa.
  • I can feel the after-effects. My upper back, shoulders and arms already are feeling like they had their fair work-out today.
  • I think it helps make you more conscious of your updog, too, and where your chest is and where your shoulders are.

Now, we’ll see how it all works out in the next practice.

Posted by Steve

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On Mysore bloggers and photos of your guru

Fellow blogger Serene Flavor earlier this month rightly pointed all Ashtangis in the direction of the folks who are blogging from Mysore.

That, in turn, led me over to Claudia’s blog, where she lists a few of those bloggers. (And Serene Flavor’s newly coiffed blogger especially points to this one.)

The thing I noticed in common with this blogs is a definite focus on Sharath’s Conferences. Not too surprising, I don’t think: Sharath’s talking would be something easy to translate into a blog, likely easier than explaining that strange feeling during Urdhva Dhanarasana…

Tim Miller, from the Ashtanga Yoga Center website

I also notice that much of what I’ve read recounting the Conferences sounds awfully familiar. I’ll take that to mean my time with Tim Miller (mostly), David Swenson, Annie Pace and now Jörgen Christiansson has been productive and that they all do a great job of passing what they learned from Guruji on to their students.

We all should be (and I’m sure are) grateful for that.

Serene Flavor has another post up that I found interesting. In it she wonders if anyone has pictures of Sharath in their shalas or on home altars. Thus far, those answering her say, “No.”

One answer in particular struck me. It suggests that people don’t consider Sharath a “guru” yet, and thus it still is only Guruji’s picture that’s up. And then the person writes: “[I]t’s like I wouldn’t have a photo of Tim Miller on my altar. Usually I think it’s a photo of the “source” of the teachings.”

Funny. Because there is a picture of Tim on our altar at home (in fact, this one), and I have a picture of him in my office. (A signed copy, no less!) But Bobbie and I do consider him our “source.” Both of us have spent, I’d wager, a month or two in “more serious” time with  — i.e. trainings and retreats — and have received an immense amount of knowledge, understanding, learning, faith, belief and conviction from the time. Tim absolutely deserves a place on our altar.

Could a photo of Guruji fit? Yes. I recognize, of course, how he’s “the source of the source,” if you will. And we honor and respect him. But Tim’s the teacher and Guru for us.

Posted by Steve

What my Dr.’s visit can tell you about your yoga practice

I made the mistaking of promising to pull together my recent visit to the doctor with what it seemed to say about my — and by extension, anyone’s — yoga practice.

I guess I need to own up, at some point, to that promise. I’m still a bit sketchy that  it will be too much about me — but I’ll try to avoid that. So here goes. All comparisons are to a year earlier, about when I started practicing at Omkar108:

Doctor’s report: Blood pressure was down about 20 points, taking me from the questionable to the perfectly fine level.

Doctor's caduceus, via drblayney.com
What it means for you: At some point during the year, and I think fairly early on (i.e. before I went to Tulum in late January with Tim Miller), I realized that my Ashtanga practice really is a moving meditation. I don’t think about anything for an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half. Add in some pranayama, and I think I can half-realistically claim to have a meditation practice. And now I have lower blood pressure.

Doctor’s report: 16 pounds lost, including loss of 4% body fat. (My doctor had targeted a 2% drop.)

What it means for you: Don’t eat wheat! Well, I suspect the cutting out/down on wheat in the final few months of this year led to about half of that weight loss, but in general it was the ongoing recognition that what I eat matter for how I feel, how I practice and, to go all Cosmo on you, how I look. Well, that and the most-everyday sweaty Ashtanga practice.

Doctor’s report: Metabolic rate up (so burning more calories), lung capacity strong, hearing great.

What it means for you: I’m not sure that last one is really an effect (unless you count Karna Pindasana, which I don’t do perfectly, by the way), but all the activity from the vinyasa practice is having the desired effects on the system. So don’t just do Iyengar, people!

Doctor’s report: As part of the weight loss, I did drop about 5.5 pounds of lean muscle — but 10.5 pounds of fat. Nothing to worry about, the doctor says, because of the ratio.

What it means for you: I’ve written before how I moved from weightlifting and running to just Ashtanga and, for the first couple of years, I kept about the same muscle mass proportions, and even added a little muscle. That changed this year, not surprisingly given the weight loss. (I’ll admit to being a little disappointed. A couple pounds drop wouldn’t have struck me, but five? And, yes, that’s not my being at my best.) I think it clearly is just a matter of my having upped the vinyasa (including incorporating jump backs). I do think I may have cut back a little too much on protein, and I’ll be thinking about that part of my diet. My doctor did suggest she expected an increase in muscle over the next year, that I’ve gone through the “burning through” stage, I guess. I’d take that.

Doctor’s report: And my prostate…

What it means for you: Just kidding.

Doctor’s report: Keep doing what I’m doing. She didn’t even push running this time, as she has in the past.

What it means for you: I seem to be living proof that a regular Ashtanga practice combined with smart eating (or, arguably, a nearly crazy diet) is enough, health-wise. Add in the mental/emotional/spiritual factors and…

Well, you be the judge.

Posted by Steve

A post about shame.

There are only two reasons why I’m doing this post: A dare from Yoga Rose, and an absence of Steve.

Draupadi, the image of modesty. (Painting by Raja Ravi Varma, via Wikipedia.)

Rose has given Steve a personal invitation to respond to this story about an obviously-naked Ashtanga teacher (the Ashtanga part’s less obvious). As Steve is out of town on Non-Yoga Related Business, you’re stuck with me.

You may be disappointed. I know nothing about Kim Kardashian other than her name is alliterative and sounds like an alien race from Star Trek. I have a vague understanding that she’s had an unusually short marriage and a messy divorce of some kind. That’s about it. So don’t expect much.

There was a big kerfuffle about naked yoga a while back, which makes it old news. But the fact that teacher of the Kardashian is a naked Ashtanga teacher makes it, I suppose, relevant to this blog. His name is Ralph Craig, and he’s described–perhaps in an unconsciously hilarious way–as “a 22-year-old Ashanga yogi and practicing Buddhist.” (My favorite part is the use of “yogi”: like, “See? We know the lingo here at The Hollywood Reporter!”) (Also the “practicing Buddhist” bit; that must make him legit.)

I’ll speak for both the Editors of The Confluence Countdown in saying that we do not approve of Naked Ashtanga. In fact, on the practice floor, both of us are…well, prudish. We get self-conscious if fabric comes above our knees. I sometimes worry if there’s too much exposed back in my tops. I check my seams and fabric thickness to make sure they’ll hold up in forward folds.

It should be said that we do not disapprove of Nudity as a concept. In fact, we’re Pro-Naked. But there’s a certain, oh, I don’t know, flashy kind of near-nakedness we go all grandma on. We generally tisk tisk the wearing of tight underwear-like bottoms, whether male or female. It’s become a matter of controversy in the house if I should wear leggings instead of baggy capris. (Have you no shame, woman!) There’s something modest about the practice that we both feel a kind of affection towards: There. I used the word. I’ll use it again. Modesty.

So there you have it. Get some clothes on, for pity’s sake! Maybe Steve will opine on the virtues of practicing in a t-shirt vs. a tank top in his next post.

Posted with irony by Bobbie

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

On the pleasures of Moon Days

If you are at all lucky, you are reading this much later than normal.

That’s because you’ve had the chance to sleep in this Thursday morning. And, even better, you didn’t have to practice.

The full moon, via NASA

I’m sure we’ve all heard different reasons why Guruji decided that Moon Days — the days of the full and new moons, for those non-Ashtangis out there — should be days of rest. I personally like the rationale given for why he decreed Saturdays off: So he could spend some time with his family.

Whatever the reason, I’m glad he did. And even though I don’t quite manage a 6-day-a-week practice (I bet I’m right at 5 days, though), it still is wonderful to be able to sleep in and not practice guilt-free.

And, of course, there is the other side to it: Being able to stay up past 10 p.m. without having a total Ashtanga-related freak-out. Maybe have one extra, wee little cocktail. At our shala, there is a group of women who — I think this remains true — try to go out on the nights before Moon Days to take advantage of being able to sleep in. (Ahem, thanks for the invite, btw!)

Perhaps you try to “celebrate” a little, too. If so, I hope you enjoyed / are enjoying that. But then remember: On Friday, Led class!

Posted by Steve