Another new (old) talk by Richard Freeman goes online

Curl yourself up for an hour. There’s a new Richard Freeman talk up on the Yoga Workshop site. Link is here, and a super quick description:

Practicing Yoga in the Face of Adversity

Whether it’s a personal difficulty, or a political travesty or even a war, life seems often to toss adversity our way. This talk was recorded on October 20, 2013.

Yes, it’s from a while back, but as best as I can tell it’s just gone up here.

Posted by Steve

‘It’s a dharma for me to offer a pure tradition’

Y’all know Kate O’Donnell, right?

We’ve written about her a few times before, after first meeting her on our initial Yatra and then traveling with her (and the indomitable Rich Ray (and Youtube video at this link) on our second one.

Kate’s a great Ashtanga teacher, a fun traveling companion and an expert on that Ayurveda stuff. Here’s a little more about what makes her tick:

Bobbie and I have been enjoying updating Rich and her about our warm, sunny weather while they are covered in snow and cold this winter.

Posted by Steve

When the Monkey Mind Goes Blank

In a bit of a poetic rant about the theater business, Irish poet W.B. Yeats wrote, “The fascination with what’s difficult has dried the sap out of my veins.” It’s a good thing, in the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, that we do lots of stuff on the side to replenish the sap.

I say this, because its difficulties are endless—I mean, six levels? Six series to master? (Well, maybe “master” is the wrong word here; it’s more like “do.”) That’s the full repertoire of Ashtanga; it gives our form of yoga the quality of a really long Russian novel. You keep reading and reading and reading…until you just can’t anymore. I’ll never finish War and Peace, and I’ll never do Sixth Series.

I started practicing yoga (the more general variety) not too long after blowing out a disc in my lumbar spine, about 20 years ago. I didn’t really like it all that much—I did it with the level of enthusiasm you summon for brushing your teeth—until I found Ashtanga, around 13 years ago now. I attribute my immediate attraction to it to the fact that it was clearly impossible to do.

Way back then, once I was shown marichyasana D I remember clearly thinking, There is no way I’m ever going to be able to do that pose.

Now, my friend and teacher Maria Zavala is teaching me Third Series, and I found myself saying those very same words. Right before Maria put me in the pose.

If you could cut away a little window into my brain to see what was happening in real time, the short movie would run something like this:

Shot of a tree full scampering little monkeys swinging around the branches of a tree while disco music is playing…say, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”

[Maria puts me in the pose.]

Silence falls. The monkeys all freeze, drop what they’re doing, and calmly stare back at you.

[Release the pose.]

The needle drops back down on the music and the monkeys resume monkey disco shenanigans in my brain.

I’ve decided this silence is one of Ashtanga’s great coping mechanisms, a way into the Great Unknown of the body. It’s the great blessing of the lizard brain, that mental white noise that happens when the body meets the mind and the mind checks out for a second. This used to happen to me every time I did kapotasana, and was probably the only reason why I could do the pose.

But at some point, gradually, the pose becomes less scary, less difficult. Familiar. The pose becomes part of the sequence, strung along with the other poses on the mala of the breath. Then the mind checks back in and gets another chance to find dominion over that tree full of swinging monkeys we call thought.

Posted by Bobbie

New site sets out to interview Ashtanga teachers

There’s a new site that’s come online (this week, I think) with this mission:

Ashtanga Parampara is a collection of interviews with authorized/certified practitioners and teachers of Ashtanga yoga as taught by Shri K. Pattabhi Jois (KPJAYI). This platform seeks to archive the background and history of teachers that have been blessed by Pattabhi Jois or his grandson, R. Sharath Jois, to teach and spread the Ashtanga method. This effort is born out of sincere gratitude and devotion to the practice and seeks to illustrate and highlight the wide diversity of dedicated teachers across the world.

You can find the site here. The first interview is with Jessica Walden.

And here’s a little more from the person behind the project:

The seed of this project was inspired and born out of reading Guy Donahaye and Eddie Stern’s book, Guruji, years ago. Like others, I was fascinated by the rich tales and stories of each individual highlighted. I never wanted the stories to end. Some found Guruji and the practice through a search for something transcendental in their lives; others, sought healing from traumatic injuries or diseases. Regardless, each person had their story to share with the world. My goal is to simply record the teacher’s voice and their experiences with this practice. There are hundreds of teachers across the world. As far as I am aware, no platform exists that archives their voice. I would like to do that.

This project is 100% focused on the conversation with the teacher. It may also include their writings. This project will receive no monetary compensation. It is seva to the Ashtanga community. I hope it inspires new and current students.

I like the simple web design.

Posted by Steve

Google says: This is now the most popular Ashtanga video on YouTube

For a long time — at least a year, and probably a good deal more — this has been the most popular (i.e. the first to be listed) video on YouTube:

Yep. That one. 1.3 million views and counting.

But in the last couple of days, this video has jumped to the top:

It’s almost at 94,000 views — but clearly many more people are clicking on it lately, shooting it up the algorithms. As you probably would guess, it’s essentially a half Primary class. Just a quick listen suggests she gets the counting right… but I haven’t gone through the whole thing.

It might be save to say this is how most new people lately have been introduced to Ashtanga.

Posted by Steve

Is Ashtanga the most ‘dangerous’ yoga?

I happened upon a story from the Times of India that, at first, seemed like another report on studies of the potential injuries — let’s call it “dangers” — of yoga.

Speaking of yoga = asana, of course.

Here’s the lead:

A study titled ‘ Adverse Events Associated with Yoga: A systematic review of published case reports and Case Series’ published in the scientific journal Plos One has come up with the adverse events associated with yoga.

Pretty standard stuff. And so it goes on, reporting the study found that most of those “adverse events” were musculoskeletal. But then there was this paragraph:

In a small survey in 110 Finnish Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practitioners, 62% of respondents reported at least one yoga-related musculoskeletal injury, mainly sprains and strains. About half of those reported full recovery, the other half partial recovery. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a physically demanding yoga style that uses standardized sequences of physical yoga postures with synchronized breathing , the report said . More recently, in a large national survey, 78.7% of about 2500 Australian yoga practitioners indicated that they had never been injured during yoga. A survey in more than 1300 mainly North American yoga teachers and therapists found that respondents considered injuries of the spine, shoulders, or joints the most common.

Now, I know it mentions the study of the Finnish Ashtangis is small, but the difference between their experience with injuries and the experience of the Australians is fairly stark. I know one can use math and statistics to prove just about any point, but those two studies suggest Ashtanga may be three times as likely to result in injury as yoga/asana in general. (Thinking 62% vs about 21%.)

And it’s hard for me not to think it points to Ashtanga’s propensity to injury, a subject we’ve covered here so much there’s a standing link in our link list to the right.

Posted by Steve


Friday asana aid: Finding your bandhas

I’ll step out on a limb (pun alert!) and say that if you queried Ashtanga practitioners, more would call the bandhas the most illusive aspect to the practice than anything else.

More than dristi. Or the proper breath. Perhaps some small subset would smartly say, “Quieting the mind,” but we can figure they are just being snarky.

And since I’m not sure a video could capture a lesson quieting the mind, we’ll just stick with the bandhas for this week’s aid package.

Up first, an excerpt from David Swenson’s video — which you should own, by the way:

Leslie Kaminoff:

Kino MacGregor:

David Garrigues:


And a final note. A search for “bandhas” also pulls up a lot of “band has” so you can find some music on the Youtube if you want.

Posted by Steve

Jois Yoga Encinitas scales back practice hours; just what is the Ashtanga lineage

Jois Yoga Encinitas has just announced a little scale-back to its practice hours.

The morning Mysore, which was six hours, is now five. And the afternoon Mysore, which was three hours and 45 minutes, is down to three and a half hours. And off the schedule for now is Aimee Echo, who is in Mysore. Small changes, indeed.

I figure it is worth noting because this has all the hallmarks of being the root of a wild rumor that would expand into … well, why even suggest it in case someone reads it wrongly.

I do note that the studio there has Mysore practice on Saturdays (these, too, have been trimmed back). I’ll admit to being a little surprised given the traditions surrounding the practice.

Speaking of those traditions, while we were busy working on our Derek Ireland post yesterday, David Garrigues had a guest post up about the Ashtanga lineage. From the piece by Suzanne Faulkner:

Statements such as this one from a blog about mysore style ashtanga yoga, concerning the idea of being a direct part of the lineage….

” I clearly favor the traditional lineage and Sharath Jois but others have found great love for other teachers such as Richard Freeman or Tim Miller.”
the word BUT…. I would ask people studying with Sharath to use the word AND.

This statement somehow, or perhaps directly infers, with the BUT, that to study under Richard Freeman or Tim Miller is to study outside of the traditional lineage. My heart quickens, I feel threatened, undervalued. How could it be okay to have students of Richard and Tim, Nancy, David, David, Christine, David etc… be considered students that are choosing to be not in favor of the traditional lineage of Ashtanga! We are in favor of the traditional lineage of ashtanga yoga, in fact, we ARE the traditional lineage of ashtanga yoga. We are, at the very least, an aspect of the direct lineage!

I saw this one getting shared on Facebook on Wednesday. I’ll just say that this issue of lineage isn’t one we are too worked up about currently. We understand why others are. I think back to something Eddie Stern said at the first Confluence, and which I hope I don’t butcher too much in recalling. Here’s how Bobbie captured it one time:

Eddie Stern said something like this at the Confluence—that it was a remarkable thing that with no formal bureaucracy, no system of distribution or middle management or committees, or even, really a “central authority” that called itself such, the teachings of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois spread with such consistency, and always accompanied with such passion for teaching more.

I think that reflects pretty well our attitude toward the practice’s spread. But Suzanne’s piece is well worth reading, as issues of the lineage still are with us.

Finally, the first of a promised two-parter on Navaratri / Dasara celebrations in Mysore from Tim Miller.

Posted by Steve


Get Introduced to Ashtanga by Tim Miller

I’ve often called my teacher Tim Miller “the hardest working man in Ashtanga.”  In addition to teaching expansive two-hour classes—often twice in a row—and arriving early for pranayama every morning before Mysore practice, and performing the Hanuman Chalisa between classes on Tuesday, and having regular concerts on moon days, he also travels frequently, doing weekend workshops all over the country. I’ve often thought this is really his work-around to get in teaching on Saturdays.

Tim, teaching, as usual.
Tim, teaching, as usual.

When I’ve done Tim’s teacher trainings at his home base in Encinitas, one of the things he encourages trainees to do is sit in and observe other classes. By far, my favorite class to observe is his Intro to Ashtanga. I broke that class down in great detail a couple of summers ago (that post is here). I go back and read my notes on that class whenever I’m working with a student new to yoga. It was a great experience.

So I was once again amazed when the AYC sent out an email yesterday saying that this class will now be by donation (as we noted earlier), in the form of “The Box.” From the email announcement:

The Box was in use for many years as the ‘honor system cash register’ at the Ashtanga Yoga Center. It will be put to use in the same capacity for the Monday Intro class.

That’s right. You can be introduced to Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga by master teacher Tim Miller. Every Monday at 5:30. For whatever you can afford.

Posted by Bobbie

‘Is Ashtanga Yoga Hatha Yoga or is Patanjali Yoga something quite different?’

A week or so ago, in an email exchange with (name drop) Eddie Stern, I told him that Guy Donahaye’s website is one I check out frequently, except that it had been quiet for quite some time.

No longer.

Guy on Wednesday put up a post that — given Bobbie just talked about our scholarly interests — is one we’ll likely be reading a few times through.

The title is pretty simple: “Ashtanga Yoga is not Hatha Yoga.” Here’s a few bits and pieces to convince you to read it all:

But setting aside the of question of age or origin, we notice that this debate has distracted us from a much more important question:

Is Ashtanga Yoga Hatha Yoga or is Patanjali Yoga something quite different?


Most of our vocabulary about yoga comes from the hatha yoga texts – nadis, chakras, kundalini – these are Hatha Yoga concepts. The hatha yogi is pursuing a tantric, ecstatic experience of his physical and subtle body through various practices including asanas, ultimately desiring to free himself from all attachments and merge with higher consciousness.


While the hatha yogins pursue ecstasy as the medium of their sadhana, the South Indian tradition which flourished with Krishnamacharya, was focused on an internally focused path towards stilling the mind. Asana in this context is viewed as therapy – preparation for sitting and the internal practices.

That is not even, really, the tip of the iceberg of the post. As the above snippets suggest, it makes a clear and strong distinction between Hatha and Ashtanga yogas — it goes into much greater detail, suggesting ways that Pattabhi Jois approached his Western students, among other topics.

Go check it out. It does make me realize I may have gotten on to the wrong path. I need to do some thinking… where’s this “tantric, ecstatic” stuff?

Posted by Steve