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