My new mantra: “Wheeeee!”

You walk into the room, and the heavy hitters are on deck. There are giant images of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: Guruji is watching. On either side, murtis: Ganesha and Hanumanji, decked in flowers, with prasad at their feet.

At the front of the room, Eddie Stern calls samastithi. He is flanked by Nancy Gilgoff, Tim Miller, Dena Kingsberg, and an impressive collection of authorized and certified teachers that are also their students (and in some cases, spouses). The opening mantra begins.

Steve and I are up front. My brand new second series practice will be on display. I have butterflies. I know Steve does, too. The awesome sound of 150 or so Ashtangis thanking the lineage resonates in the room, vibrates in the walls and in my chest. We begin.

I was tense and careful through the opening sun salutes, the first standing poses, thinking about this or that pose to come. Then, something happened. I’m not quite sure what it was, but I stopped for a moment and listened to the room. Lots of breath. But also, I heard Tim’s laugh. It occurred to me how silly it was to be nervous. I mean, it’s just asana. I’ll never be here again, I thought. Why not have fun?

You may know, Dear Reader, that I’m a classroom teacher. I teach writing to college freshmen. I was at one time what you might call a serious academic–tenure track, publishing, conference papers on British Romanticism, etc. etc. I quit that gig because it wasn’t fun. It was stressing me out. I teach writing to freshmen now because it’s fun, and I’ve said for a long time now the minute it stops being fun, I’ll do something else. So I go out of my way to keep it fun.

Let there be light!
Let there be light!

The thought flashed through my head, Why should this moment be any different? Nobody in the room cares about how perfect my trikonasana is. Perfection isn’t the point of the practice (“They call it ‘practice,’ not ‘perfect,’ Shayna used to say). I’ll never be here again, I repeated in my head. Have fun. So I did.

I lighted up. I breathed. I practiced. Leigha Nicole gave me an awesome eka pada adjustment while saying, “Look at you: business in the front, party in the back!” Tim wandered by and cracked a joke, and we laughed together. I fell out of pincha mayurasana and Dominic came to my rescue, saying, “Hey, no shame, no blame!” Eddie had Steve laughing and maybe crying a little in backbends. David Swenson had wandered in (even after teaching his led class) and flashed me a big smile as he dropped me back. It was a non-stop party in my head.

My big take-away from the 2013 Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Wheeee!…Again!

Posted by Bobbie


Some ruminations on a “confluence”

We’re gearing up for this weekend here in The Confluence Countdown house: wrapping up loose ends at work, taking the pet parrot in for boarding, gassing up the car, packing.

Because this is our Second Annual Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, and thus an “anniversary,” I’m looking back. It’s hard for me to believe the First Annual Confluence was only a year ago.

I’m thinking mainly about the concept of “confluence,” and how that word has deepened in meaning for me, and how I’m bringing that meaning with me down to San Diego this weekend.

The Sanskrit word for “confluence” is sangama. In English, a “confluence” is simply the place where two or more rivers meet. While this is also part of the meaning of the word in Sanskrit, both the denotation and the connotation of the word are more complex. If one of those rivers is the Saraswati River, for instance, it’s invisible to the naked eye. And all confluences are considered tirthas, sacred places. This is true at the Trivini Sangam, the meeting place of the Yamuna, Ganga, and Saraswati in Allahabad in India. Immersion in the water of a confluence is, as in the case of many cultures, a sacred act, both a literal and a figurative washing away of sins (see the recently completed Kumba Mela for more on this).

So by calling this the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, it organizers are certainly denoting the meeting of Ashtanga’s Senior Western Teachers: Nancy Gilgoff, Dena Kingsberg, Tim Miller, Eddie Stern, David Swenson. As well as the meeting of us, their students: Certainly we’ll be seeing some old friends, and making new ones. The waters will join, and combine.

But what about the mystic Saraswati? What about the meetings that run deeper than the eye? My own sense of the practice has totally changed, and I suppose it began a year ago. When I returned to Los Angeles last year, my friend Lila Russo asked me what was my favorite moment, and I didn’t hesitate: “The Ganesha puja,” I said, and surprised the both of us. “Really?” she asked. “Yes,” I said.

Even as my body gets stronger, as I get healthier, feel physically better and more confident in my asana practice, I’ve become more

A different confluence. Photo by Michelle Haymoz
A different confluence. Photo by Michelle Haymoz

interested in the other seven limbs. My study with Tim Miller last summer, our journey to India this past winter, my talks with Robert Moses (our pilgrimage leader) has my asana attention span waning.

As I ponder my expectations for this weekend, I find myself thinking about a woman I met outside the Tirumala Venkateswara temple while I was waiting for Steve to emerge from his tonsure experience. She spoke no English, but understood I was waiting–as was she.We had both been through the long temple line and had darshan with Lord Venkatesh.  She introduced me to her son and daughter. And then she asked if Michelle would take our picture.

So we stood next to each other and posed, laughing together. Michelle came over and showed her the photo on the camera’s screen and she clapped her hands together in pleasure. Understand she wouldn’t have a copy of the photo, or ever see me again. That moment was enough for her, just to see it briefly, to clasp my hand. That was a confluence. I suppose it’s my hope that I can bring that sort of wisdom with me as I once again meet these great teachers, old friends and new.

Posted by Bobbie


Quickie: Apparently more info on the Confluence is coming soon

Super quick, almost Twitter-like: the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence’s Facebook page has promised, “More info about the event coming soon!”

Stay tuned. A minute before posting that, the page also updated a reminder about getting on the waiting list, as the event is sold out. The way to do that:

Posted by Steve

It’s a small Ashtanga world, after all.

An Ashtangi has been coming to my evening class. She’s just moved here from Kansas City, and one of the first things she said to me was, “I thought I was coming to L.A. and there’d be Ashtanga everywhere.”

It’s not. There are a lot of complicated and interconnected reasons for this, and there are many opinions as to why. Mine? It’s really, really hard (see Steve’s previous post), so demand is low.

The view of India from space, via NASA.

I would argue this is not a bad thing. The upcoming Confluence is a product of the small world of Ashtanga, for instance. It will be an intimate gathering of 350 of your fellow Ashtangis and a handful of master teachers. Small enough for all to enjoy.

But here’s another reason. This week two of my former students from somewhere around fifteen years ago, when I taught at a small college in the Midwest, have come from far parts to visit. I’ve kept in touch with Josh over they years, but I haven’t seen Brett since graduation day. I remember both of them as enthusiastic and highly creative students who probably taught me more than I taught them.

“So you’re teaching Ashtanga? I’ve done that,” says Josh (who’s getting his Ph.D. in linguistics and has a lovely little girl). Turns out Brett (who’s a dentist now in Portland) is a student of Jason’s (of Leaping Lanka fame). I’ve practiced with Jason. He’s a student of Tim’s. Time and distance gone, we chatted happily about yoga. Union.

It’s a small community, really, and its the closeness of the practice, its intimacy, that makes it such a jewel in the overall diversity of the practice of yoga.

Posted by Bobbie