A few changes

This will be a quick one with a few announcements. Nothing major, but…

After going daily with this blog for several years, work and life (and maybe sometimes the actual practice on the mat) have gotten a bit busier, and there are the occasional day when finding something relevant is fairly hard.

Which, strangely, feels like things were in the beginning. Back even four or so years ago, when the Confluence first got announced, the main Ashtanga teachers we focus on weren’t doing much to promote themselves online. That changed a lot, with Eddie Stern posting regularly and the Yoga Workshop also being pretty consistent in getting stuff online. David Swenson for a while was updating his website regularly. Tim Miller keeps on keeping on with his Tuesday posts. For a while, I thought the main reason behind this blog — to be a resource where people could find news and info about the Western teachers we would loosely call our influences — had run its course. And then people started pulling back.

And people’s online habits changed. More mobile, less on the computer. Facebook — which during our most trafficked year was a big source of views — altered its ways, severely limiting how much people see unless you buy advertising. (A hearty “boo” to Facebook.) At that point, it felt like what we do was more unusual and hopefully useful.

Lately, the Ashtanga news has continued to be pretty quiet. And that combines with our being busier. And so that means this little change:

Rather than posting every day, we’re going to take Saturdays and Moon Days off, just like we all do with practice. Otherwise, we hope you won’t notice a big difference, and we hope that won’t alter your interactions with this here blog/webpage/whatever. We hope it will allow us to be a little more relevant and targeted to Ashtanga, yoga and coffee.

We’ll also keep gearing up for Tim Miller’s first Third Series training this August. I’d call that the next big thing on the horizon. And then the Confluence in the spring, perhaps, after that.

Alright. Anyway, thanks for everyone who consistently reads, comments, sends us emails, interacts with us on Facebook or Twitter. And thanks to those who pop in every now and again.

Posted by Steve

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Happy anniversary to … us?

Today marks a year since we began this blog, following the announcement of the first Ashtanga Yoga Confluence.

We had no strategic plan in those first days. It seemed like the Confluence was a good focus for our practice off the mat, and we figured that others shared our excitement about the opportunity to study for a weekend with such an amazing lineup of teachers. (In that, we were right.)

So why not blog, we thought.

Our goal then, and our goal now, is to produce a site where others interested in Ashtanga can come to see what news may be happening, find out what updates the Confluence teachers (and others) are providing and, from time to time, listen to us moan about our practices. (As we always note, we try to keep that to a minimum and find something “universal” in our experiences that might be helpful to others.)

Thanks to all who’ve read, who’ve returned and who tolerate our thoughts and musings on Ashtanga, yoga and the other stuff that trickles in. And thanks especially to those who’ve commented and added much insight and context to posts.

For olde tyme sake’s, here’s what we said last year:

Ekam.

That’s probably as good a way to start this blog as any. It works, after all, for Ashtanga.

I suppose you might be wondering what this blog’s all about, or supposed to be all about.

Well, it’s simple. We’re hoping to be a one-stop shop for all things related, however loosely, to the March 2012 Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, featuring five of the West’s senior students of Shri K. Pattabhi Jois. We’re excited about it, and so we want to be able to keep a running tab of things as the date grows closer.

What’s that mean?

Well, we’ll link to Tim Miller’s weekly blog, Tuesdays with Timji. (Warning: Tim’s our teacher from this handful.) Eddie Stern also blogs, and Richard Freeman’s shala has one, too. We’ll share updates on the Confluence as well as anything that strikes our interest, on the theory that if it interests us, it will interest you.

We’ll try to have some fun, maybe be serious occasionally and work to keep the enthusiasm high.

And all the while we’ll keep our practice going.

Dve.

If there are other things you think we should be covering, resource sites we should list, teachers we ought to include, let us know. We know you all are great resources, too.

Posted by Bobbie and Steve

Practice and study don’t always have to please you

I’ll admit it: Today’s one of those days when I’m feeling sorry for myself.

Practice was rough, especially after a bad night’s sleep. And work today is not affording my the opportunity to do what I’m desiring (lying on the beach, let’s say).

It’s just one of those days — I’m assuming we’ve all had them — when the after-effects of morning practice leave you a little dazed, a little confused.

I am taking a little solace in Richard Freeman’s last blog post, from July 13. It’s a little bit of switching the context, but for me, today, it helps. He is answering a simple question: What books on yoga should someone read who is just beginning to explore yoga philosophy? He finishes his answer with these words:

Another thought related to this: if a book disturbs you, pleases you, frustrates you, stimulates your mind—these are all important parts of the process of studying yoga philosophy. You don’t have to agree with everything that a book is saying about yoga.

Today, subbing in “your practice” for “a book” and those two sentences become a a bit of welcome solace. Practice did disturb me and frustrate me, as well as stimulate my mind. And I’m not especially agreeing with what it had to tell me.

But that’s an important part of studying yoga. And it was a timely reminder.

Posted by Steve

Eddie Stern on the goal of spiritual practice

I joked once to Tim Miller that my most flexible muscle is my brain. I’m sure it must have come after he directed another shake of the head toward me and followed it with a “still stiff” in the Indian accent he puts on when he’s about to hurt your feelings, but wants to do so gently.

When you see me at the Confluence, you’ll know what I, and he, mean.

But my joke isn’t entirely facetious. I’m pretty sure my brain is my most flexible muscle; sadly, Ashtanga only is 1% theory, but it is a 1% I try to give at least 4% of my time to as part of my practice.

And it is why I’m as excited by the afternoon talks at the Confluence as I am the morning practice sessions.

Initially, I’ll admit to being most excited about hearing Richard Freeman. I read his latest book, “The Mirror of Yoga,” earlier this year, and I found much in it to absorb and contemplate. (Ala Bobbie’s review of “The Ramayana,” I’ll do something more complete on it at some point.) I have a suspicion I might really take to his perspective on the practice and on yoga in America.

Puja, via Ashtanga Yoga New York

But since the Confluence announcement, I’ve also being paying more attention to Eddie Stern, who may represent the great unknown for me when it comes to the five teachers.

What did I know about him? Well, the usual “rumors”: he’s super strict and super traditional, in that New York way. And before any New Yorkers/East Coasters jump on me, you know you think we’re all laid back and too free with things out here in California. I also know he’s embraced Hindu practices. But, really, that’s about it. (In the past few weeks, I’ve gotten more information from a local source, who I’ll keep anonymous. But it sounds like Eddie is a great teacher, which is no surprise.)

His blog at the Ashtanga Yoga New York site is great, and it is certainly making me more interested in hearing what he has to say about the 1% theory of Ashtanga. His latest, built around a puja for Guruji’s birthday, includes these wonderful words:

The goal of spiritual practice is to awaken inner happiness, happiness that is not caused by the fleeting, changing objects of the world, but is the uncaused happiness of the Self. Purnima refers to the full moon, when the moon is complete and reflects the full light of the sun. In the Hindu tradition the moon is the mind, and the sun is the heart – so when our mind completely reflects the inner happiness of the heart, it is said to be full. The yoga master Krishan Verma spoke this past Friday on this idea, remarking that the Guru is said to be the one to awaken this fullness, hence the special name Guru Purnima – what is fullness, he asked? Happiness. Where does this happiness come from? Devotion to the Guru. The Guru can be a person, but in essence is a principle, called Guru Tattva. The principle of the Guru is the light of knowledge – a light like the sun – which is shining in the heart of each and everyone of us. We can access that principle, and have our own experience of it. But while it is true that the Guru is within us, the need for an outer guide should never be discounted, one who can point us in the right direction – and especially in the cases where this principle shines forth brilliantly, and the vessel has become the embodiment of the principle.

Now, I’ll readily admit to being one of those not-so-rare Westerners who are reluctant to “surrender” to a Guru or, really, any authority figure. My embrace of Hanuman is mostly about tapping into his devotion to another.

And I’ll also admit to having hesitation to what I’ll broadly, and reductively, call “the new age spirituality” of yoga. I don’t mean to turn anyone off by that phrase, and don’t mean it pejoratively; it is more a reflection on me than yoga or Ashtanga or anyone practicing it. It places me in that grand continuum of American males, I think, who have some sort of ingrained skepticism or even hostility to anything “hippy dippy.” On one end is, I don’t know, Rick Santorum, maybe? On the other is probably Ram Dass.

As my practice has deepened, I’ve definitely moved toward Ram Dass. I’m trying to access what Tim Miller has referred to as my “gooey inside.” It’s not an easy task. But it is part of the practice, and it seems like it is an inescapable one after a certain point. There comes that moment when Ashtanga is either going to stay a really good workout or become something more.

That’s something we’ve all experienced, right? It is something I’m still trying to put into words. (One of the goals of this blog.)

I’m looking forward to the Confluence, in large part, to help push me further down that path toward “something more.” And I’m very interested to hear Eddie, and Richard, and find out if anything they say gives me a firm shove.

An even better Tuesday explanation

As promised in our first post, we’ll highlight the writings and goings-on of the five teachers who will lead the Confluence.

Tim Miller posted his weekly “Tuesdays with Timji” piece a short time ago, and this week’s is a good primer on what Tuesday is all about and what the Ashtanga practice means, too:

Regarding Tuesdays, Guruji used to say, “Tuesday is a bad day.” When I asked him why he replied, “Some fighting.” In Vedic astrology, Tuesday is associated with the planet Mars. Of the planets, Mars is known as the “lesser malefic”—Saturn being the “greater malefic.” In Roman mythology Mars is the God of War–one of its primary associations has been with conflict, and accidents as well. Guruji would never shave on Tuesday because of this association of Mars with accidents, particularly accidents involving the head, since Mars rules the sign Aries, which is linked to the head. In Mysore, Guruji never gave anyone a new pose on a Tuesday, because of this potential for accidents.

I tend to think of Tim as as much Vedic astrologer as Yogi, if one can unwind those two. Check out his thoughts if you haven’t already or don’t normally.

He gives a little shout-out to Hanuman, too.