David Garrigues on how a yoga teacher motivates students

Home Ashtanga practitioners may know better than anyone the real value of a teacher.

It’s just that knowledge comes from a lack, not a positive reinforcement of the practice. A lack of motivation, of encouragement, of going beyond the limits thanks to the teacher shakti.

Bobbie and I are now in the home practitioner camp, which makes the not-often-enough trips to the Ashtanga Yoga Center all that more valuable.

David Garrigues has a new post up about the role of the yoga teacher. Link is here, and the section that resonates the most with me:

Joy: But a student’s limit can change, correct?

David: Yes. Ashtanga yoga is potent because it helps you to do or be what you never even dreamed. But of course there are challenges involved, a lot of limits are also quite fixed, and thus they remain somewhat stable. And so as the teacher you must be patient, some of the instructions, the patterns you want to help the student change, the new thing you want to introduce to them, you must wait…and you can wait a long time— maybe.

Ashtanga is potent, that’s for sure — and it is most potent when the teacher is there helping and guiding.

Posted by Steve

DG responds to everyone upset with his take on pain

David Garrigues has responded to those who didn’t react especially favorably to his newsletter piece last week on pain. Given all the traffic and comments we had, I can only imagine what DG got. He says about 15% didn’t get his point or were upset.

Here’s a bit from his response, and you can read it all right here:

I’m feeling awful about the 15% that were upset by it or that what they took away from it was something hurtful to them or problematical. And I apologize for any misunderstanding or misleading communication from me. There was legitimate complaint that what I wrote was incomplete, that it could have been worked on more and edited—true. It was really a personal journal entry that perhaps shouldn’t have been shared in that form—–but it was too tempting—-ha-sorry! And also I trusted that you would read it in the context of how much I care about each of you and your practice including your pain. If you were upset I apologize, please forgive my words. I didn’t intend to convey disrespect to you. I want you to know that I am aware that each of you that is coming to me is trusting me with your vulnerabilities and weaknesses. This fine trust that exists between us is to me sacred above all else.

He goes on in much more depth, especially regarding caring about students’ pain. Read it. It’s thoughtful and helps place pain in the yoga experience.

Posted by Steve

David Garrigues delves into Ashtanga’s pranayama sequence, and so can you

I promised to spread the David Garrigues news, and so here it is:

He’s releasing a DVD/book set about breathing and Ashtanga’s pranayama sequence. It sounds good. You can find info both at his blog and at a dedicated website (where you can order it):

Championing your breath is the key to truly enjoying the fruits of your yoga practice, because it is through caring about your breathing that your tapas, your stubborn dedication and your pointed, daily toil will yield its important inner rewards. Through working with your breath in using this dvd/book set I hope you will turn to and trust your breath during times of celebration and challenge, that you will cultivate healthy breathing habits, and view breath as the key to unlocking the secrets to all yoga techniques.

In presenting this material I aim to transform your ideas about the role that your breath can play in your daily practice, to see how the consciousness that you develop through breath awareness leads you into the greater spiritual context of your life. I aim to set your imagination ablaze on the vital subject of breathing as your principal source of Self knowledge.

There are two DVDs and a book. The first DVD explores breathing practices to help with asana practice; the second “introduces you to the Ashtanga Pranayama sequence by giving you step by step, detailed instruction in each of the five pranayama’s that make up the sequence.”

I want to make sure to quote from the dedication on the site:

This DVD/book set is dedicated to Sri K Pattabhi Jois, who was a Vayu Siddha, a master of breathing, and from whom I learned this sequence. Study the material offered on these discs and your breathing can become a well spring, a main source for tapping the tremendous life force within you. Like Hanuman, the loyal servant of Ram, your breath can become a formidable ally, a most devoted friend that guides you further into the beloved practice of Ashtanga Yoga. Through practice may you attain Vayu Siddhi, perfection of breathing and go inwards to Self.

Jaya Satguru Natha Maharaja Ki Jai!
Bolo Sri K Pattabhi Jois Guruji Ki Jai!

For those who were at the Confluence and heard David Swenson tell the story, or just have heard the tale of Hanuman and the ants, let me say: I think my breathing is more of the ant variety. But it could be worse. It could be like a grasshopper.

Finally, the video DG has posted:

Posted by Steve

“Love of asana”

Yesterday, I had some fun with a brief comment in David Garrigues’ most recent video blog entry about “the 1000 practices rule.” I’d like to step back from that and show some respect.

I encourage you to go over to David’s blog and watch those videos, no matter where you’re at in your Ashtanga practice. Each one is nicely edited with shots of Joy practicing third, which is lovely. But in those videos David lays down a theory of third series that shines a light on the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga overall.

This is the last video on the blog, but to entice you to watch them all, here are some teasers: In addition to a framework for how long it may take before you’re ready to move to the next series, David also suggests that the practice has evolved in the last ten years (regular readers know how much we love that word). He explains his rationale for saying “Third is the new Second.” He also discusses what happens when you run out of asanas—when you hit the point where you are at the limit of your practice.

But one comment resonated with me strongly. In order to do third series, you have to have, in his words, “a love of asana.” Tellingly, his example is B.K.S. Iyengar, the Lion of Pune, still going strong. I love the transparency and openness of this statement. At some point, the benefit of the practice has reached its end. You practice asana because you love asana.

Steve has discussed his own ambivalence toward Ashtanga. I’ve sometimes felt that I have no choice but to practice (not as in “Ashtanga or perish” but more like “Ashtanga or collapse”). The idea of the asana being of value in and of itself is a very intriguing idea.

I remember Tim Miller discussing the first-second-third progression in similar ways, but with a different emphasis. Third, he said, requires your full attention.

In the practice of Ashtanga, one of the chief qualities of a student that brings them to a permanent home is–consciously or unconsciously–the desire to never be finished. The practice is bottomless. Just when you think you’ve “got it,” something else presents itself to you in a way that will cause you to rethink…well, everything.

This phenomenon happens from the beginning, and if you’re doing it right, will never stop. The idea that whatever it is I think I’m doing, I’m not really using my full attention yet is, somehow, very comforting. Thanks, David.

Posted by Bobbie


What 1000 days of practice will get you

More practice.

Let me explain.I have a work friend who is what you might call a casual Ashtanga practitioner. When I started Ashtanga 13 or so years ago, I knew a lot of casual Ashtanga practitioners.

I was hooked, but I wasn’t what you might call confident in my future. This is the nature of the casual Ashtanga student: I went to the so-called “half” Primary class (led, of course) two, sometimes three times a week, and I’d wave “hi” to all my fellow causal Ashtanga practitioners who would sometimes be in the class, sometimes not. I thought it was hard enough to make me feel like I was doing something, but I was chill. I dithered around because it seemed totally clear to me there was no way I was ever going to improve or get better or “advance.”

I was operating under the common misconception that if I couldn’t do it, I shouldn’t try it. And/or it was too hard. And/or it was too scary. And/or that I couldn’t get up early because I wasn’t a morning person. All of these things turned out to be wrong. (Well, except for the morning person thing—but I’ll do it anyway if I have to.) I was missing the fascination with what’s difficult, and it took me a while to really commit.

So it really caught my attention to hear David Garrigues say, “A thousand times doing first, a thousand times doing second, and then you can start third,” I was pretty excited. That’s like a real goal. That would’ve been handy ten years ago. We don’t see that sort of thing in Ashtanga very often.

Also, I thought about it a minute, and yeah, that’s probably about right—that’s about the correct number of practices before I started second series. Were the Ashtanga Fairies keeping track?

In case you’re starting to tick off numbers on your fingers and toes, David clarifies: Your 1000 doesn’t count learning and getting used to it. When it’s all together, you’re strong in the practice, then you can start counting up your 1000. That’s about six years of steady, regular practice.

I fear for my work friend, who continues to dither. If I would’ve gotten serious a couple years or so earlier, I. . .well, I’d probably be in about the same place I’m in right now. But that’s beside the point. I keep trying to get her to go to a shala, and she keeps turning me down. Time’s a wastin’

Then again, I’ve got my own countdown. So to speak.

There was that long period of time (years!) when I felt like I was just throwing myself around the mat for an hour and a half, and left a messy puddle behind me. I probably hit the 1000 mark at some point (who knew I’d live this long?), learned second, and once again I feel like I’m throwing myself around the mat and leaving a messy puddle. Again, 1000 days. I’m not even sure if I’m at the point where I can start keeping track, putting those notches in my Manduka.

Then again, who’s counting?

Posted by Bobbie