Tim Miller’s first public yoga demo done at ‘breakneck speed’

I’m very happy that Nigel at Ashtanga Yoga Hong Kong captured this story of Tim Miller: His first yoga demo in Mysore. I’ve heard it before, but I’m not sure Tim specified he was doing Third Series. (This, obviously, is from last month’s Third Series training so it would make sense to make that clear.)

Having seen these students doing Third — not to mention Bobbie’s doing is Sunday at home — I think it fair to say that “breakneck speed” — mentioned around the 1:30 mark — seems extremely appropriate.

Posted by Steve

Nancy Gilgoff on why ‘didn’t I “change” with the updates’

It’s relatively rare when Nancy Gilgoff puts something out there online, so her response to some comments in a post at the Ashtanga Brighton blog are worth a look:

Another thing to make mention of… While we were shown the primary and intermediate one after the other, Guruji told us that in our daily practice we should take primary one day and intermediate the next. We were not to continue practising both series in one go. The folks I see today are not following this method. They are doing all of both series almost daily and then they even add some third on to that too. So I’m not surprised they experience “burnout”.

In Mysore that is fine to do, but at home when we have “life” happening (jobs, families, school, etc.), we should take one series at a time or split them in the prescribed method. This comes directly from Guruji.

I don’t think there’s anything strikingly new there — no surprise, as she’s reiterating her rationale about teaching how Guruji taught her — but she does discuss what the “perfect” pose is in a terrifically succinct way.

Posted by Steve

Marking five years since Pattabhi Jois’ passing

It’s been five years — strictly by our Western calendar — since Pattabhi Jois passed away, on May 18, 2009. In honor, here’s a little bit of Eddie Stern’s background on Guruji:

Guruji walked lightly upon this earth for ninety-three years.  He brought upliftment to the world through his tireless dedication to the teaching and practice of Ashtanga Yoga, and through his dedication to his spiritual life as a householder. Not too long ago in India, the teaching of Yoga was not a glamorous profession. The majority of the population eschewed its practice, viewing it in much the same way as it was, until recently, viewed in the West – as a fringe interest of monks, recluses, and spiritual fanatics. But just as Krishnamacharya had done before him, Guruji chose to go against the grain of his times when he dedicated himself to the teaching and practice of Yoga. This may explain why he never told his family about his practice, and why he left for Mysore at fourteen without saying a word to any of them. If he had, they might have protested or attempted to talk him out of it.

It’s well worth reading the whole thing if you haven’t, or even if you have before.

Posted by Steve

Tim Miller basks in the afterglow of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence

Here’s your first-hand set of reflections from the 2014 Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, via Tim Miller:

At that moment I was reminded that the Confluence was all about Guruji—that none of us would be there without him. I asked Manju to lead the invocation the first day so we could all hear the proper pronunciation of the Sanskrit. Richard Freeman was teaching a guided class next door and was brilliant, as always, drawing huge numbers to his classes. All of the other teachers were amazed to hear that Richard completed the entire primary series in an hour and fort-five minutes—he has been known for his meticulous and metaphorical style of teaching and slow pacing. 

Click on over to find out what that moment was, and remember, today’s a Moon Day.

Posted by Steve

Yoga and Therapy: The importance of what you do off the mat

If you haven’t done so, I invite, encourage and, yes, insist you read the transcript of a talk that Guruji gave in 1977, which Eddie Stern posted this weekend.

I think it is really an invaluable glimpse into Guruji’s thinking 35 or so years ago, not long after he had encountered the first wave of Westerners.

Bobbie offered a few quick thoughts on it already, and I suspect she’ll offer up some more. It deserves it.

After reading through it several times, there are three things I want to highlight.

  1. As Bobbie touched on, I was struck by how remarkably Tim Miller has maintained the focus and intention of yoga practice and teaching as he learned it from Guruji. This talk tracks pretty closely to when Tim first met Guruji. Tim still speaks of yoga as therapy in the way Guruji does; that Ashtanga is a system of health and well-being is fundamental to how I’ve learned the practice from Tim. My knowledge of other senior teachers who encountered Guruji at roughly the same time — David Williams, Nancy Gilgoff, Annie Pace, among others — suggests they, too, heard this message and have been spreading it since. The talk Eddie posted is wonderful, but it wasn’t surprising. I have heard it, both nearly verbatim and more generally, throughout my Ashtanga practice. That strikes me as  a great testament to Guruji’s skills as a teacher; to the great presence and impact he had on people; and to the high quality of the senior teachers.
  2. Given the past year-plus focus on whether yoga (and especially Ashtanga) is religious, thanks to the Encinitas lawsuit, this talk resounds as an argument against the inherent yoga = religion perspective. I think we all are familiar with the Guruji quote that yoga is for “seeing God in all things.” There’s none of that in his yoga and therapy talk; it presents yoga as a health practice, akin to other medical treatments. It presages all the studies and research now happening that are trying to discover yoga’s efficacy on any number of health issues. There also may be more to investigate here, given Guruji’s statements elsewhere. (Maybe those statements depend on the audience.)
  3. Of course, though, Ashtanga isn’t just a health practice, a choice from a menu that might include running, swimming, Pilates, etc. Guruji makes that very clear as he presents a pretty holistic approach to healthy living.

This last point is what I want to explore further. And I want to look in particular at his conclusion:

In conclusion, one practicing yoga with correct knowledge thereof knows no fear of diseases and sickness. But one gets hardly any benefit out of it, if at the same time he fails to have any regulation over food, habits, speech etc. Therefore, it is my experience, which agrees with the opinion of those well versed in the shastras, that the yoga practitioner practicing with regulation of food, habits, speech and contact will find himself freed from all kinds of ailments, physical and mental.

Read another way, that says: Practicing just asana, alone, isn’t going to get you healthy. Asana is an important part, no doubt, but not all you need.

We’ve all heard, I suspect, some version of the Richard Freeman take on these things: Yoga ruins your life. It does so by altering — theoretically for the better — your approach to life. You take better care of yourself; you eat better; you might make your body work less hard by limiting any number of stresses, from physical to mental impurities. Tim Miller talks about the “garbage in, garbage out” phenomena. He’s talking about junk food and mental junk food (TV, movies, etc.). It is true of your interactions with people and with your bad habits.

This is the difference between the yoga-will-get-me-tight-abs people and those who end up down the yoga rabbit hole.

At about the point I fell down that rabbit hole — moving to the six-day-a-week Ashtanga practice, improving my already pretty healthy diet, taking more care of what I put in my body and mind — my doctor was not liking my blood pressure and cholesterol levels. She said, more or less, that we’d give it one more year — knowing about the yoga and the diet change (to mostly raw and no wheat) — and then talk about whether I would need to take some drug to address the problems.

Believe me, a lot of my friends and colleagues at work are on some sort of blood pressure or cholesterol medicine. And I did not want to join them.

When the next year rolled around, the report back was great. Blood pressure down a lot. Cholesterol within proper range. Trimmer, less body fat, etc.

But this didn’t happen just because I was practicing asana. It was because I was practicing Ashtanga Yoga, in the sense Guruji suggests it in his talk:

This is also called “Astanga Yoga” which has eight fold factors: yama: restraints; niyama: observances; asana: posture;  pranayama: breathing practice; pratyahara: sense control;  dharana concentration;  dhyana: meditation;  Samadhi: contemplation.

OK, maybe I wasn’t as great on the internal quartet, but I was at least aware of them, cognizant of their importance, attempting to find some small leaf of all eight limbs. I’m still not that great. But I am trying to practice “with regulation of food, habits, speech and contact,” and as Guruji said, that is essential to health and well-being. You won’t be healthy otherwise, no matter how long you spend on the mat.

Posted by Steve

Important new document from Guruji: Yoga and Therapy

Eddie Stern has posted a transcript of a very important lecture given by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois on the mind/body connection, providing us with invaluable insight into Guruji’s thinking about the role of yoga in well-being. Here’s Eddie’s description of the context (from his Facebook page):

In 1977, Guruji was invited to give a presentation at a Yoga Conference that was organized by Swami Vishnu Devananda in Bangalore. The papers were all collected and published in a book called “Yoga and Science”, and the title of his presentation was “Yoga and Therapy”. I had looked for the book for many years, but to no avail. Then this past fall, almost miraculously, the son of Leslie Kaminoff – who I knew from my pre-yoga days – found the book in India, and Leslie gave it to me.

It’s a wonderful read. Particularly enjoyable if, like me, you have Guruji’s voice in your ear as you follow along. All my understanding of Guruji comes from Tim Miller, and my eyes welled up with tears at how directly he has passed along to me his teacher’s understanding of yoga as a therapy for the mind as well as for the body. This is a must-read.

Posted with gratitude by Bobbie

A piano and cello for Pattabhi Jois

I maybe should have waited until Thursday — the heavy guru day — to post this, but it looks like this video is new. The brief description:

The Song “Guruji” is dedicated to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois the Ashtanga Yoga Master.
Andreas Loh wrote this tune on May 18th 2009 after he recieved the Message that Guruji died. RIP

Composition & Piano: Andreas Loh
Cello: Franziska Kraft

Here you go:

Posted by Steve

How Pattabhi Jois taught Nancy Gilgoff, as taught by Nancy

As promised, a rundown of Nancy Gilgoff’s “How I was taught” workshop from the Confluence. I want to stress that I can’t call this definitive; I took some notes, and then practiced, and some of it becomes hazy in between. Hopefully there will be some ideas and changes that are fresh and useful.

As an important reference point, here’s a link to the 1973 asana syllabus that is the touchstone for much of what’s to come, although it isn’t exactly the same. Here’s page one:

The basic organization of this workshop, which went for about two hours, was that Nancy talked for about 30 or 40 minutes up front and then we went through most of the asana sequence, “primary series,” as she learned it 40 years ago. (A few poses into Second/Intermediate by our reckoning today.) For her, that meant many fewer vinyasas, neither of the twisting standing poses and — here’s a notable point — no backbends. (Hurrah, I say! Also, no shoulder stand or headstand.)

The most important message to get out, though, is this: Nancy stressed the “compassion of the guru,” of Guruji. That compassion, combined with his well-known fierceness, came through as one defining characteristic of his. And I mean one: It seemed as though both traits were braided together in a fundamental way.

It also should be noted that Guruji essentially adjusted her in every single pose. And when I write that, I mean it to a greater extent than how we now think of that. At the beginning, Nancy recounted, she was so weak that Guruji would pick her up and throw her back in the vinyasas and toss her back through, as well. Plus, Guruji’s English was limited enough that he had to be hands-on. He effectively put her in every pose.

(Another point. Nancy said she and David Williams recently had been “comparing notes” about their initial interactions with Guruji, and while Nancy wasn’t getting vinyasas, as Guruji was picking her up, throwing her back, tossing her back forward, he was teaching David to jump back on his own. So for David the vinyasas were there. This, I think, sheds light on the individual teaching the early Western students received.)

As for breathing, Nancy learned to focus on having the inhale and exhale be the same length. You’re not trying to length the breath, she said. It should be natural. And, she said, you can breath more quickly in the difficult moments.

“It’s a much more inward practice,” she said. “It’s much more nurturing. What’s going on inside is what’s interesting.”

She made another point, which we’ve talked about before: No dinking. She said this a few times during the weekend. Quit adjusting your clothes, brushing your hair out of your face, etc. You get into the pose — and as far as you can go that day is where the pose is — and breath and move on to the next pose.

That’s the extent of what I can get from the notes I took as she talked. Here are my impressions of the practice:

  • She’s right. It is much more inward. Perhaps it’s because there are fewer opportunities to let your gaze wander.
  • Here’s a difference: In the Surya forward folds, she wanted palms on the floor/mat even if it meant bending your knees. As someone who has his fingers on his calves at “trini”, this was substantially different — especially the transition back to chaturanga.
  • Essentially, there are no vinyasas between sides of the seated poses, and — I’m about 99% sure I have this correct — there are none during the whole Janu and Marichy sequences. You move directly from a to b to c to d. That is just about 100% different. (Obviously, the point here is for you to try this.)
  • There were plenty of times when people starting into a vinyasas when there wasn’t one. We are fairly pre-programmed.
  • The other major changes: No uthkatasana or warriors and, originally, Uttitha and Arda Baddha came at the end. (Again, I think I have that correct, and this counters the 1973 syllabus.) Also:  3 Surya As and Bs (not five) and only three navasanas. She may have mentioned a Prasarita E?

I hope that makes sense. Honestly, as I think back I’m blanking on whether there were vinyasas between all of the seated poses. I think there were — just not within them (between sides). If anyone else who was there can shed more light on this (warning, Iyengar pun?), please do!

Update: Kate O’Donnell posts about her “pre-teen” Ashtanga years with Nancy, with some thoughts about how the teaching of the practice has shifted. Kate’ll be back in Boston at the end of the Month for y’all in that area.

Posted by Steve