A different kind of confluence

As you may or may not know (I didn’t), September is “National Yoga Month.” Studios all over the U.S. will be offering a free week of yoga. As it happens, the first annual day of “Thank You, Mother India” will be September 17. It’s sponsored by Yoga Gives Back, an organization founded by Kayoko Mitsumatsu (Q&A to come), dedicated to supporting women in India by building awareness here in the States, and beyond.

Namaste, indeed. Via yogagivesback.org

Now, it seems interesting to me that these two things are happening in the same month. One is designed to expand the ever-expanding yoga culture in the U.S. The other is designed to show gratitude, a reminder that India is the source of the practice, and, ultimately, responsible for its benefits.

Leslie Hendry has a wonderful article over at The Huffington Post about the organization and the event; she also talks about her own sense of gratitude, and the role of our teacher, Jörgen Christiansson. She makes this excellent point about the difference between a yoga practice, and her old life working out in a gym:

I knew no one and spoke to no one. This is how I rolled for years. I still know no one from the gyms I frequented, and I’ve never reminisced about padding the mechanical stairs. I certainly didn’t help launch a non-profit to give back to a culture that brought weigh training into my life. But that’s what I did after I hit the yoga path.

Now, here’s what I propose. Certainly, those of us who have been practicing for years (15 total now, for me) don’t need to be given a free week of yoga. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got friends who are teaching for free in September, and it’s a great idea. But, instead of taking a free week, why not give the equivalent of a week to Yoga Gives Back?

As Leslie and the Yoga Gives Back website point out, “For the cost of one yoga class, you can change a life.” What would the cost of a week of yoga mean? My fellow Ashtangis, the dollar equivalent of a six-day practice is a nice bit of cash and would do a lot of good.

Come find out more. See you Sept. 17.

Posted by Bobbie

One reason not to do Ashtanga

A couple of weeks ago, I recounted a conversation I had in Mt. Shasta that boiled down to: “Here’s a reason to try Ashtanga.”

The reason? Most simply put, the physical benefits. (Do those benefits pay off as well as Bikram? I don’t know.)

Now, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with first coming to yoga with an emphasis on the physical payoff. After all, the point of asana practice is to get our bodies healthy enough and capable to sit in meditation on our way to Samadhi. And is anyone really going to argue that a healthy body is a bad thing?

I doubt it. Where I’m sure there is argument — justifiably so, in my opinion — is when yoga, or Ashtanga, feeds an ego trip. I’m sure we all can think of someone we believe is getting more attached to their yoga body, rather than less, as they practice.

I’m also sure that if we all are honest, we’d have to admit to having our egos fed by the practice. I’m working hard, for instance, on my pull backs — I want to be able to do them without touching the ground until I’m in my Chaturanga.

But as David Swenson would say: “Will I be happier when I can do that?” (My ego-filled answer: Of course! But, upon more reflection: Right, exactly what kind of happiness am I seeking?)

This struggle with the ego is ongoing. But, as I say, when you start yoga or Ashtanga, I think it is totally understandable that the ego is strong, is in charge.

But here’s the catch, and here’s the reason not to do Ashtanga: That ego of yours is going to get broken down.

When I explained on the Shasta retreat all the physical benefits I’d discovered from Ashtanga, I didn’t mention the — how best to put it? — subtle body changes. You know what I’m talking about:

  • The desire to avoid eating meat.
  • The growing interest in the other seven limbs of Ashtanga, especially the yamas and niyamas.
  • Perhaps a toning down of the Type A personality you’ve been fighting all your life.
  • A curiosity about that Ram, Sita or Krishna person you keep hearing about.
  • A rising desire to visit India.

I’m sure there are others, and I won’t admit that I have any first-hand experience with any of the above.

But I will warn that there can be unforeseen consequences of an Ashtanga practice. Why exactly? Who knows. My own best guess, which I think only partially explains things — and I think this is true of Ashtanga but not flow classes, Bikram or most other Hatha styles — is that Ashtanga boils down to being a meditative practice. There’s next to no sound other than people’s breathing, your focusing your gaze on fixed points and you are alone with yourself for 75 minutes, 90 minutes, maybe 120 minutes?

Sort of sounds like meditation, right?

My understanding is Guruji didn’t teach people to meditate. (I know I’ve heard tales of this, but I can’t remember details. Apologies!) I wonder if he didn’t do so because he knew he already was teaching them. And then it was up to them to move deeper and let it work.

Be careful. Enter at your risk. Because work it definitely does.

Post by Steve

A way easier way to do ‘Ashtanga’

I just happened upon (read: Google pushed into my inbox) a story from the Times of India that runs through the different postures in our beloved Suryanamaskara A.

Only with a twist. A really easy twist that sounds like it wouldn’t leave me absolutely gushing with sweat as I curl myself from Yoga Mudra to Shavasana.

In other words, where was this Ashtanga when I was getting started? And is it too late to jump ship?

Ashtanga Namaskara: While in the prone position, exhale and lower your body to the floor until eight of your body parts touch the floor including your forehead, chest, and two palms, both knees and both feet.

Forget the eight limbs, especially the pesky, tough ones. Put eight parts of your body on the ground (I’ve been going with four, silly me) and, I guess, all is coming.

If only.

Now, admittedly, the article says this is Suryanamaskara for beginners. But it’s still a novel use of the word Ashtanga that, in my more desperate and tired moments, I probably could get behind solidly.

Posted by Steve

The ‘yoga capital of the world’?

Statue of Shiva, in Rishikesh, via the Seattle Times.

A trip to India is, not surprisingly, on Bobbie and my itinerary. Nothing solid yet, but the call of that country grows louder and louder with each Shavasana.

We don’t really have a sense of where, precisely, we will go. Mysore? Sounds like an obvious one, but we all know that things are different there since Guruji’s passing, and we have our teachers here in Encinitas and Los Angeles.

Plus, one of Bobbie’s students in her writing classes at our not-so-local University of California campus, who is from India, perhaps gave us pause with this comment when she mentioned that Mysore was where the Guru was.

“Mysore,” he sneered (according to the version of the story I’ve heard), “that’s like the Arkansas of India.”

So, noted.

What may be the pull, then, is less the yoga — or, precisely, the Ashtanga — and more the spiritual heritage of the country. Does that, then, mean we have to go to Rishikesh?

According to this Seattle Times piece, maybe:

TUCKED INTO a town in India’s Himalaya foothills sits a statue of Lord Shiva, one of Hinduism’s most venerated deities.

Shiva’s legs are crossed as he peacefully meditates, unlike the eager yoga students who clamber up and around the bigger-than-life statue to drape him with garlands.

Yoga and spiritual devotees of every nationality flock to this northern Indian town of Rishikesh along the banks of the Ganges, India’s holy river. The Beatles set off the flow of Western spiritual seekers after their stay in an ashram here in the 1960s.

Now billing itself “the yoga capital of the world,” Rishikesh brims with ashrams, temples and yoga schools, mixing New Age trappings such as juice bars and healing crystals with ancient Hindu teachings.

Actually, that sounds a little like Mt. Shasta, truth be told.

But, we’re very open to suggestions, if anyone has them. (And, if you have specific thoughts on travel agents/guides/etc., we’ll take any comments there, too!)

I assume the Confluence will have “vendors” who will be all about this kind of trip.

Posted by Steve