Lights on! Happy Diwali all

A nice touch at our shala on Tuesday morning was Jörgen Christiansson’s lighting butter lamps and setting them in the corners of the practice room.

Diwali lamps, from diwali.blogspot

He’s even promised sweets on Thursday, which I guess means I have to go to practice. Oh, well.

I’m sure you all know what Diwali (or Deepavali) is about, but here’s a little from UCLA:

This is perhaps the most well-known of the Indian festivals: it is celebrated throughout India, as well as in Indian communities throughout the diaspora. It usually takes place eighteen days after Dusshera. It is colloquially known as the “festival of lights”, for the common practice is to light small oil lamps (called diyas) and place them around the home, in courtyards, verandahs, and gardens, as well as on roof-tops and outer walls. In urban areas, especially, candles are substituted for diyas; and among the nouveau riche, neon lights are made to substitute for candles. The celebration of the festival is invariably accompanied by the exchange of sweets and the explosion of fireworks. As with other Indian festivals, Diwali signifies many different things to people across the country. In north India, Diwali celebrates Rama’s homecoming, that is his return to Ayodhya after the defeat of Ravana and his coronation as king; in Gujarat, the festival honors Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth; and in Bengal, it is associated with the goddess Kali. Everywhere, it signifies the renewal of life, and accordingly it is common to wear new clothes on the day of the festival; similarly, it heralds the approach of winter and the beginning of the sowing season.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like the Lakshmi connection gets the loudest attention here in America. I’m going to be honest and admit I’ll be thinking about Rama’s homecoming, and that warrior vanara who accompanied him.

Posted by Steve

One for you yogis in Los Angeles

What is it about Topanga, CA?

Earth Day is celebrated there. It’s got a hippie vibe unusual to Los Angeles, which goes for more or a laid-back, hipster, maybe I do something in entertainment vibe mixed with some beach culture (plus the rest of the whole mix of Latin America, Asia, Jewish, African-America, etc.).

Now, Topanga — roughly northwest in Los Angeles, if that helps, in the hills above Santa Monica/Malibu — is hosting what’s being billed as the “First Annual Yoga Day LA.” (Cranky editor note: Nothing can be the “first” annual because it hasn’t happened more than once, but I get the point.)

Why mention it? Because our teacher, Jörgen Christiansson, is kicking the day off with a “Sunrise Yoga” session at 8 a.m. Which, as all we Ashtangis know, is late.

The event is happening Sat., Oct. 22. There are classes all day, including by some guy named Bryan Kest, some gal named Kia Miller and another dude, Steve Ross. The emphasis is on “doing yoga outdoors.”

I assume there will be the requisite booths, hand-outs, drumming circles, etc. You know the drill — all the stuff I’m pretty glad won’t be at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence.

Here’s to hoping, secretly, that Jörgen busts out a wicked hard Ashtanga-based class, just to put the rest of LA yogis in their place. I know, not very Yama or exactly Ahimsa of me.

Posted by Steve

The illusion of advancement in Ashtanga

Bear with me here. This post may appear to wander, but be patient and I promise to connect the dots.

Flashback to January of this year. I was at my new shala, with my new teacher, Jörgen Christiansson. The shining day came, after three years of being “stuck” (as I perceived it), that I had an excellent kapotasana. And my supta vajrasana was righteous.  Jörgen approached me after class, and said, “Very good. Next time I’ll teach you the next few poses in second. You do second now.” This was the day I blew out my knee.

Major setback.

The setback has given me time to think. I’ve come to the unpleasant conclusion that second was a big ego party for me. And by “ego party,” I mean in my head, while I was practicing, there was a little ten-year-old girl going, “Nana nana, I’m doing second!” like, the whole time.

As I mentioned, blowing out my knee has given me a lot of time to think about this.

I remember being at one of David Swenson’s workshops when someone asked, “In dwi pada sirsasana, I can’t get both feet behind my head. How do I do that?” Swenson replied, “Will getting both feet behind your head make you happier?” Just this past summer, Tim Miller said the exact same thing to me when I asked about getting myself into supta kurmasana. Will getting both feet behind my head make me happier?

No. Yes. And No. Mostly no. See? This is what I’m worried about with the practice. I’m worried that I

Krishna stops time to teach Arjuna. I should be so lucky.

can’t shake off the deep desire to “advance.” I’m worried if I can only see a thing I’m trying to “do” with the practice, I will once again find my inner ten-year-old.

My good friend Suzy tells me avoiding second is not the answer. “Maybe your practice now is doing second without ego,” she wisely says.  I tell Jörgen I’m not sure I want to begin second again. He tells me, “You are not doing the practice. Guruji is,” and he points out, “Practice without attachment to results.” Jörgen is paraphrasing Krishna, I realize.

Which sets a new ego trap. I’m like Arjuna on the battlefield. Look at me bravely practicing second without attachment. Hooray for me! Ego, again. It’s inescapable. I wage a little war every time I step on the mat.

Here’s where I try to bring it all back home. I remember when I first started, years ago now, and I felt like I understood the relationship among breath, bandhas and dristi for the first time. I was doing my second suryanamaskara B. I reached up on an inhale, urdva drishti, and there was yoga.

It’s very hard to remember that nothing else matters but that–every asana, every breath, every day.

Posted by Bobbie

Moon Day reminder from Richard Freeman

At the website for Yoga Workshop, Richard Freeman has a reminder up that today is a Moon Day for Ashtangis.

No surprise there, right? It’s de rigueur for Ashtanga shalas to remind students about full and new moons.

But Freeman’s has a simple, wonderful beauty to it that I thought worth sharing:

In the formal Ashtanga Vinyasa tradition no asana (posture) practice is done on new and full moon days. Observing this restraint to practice can be helpful in not becoming too attached to practice and routine. It also provides time for the body to rest and recuperate.

That’s a good reminder.

I also should note I am planning on practicing later; I’m going to Bobbie’s Led/Intro class.

My excuse rationale is that I don’t have a six-day-a-week practice right now. Life is just intruding too much; so much, in fact, that I am probably closer to four days than five. (Insert loud sigh.) Our teacher, Jörgen Christiansson, has said that the observance of Moon Days really is for those with the full, every day practice.

It seemed like when he said it, he was noting that didn’t include me!

But I also know that I am too attached to the practice, although I don’t think I am so attached to the routine of getting up at 5 a.m. (Maybe I am.) But until I’m back to a six-day-a-week “routine,” I think I can afford to get on the mat when the moon is full or new. And I might even take today off if it weren’t for the fact that I have an early flight tomorrow and a full day that will keep me from being able to practice. If I didn’t go tonight, this week would be a three-dayer. And that’s not enough, right?

Posted by Steve

Reminder: One week until Yoga Gives Back event

A Saturday reminder that next Saturday is the worldwide “Thank You Mother India” event to benefit Yoga Gives Back.

Previous posts on the charity are here and here.

We will be at Omkar108 from 10 a.m. until about 1 p.m. for a yoga class, music, dancing and Indian food. And much else, I’m pretty confident.

If you’re in or near Los Angeles County, think about attending. All proceeds go to micro-financing for women in India. You can donate your cost of a yoga class here.

Posted by Steve

Which camp are you in? Mysore vs Led classes

Fridays in our shala — and I suppose likely yours — means Led primary. It’s a chance for you advanced practitioners to remember your roots and do the full primary series (I know not always popular) and a chance for those of us still exploring (shall we say) the first set of poses to … to… well, to do what we always do. Only led.

From Aug. 12 Led class at Omkar 108. Photo via Jorgen Christiansson's Facebook page

Count me in the “I like Led” class, although I wouldn’t as much if I did it every day.

What works for me on these Fridays is that I’m able to let go just a little bit more because I don’t have to think so much. I hear “ekam,” and I move. I hear “dve,” I move again. (Yes, I’m breathing. Deeply. I get reminded of that, too.) Instead of thinking about how many breaths I’ve been in Prasarita Parsvottanasana C — and how it feels like five breaths too many — I can just focus on my nose and on trying to bring my shoulders together a little bit more, bring my hands a little more forward.

This morning, there was a stretch from the last Suryanamaskara A through the second B when, looking back, I realize I probably was about as close to maintaining my dristi, my mula bandha and my breath all at once as I have ever been. OK, by “looking back,” I mean I realized it in that third B and everything went to hell. But that’s looking on the wrong side of things, no?

Instead, let’s say I now can recall those three poses and the feeling I had, and maybe that will help me recapture it. It all felt deeper and smoother and more in union.

Huh. In union? That’s related somehow to this yoga stuff, right?

I’m not surprised it happened in a Led class, when I was able to let my thoughts go more and just “be here now,” to steal a phrase. My looking bird was at the helm, and the eating bird was in the passenger’s seat, for those familiar with that allusion.

It was pretty nice, I’ll tell you.

Posted by Steve

Bad Yogini!

Most practitioners of Ashtanga have experienced it. You get settled, happy with your practice, and life intervenes. You have to move. Now, you need a new teacher. Or your job means you can’t practice at your shala anymore (no shower? stinky yogi!). Or you have to go to school and can’t afford it. You practice at home, go to workshops, or wander around in a new town looking for a new teacher.

Tim Miller

My first Ashtanga teacher was Pamela Ward at Yoga Path in Irvine, CA. I’d just gotten comfortable with the practice, and bought a year’s membership, when I showed up for class one day and the doors were locked–the studio went bankrupt.

I found Shayna Liebbe at YogaWorks in Mission Viejo. Shayna’s life ended tragically, but through her amazing teaching I found Diana Christinson and Tim Miller. I was home. I had not one shala, but two.
Then, we had to relocate to Los Angeles. I was lost. I had shoulder surgery. I wandered around. I wanted to love. I went to retreats and teacher trainings with Tim, drove for two hours to get to Carlsbad whenever I could. Finally, Jorgen Christiansson opened Omkar108. A new shala, a new home.
It seems to me that this is part of being an American Ashtangi, why the Confluence seems so right, so needed. There are many different paths to practice, one Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. I remember Tim saying to me, “Two gurus, bad yogi!” The amazing thing, really, is that all my teachers have taught the same practice, the same breath, the same drishtibandhasasanas.
At the Confluence, we will get a chance to see the incredible continuity Guruji gave the practice, across teachers, across continents.