If we haven’t convinced you yet you should spend a week (or two) with Tim Miller up on Mt. Shasta, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to do so.
But we’ll keep trying. Tim’s blog post from this week gives you the history and the sense of place from his two weeks high above our great state of California:
My first connection to Mt. Shasta was through my good friend Fred Lewis who moved up here 25 years ago and bought The Stoney Brook Inn in Mc Cloud. I came up to visit a year later and Fred proposed the idea of holding a yoga retreat at his new place. We did our first small retreat in 1991 with about ten people, practicing yoga in a yurt and eating our meals at a picnic table in the kitchen. Fred made some improvements over the next couple of years, adding a yoga space and a dining room, and we had our first full-fledged retreat in 1993 with about 25 people. Fred has always been a free spirit, so for the ten years he owned the Stoney Brook Inn there weren’t a lot of rules and people were naked in the hot tub, doing full contact improvisational dance in the lobby, and partaking of certain recreational substances. We called Fred the Hugh Hefner of Mc Cloud.
I think that’s a good place to stop. Go and read more — and think about going. (Bobbie and I still are debating whether to do Tulum or Shasta — Tulum is a little in the lead right now.)
Maybe next year we will get up to Mt. Shasta for Tim Miller’s annual (now in its 22nd year) retreat/vacation to California’s crown chakra. Until then, we’ll just have to check the photos on Facebook and read up as Tim recounts the first few days of his time in his blog this week. The subject today: Tapah or fire:
I learned long ago that a sweat lodge is not a competition, but simply a willingness to endure a certain amount of discomfort for the purpose of purification. In yoga this is called Tapah—literally, “to heat, burn, or cook.” Patanjali says in sutra II. 43: “Kaya indriya siddhih asuddhi ksayat tapasah”—the sacred fire removes impurities and brings mastery to the body and the sense organs. Tapah is something that quite literally brings us to our senses. After the sweat today I felt great, like a thin veneer of so-called civilization had been removed and I was experiencing everything at a deeper level.
As I know I’ve already written, Bobbie and I are debating whether to go to Shasta next summer or to Tulum in the winter. I’m definitely torn between the pacific beauty of Tulum — manifest mainly by the opportunity to go from practice to beach/warm water. But having gone up in the Himalayas now, I recognize just how much Shasta brings a little bit of that sacred, spiritual space to the West Coast. (Shasta’s peak and the glacier that is the start of the Ganges are almost the exact same altitude.) Part of me wants to get back into the environment.
The other wants all that fresh Mexican food, though.
We’ve talked about the magic of Tim Miller’s Mt. Shasta retreat before. (Perhaps too much?)
Well, if a place can be where two people meet, fall in love and then get married, I think it contains some magic. Here’s Tim’s recounting of the wedding of our — and many people’s — friends from Shasta, the Confluence and Ashtanga, Suzy and Chris:
I got up at 4:45, made coffee, and put the final touches on Chris and Suzy’s wedding ceremony. They had written their own vows so all I had to do was come up with a couple of wedding poems to be inserted at crucial moments and say a few words at the beginning and end. I met Chris and Suzy and their photographer friend at the McCloud Mercantile Hotel at 6:15 and we drove out to Squaw Creek, where I had selected a location for the ceremony. We walked in a couple of hundred yards, past the bridge where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses Squaw Creek. Just on the other side of the bridge I remembered a trail down to the creek and an area of flat, layered stones that looked like the remains of an ancient Lemurian temple. The first trail I tried was the wrong one and was unusually steep and slippery—I winced as I watched Suzy try to navigate the trail in her wedding dress. On my second try I found the right trail and we all made it down without soiling our predominantly white attire. The ceremony was about 20 minutes and just the four of us. In the chill of the morning and the backdrop of the creek and the forest it was a very primeval experience. Suzy wore a sleeveless dress and Chris a cotton short-sleeved shirt and I marveled at their imperviousness to the cold—apparently their passion was keeping them warm. Driving back on the dirt road I saw two bears—one brown and one black—running into the woods. I’ve seen bears on this road before, but to see two of them seemed particularly auspicious.
On Tuesday, I think the fact that she’ll be down practicing with and learning from Tim fully hit Bobbie. Let’s keep it simple and say she’s excited. I’m looking forward to my first low-key time off life in a long while; I’m not sure Mt. Shasta last year counts entirely, because while a true recharge, it’s also pretty exhausting in its wonderfulness. Next week, I plan to practice (and sometimes, Tim’s Mysore classes start at 9 a.m.!), head back to our rental house overlooking the Pacific, relax, read, head down to the beach, surf, hang out in downtown Encinitas, have dinner with Bobbie and hear about her day’s training and also do nothing.
So I’m fairly excited, too.
Oh, and even if you don’t know Suzy or Chris, you should check out Tim’s blog post as he describes how he reenacts a scene that I’m sure has happened on Sunset Boulevard about a billion times.
Hikes, an amazing mountain, a sweat lodge, stories, singing and, oh yeah, plenty of Ashtanga.
That’s the super quick version of a week in Mt. Shasta with Tim Miller. As he announces in his Tuesdays with Timji this week, there are still a few spots left for the second of two weeks that Tim spends at the Crown Chakra of California to recharge.
We already tried to sell you on it, now if you still are wavering, read on:
The two weeks in Mt. Shasta are a counter pose to the other 50 weeks of the year when there are a few too many airplanes, cars, people, asphalt and concrete, too much noise, and not enough nature. It’s a place where I can recharge my battery, have lots of fun, and feel a sense of Spiritual Renewal.
The first days’ hike is Squaw Creek, a gentle, shady trail that meanders along a lovely creek for many miles. Two miles in we find a bit of fast water with a primitive slide called “The Chute”, a short but exhilarating ride that dumps you into an icy pool. This is a counter pose to the sweat lodge. We get back to home base a few hours later with a little time to rest and freshen up before “Mat in the Middle”–an opportunity for people to ask yoga related questions. When we run out of questions we sing a couple of Bhajans and always conclude with “Story Time”, Uncle Tim reading one of his favorite stories—usually Ramayana or Mahabharata. Dinner follows at 7:30. Such is a typical day at yoga camp.
Tim offers up more of the counter poses a week in Mt. Shasta provides; we’d be there if it weren’t for Tim’s Second Series teacher training; Bobbie’s attending it down in Encinitas in late August.
There simply is nothing like being up in Shasta; you’re still in California, but won’t know it; you’ll be surrounded by wonderful people; the air is clean and the water is unrivaled.
The past two summers, Bobbie and I have joined Tim Miller for his Primary Series week in Mt. Shasta. We’ve met great friends, seen beautiful sights, hiked tremendous trails, dunked ourselves in revitalizing water and got to see Tim — the Guru, mind you — a bit relaxed, a bit in his own chosen element. (It might not rival Tim’s taking Guruji to Disneyland, but it’s still pretty great.)
As we were planning what we might do this summer, we talked a lot about switching things up a little and doing Tim’s second week in Shasta, the “Second Series week.” The vibe, I gather, is different. While not exclusively Second Series practitioners, it’s a bit more hardcore. We thought it might be a good change, and also offer Bobbie the chance to explore her re-burgeoning Second Series practice.
And then she decided to go all-in and take Tim’s Second Series teacher training. That’s two weeks in Encinitas and, well, we couldn’t really spend three weeks doing yoga this summer.
I’ll admit, I’ve been a bit testy about the way things turned out. The first year we went, I was still really new to all this. I think I started the week with Tim’s still having to associate me with someone or something else to remember my name. (He has some amazing trick and learns names really fast.) By the end of the week, he knew me, and after the Circle of Tears…
But, wait, I’m trying to sell you on this. Don’t worry about the Circle of Tears, it isn’t at all what it sounds like.
What I mean to say is, when we went back last summer — right as we were starting the blog, and you can see all our Shasta posts right here, and the one explaining my awakening, so to speak, on just how awesome Shasta is, is right here — I was much more “in tune” with things. Shasta as a spot Siva might hang out at? I got it. The vortex? Spun me around but good. The water? The stuff is unbelievable. Drink it. Swim in it. Soak it up.
This summer? I’m even more primed. I’m ready, man. Get me up there, let me feel that mountain…
But no. Bobbie’s got a two-week date with Tim in Encinitas. I’ll be spending a week with her, it’s true. That’s a pretty good consolation prize; a week of practice at Tim’s, and… well, there’s this. I saw today that I ought to be able to walk from where we are staying to Swami’s.
So, I’m feeling better. But, still, no Shasta…
Which is why I’m pleased to be able to share this: There are still a few, precious spots left in the Second Series week in Shasta. I know, because Bobbie called shortly ago, from Tim’s — she’d just finished his led Second class — and she’d talked to Carol (Tim’s wife), who mentioned it.
This is an opportunity you — yes, you! — shouldn’t miss, if you can make it. Were you wavering? Did you figure you’d missed out? Well, luckily for you, you haven’t.
Apparently, the spots that should have been Bobbie and mine are still open. Take them. Enjoy them. Make good use of them.
Just — go. Trust me, it will be worth it and more.
During our August retreat at Mt. Shasta, Tim Miller proscribed — among other things, and as only the latest proscriptions — Virasana to loosen my quads and, I hope, help protect my knees in Lotus and similar poses. I’ve tweaked the tendons in my right knee from “recruiting” flexibility there.
As a result, I have pretty much removed Lotus and even half-Lotus from my practice. (I might sneak into it to assist with Utpluthih.) And I can tell you, it’s a bummer.
In part, it’s a bummer because Lotus was one of the few “ooh, you can do that?” poses I could do. Of course, the pain in my knee proves I couldn’t really do it, but it was a nice stroke of the ego while it lasted.
Tim essentially told me to sit in Virasana as much as possible. I’m trying. (You might not find it a bit challenge, but imagine if, instead of being comfortable, the feeling was somewhere between pain and annoying discomfort.) I’m now sneaking it into my practice before Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana and in lieu of Garba Pindasana. And I just sat in it for a while before stretching out more comfortably in my chair, laptop in my lap.
It’s not fun. And it — perhaps more than all the other obstacles my inflexibility creates — is testing my patience. It tests it while I’m sitting in Virasana. It tests it when I can’t do the poses I used to be able to do. It is, I suppose, the most “in my face” reminder of the long path that lies before me.
David Swenson, in one of this “Thoughts” at his web page, addresses a question about being tight this way:
This yoga seeks balance. It will quickly alert the practitioner to areas of strength and weakness as well as areas of flexibility and tightness. This is normal. Over time the practice will begin to create a balance between strength and flexibility. Be patient and let the practice do its work over a long period of time. If you wish to sit in Virasana to open the hips and knees, that can be effective. Just don’t hurry the process of opening the body and lengthening the muscles because hurrying can translate into injury.
Unknowingly, I clearly was hurrying the process and risking injury. (I think I stayed just this side of it, but what seems like tendonitis persists.) And now, I’m faced with the test of patience that Ashtanga offers us all, in different ways. (Why couldn’t mine have been somewhere in the Second Series?)
One of my apparent good deeds while on our week retreat at Mt. Shasta was convincing someone to give Ashtanga a real try.
That may sound weird, given we were at an Ashtanga retreat. But one of the wonderful things about the getaway with Tim Miller is that “family” come, too. The person being convinced as we stood in line for breakfast fell into that category, but then spent the rest of the week on the mat every morning.
I’ll give up the secret I imparted. It will just take a few seconds.
While Bobbie was fully committed to yoga, and eventually Ashtanga, I was still running and lifting weights. The serious and committed weight training began just after my 35th birthday. And it worked. I added muscle and got stronger. I was strong enough, even, to occasionally accompany Bobbie to an intro to Ashtanga class. (Kind of like the one she’s teaching now.) My first class probably was a “mala,” consisting of 108 suryanamaskaras. All push-ups, to me at the time.
More than three years ago, I added in more yoga classes — mostly of the dreaded “flow” variety. But that’s what worked into my schedule and it provided enough of a strength and cardio workout to feel like a fit.
Fast forward to August, three years ago. I’m at my doctor, who gives me one of those body mass tests. (I did superbly, thanks for asking!) Then, during the course of the following months, I started doing more yoga and less workouts at the gym… and about six months later I was doing only yoga, with some running, but no more weight lifting.
Same scene, now August, two years ago. I’m again at the doctor, again taking the BMI test. And what’s the result?
Believe it or now, more muscle, including on my arms (not to mention core and legs).
One year doing all weight lifting (well controlled and focused; I had a very good trainer early on) produced less muscle than a year that ended with all yoga, including as much Ashtanga as I could manage (read: home practice a few days a week, flow classes the other days).
That’s when I determined that Ashtanga would give me the physical benefits I was after. (Maybe there is remaining debate about whether I could use more cardio? Anyone have thoughts on adding in running to the regiment?)
OK, so that’s the longer version, perhaps less dramatically presented than while waiting in line for breakfast one morning last week.
But the moral of this story is: Ashtanga can build or at least maintain your muscles. So there’s no reason not to include it as part of a workout. More precisely: Women, there’s no reason your men shouldn’t be going to yoga with you!
OK, there is a reason: It’s what happened next to me… but that’s a story for another post, and one I didn’t mention in that breakfast line. Hint: It involves a few of the other limbs of Ashtanga yoga.