A look inside the House of Yoga and Zen

We’ve just had a friend, and fellow Ashtanga practitioner, Pranidhi Varshney, return from a double whammy: a week at Nancy Gilgoff’s House of Yoga and Zen and a week of teacher training with Manju Jois.

Pranidhi has practiced with Manju before; he was one of her first Ashtanga teachers. We’ve practiced alongside her in a few different spots in Los Angeles. She has a light, beautiful, even and very balanced practice — one I’m sure is that much better since we’ve last seen it.

Also since the last time we’ve seen her, she’s started working on a CD of Sanskrit chants, which she hopes to get out early in 2012. You can check out more at her site: pranidhivarshney.com. You’ll find out there’s more to her than just a yogini. Much more.

We asked, and she kindly agreed, if she would answer a few quick questions about her week with Nancy and Manju. Thanks much, Pranidhi! Your dedication to the practice, Manju and Guruji’s lineage of Ashtanga sing through each word.

1. First off, how did Nancy’s shala compare to others you have been to?

There’s some serious shakti in the House of Yoga and Zen.  The place has been around for many years and some of our most treasured ashtangis have practiced and taught there.  There are pictures on the walls of Guruji, Manju, Nancy, and others in action, doing what we’re all so grateful for- passing this practice on.  One of the fellow trainees this time around was jokingly saying that she doesn’t think the carpets have ever been changed!  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that were true, and I’m glad for it.  There’s something raw, grounded, powerful, and spiritual about practicing where so many have practiced before.

2. How would you describe Nancy and Manju’s teaching styles? Are there other teachers you’ve studied with that you can compare them to?

Pranidhi, from her website

Well, Manju was one of my first Ashtanga teachers and I’ve been totally spoiled because of that.  The bar was set high for me from the beginning.  He’s easy-going, funny, non-dogmatic about the practice, and he has magic hands.  The energy that passes through his hands while he adjusts is a healing warmth.  And he’s strong!  I overheard Nancy saying that in the old days, Manju was often able to take her into postures that she wasn’t able to get into on her own.  Nancy also has a great touch and is a really humble, down-to-earth person.  One can tell she has a deep knowledge of the practice and she cares about passing it on correctly, but there was no sense of “my way is the right way,” which I think sometimes there is with ashtanga teachers. Actually, that was one of the best things about the whole week.  Both Nancy and Manju are from the old school.  No dogma, no militaristic rules, just practice- taught the way it was taught by Guruji back in the day.  There’s something authentic and special about that.

3. What was a highlight of the week on Maui?
All the stories!  Having both Manju and Nancy there was such a treat. David Williams also joined us for Manju’s birthday celebration and for a couple of morning mysore practices.  Talk about a confluence of energy.  We heard stories about how pranayama saved Manju’s life, how he tried to escape doing baddha konasana in his youth, how Ramesh, Manju’s brother, is responsible for everyone using a spray bottle for garbha pidasana, and many more.  It was also really cool to hear Nancy ask Manju about alignment points for different postures and listen in on them talking about how things have changed over the years.  It was a great reminder that one way is not the only way.  If these senior teachers are still open and humble enough to learn from each other, we need to make the effort to remain that way as well.  Also, for me personally, it was a delight to meet and spend time with the newest teacher-in-training, Sathu, Manju’s daughter.  She has ashtanga in her blood and she’s already quite a good adjuster, as many people in the training can attest to.

4. Do you feel like anything about your practice in particular evolved or changed? How so?

Absolutely.  Every time I practice with Manju, I feel like my heart and body are blasted open, and time takes on a different quality. Manju talked this time about flow- how teachers cannot force students into postures.  Rather, that they must enable them to tap into the flow.  The flow of the breath, the practice, the energy.  My practice flows when I’m with Manju and for that I’m forever grateful.  And practicing in Maui is a dream in and of itself.  The climate is so good for the body and spirit.  I’d recommend a trip to the House of Yoga and Zen for any ashtangi.

5. For people who might be encountering Nancy for the first time at the Confluence in March, how would you tell them to get the most from here in the relatively short time?

I’d say listen.  Nancy seems to me to have a quiet power.  I was really struck by her humility.  If there’s one thing people should pay attention to, I’d say it’d be that.  It’s so easy for us in LA, in America, in the ashtanga world in general, to feel somewhat inflated by our practice.  Nancy reminded me that we’re all just people, using the gift of yoga as a tool to make our lives better.  I’d also say be grateful.  What a privilege to be able to practice and study with someone so close to the source.  For us female ashtangis especially, Nancy’s an inspiration.

Posted by Steve