Undo your shackles this January with a weekend of yoga and Vedanta

For the second time, Eddie Stern and Robert Moses — co-founders of Namarupa — will be holding a weekend workshop over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. It will focus on yoga and Vedanta.

It’s easiest to quote from the flyer for the weekend:

Yoga and Vedanta are practical philosophies born from the age-old burning desire to understand our essential inner nature and our place in the world. We take our perceptions for granted, and believe them to be real. The ancient Rishis of India questioned this belief in perception and created several philosophical systems based on three basic questions: What are the objects of the world which we see made of? What is the nature of the process of observing the world that occurs through our senses? Who it is that perceives? The answers they gave led to practices that we do even this day.

In this weekend retreat, Robert Moses will give talks on Yoga and Vedanta, Eddie Stern will lead morning and afternoon Ashtanga Yoga classes, and Jocelyne Stern will lead meditation. There will be question and answer periods, group discussions, and breaks for chai.

Pastor NaRon Tillman, who will be hosting us in his church gymnasium, will join us to give talks on Martin Luther King Jr. and the imperative need of our day to undo the shackles of bias that bind us to our prejudices and perceptions and hold us back from freedom and truth.

Both Saturday and Sunday will include morning and evening yoga classes (the later described as “yoga therapy,” the morning ones are Led Primary) and a couple of sessions on Vedanta.

Unlike last year, it won’t be at AYNY, but at the Brooklyn StuyDome at St. Philip’s Christian Church. Cost is $190 for the full weekend, $105 for one day and $55 for half a day. Out-of-towners also get a Monday morning yoga session at AYNY.

Last year’s was great — so you may wanna check your calendars. I suspect there will be more info soon at both AYNY and Namarupa’s websites.

Update: Here’s specifics from Namarupa’s Tumblr page.

Posted by Steve

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Ashtanga and Vedanta retreat weekend — you come

We’re getting together our last bits and pieces — amazing how stuff adds up, right? — before our Namarupa Yatra.

And as I was doing so, or not, since I was on the Facebook, I saw that our Yatra guide, Robert Moses, had posted notice of a fall weekend retreat in New Hampshire. Plus, our Yatra Ashtanga teacher, Kate O’Donnell, will be there. The final third of the triad is Robert’s wonderful wife, Meenakshi.

Link for the details is right here. Cost for two nights is $325; staying over into Monday (it is Columbus Day weekend) puts it to $425.

We can testify first hand that all three of them are not only extremely knowledgeable but also super capable of imparting that knowledge in a fun, engaging and interesting way.

It is the weekend of Oct. 10. It’s happening in Hillsborough, but given it’s New Hampshire, I think that means it is pretty close to everything else in that state. (Is my SoCal bias showing? Robert and I can work that out on our Yatra.)

OK, back to final packing. What stays, what goes?

Posted by Steve

Integrating Study and Practice

I’m what you might call a semi-academic. Years ago, I deliberately walked away from a tenure-track job in my field (British Romanticism), profoundly unhappy and unfulfilled by academic scholarship. I went back to poetry writing. I took some time off, wrote some poems, worked some retail. Which meant, essentially, that I burned the bridge back to my academic career. With some distance in time, I realize it was the disconnect between academic study and academic teaching that made me so disgusted with the whole thing—-the disconnect between study and practice. 

It’s possible that, initially, it was the extreme physicality of Ashtanga that drew me to it. It was as far away from study as I thought I could get. It was all body. Or so I thought.

The study, or sadhana, aspect of Ashtanga is sneaky, though. You want to learn the pose. Nobody is really telling you how to do the pose. What’s a former academic to do? Buy a book, of course. Thank you, David Swenson. Still, it’s not technically a book; it’s a “practice manual.” Right?

But that was just the beginning; it was years ago, some teacher trainings with the great reader, Tim Miller, and lots of books later when along came Eddie Stern, and Robert Moses, and their sadhana yatra (which we are going on again in a few months). Along came many more books to prepare, and a much broader understanding of yoga, with deeper context. Somewhere in all of this, we learned of the existence of Namarupa, Robert and Eddie’s journal.

“Name and form.” That’s what the name of their journal means. Subtitled, “categories of Indian thought.”

When Steve and I went on the last pilgrimage, we took along volumes and volumes of Namarupa on our iPad, and tried to catch up with years of amazing articles, photos, and art. The new issue is out (catch it here), and it dedicates a number of its articles to. . .asana!

Why do I say it like this, you ask, as if I’m shocked? If you look at the covers of the slender offerings (pun intended) of American yoga journals, without doubt asana is the focus—the physical practice takes a front seat, with the thought in the back. Even meditative practices are almost always linked to physical benefits. In Namarupa, thought’s in the front seat, and “practice” means something totally different. Asana is for the most part absent. The focus is on Indian thought.

Most recent cover. All Hanuman, no asana.
Most recent cover. All Hanuman, no asana.

After we  got over the bitter taste academia left in our mouths, Steve and I were hungry for this. (I include Steve here because it’s a well-kept secret that he’s also a reformed academic–he has two Masters degrees, and had even finished his Ph.D. coursework in English when he decided to become a journalist.) (I guess it’s now a poorly-kept secret.)

For those of us who roll out the mat every day, though, there’s always the question of how to integrate study into practice in a healthy way.

This issue, for instance, has an article written by Eddie Stern, and illustrated with photos by Sharath. You would think you’d get a sense there, from two of the world’s leading Ashtanga teachers, and pioneers in the field.

It’s a beautiful article. But it, too, is about pilgrimage—you will have to wait to the end to get an insight from Eddie on integration of pilgrimage into practice (and you’ll also have to read it yourself–“Pilgrimage to Srigeri” by Eddie Stern with a photo essay by R. Sharath Jois).

But hold on. There’s more: An extended meditation on a single pose, and, for me, the hardest pose of all:  “Shavasana: the Corpse Pose” by Jan Schmidt-Garre. There’s also a story-telling description of the asanas influenced by Hanuman—with advice on how to put yourself in Hanuman’s mental place as you practice them (“Hanuman’s Influence on Yoga Asanas” by Mayanak Dhingra). Many of these Tim Miller teaches as research poses for the practice, and it was right up Steve’s alley. Be Hanuman!

For me, though, the article with the most resonance is the “Teachings of Professor Krishnamacharya” by Claude Marechal. Marechal is a long-time student of TKV Desikachar, Krishnamacharya’s son.

At his workshop with Robert Moses in New York, Eddie Stern pointed out that Sri K. Pattabhi Jois was lured away from Krishnamacharya by an academic job, to teach yoga at the Sanskrit college in Mysore.

What’s the first thing you need, Eddie asked, when you get hired to teach a college class?

It was like he was asking me personally. “A syllabus!” I said. If you’re going to teach a class, you have to have lesson plans. A syllabus is expected of you. You can’t just walk in and improvise a bunch of stuff. The syllabus is your contract with the student. It outlines what you’re promising to teach the student, as well as policies and practices, what’s expected from the student. So Guruji took what he learned from Krishnamacharya, and framed a course.

Marechal’s article is an extended analysis and summary of the elements that Guruji drew upon as a young teacher, formulating what would become Ashtanga yoga–although Marchal doesn’t mention Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga at all. As his title suggests, Marechal considers these things first and foremost the teachings of a professor of yoga. Because the nature of academic research is to advance the field, he also outlines the innovations that belong to Krishnamacharya. The practitioner of Ashtanga can clearly see these in the article; among them is teaching to women, something that allowed Guruji to welcome Nancy Gilgoff into his school, and the many women who followed.

The article also outlines the strong integration of practice and study, at the same time recognizing that there are different emphases in the practice at different times in our lives. It also outlines the correct attitude of the teacher toward the student, and the student toward the teacher. The role of mental attitude in our daily lives is why we practice, and practice is why we study: “Dhyana is asana,” Marechal writes,

The state of concentration arising from the practice of asana and pranayama is presented by Professor Krishnamacharya as a unifying movement between the body, the breath, the senses and the mind (kaya prana indriya citta samgati). This idea of junction, of connection, is an essential aspect of the teaching of the master.

And, arguably, of his student, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

Pick it up, and all the many other Namarupa gold mines, here.

Posted by Bobbie

So that was rough, and wonderful

Quick hit as we try to settle down, a 7 am — Eastern time — practice awaiting us.

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Ashtanga Yoga New York needs to be on every Ashtangis “visit list.”

As we posted before, asana was not the reason for this trip. But under Eddie’s watchful eyes and firm and sensitive hands, we both had one of those 108% practices, where everything is left on the mat.

We were a little shocked. We knew Eddie would have that teacher shakti but …

Well, during the opening night — Ganesh puja and some discussion — Robert described Ashtanga Yoga New York as feeling like India, as a space where hard and serious work — chanting, pujas, homas — have been occurring. Oh, and lots of tapas from practicing.

Yes. That’s it. It is one of those magical places that Ashtanga shalas can be, combined with the incredible Temple environment Eddie and his colleagues so lovingly nurture.

This is why we came. And why you should, too.

And special shout out to those who introduced themselves. Thanks for the many kind words.

Posted by Bobbie and Steve

Why I finally did full Primary last night

It’s been full-on sick time in our house for the better part of a month. Coughing. Sniffling. Sneezing. You know the drill. The best part was my having to fly for work and my ears/sinuses not clearing for a week. (Yes, Neti pot used.)

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And so practice has been a little more hit and miss than normal. I’ve been practicing after work and often half-primary or even less. Half-primary, really, has been a good day.

“You better start doing more of Primary,” Bobbie told me last night, right before slipping into our home practice room.

Why?

Because on Wednesday we tied up all our loose ends — meaning plane tickets, hotel — and are officially, can’t turn back now, going to Eddie Stern and Robert Moses’ MLK weekend retreat at Ashtanga Yoga New York.

Yes, we’ve written about it before. How could we not? As a reminder, Robert led our Yatra to India a year ago, and he and Eddie co-publish Namarupa.

For those who missed it, here’s the general plan for the weekend:

FRIDAY
6-9 pm Puja
Introduction:
Freedom (moksha) as the essential aim of all actions.
SATURDAY
7-11 am Mysore Practice
12-12:45 pm Meditation
12:45 – 2 pm Meditation, Chanting & Yoga Sutras Study
2-4 pm Break for lunch
4-6 Talk: Spiritual Landscape of India
SUNDAY
7-11 am Mysore Practice
11am -1pm Break for lunch
1- 3 pm Talk: Essentials of Vedanta
3-4 pm Tea break
4-6 pm Talk: Yoga: Traditions & Lineages
MONDAY
7-11 am Mysore Practice
11am-2 pm Ganesha Temple Yatra – Flushing, Queens

I mention it again because I checked in with Eddie and Robert today and there are still some spots available; they expect them to disappear though, so you are probably better off not waiting.

And if we can travel across the country, I figure anyone from about Washington D.C. to Boston can make the trip.

Not to pressure you.

So that’s my motivation to stop slogging along, semi-mopey from this cold/flu/cough nastiness. In a month, I’m going to have to be back in game shape. Although I do plan to use the three-hour time difference as as much of an excuse as I can for my many “bad man” behaviors.

Posted by Steve

A long weekend at Ashtanga Yoga New York? Yes, please.

There’s been a lot of deep and heavy discussion here at The Confluence Countdown household about one thing: Are we going to the next Ashtanga Yoga Confluence in San Diego?

Since we started this blog, our purposes and inspirations have changed. Steve’s tapped into his natural inclinations (and serious training) as a journalist, and focused on covering Ashtanga news. His own practice has changed, so he’s also found his groove as a kind of voice for the stiff yoga guy.

I’ve enjoyed it as an outlet for the prose essay, something I don’t normally write. Inspiration doesn’t come often, but when it does, it’s a blast to do.

Now, we’ve got two Ashtanga Yoga Confluences behind us. A totally transformative yatra to India also shook things up, and in a big way. Plus our Ashtanga practice also became a home practice, with trips once a month or so to San Diego environs to see our teacher, Tim Miller.

The things we write about now, three years later, don’t have much to do with the annual Ashtanga convention; it became its own kind of confluence, something we learned all about on our pilgrimage to India. So we kept the name. But we were on the fence about going this year.

Then our friend Robert Moses announced that he’d be doing a workshop with Eddie Stern at Ashtanga Yoga New York. Steve and I looked at each other and just knew. Well. We must go. Here’s the schedule (January 17-20):

FRIDAY
6-9 pm Puja
Introduction:
Freedom (moksha) as the essential aim of all actions.
SATURDAY
7-11 am Mysore Practice
12-12:45 pm Meditation
12:45 – 2 pm Meditation, Chanting & Yoga Sutras Study
2-4 pm Break for lunch
4-6 Talk: Spiritual Landscape of India
SUNDAY
7-11 am Mysore Practice
11am -1pm Break for lunch
1- 3 pm Talk: Essentials of Vedanta
3-4 pm Tea break
4-6 pm Talk: Yoga: Traditions & Lineages
MONDAY
7-11 am Mysore Practice
11am-2 pm Ganesha Temple Yatra – Flushing, Queens

MLK-Day-Retreat-Flier-edit3One of the things we learned on our pilgrimage to India is the value of knowledgeable leaders as travel companions. We had five swamis traveling with us, and satsang with them was amazing. The deepest discussions I had on the trip came at or after visiting holy sites—over dinner, on the bus, or standing right there, in the moment. One of our fondest wishes from our trip is that we would get more time hearing Robert speak about Vedanta, and there it is, right on the agenda.

We also appreciate Eddie’s alchemic combination of playful humor and  mind-blowing philosophy—right up our heavily ironic alley. After the last two meetings in San Diego, we found ourselves wishing we could visit his shala. So here it is. A chance to get both Eddie and Robert at the same time.

To New York City we go!

Posted by Bobbie

How Derek Ireland got introduced to Ashtanga

I promise I will get to the story of how Derek Ireland got introduced to Ashtanga.

Just indulge me for a second as I try to explain how we have this story.

One of the benefits for us — and none of us do anything that has “no benefit,” right? — in starting this blog is the confluence of people with whom we have had the chance to connect. (We now say as much on our “About” page.) There are the many Ashtanga practitioners who have commented here or just emailed us (or sent us messages on Facebook). There are the “virtual” friends we’ve gained, people like Robbie Norris and Peg Mulqueen. There are the teachers we’ve ended up having some sort of unexpected relationship with, probably most notably David Garrigues.

And then there are the deeper relationships that have developed. At the center of it is Eddie Stern, who basically told us “You go” when we were wondering and waffling about our Yatra via Namarupa. Talk about proof that you should trust the “teacher”.  (Although, to be fair and honest, Tim Miller remains, for us, the Teacher.)

On our Yatra, we met and traveled with a host of interesting and wonderful people. From the Ashtanga teacher world there was Kate O’Donnell and Barry Silver; there were many others — the list would make an already too long preamble of epic length.

And there was both Robert Moses and Radhakunda Das. (I promise we are almost to the Derek Ireland story.)

Since the Yatra, we’ve kept in touch with Robert (and helped edit the last Namarupa issue); frequently, Eddie is on the emails, as well.

These conversations, without giving anything private away, range from mind-expanding to side-splitting. And often, something comes up, some tidbit or insight, that leave Bobbie and I just sort of amazed to be a part of the discussion.

This happened to an extreme last week. (We’re now to the Derek Ireland story.)

After we posted a link to Tim’s blog, recounting his time in New York and dinner party with Krishna Das, Eddie Stern and Leslie Kaminoff, Robert sent an email to Eddie, Leslie and me. In it, Robert noted that, while Leslie had recounted that Derek Ireland and his partner Radha used to come take classes with Leslie in the ’70s at the Los Angeles Sivananda center and that Derek “was introduced to ashtanga yoga in a shvitz by Norman Allen in the 80s”; it actually had been Robert who first introduced Derek to Ashtanga at the Sivananda retreat in the Bahamas.

Robert’s email was very polite and friendly, as was Leslie’s response. It so happens that Leslie was out in San Diego this past weekend, and had dinner on Saturday night with Tim. Tim — to whom I’d sent an email on this, per Robert’s request — mentioned it to us when we saw him Sunday.

All well and good. Then, last night, I got an email from Leslie saying I could post any part of his reply to Robert. How could I not take that opportunity? And then he also sent along the pictures included below.

Here is a bit from Leslie to Robert:

I also didn’t recall that you had returned to the Retreat (Bahamas) after being transferred to the Ranch (Catskills), so I assumed Derek’s first exposure was in NYC, where we did indeed encounter Norman and Tridham Das practicing in the svitz.  Derek did not let on that he had seen astanga before, and he seemed quite surprised actually – but then again, who wouldn’t have been – seeing those 2 jumping around in the 200+ degree heat.  Of course, Derek had to join in.  As for myself, I went and jumped into the ice plunge.
I actually practiced Primary Series in my East 7th Street apartment every morning for a month in late 1985.  It was with a student of David Williams (a beautiful woman from Hawaii who was also a circus performer – can’t remember her name, tho).  I had to stop when my pre-surgical-torn-cartilage knees gave out.
I guess all I can claim credit for was persuading Derek and Radha to make the trek from Lemon Grove to Paradise Island to do TTC, and suggesting that they trade their fancy sound system for tuition because of how broke they were at the time.  Kudos for you for signing off on that deal.
They were both still on P.I. when I was there in June 1987, staying down the beach at Capt. Turner’s place for my honeymoon with my first wife Roberta (see photo below, taken on the famous tennis court).  I believe that’s the last time I saw him.  What a shock and loss when he passed.  He was one of the most accident-prone people I’d ever met, yet he survived all his mishaps (including the accidental self-immolation via exploding camp stove), so I guess I thought he could survive anything.

And the pictures to help set the scene: Derek and Radha (apparently right where Robert first showed him Ashtanga); the ice plunge; the Turkish baths.

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There you have a little insight into one famous Ashtangi’s introduction to the practice.

Posted by Steve