Eddie Stern + Richard Freeman = a great video

Quick “point you to something” post.

The something: Eddie Stern’s latest blog post, which is a video of Richard Freeman well, being Richard Freeman.

This might be an appropriate time to pass on that at least one person at the Confluence was wondering if Richard, perhaps, is a Bodhisattva. He absolutely sends off that type of “presence.”

There’s some kind of wonderful in Eddie posting a video of Richard.

Posted by Steve

Sunday conversation: Most important thing from the Confluence?

We’ve all had a week to reflect on what we learned, saw, felt and experienced at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence.

So, with that week’s worth of reflection, can you pick what was the most important thing you came away from the Confluence with — maybe practice specific, maybe theory, maybe something else?

Also, don’t forget to “spring” forward tonight as Daylight Savings Time in the U.S. begins. You wouldn’t want to miss your practice.

Posted by Steve

Richard Freeman ties all the yamas and niyamas together

One of the many magical moments at last weekend’s Ashtanga Yoga Confluence was when Richard Freeman finished off the talk of the yamas and niyamas by tying them all together.

Richard talked often of “patterns,” something I’m sure we will touch on in days ahead, but this time the operative image is a simpler one: the circle. It all comes together and just keeps on going.

Richard was speaking of the final niyama, Ishvara Pranidhana, which he translated as surrender to “God” as a pretty fair translation.

There’s passive surrender, he noted, such as happens in a contemplative state when one experiences that everything is occurring in Ishvara. The “realization of that allows you to let go of it,” he said. Even parts of you can fade: memories, emotions, thoughts. “These aren’t mine,” you’ll realize. And then you won’t grasp for them … and you can feel where his Buddhist learning comes through, right?

In that moment, you come to understand that the intrinsic nature is pure consciousness or awareness. (Another translation of his for Ishvara.)

Then there’s active surrender, more an “offering.” In this you offer all thoughts and actions to Ishvara. “Let me give, give, give.” (The passive is more a “take, take and take” until you’re connected that way to everything. It’s more of a “please take care of me” perspective or approach.)

At this point, this connection to Ishvara and to everything, you return to the first yama: nonviolence, or Ahimsa, which he broadened out to mean how you relate to others or treat others.

Because in the final niyama, you are others.

Get it?

Posted by Steve

Countdown time: Reintroduction to Eddie Stern

We are just five days from the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, and here’s No. 2 in our “reintroductions” to the teachers. Peter Alejandro (of the blog of MahaMondo) was kind enough to give us some thoughts on Eddie Stern.

***

AYNY’s online opening page now has this ‘Welcome‘ sign from India on it. And it captures how I feel when I walk up the steps to the shala AKA The Broome St. Temple. I was feeling nostalgic as I walked on Crosby Street in SoHo towards the shala as I remembered how at 6:00 in the morning in my younger days, I would be looking for a cab to take me back to where I was staying in New York after a major night of partying. These days , I am walking to attend puja then do Mysore practice at AYNY.

People have asked me what it is like to practice under Eddie Stern. I can’t distill the experience in several sentences. He has always made me feel welcome. There is nothing like practicing in a temple-like atmosphere with shrines dedicated to Sri Radha Krishna, Ganesha and Shiva. His students who come in for morning Mysore line up their mats in an orderly fashion; there is a sense of order in this universe. The tone and intention have all been set by the early morning puja, with Eddie as pujari and perfoming the opening Ashtanga chants.

My spiritual master Maharaja has always reminded me that the physical practice of yoga should lead to bhakti yoga, the desire to be united with God. And I can always feel this when I practice at Eddie’s shala. There is an atmosphere of dedication in the manner in which he conducts class.

Among all the American students of Guruji, he is probably the most traditional and scholarly, keeping the legacy of Guruji alive. I had mentioned to him after class this morning that the shala / temple always feels wonderful. His response to me was, “I like it here.”

I had also said that I enjoyed following his posts on the AYNY blog. And just when I thought he was going to reply that his latest entry was on Guruji or BKS Iyengar, Eddie said, “I just did one on Iggy Pop,” which made me think, “So that’s where you got the design for the Broome St. Temple t-shirt, from the Ramones, hehe.”

So for those looking forward to meeting and practicing with Eddie at the upcoming Ashtanga Yoga Confluence in San Diego, that’s a little taste of his rasa. Thanks so much Eddie. See you again next trip to NYC.

***

We also should note that the Broome Street Ganesha Temple and AYNY have just reopened.

Posted by Steve

The subtle difference between stretching and yoga

The ongoing battle with my hamstrings (and the related skirmishes with my shoulders, hips and parts of my back) continues, and today there were several times where I thought maybe I was about to go past the edge (a.k.a. possibly hurt something). There was some serious pushing on Jörgen Christiansson’s part, and plenty of surrendering on mine.

And there were more dropbacks. Apparently, I’m still resisting. “I can hold you up with one hand, so I for sure can hold you up with two,” Jörgen told me (or something to that effect) after, indeed, holding me with just one hand.

I’m sure that faith will come. It is a challenge, though. (What isn’t?)

In the aftermath, though, it is less the dropbacks and the intense stretches that I’m remembering than just the stretches. My Mysore practice includes a few moments when I’m definitely stretching more so than strictly adhering to the Ashtanga Primary Series. Paschimottanasana is one; a snuck-in Virasana is another.

I’m not sure I can precisely put a finger on it, but the moments when I’m stretching are definitely different than when I’m attempting the practice — even in those specific poses. Stretching — the classic touching your toes — is not the same as Paschimottanasana. It might be the focus; when I’m stretching, I’m thinking about subtle moves to try to loosen things up a little more. If I’m in the asana, I’m trying to find the “expression” of the pose. Both moments are focused and in many ways inward turned, but not toward the same place.

Is one just turned to the body, maybe, while the other is turned toward something more subtle? Perhaps.

Whatever the difference is, I’m pretty sure it is the difference between stretching and yoga. And I suppose if I could figure it out, I might have learned something. (Although, on second thought, perhaps not.)

Posted by Steve

Ashtanga Yoga New York revamp all complete

I haven’t seen any pictures yet, but I’ve heard that the renovated Ashtanga Yoga New York / Broome Street Ganesha Temple looks awesome. Eddie Stern announced the completion at AYNY’s website on Sunday:

The newly renovated and elegantly upgraded Ashtanga Yoga New York and the Broome Street Ganesha Temple re-opens today, February 19th, on the occasion of Maha Sivaratri. Please join us in celebration from 4:30 pm this evening until 5 am tomorrow morning.

We will be closed on Monday, for President’s Day (and to recover) and Tuesday is the new moon.

Thank you all for your patience during the past four months!

Yours,

Eddie

While looking for photos, I went to the Temple’s Facebook page, and while I didn’t find any, I did see this, which I thought was worth passing on. It’s a comment on the Temple’s Wall; I’ll keep the commenter anonymous:

i was hiking deep in the mountains in marin, cali yesterday + a rare passerby stopped me because of my broome street temple t-shirt. she had been there. thought that was pretty darn neat 🙂 ♥

I will likely be unable to resist buying a t-shirt if Stern brings them to the Confluence.

Posted by Steve

Sunday conversation: How important is the guru / teacher?

If you haven’t happened on it, there’s been a deep and interesting discussion about yoga lineage and the role of the guru on this earlier post. With the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence now less than two weeks away, the role of teacher and guru is an apt one. The Confluence is about teachers, after all. And not just the five leading it but also their teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

As the earlier post noted, there’s been a bit of an issue with the guru of a different yoga. (And yes, I’m being purposefully oblique. The discussion that story engenders is interesting, I think, but the story itself not so much. After all, there’s always been guru falls. It is just the latest.)

The guru-student relationship is one that often is called “uncomfortable” for Westerners. Tim Miller even talks about his reticence to touch the foot of Guruji. But then when he did… well, let’s hope he tells that tale at the Confluence.

As yoga evolves here, the role of the guru is sure to do so, as well. Folks already are talking about it, and have been for who knows how long? Years? Decades? Since the first guru landed on American shores?

But if it changes, or disappears, will something be lost that is integral to yoga and the practice/study of it? Or is it anachronistic in our Internet-driven era?

For you, just how important is a guru / teacher?

Posted by Steve

 

More on yoga as Tapasya, or transformation: Kino MacGregor style

“I love it when a plan comes together.” — Hannibal Smith, “The A-Team”

While this isn’t exactly a plan coming together, it is awful close. I just saw that last week Kino MacGregor updated her blog (not sure how it slipped past me) with a post that, I think, shares the perspective that yoga is hard and can hurt. Here is the key part:

Each posture that demands more physical strength also demands more spiritual, mental and emotional strength. In order to fully realize the benefits of the Ashtanga Yoga method you must be willing to go through the whole process of transformation. Weakness as a state of mind is just as limiting as weakness as a physical state within the body. I had them both. Whenever things got difficult in the physical practice I just wanted to quit, but my teachers always pushed me further. They believed in me when I wanted to give up on the journey and it was their faith and dedication that helped me find my own strength. I had the great fortune to study with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in India and learn the Ashtanga Yoga method directly from him and his grandson R. Sharath Jois. Throughout the process they constantly challenged me to be stronger in a way that always encouraged me to accept myself and yet go deeper.

MacGregor is talking specifically about handstands — there’s an instructional video at the link above — but I think it applies more widely. [An early quote from the post suggests as much: “The journey into strength has been at the core of every posture within the practice of yoga for me. In order for me to move through the powerful transformation that has defined my yoga experience I had to learn not just physical strength but deep inner resolution as well.”] But it is her focus on the “whole process of transformation” that especially caught my eye.

Transformation. Tapasya. I may as well stick an equals sign in between them.

Transformation = Tapasya.

Reading her post, I don’t get the sense that this transformation she talks about was in any way easy. And from earlier writings it seems clear (well, to me) that the challenge and the toughness has been part of what has made her yoga and Ashtanga experience meaningful.

While I may not be able to do a handstand perfectly, that message I get.

Posted by Steve

Ashtanga as Tapasya, or why yoga should hurt you

I’ve been thinking more about the idea of yoga, and specifically Ashtanga, as a modern Tapasya.

When I wrote it last week, it probably one of those moments where you write yourself further along than your thoughts actually are. In other words: I hadn’t thought of it so concretely that way. It’s what I think, no doubt. But I hadn’t crystalized it, yet. (One of the missions of this blog achieved. It was also nice to see that I got Nobel thinking on it.)

As a reminder, here’s what I wrote:

I don’t believe that the lesson of yoga is to learn that I’m perfect the way I am or to accept my place in the world or anything of the kind.

It’s a modern form of Tapasya, an attempt to burn away “the bad fat,” as we read in Guruji’s Yoga Mala, in both its literal and figurative forms. It’s hard. It’s rough. It’s grueling.

In other words: Yoga should hurt.

This idea has been getting a lot of talk for the last few weeks, since William Broad’s article in the New York Times Magazine. The talk is fixing to ratchet up when his book on the subject drops the first week of February.

I realize I will have to take the position that yoga, at times, should and will hurt. I think, if we’re honest, it is the position all Ashtangis have to take. (Maybe the Anusara people don’t.)

After all, as Guruji is quoted as saying: “Sometimes, walk funny six months.”

Which of us hasn’t had a teacher stand on us in Baddha Konasana? What about that last little stretch in Marichyasana D or Supta Kurmasana? And, judging from the noise folks make in Kapotasana, I suspect it isn’t exactly pleasant.

Perhaps there are those lucky few who are so limber that the poses all come easily. But I also know that Richard Freeman says something along the lines of, “Blessed are the stiff.” And Tim Miller talks about how people can get flexibility from strength (something close to sthira?) but not strength from flexibility. For the stiff (ahem, for us), the practice continues to unfold. It may and will unfold painfully, but it continues.

I don’t expect nor want my Ashtanga practice not to hurt. Burning away the bad fat isn’t going to be painless.

Of course, I also don’t want it to hurt too much. And so the message of being mindful and careful and smart about the practice remains.

It just doesn’t translate to “gentle.”

On a side note. I’ve seen the “$h!+ Ashtangis Say” video at Nobel’s blog (link to the side or above). To be totally frank, I didn’t laugh quite hard enough to want to pass it on. Call it editorial prerogative or an end-of-weekend crankiness. But you can find it there. At least Ashtanga is getting its video, I suppose.

Posted by Steve