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

Video: A day with Norman Allen

Norman Allen, one of the first if not the first American to study with Pattabhi Jois, has popped up in our posts recently. Sort of all of a sudden.

We heard a number of tales involving him during our Yatra. There’s plenty more if you want to go searching. On that search, I came across the following video. Enjoy:

Can anyone confirm if that is former NBA star David Robinson at about the 3:30 mark? I can find that he did Bikram, so it is possible.

We are planning to get down to Tim Miller’s today for his Led Primary. We’ll see if it all works out, and I’m sure we’ll report back on it.

Posted by Steve

Get Introduced to Ashtanga by Tim Miller

I’ve often called my teacher Tim Miller “the hardest working man in Ashtanga.”  In addition to teaching expansive two-hour classes—often twice in a row—and arriving early for pranayama every morning before Mysore practice, and performing the Hanuman Chalisa between classes on Tuesday, and having regular concerts on moon days, he also travels frequently, doing weekend workshops all over the country. I’ve often thought this is really his work-around to get in teaching on Saturdays.

Tim, teaching, as usual.
Tim, teaching, as usual.

When I’ve done Tim’s teacher trainings at his home base in Encinitas, one of the things he encourages trainees to do is sit in and observe other classes. By far, my favorite class to observe is his Intro to Ashtanga. I broke that class down in great detail a couple of summers ago (that post is here). I go back and read my notes on that class whenever I’m working with a student new to yoga. It was a great experience.

So I was once again amazed when the AYC sent out an email yesterday saying that this class will now be by donation (as we noted earlier), in the form of “The Box.” From the email announcement:

The Box was in use for many years as the ‘honor system cash register’ at the Ashtanga Yoga Center. It will be put to use in the same capacity for the Monday Intro class.

That’s right. You can be introduced to Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga by master teacher Tim Miller. Every Monday at 5:30. For whatever you can afford.

Posted by Bobbie

A version of the modern history of Vinyasa Yoga that credits Tim Miller

This one sort of jumps in right as Pattabhi Jois heads to Encinitas, but then backs off to when David Williams, Nancy Gilgoff and Norman Allen (you’ll see in the comments — from someone famous in her own right — that the wrong name for Norman gets corrected) were in South India. It’s a year old, but not too many views.

But it kind of gives Tim Miller the credit:

Tim Miller helps on Garbha Pindasana to Kukkutasana

A few posts ago I lamented the lack of video of the senior Western Ashtanga teachers.

Today I spent a little time searching, and it pretty much confirmed my earlier suspicion: There’s a dearth. Confluence video is an exception. Those may one day be highly valued, I think.

There are, of course, some old videos of Tim Miller, David Swenson, Richard Freeman, etc. Back when, you know, they were making videos and not getting something ready to post online.

Here’s one video I found from a few years back of Tim assisting with Garbha Pindasana and Kukkutasana.

As with much of Tim’s trainings, there’s a lightness and humor to it all.

Posted by Steve

Must read: ‘Pussycat’ Tim Miller on his Intro to Ashtanga class

We’ve posted something like 1,700 times here, and I can tell you this: Just three times have we said, “This is a must read.”

Here is No. 4.

Tim Miller’s latest blog post is about his Monday night Introduction to Ashtanga class. Bobbie wrote what is one of more most popular posts about observing this class when she took Tim’s Second Series teacher training last summer. Here’s a link to Bobbie’s post at a wee bit of a refresher:

He began with something of an apology, anticipating the sometimes scary reputation Ashtanga has, without really apologizing. “There’s a certain rigorous quality to it,” he told them, “that if you soften it too much, it wouldn’t be Ashtanga.”

Tim then went into a mini-talk on the Yoga Sutras, emphasizing tapas as a purification practice, hitting on the nature of happiness, and the nature of God. It was clear this was the real deal: “All things are possible through yoga practice.”

Very carefully, very efficiently, Tim taught them correct breath (you know the one: “Make a ‘ha’ sound…”), and also imprinted linking breath with movement, using a simple cat/cow.

And now, here’s Timji and the link that you should click on so you can read it all. As you read it, you’ll see that what Bobbie said goes on goes on:

For the past 25 years I have been teaching an Introduction to Ashtanga Yoga class every Monday at 5:30pm.  This class began when we opened the North County Yoga Center in 1988 as my attempt to initiate beginners into a practice that is very challenging on many levels simultaneously.  Over the years I have attempted to present the practice in a user- friendly format, but if the practice is watered down too much it loses its primal potency.  When I took my first ashtanga yoga class in 1978 I knew that I had found the way home—the way back to my own Soul.  There was something so deeply resonant and familiar about the practice—it was like rediscovering a long lost friend.  That first yoga class changed the course of my life and the same practice continues to keep me sane to this very day.

Tim goes on from there to remind us all of the lineage of Ashtanga’s teachers before hitting his news; With the size of the class waxing and waning (as few as two students, and I want you to think about being in a yoga class of any level with one other student and Tim Miller), the Ashtanga Yoga Center is going to open up this class to the community on a donation basis.

Tim seems to realize that may not address the problem. He ends with this:

When I first started practicing, a yoga class cost two dollars.  Over the years classes have gotten pricey, which has excluded part of the population.  Money no longer needs to be an issue.  Perhaps the practice itself is the issue—yes, it’s challenging, but also very rewarding.  Maybe it’s me—heaven forbid.  I know there are people all over San Diego County that shake in their boots at the mention of my name, and think it takes great courage just to set foot in the Ashtanga Yoga Center.  Let me set the record straight on that—I’m a pussycat.

We can affirm that. (Just don’t ask us if the cat has been de-clawed.)

I need to work out some work schedule to make it possible to be down there on a Monday night, especially right now since I’m sort of re-introducing myself to Ashtanga anyway. And to anyone else passing through San Diego: I know we all want to get up early and go to a Tim Mysore class. But think about Monday night.

Closing word: Read Tim’s post.

Posted by Steve

In Praise of the ‘Shala’

I always feel a pang when I hear a shala is closing; distance is no matter, so the closing of a Jois studio makes me sad for the students.

My very first Ashtanga class was at Yoga Path in Irvine, California–across from where I worked. I blundered into the Ashtanga class by accident; the Iyengar class was full. I had flirted with yoga off and on for a few years. Suddenly I found myself in a class unlike anything I’d been in before. I was totally lost. I couldn’t do any of it. I didn’t understand the Sanskrit. I was in love.

After that, I went to Ashtanga classes exclusively, and never looked back. A short while later, I bought a special annual membership to save money. It was the most I’d ever spent on such a thing.

The next time I went to class, I found the door locked and the lights off. A sign on the door informed me that Yoga Path was closed, had filed bankruptcy, and suggested I go to 24 Hour Fitness.

I was crushed, and panicked. I had just begun to feel some hope: A way out of constant pain. Even that this practice might offer me a higher study, a philosophy.

A quick search revealed that a YogaWorks close to home offered an “Ashtanga Prep.” So it was that I met Shayna Liebbe, who all by herself, with limited time and resources but unlimited energy, gave me my first sense of what the word “shala” means, and why it’s so important.

I thought I’d take a minute and reflect on what I miss in a shala, or school, for Ashtanga, now that Steve and I are practicing at home.

Number one, I miss the directed study. After my first class, Shayna handed me a little packet of information. It had all the poses (both in diagram and listed in Sanskrit with translations), the opening and closing prayer (and translation), the role of breath, what the bandhas are, what drishti does, and so on. I left with homework. Shayna, in other words, was a teacher–she used to make us recite the yamas during navasana and do backbends to the niyamas.

Small, focused workshops, weekend intensives, Sanskrit and diet classes—Ashtanga shalas have these. All supervised by an experienced teacher. One experienced teacher. And connected to the daily practice.

South we went!
The sign outside Tim Miller’s shala

Most of all, I miss Tim. That 100-mile trip sometimes seems more like a million. I wish I were one of those lucky folks who can roll out their rugs in Tim Miller’s Ashtanga Yoga Center every morning, those that use their practice to contribute to Tim’s ongoing research.

Research. I miss growing and learning with an enthusiastic teacher, who knows my practice, and will adjust according to the progress of my learning, or even how things seem that day—the adaptable teacher.

Of course, there’s also the community (Diana Christinsen, whose shala I called home for two years, uses a Buddhist term: sangha). There’s something really comforting about practicing next to someone you see every day, yet have barely spoken to, but still find solace in the shared experience of the practice.

So I hope the Ashtangis that found a home at Jois find a new home soon…the home that is a shala, and its teacher.

Posted by Bobbie