The Timji Report–Lessons from the Mysore Room

Hanuman's not in the logo for nothing!

I’m on my break between terms, so I took advantage of the extra time to drive south and roll out my rug at Tim Miller’s Ashtanga Yoga Center for morning Mysore practice.

Tim’s there early for his pranayama circle, but after bobbing and weaving on the 105 to the 405 to the 5, I slid quietly through the doors a little after 7 a.m. I was stiff, sore and hungry, but I forgot it all as soon as the sun came through the windows of the shala and I was greeted with a big smile and a hug from Timji.

As always, no Mysore practice happens at Tim’s without learning. I thought I’d pass a few things along.

–Pranayama in a full Mysore practice room is sustaining and musical. Since Tim teaches pranayama, his students are dedicated to their ujjayi. It’s like an Ashtanga fugue in there.

–I know nothing about utthita trikonasana, parvrtta trikonasana, and utthita parsvatanasana. I’ve been doing them for fifteen years, and they’re still a mystery to me. Tim puts a hand here, a foot there, opens up my stance, and the mystery begins all over again.

–The range of noises you can make when adjusting should not be limited to actual words. This is from my perspective as a teacher, of course; but I was once again amused, humbled, and encouraged by Tim’s little expressions. They’re hard to describe: hisses, chuckles, snorts, grunts, humphs, what have you. All very quiet, all just for you at this moment. They’re awesome.

–The lesson I always learn when I practice with Tim: There’s what you can do, and what you thought you could do, and these are not the same thing. I’ve had trouble binding in marichyasana D on the left since the knee surgery. Tim showed me that’s not true anymore.

–There is an astounding amount of precision among the students as Tim moves (constantly) around the room. Precision, but also practice. As I walked out (after another hug, of course), it suddenly struck me that we don’t call what we do in a Mysore room a “class.” We call it “practice,” every day, embracing the incomplete self.

Thanks to Tim, and to his wonderful assistant  Atsuro Chiba.

Posted by Bobbie

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Don’t touch that dial!

You can talk about doshas. You can talk about metabolism. You can even talk about safety, health, what is fair, or what reasonable people can agree to disagree about; but when it comes to the temperature of the practice room, you’re talking about a subject that makes even Tim Miller’s eyes roll.

I’ve seen him do it. “What’s the best temperature to practice, and what do I tell my students that keep messing with the thermostat?” he was asked. Timji eyes roll here. (I’m going to refrain from telling you what he said. You can ask him yourself.)

The eyes roll because of the intensity of the controversy. It’s a conflict that crosses gender lines, room position lines, and our notions of social decorum.

yoga sutras
The sutras won't tell you where to set the thermostat.
Of course, Tim’s shala is in Encinitas, California. It’s always a beautiful day in Encinitas. The thermostat never has to work that hard, although I’ve seen him walk over and tinker with it. The room always seems to be somewhere between 75-80, which is usually something close to the outside temp. You can take that as a sort of endorsement, I suppose. But I’m sure he’s heard his fair share of complaints.

It’s a sensitive subject, because it’s such an intimate thing, something close to the ego, and with a very small margin of error. It’s something akin to an old George Carlin joke about driving on the freeway: Everybody going slower than you is an idiot and everybody going faster than you is a madman.

Personally, I freak out if I’m not sweating like a construction worker in August by the end of the first suryanamaskar. I used to run in south Texas in the summer. I fear no heat. That causes problems in and of itself, even here in SoCal: I’m too embarrassed to surf  because I need a full wetsuit on the warmest summer days. It’s not so much an external thing as an internal thing. I want to sweat when I practice, whatever that might mean for the ambient environment. When my rug is moist it’s evidence of tapas. When the windows are starting to fog and the floor is looking slick, I’m in my happy place.

On the other end of the room, my fellow Ashtangi is sweltering. He looks like he’s having trouble breathing. There’s a lot of towel-swiping, pursed-lipped exhaling, and maybe even a little surreptitious fanning going on. I can feel his misery, and I’m baffled.

In the winter, our fates may be reversed. The room feels airy and open to him. He spritzes his practice rug because it’s not wet enough to be sticky. He’s got a light sheen on his skin that seems to dry while he’s holding poses. Finally, he must be thinking. Over in the most distant corner of the room, I’ve got shivers. My muscles are tight. I’m feeling like I might cramp. I may even leave my long-sleeve tee on and vow to bring leg warmers next time. What is it, like 70 in here? I might be thinking, as if that were near Absolute Zero.

So, what’s the answer? Will the eternal battle of the thermostat ever be resolved? Certainly not here. No doubt, somewhere in there is the Golden Mean, the middle ground that everybody can live with; but we can’t even agree what that is, really.

The real solution is in the practice (as is true with everything, really). If what I’m learning is, in part, non-attachment and non-aversion–to avoid reacting to samskara, focus on drishti, bandha, breathing–then surely I can practice in a room that’s a little chilly. I can take this as an opportunity to practice my very neglected skill of non-reaction. The Yoga Sutra 1.12: “abhyasavairagyabhyam tannirodhah“: “The mind can reach a state of Yoga through practice and detachment.” I can just practice, because that’s what I came for. Or, in the immortal words of Van Halen: “You’ve got to roll with the punches and get to what’s real.” (Check out David Lee Roth’s hanumanasana here. The ’80s were a strange time.)

Posted, somewhat sheepishly, by Bobbie

Mt. Shasta: a confluence of friends

Hello from McCloud, Calif.

As I’m posting this, Mt. Shasta — home to Native American spirits, Lemurians and surely Siva — looms before me. Quite literally, its snow-filled peak climbs up through the oaks and pines towers at the center of my vision.

It’s wonderful, in other words.

In an earlier post, Bobbie mentioned that one of the wonderful things about the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence will be the coming together of friends and fellow Ashtangis. This week is that in a miniature, and I can’t stress enough how central I believe this will be to the days next March.

Seeing friends from last year — Suzy, Julie, Steve, Ann, Jeff, Holly and others — is as much a part of this week as the Timji teacher shakti.

Which is in full force. And which is calling us down to the practice room for another afternoon of “asana doctor” and stories.

So, that’s all for now. But the thought I have is: If you can arrange to come to the Confluence with old friends, do so. It will make the event that much more memorable.

Posted by Steve