You can’t say there isn’t a lot of Ashtanga out there

At the beginning of every month, if you didn’t know, the website ashtanga.com puts out a newsletter that mostly highlights workshops happening around the globe.

Read through it and you can’t say there isn’t a lot of Ashtanga happening. i was struck this month by the sheer number. Here’s the list and a sample:

10. Tim Miller – Vancouver, BC, Canada May 1-3, 2015
11. Tarik van Prehn – Monte-Gordo, Algarve, Portugal May 1-3, 2015
12. Basia Lipska Larsen – Wroclaw, Poland May 2015
13. Basia Lipska Larsen – Oslo, Norway May – September 2015
14. Basia Lipska Larsen – Oslo, Norway May – August 2015
15. Richard Freeman – Columbus, Ohio, USA May 1, 2015
16. Tim Feldmann – Ridgefield, Connecticut, USA May 1-3, 2015
17. Lino Miele – Ca Le Suore, Italy May 1-3 and June 14-27, 2015
18. David Robson – Montreal, QC, Canada May 1-3, 2015
19. Mark and Joanne Darby – Cologne, Germany May 2-5, 2015
20. Paul Dallaghan – Koh Samui, Thailand May 2-30, 2015
21. Nancy Gilgoff – Sasebo, Japan May 2-3, 2015
22. Christine Hoar – Stony Brook, New York, USA May 2, 2015
23. Richard Freeman – Columbus, Ohio, USA May 2-3, 2015
24. Greg Nardi – London, England, UK May 4-8, 2015
25. Nancy Gilgoff – Fukuoka, Japan May 5-9, 2015
26. Petri Raisanen – Copenhagen, Denmark May 7-10, 2015
27. David Williams – Burlington, Vermont, USA May 7-10, 2015

The full list, running to early July, is 136 workshops strong.

There’s never been more opportunity to learn from the best and most experienced Ashtanga teachers, has there?

Posted by Steve

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In Praise of the Ashtanga Workshop

One of the most amazing things about Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is its horizon-like quality. You stand on the ground of beginning, and off in the distance is a clear, beautiful line. You believe, when you begin, “If you walk you’re gonna get there—it just takes a little longer” (in the words of an old Led Zeppelin song).

This is not true.

You step forward, walking toward that horizon, and as you approach, the line recedes before you. Infinitely.

I’m not quite sure when I became aware of this as a positive aspect of the practice; for a long time, it was very frustrating, yet enticing at the same time, as Steve’s previous post indicates. At some point, the receding horizon of knowledge becomes something you pursue not in spite of its endlessness but because of it.

This is what drives the workshop way of learning the practice.

I don’t know about you, but my first teacher taught with her silence. Here is the method. Here are the asanas in sequence. You do.

Mystifying.

So I bought books—David Swenson’s was the most useful by far, and helped me lose the sense that Ashtanga was like a really difficult game of Twister—my hands and feet would go to different places every time in a seemingly random pattern. The practice felt better. I wanted more hands-on detail.

The first workshop I ever took was from Diana Christinson at her learned shala, Pacific Ashtanga in Dana Point. I had never taken a yoga workshop before. I had never even taken a class from Diana. But my YogaWorks teacher, Shayna Liebbe, told me about a “transitions” workshop in Dana Point. So I went to get more knowledge.

As t-shirt slogans go, not bad. Via Zazzle.
As t-shirt slogans go, not bad. Via Zazzle.

Before I went to that workshop, I had an idea that a transition in the practice was that magical set of gymnastic moves Shayna was demonstrating in class. In her workshop, Diana began with the idea of a transition as the thing that happens as you breathe. Her first transition teaching was about how to move through suryanamaskara A.

I was hooked on workshops.

We need them in the practice because there is simply no time to teach the finer points while the practice is going on. Guruji’s great genius seems to have been his ability to do this with almost no talking and a beautifully poetic and terse English. Now, we do workshops. But of course, in such small classes in those early days…well, that’s like a private workshop every day.

I’m not talking about the YogaWorks model of workshop, which seem to be what you might call “happiness focused.” Even something like handstanding has to be tied to some sort of “real world” payoff, with its accompanying ad sheet. You know what I’m talking about. It’s a business model. How handstands can make you more successful at your job.

Ashtanga workshops always seem to be detail-oriented ways of learning how to teach yourself. I signed up for Diana’s shala immediately, and I am here to sing the praises of a true teaching shala, where there are workshops on backbends, pranayama, the Yoga Sutras, the standing poses, adjustments, diet, etc. We need that information. Not to mention her weekly Conference, the place where questions got answered.

And that knowledge accumulates over time, and it’s why the horizon recedes. I’ve taken many workshops with Tim Miller, and each time some crucial piece of information he’s been passing on for years finally sinks in. Then, I’m ready for the next piece of information, something that the previous bit of wisdom has now prepared me to receive.

I’ve since taken workshops from many Ashtanga master teachers. I’m not saying they’re all good. Some, actually, I didn’t complete—a bad fit at the time, or some sense of conflict with what is right for me. But most were wonderful and I learn in all of them. It’s Tim Miller, though, that I come back to, and take a workshop every chance I get. I suspect this is because Tim, too, seems to be constantly learning, which of course leads to new workshops where that knowledge gets disseminated.

Sadhana this is called—study. It should, of course, be true of everything we do, so in this Ashtanga gives us yet another model, a metaphor for how to live.

Posted by Bobbie

New to Swenson?

David Swenson

David Swenson, the wandering yogi. If you’ll be meeting David Swenson for the first time at the Confluence, then perhaps a short summary of his role as a senior Western student is in order. His DVDs, particularly the First Series DVD, are the mainstay of home practitioners and new learners. Swenson is famous for breaking down the practice with his affable, approachable style, removing a lot of the intimidation factor. This is true even though his demonstrations of poses are jaw-droppingly awesome. Somehow, he manages to radiate humility, make you feel like the impossible is possible. His practice manual has the same tone, sturdy and spiral-bound for ease of use. Forget where a drishti is? You can look it up in the manual. Can’t get your feet behind your head? Here’s what you do until you can.

But it’s the workshops that make him the Johnny Appleseed of Ashtanga. David travels the world, giving Ashtanga to all walks of life. In the workshop I took with him, he was asked about “personal space” in the practice room. For an answer, he described demonstrating at a workshop in Japan. His students were crowded together to watch, with their toes practically touching the edge of his mat (count your spacial blessings was the subtext). He brings his travels to each workshop. Google for videos of David Swenson, and you’ll see a wide range of faces in the background of videos shot all over the world.
You may not know, however, that he has a website that answers a lot of the nagging questions of practice, like Ashtanga and agedrinking (as in booze, not water, which is a different question), and my personal favorite, Where Does the Spirit Live?. You can’t get a bigger Q for your Q & A than that.