Jan 17, 2012

Magnolia's Conference Notes: Obstacles in Yoga Practice

'Yogis should be honest.' Conference notes Nov 6, 2011 w/ Sharath Jois
By Magnolia Zuniga
Posted 11/8/11
Source blog.mysoresf.com

Every Sunday afternoon at 4pm (shala time) is conference with Sharath Jois. This is a time for him to talk about the practice, the philosophy, etc and answer questions from students. Conference on Nov 6th, 2011 Sharath spoke on the many obstacles that come along the path. I touch on just a few...  

Obstacles in Yoga practice...

On Doubt - The practice of Hatha Yoga is not easy and requires sacrifice of many things. Many people have doubt about the practice, the lineage. Instead of surrendering they want to argue. As life changes we have new doubts and new challenges. Guruji used to say 'Practice and all is coming' but if there is no practice how will doubt be cleared? 

In college we must prepare and study. To find answers we read books. But in yoga we practice to find answers. We can read Bhagavad Gita, and Hatha Yoga Pradipika but this is intellectual knowledge. We continue practicing Hatha Yoga to find better answers to the questions...

What is God?
What is yoga?
What is spirituality?
What is life?

On Carelessness - Our carelessness brings lots of problems and our minds get distracted. When we're careless we're not thinking properly. Students come to Mysore, do yoga one month and turns into a gym. If you come to surrender yourself to practice, the effect will be totally different. When you come to Mysore your aim should be to practice yoga. Then mind is clear and focused. Many times it happens students lose energy...

too much talking...losing energy...
too much talking...losing energy...at coconut stand...talking, talking.

On Confusion - Confusion kills yoga practice. Students learn tradition and someone tells them 'oh what they are teaching there is not correct, do this yoga, this is better yoga' then 6 months same thing, and they do another type yoga, then 6 months later another type yoga, and it's like this. Then they say 'Oh I did this yoga, and that yoga and this yoga.' They should also say they are confused. Yogis should be honest.

Question: 'Sharath, why if we're supposed to be relaxed in a posture do you push our limits?'

Answer: [Smiling] You're misunderstanding relaxation. Relaxation in a posture means that if I count it for 2 hours you can stay. You have to reach your limitations longer. You should steadily take to your posture. Bring stability then you can hold for long time.  

[laughing] I feel happy for you Guruji is not there. 

Magnolia started practicing various styles of yoga in 1991. She began practicing Mysore Ashtanga Yoga in 1997 with certified teacher Noah Williams and authorized teacher Kimberly Flynn. She first met and studied with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Sharath Jois in 2004 on her first trip to India. Since then she has traveled and studied in Mysore 7 times and taught Mysore Ashtanga Yoga in Hong Kong, Tokyo, France and is currently running a traditional Mysore Ashtanga School 'Mysore SF' in San Francisco. She continues her studies with Sharath Jois in Mysore South India each year.

Magnolia received blessings to teach in 2007 and is now an authorized level 2 teacher.

For more information about Magnolia please visit her website www.magnoliashtanga.com

republished with permission

Reminds me of this:

Jan 16, 2012

Ujjayi vs. Free Breathing

I've heard this brought up in conference on multiple occasions, meaning that I've witnessed the question being asked of the current lineage holder of the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga yoga method - R. Sharath Jois.  The bandhas and breathing in the system are very specific.  Listen properly!  Also good to realize the importance of the student-teacher relationship...

The Same River
By David Robson
Posted May 4, 2011
Source David's Blog
There is some contention around the idea of “traditional” Ashtanga.

Traditionalists would be the teachers and practitioners that follow the practice as it is taught in Mysore, India. We practice 6 days a week, with rest days on Saturdays and the days of the full and new moon. Practice is done “Mysore-style,” in a group setting. We progress pose-by-pose through one of the six series. That would seem like a fairly straightforward distinction, but it gets more complicated. Some of the fine details of the teaching have changed over the last 50 years. Some postures have been added or taken out, some have different entrances and exits, and some have longer or shorter holds. So, a teacher who went to Mysore in 1980 might be teaching Ashtanga as they learned it back then, and calling it “traditional”, while someone who went to Mysore last year might also call their practice traditional. Their practices would show many differences. Who’s right?

The practice has altered very little since my first visit to India, 9 years ago. The poses and vinyasa count, as they are taught now, are almost exactly the same as they were taught to me on that first visit. However, there have been some small changes. So, every year, when I return to Mysore, I listen carefully to Sharath as he leads us through the led classes and lectures in the weekly conference. Whenever I notice a change, I integrate it into my teaching. That means that when I get back to Toronto and my home shala, I teach all my students the new version. Most of the time the changes aren’t actually new information, but clarifications and corrections, a sharper focus on the already existing details.

On my last trip to Mysore, I heard something new. It was during the weekly conference with Sharath. While talking about the breath during practice, someone mentioned “Ujjayi Breath.” Sharath corrected them, saying Ujjayi is a pranayama, a formal breathing exercise, and then moved on to another topic.

At first, I assumed I had misunderstood what Sharath was saying. I had always thought Ujjayi Breath was one of the key principles of Ashtanga Yoga. Confused, I went to the source, Yoga Mala, by Sri K Pattabhi Jois, to see what he had written more than 50 years ago. To my surprise, there is no mention of Ujjayi Breath with vinyasa. None.

A month later I saw Sharath again. I had the chance to ask him if we do Ujjayi Breath during our asana practice. He said no, explaining that Ujjayi Breath is one of the Pranayama techniques of Ashtanga Yoga. In Ashtanga, Pranayama is begun only when a practitioner has started the Advanced Series. During our asana practice we only do steady and even puraka and rechaka, inhalation and exhalation.

It would be easier if we could think of the tradition as unwavering; that the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga has remained unaltered since its inception. But no tradition is like that; nothing stays the same. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers." I think of the teaching the same way. The tradition is not still. At different moments in time it has been taught with this or that vinyasa, this or that count, but it is always from the same source. It would be impossible for me to follow the tradition without listening to my teacher. The river is always changing, but its source is always the same.

Be sure to read the comment section as well here

David Robson is the co-owner and director of the Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto, where he leads one of the world’s largest Mysore programs. He made his first trip to Mysore, India in 2002, where he initiated studies with his teacher Sharath Jois. Since then he has returned annually to deepen and enrich his practice and teaching. He is Level-2 Authorized by the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute.

republished with permission

Mysore Conference Notes: Practice, Food...

Conference – Asana as the Foundation of a Spiritual Practice – 1st January 2012
By Suzanne El-Safty
Posted 13 Jan 2012
Source suzanneelsafty.com

This conference was being filmed. This was also the day that I started to feel unwell – so I’m probably going to look very miserable and a bit green on film. Oh well! My notes are mostly okay I think but tail off towards the end as I began to feel worse and worse:

In Ashtanga Yoga we always do so many asanas. Not only in Ashtanga Yoga but in Krishnamacharya’s lineage in general. If we are following that lineage then there are lots of asanas. Many people have that question: why do we have to do asanas? Many teachers say that you don’t have to do asanas – you can just sit. But, if you see the yoga shastra - the Hatha Yoga Pradipika or even the Upanishads – they all say why asana is so important – to control our minds.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika says that before we can think about getting enlightened we have to stabilise this body and mind. We have to practise asanas to stabilise our body and mind, to discipline this body and mind.

Now the mind is very chanchala – not in your control. The thought waves are so strong, the mind is like a monkey, a drunken monkey. To control the mind we need to bring some sort of discipline. You need to bring discipline to asana practice. It doesn’t come at once, you need to do for a long time – ‘sa tu dirghakalanairantaryasatkarasevito drdhabhumih’ (Yoga Sutras I:14). Asana is the foundation for the spiritual building; the foundation needs to be strong otherwise the building will fall. That is why asana is very important – it is the foundation to build the spiritual building.

It is only when you practise asana for many years that you realise how spiritual it is. To others it looks only physical. Other people who say that asana is just gymnastics, I call them sailors on the ocean – they don’t know about diving. They can’t see the beauty of the ocean – the colourful fish, the beautiful whatever animals you get in the sea. It is only if you know diving that you can see. Yoga is also like that – if you just sail on top of the ocean you will never get anything.

When you experience through the asana practice you can relish the purity of this practice.

Even in the Upanishads they talk about asanas. They compare consciousness to the sun. When the sun rises the rays of the sun are too harsh, at 12 o’clock they are too powerful; but as the sun sets it withdraws its rays and becomes very calm. This is like when a yogi sits in the third limb – in asana – he doesn’t have any mental disorders. We can feel that when we are practising everyday. We are totally concentrated on our mat – we forget all the nonsense happening around us. When we practise, day by day we get more focused, more concentrated.


1) Which Upanishad was that?

Answer – the Kena Upanishad.

This system that we do, this vinyasa system, is very special. Only Krishnamacharya’s lineage knows this system. No one else knows this system. Three things are very important in this practice:

(i) Breathing

(ii) Posture

(iii) Gazing.

These are the three pillars which we need in our practice. I have not included bandhas – bandhas are to be done all of the time, not only in asanas.

For example, Surya Namaskara A has 9 vinyasas, this means 9 breathing techniques – 9 times you have to inhale and exhale. Surya Namaskara B has 17 vinyasas. Like this each asana has a certain number of vinyasas. This allows the breath to circulate in the body and activate the jatar agni (digestive fire). There are 72,000 nervous systems in the body – they must get purified – but how? by practising asanas with vinyasa.

The basic asanas – in the primary series – are very good to cure all diseases. Medical problems can be cured by doing the asanas in the primary series.

2) Should students put as much effort into the drishti (gaze point) as into say posture?

Answer – yes, these three things are very important. This develops your focus and concentration. So when you go to the next step – pranayama and dhyana (meditation) – these things will help you, they will help you to concentrate. This is dhyana what you are doing, it becomes like that.

3) Is a seated meditation practice then redundant in this system? or is it something we are striving towards?

Answer – first you have to understand what is meditation. Meditation is not something where you go somewhere, you close your eyes and sit. It looks very nice. But inside the mind is very disturbed – it goes to your country or to your boyfriend. First you have to control your sense organs. Then automatically meditation will happen within you.

First you need to bring the sense organs under control. That is why Patanjali says ‘yogascittavrttinirodhah’ (Yoga Sutras I:2) – yoga is to bring the sense organs under control. Once you still the mind – that is meditation, yoga or union.

For that we need to develop certain qualities within us. For this we have to practise certain asanas. I can go into a meditative mode when practising asanas.

Some people say they go to do a vipassana for 15 days, they go every day and they sit like this. For the first two days they have lots of enthusiasm; after the third day the mind starts wandering.

To reach the higher levels in practice first you have to build the foundation, that is asana, and then think about yama and niyama. It is a process which should happen day by day, year by year. A real yogi does not need a certificate saying he is enlightened. We have seen so many yogis in the past – nobody has a certificate.

4) When we practise, how do we keep a state of dhyana and also some awareness of where our legs and arms are?

Answer – that will automatically come. In practice your mind is thinking about your body – not about the nonsense outside. When I say kurmasana (turtle posture) your body will automatically do that. When we are practising our focus should be on our asana through our drishti and breathing.

When you are out on the street you see lots of street shows, like in Covent Garden. Like that in India we also have, lots of shows on the street – they are called games. In one game, there are two pillars and one rope between. One girl walks from here to there on the rope with 5 or 6 pots on her head and a bamboo stick in her hand. With hundreds of people watching. When she walks her mind is so concentrated on the pot. If she thinks about the people watching her she will fall and the pot will fall. See how beautiful that game is. Like that see the beauty of the asana.

5) If the purpose of the basic postures is to cure diseases then what is the purpose of the more advanced series?

Answer – to show off (laughs).

Primary Series is chikitsa vibhaga - to cure diseases. If yoga is used as a therapy then you do certain asanas to help, so that the body gets purified.

Then it gets more advanced – nadi shodhana (intermediate series is known as nadi shodhana) - to purify the nervous system. But nadi shodhana happens in all of the series.

In the advanced series there are lots of different postures – arm balances, back bends.

They allow you to see your limitations, in body and mind. When you are young it is easy to do all the postures. When I was young I used to practise for 3 hours – from 3.30am to 6.30am. Now I do just 2 hours.

6) Was the system designed by Krishnamacharya? or did Guruji design it?

Answer – Guruji put the asanas into different levels. It is the same thing he learned from Krishnamacharya, just more refined.

7) Can you talk about diet?

Answer – vegetarian food – that’s all. It is very good for the body. Non-vegetarian will give you stiffness, it will give you more muscle, that’s all.

8) What is the difference between doing lots of postures for 5 breaths each and fewer postures but for more breaths?

Answer - you can try both. If you sit in one posture then only certain organs will get exercise. If you do more postures then more organs get exercise. When you do more postures you generate more heat and the blood becomes warm and can circulate properly.

republished with permission

Jan 11, 2012

Guru Movie Screening

Join us for a screening of the movie "Guru" about 9:30 am after Sunday's led class...
Albuquerque Ashtanga Yoga Shala
206 Dartmouth Dr NE, Albuquerque, NM 87106 

GURU, 28 minutes, offers never before seen insights into the life of celebrated 90-year-old ashtanga yoga guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

Jois, whose students include Madonna, and who is featured in the next issue of 'Vanity Fair' magazine is certainly a hip guru...But having devoted himself selflessly to yoga throughout his life, is he happy with the accolades of the past few years? What does he actually think of his 'foreign' students with their yoga dreams? What do his Western devotees get out of traveling all the way to India to see him? Some would go as far as to say he is an enlightened being…

This film's narrative is structured around preparations and celebration of Sri Pattabhi Jois's 90th birthday in India last year, attended by a cavalcade of international guests. Jois provides philosophical insights along the way...We meet his students; Hamish Hendry who runs a yoga school in London; Rolf Naujokat who has been coming to Jois since the 70's; and Saskia Maria Vidler who for the past 3 years has been living in Mysore. Pattabhi Jois's family themselves reveal how hard it was to grow up with such a focused father…

For the uninitiated, this film also offers a unique opportunity to experience traditional Mysore style ashtanga practice, as taught in Mysore by Jois himself and his grandson Sharath Rangaswamy.

GURU is an insightful, humorous and touching look into the guru/ student relationship...

GURU is filmed entirely on location in Mysore India, on high definition DVCAM. It is voiced by popular UK narrator Zam Baring ('Going to Extremes' Channel 4), and includes the music of Indian flautist Teymour Housego who has recorded with Nithin Sawnhey and Michael Jackson.

Director Robert Wilkins has been making documentaries for over 10 years covering subjects as diverse as Al Jazeera London for BBC 4's 'The Desk', forensic science for The Discovery Channel, 'Mummy Autopsy', and the award winning 'Calling Young Hong Kong' about the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China as told from a young person's perspective.

5% of all sales of Guru DVD will go to the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois charitable trust. 

screening with permission Mr. Wilkins. 

Jan 10, 2012

Kino's Mysore Notes from Conference

The Brave Yogi – Conference Notes from Mysore, Funny Student Questions, Memories of Guruji
By Kino MacGregor
Published on: January 9th, 2012

Sraddha’s Birthday Conference
10 AM Sunday right after the Intermediate class
January 8th, 2012

Since it was Sharath’s daughter’s birthday we had Conference directly after the Guided Intermediate class at 10 AM, SST, Standard Shala Time which is 15 minutes ahead of normal time. We had just enough time to drink a coconut and scramble back inside to get a spot. Before I share what was a very powerful and touching discussion I want to talk about what was the biggest shock of the Conference for me, and certainly for my husband, Tim Feldmann.

Towards the end of Conference a student of Tim’s from one of his workshops in the U.S. asked Sharath what was to be the last question of the day. It was her first day of practice on Sunday and her first trip to Mysore. The student asked Sharath something like this, “What do I do when I learn different things in Mysore then from other teachers like Tim Miller and Tim Feldmann?” Now that sounded to me and every one of the more than 300 hundred other students here just like she asked what to do here in the shala in Mysore when she learns different things than what she learned from taking classes with the two Tims. But she came up to Tim after and explained that she actually meant to say something like this instead: “What do you do in your regular Mysore class at home in the U.S. with a non-Authorized or Certified teacher and it is different from what qualified Authorized and Certified teachers like Tim & Tim tell me is the traditional method in workshops that I take with them?” Two totally different realities. First of all I think it’s a kind of social faux pas to mention another teacher’s name during Conference with Sharath. Ask your question but try not to throw anyone under the bus by doing it. Secondly if you are going to mention someone’s name and you mean it to be in a positive light think it over very clearly and phrase your question as simply as possible so as not to miscommunicate. When the question was asked my husband eyes got huge, I stopped typing the notes I was taking and there was a general sense of awkwardness in the whole room. The last thing that any Ashtanga Yoga teacher wants to hear is that their teaching is contrary to the tradition, especially if that is not what the student meant to say anyway. We all devote ourselves to the lineage, the practice and the tradition with our whole hearts and to have that questioned is like a knife in our hearts. So anyhow the student went up to Sharath and told him what she really meant, but now there are three hundred students who heard the opposite. Tim is now “the famous Tim Feldmann” and has been answering people’s questions and explaining what happened to multiple people over chai, coconuts, dosas, in the street and under the lights of Mysore Palace. One other interesting thing that has happened is that many students who have taken classes with Tim have posted on his FB page how much they appreciate his teaching and how they feel that he represents the tradition well.

Mysore is an amazing place to come and practice and in some ways I feel that being here also accelerates anything that you are processing and any lessons that you may be in the midst of. In some mysterious way just being here hastens the pace at which the mirror of life’s good, bad, beautiful and ugly presents itself. All you can do is keep steady and strong and keep practicing.

Ok, so now as promised, here are the notes about the actual Conference with Sharath below:

Sharath started off by stating that “In this modern world now everything is instant, no one has patience, everyone wants to have as soon as possible. In yoga it has also become like that.” He said that many places will certify you to teach within 15 days or one month. There is always someone who comes to India and thinks that if they come for one month they should get a certificate stating that they studied here and are then qualified to teach. They get many phone calls asking about Teacher Training from all over the world, three last week. Sharath said, “Yoga is getting big but it is getting crazy also. It’s not that yoga is crazy people are making it crazy. A yoga teacher should always maintain the purity of the practice.” In the light of the NY Times article that questions the efficacy and danger of the yoga tradition I think it is useful to ask the question what it really takes to be a qualified teacher of yoga, how many years of practice does it take to really understand the depth of the tradition. Sharath said that for a practitioner it is very important to choose your teacher, one who can guide you properly, one who knows and who has been practicing for many years within in a lineage.

The notion of parampara as stated in the Baghavad Gita is important. You learn yoga through lineage of correct sadhana in order to have a teacher who can transmit to the students the knowledge of the tradition. First the teacher has to have learned it and experienced it within for many years and then only is it possible to transfer the correct method to the students. Sharath said that you can watch many amazing and crazy things on Youtube and it is hard to figure out which is good (I wonder if he’s seen my videos and if so if they are crazy to him?). His point was that you have to discriminate between so many things amidst the wealth of information out there. There are so many things that are called yoga like naked yoga, booty yoga, runner’s yoga so that soon everything will be joined with yoga. Accordingly t is our duty being a practitioner of a traditional form of yoga to keep the purity of the practice in tact. If we don’t keep the purity within us then in 10-15 years yoga will have a different meaning of yoga. Yoga has described in many different ways throughout the years, but the heart is the same. For example take the definition of “jiva-atma” meaning that when the individual soul joins with the supreme soul you are doing yoga. Yoga is the way of moksha, liberation. Throughout all the different explanations of yoga the deeper experience is the same, once you become one with everything, that’s the union of yoga. For yoga, sadhana is very important because if you only do it for a few years you won’t go for the depth of yoga.

Sharath gave the Four D’s that you need for correct yoga practice: devotion, dedication, discipline and determination. Yogis have a disciplined life because our mind shouldn’t get distracted to many other unwanted things. A yogis mind by practicing every day yoga gets stronger within and the mind thinks about what yoga is and replaces old negative thoughts with these positive ones instead. The kinds of thoughts that ponder the meaning of concepts like satya and ahimsa should come within the asana practice and the awareness of being a practitioner shows you to follow this spiritual investigation. The yamas/niyamas are ten sub-limbs of the method and these qualities develop strongly within us over time, decreasing the likelihood of conflict and giving a better meaning to the practice. If you just keep on doing asanas without thinking about these types of things then the practice is just like a mindless physical activity with no spiritual use. He asked what is the use of a beautiful physical if you don’t have a good heart or good thinking? So this asana is the foundation for all spiritual practice. Once you follow yamas and niyamas and then you won’t be disturbed by many things in your life and then you will have purity within. That is the transformation that happens when you do your practice for a long time with dedication and devotion to the practice. Sraddha, faith and devotion, means that one who has it can get the knowledge and realize the purity of the practice. Once you realize the transformation that can happen you will get a beautiful experience of the practice but it is something that should happen slowly.

When you get older and wiser in your practice the meaning also changes to a deeper spiritual practice. Sharath said that when he was 19 he started the practice again seriously but still was not very near to the heart of yoga. In some sense it was just bending the body, doing the movement, all fun and lots of pain. With each asana there was a new pain, but he said that his yoga was not wise enough. He continued, “Once we go deeper an deeper in this practice then the practice becomes deeper and wiser and it grows like a plant in the ground, when you wan to grow the plan you have to nourish it properly with water, fertilizer, etc. to make the plant to grow. Once you nourish the plant properly the plant will grow and flower will blossom. If you don’t nourish the roots then the flower will never blossom. Exactly like that asana, yama, niyama are the nourishment which our mind needs. When the yoga will grow and it will blossom within us. For this it doesn’t happen that easily, you have to gain something you have to do something. Many things you have to sacrifice. This is what I learned from home.”

At this point in the Conference I started to think of Guruji and just then Sharath started to talk about his grandfather and I was deeply touched by what he said.

Guruji would rise at 3 AM everyday and do his chanting to teach by 4 AM and Sharath said that his dedication came the same way by watching Guruji. The relationship between the guru and the student is like father and son relation and that same relation was there between Krishnamacharya and Guruji. They would do practice in the morning and theory at 12 PM and over many years the knowledge would transfer to the students. He said, “In this instant world nobody has patience. All they want is the piece of paper. The real yoga practitioner doesn’t care if he is certified or authorized because yoga keeps happening within them, yoga gets stronger and stronger within the real yogi.” Many people have a different opinion or imagination about yoga like if you jump back or do handstand then you’re a real yogi. Handstand if you can do it’s nice to watch, but you have to improve yogic and spiritual knowledge, once you improve that within yourself then you will become a real yogi. He said that, “We are still trying to become yogis and yoginis, we are still going in that direction but still we have not reached until we get enlightened. Whatever we do in this lifetime will carry forward into the next lifetime–maybe you don’t need to do so many asanas–then straight away you can get enlightened, like the Buddha and Shankaracharya. There are many yogis throughout history, even Jesus Christ, if he had been born in India he would have been considered a yogi. The many who got enlightened were all born yogis because of the hard work they put in from a previous life.”

Sharath said that in order to keep your motivation up you should keep a photo of your teacher in your practice space. He said “In my practice I always feel Guruji, like he is watching me, I miss the adjustment in backbending very badly. He would help me, but that connection is always there.” Nobody can see God, but only feel the presence. Like that, Sharath said he feels Guruji, physically he is not here but the energy is always there. Every student who had the benefit of directly experiencing Guruji’s power and presence misses him, but at least every one of us here in Mysore now has Sharath to help us in the practice. Who does he have to help in with his backbends and his practice? I always felt that on the days that Guruji adjusted me in the practice the energy of my being moved in a radically different way. It felt like karmic bonds of the past were being burned through–sometimes there would be real, measurable physical shifts and other times there would energetic shifts that words cannot even begin to describe. I have never had an adjustment in backbend like his and I know I never will again. He would effortlessly take me beyond my mental limit, right to the edge of my physical limit with no pain, no soreness after. My deepest backbends were always with his guidance. Even just Guruji’s presence in the room made all my pain disappear and everything seem more peaceful and more possible.

Then there were some small corrections in the Practice that he wanted to share with us based on what he saw everyone practicing.

1. In Surya B/Utkatasana don’t sweep the floor with your hands before enterting Utkatasana

2. In Utkatasana the Vinyasa is not to straighten the legs, but to keep them bent and then lift up directly from there. If you cannot lift up, try and then just jump back without straightening your legs.

3. Here is how the knee should be in Janu Sirsasana Postures:
Janu A – 90 degrees
Janu B – 85 degrees
Janu C – 45 degrees

Sharath then said that Guruji didn’t understand English really well sometimes and especially because everyone has different accents. New Zealand was especially hard to understand for him. Those from Mysore who speak his language were the best to understand what he was saying. For example the ujjayi breath is meant to be a pranayama practice, the practice breathing is just free breathing with sound. Only when you are long time student of Guruji’s could you understand. His heart was like a baby’s heart, his mind was like a baby’s mind. The breath during the practice should be long and deep so that each and every part of the body can feel the breath, from the toes to the top of the head, and the blood circulation is going properly. Deep breathing is especially important for shoudlerstand. Sarvangasana is the asana for the whole body so that every organ gets exercises. Sirsasana also important and he said that you can do them both for a long time. Sometimes you get various pains all over the body and this is all because of not breathing properly. He said that “The more we relax in the asana, try to relax and take long breaths and relax then it becomes easier. The more you relax the more easy you can do all the postures.”

Part of the discipline is also giving non-attachment, vairagya, so that you release your attachment to many material things. The world of the senses is on the outside and includes the thoughts that the brain has accumulated and programmed from watching the outside world. Sharath said “Who is a brave person is a yogi who will withdraw all the senses inwardly and try to realize the inner purity. By watching others we have lost ourself and lost our inner purity. With yoga practice you slowly get detached from everything and look inside and try to realize the purest form within.” This is what Shankaracharya said, that the divine is already alive within ourselves, but we are not able to recognize it because we are lost within many things. That is why this practice is very important and once we get wiser and more spiritually advanced then the distraction will vanish and you can see the inner purity. If you still the thought waves you can experience totally different things and the mind becomes very peaceful.

Sharath said that a guru is always a teacher and should be there for the students because if not the students will go off track. Guru is the dispeller of darkness. Sometimes we get lost in so many delusions within us and the guru is person who brings us back to track.

In the practice you have to think for yourself, come to the practice and experience. It’s up to you to decide who your teacher is. But too gurus will kill one student just like two doctors will kill one patient. Choose one teacher. Guruji used to say “Many teachers, crazy making, one teacher, shantih is coming.” Sharath said that none of the other students experienced what he did from Guruji. His knowledge of yoga came from total devotion to one teacher over more than 20 years. If you devote yourself to one teacher definitely transformation will happen, but you shouldn’t loose your heart and wander from the path after difficulty, pain or injury. Some people do for a few years and then decide that they have figured out a better way to modify, change or alter the practice. They then lose the ground gained and within two or three years they totally change the style of yoga and pronounce it as the “new” truth when actually just confusion is there. In yoga first that thats why we have to stabilize the mind and bring stability in the practice and mind. The quality of Sthira, stability is a key factor on the path yoga. Sharath said, “Yoga is the healer for anything. If you have yoga within you, yoga will save you. It is very good for us to keep this traditional practice alive and pass it onto the next generation, it doesn’t belong to one person, if you use it properly it becomes yours, you can experience it, but you cannot own it, if you don’t do it properly then its not yours.”

Kino MacGregor is one of a select group of people to receive the Certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. The youngest woman to hold this title, she has completed the challenging Third Series and is now learning the Fourth Series. 

republished with permission

Jan 9, 2012

How to become an Ashtanga yoga teacher

From the KPJAYI website:

The Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute is dedicated to the education of yoga practitioners. Practitioners should come with the sole purpose of studying the tradition from its source. Students traveling to Mysore should not come with the expectation of obtaining Authorized or Certified status.

The list on this website constitutes the official record of teachers approved by the KPJAYI, which is the only authority able to authorize or certify individuals to teach the ashtanga yoga method as taught by Shri K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath. There are no teacher training programs approved by this Institute under any name (e.g., Ashtanga Teacher Intensive); teachers that are listed on this website are experienced practitioners and dedicated students who have shown a considerable degree of proficiency and appreciation of ashtanga yoga in its traditional form and who continue to study regularly at the KPJAYI.

Teachers are required to teach the method as it is taught by Shri K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath at the KPJAYI in Mysore, India. They should maintain a yoga room or shala to allow for daily, preferably morning, Mysore-style practice and should honor Saturdays and the full/new moon days as rest days.

When can I start Intermediate Series?

Intermediate Series
By Paul Mitchell Gold
Posted on May 18, 2010

I have wanted to go on record for awhile regarding when yoga students should be taught asanas from the Intermediate Series of Ashtanga Yoga. Too many times, I’ve had students in my class who have been taught prematurely by another teacher.

When Rachelle and I were taking the teacher’s course in Mysore last June with Sharath, we had the opportunity to ask for detailed and definitive guidelines on the subject. So, here’s what we were told straight from the source.

Before a student can begin learning the asanas from Intermediate Series, he/she needs to be able to do all the asanas in Primary Series. Let’s be clear about this… that’s all of the asanas from Primary, as in each and every one, not all but the one or two that he/she can’t do.

There are circumstances where a student might need some help getting in an asana, like marichasana d or supta kurmasana. If a student can do the asana with help, it’s ok.

Furthermore, in addition to being able to do each asana in Primary, a student needs to be able to stand up from urdhva dhanurasana and then do the drop-backs section. This requirement is most often what I see missing when students come from other teachers.

One of the problems with teaching students more advanced asanas prematurely is that it can cause ego problems. Many students are preoccupied with advancing and doing as many asanas as possible. The number of asanas is seen as the symbol of progress, etc. and starts to inflate the ego. I’ve seen it over and over. When a student who isn’t ready to advance past Primary series begins Intermediate, the ego becomes inflated without any corresponding growth of humility.

To be sure, the same can be said of students who are learning any of the series, but are taught more asanas than appropriate. Very often, a student has trouble with one of the poses in the marichasana section of Primary or gets stuck at kapotasana or karandavasana in Intermediate. It is so important to be patient and stay at asanas that we can’t do. Teachers that pile on the asanas for whatever reason are ultimately doing that student a disservice.

There is so much to be learned from taking one’s time when asanas are difficult. One of the great gifts of yoga practice is the development of the virtues of patience, humility, non-attachment and faith. Along with these is the all-important element of trusting the yoga teacher and believing that he/she knows what he/she is doing and has the student’s best interest in mind.

If a student is advanced too quickly, particularly if he or she isn’t ready to tackle more advanced asanas, the opportunity for developing the virtues above is missed. In the worst case, over time, if these virtues have been ignored, practice devolves into another form of consumption in which the asanas are like any other thing to be acquired and possessed. The problem, however, is that doing more asanas can never be a real or satisfying substitute for developing patience, humility, non-attachment and faith.

The ashtanga yoga system is organized so that each asana grows out of the asana before it and prepares one for what follows. The system has an internal logic and beauty of intelligence that becomes clear when practiced diligently and faithfully. When a student has been advanced prematurely, practice slowly falls apart asana by asana after the point in which he/she should have been stopped. I have too often watched students practices unravel from the moment he/she started doing poses “over the line”. Breath and bandhas disappear and become non-existent. The student is no longer practicing yoga. It’s a shame and it’s not the student’s fault.

I have heard teachers defend advancing students prematurely saying that the asanas of Intermediate Series, particularly the backbends at the beginning, help “open” a student so he/she can stand up from urdhva dhanurasana. It’s been my experience that it never works that way. Being able to stand from urdhva dhanurasana and do drop-backs is what signifies that a student is strong enough and open enough to begin Intermediate Series and not the other way around. One of the great challenges of Ashtanga Yoga is to complete one’s asanas and then have to buckle down and do the backbending section. Students taught prematurely are never able to stand up and do drop backs. I’ve never seen it happen. Not once.

I also speak from personal experience as a student. I was once held at a particular asana by Guruji and Sharath for three years. That’s a long time to simmer in one place. I could have been impatient. I could have complained as I watched others advancing. I could have sought out teachers who would advance me quicker, but I didn’t. I trusted my teachers. I also believed I was something to be learned from persevering and allowing the process to unfold slowly.

I’ve had students quit or go to other teachers because I wouldn’t let them go farther than they wanted or thought they should be going. My attitude has always been, “if you can’t handle not doing it, you can’t handle doing it.” Whether they quit or seek a more accommodating teacher is neither my business nor concern. It’s their karma and I am just trying to teach the same way I learned from Guruji and Sharath. So, when students get impatient after a month or two, I simply smile and tell them it’ll be ok and I’ll let them know when they’re ready to move on.

Now these guidelines are not a huge secret or mystery. Anyone, teacher’s included, that’s spent time in Mysore has seen that nobody is taught Intermediate Series asanas unless he/she can meet the above-mentioned requirements.

This begs the question of why are students being taught prematurely by some teachers? That’s a subject for another time though I may not voluntarily venture into that quagmire. It’s always risky and presumptuous to guess others’ motivations.

About Paul Gold
I took my first yoga classes in 1995 and became a dedicated practitioner of Ashtanga Yoga after a short period of experimenting.

From 1998 to 2001, I studied with Noah Williams and Kimberly Flynn and taught at their yoga school in Los Angeles. I also want to thank Jorgen Christiansson, an early teacher and good friend, who first taught me to trust this practice.

In 2001, Rachelle and I made our first trip to Mysore, India. Since, we have returned annually to continue our studies with Guruji and Sharath.

I received authorization to teach the Ashtanga method in 2004 and was a member of the first group to receive Level 2 Authorization in July 2009. I have the blessing of KPJAYI to teach students the full Primary and Intermediate Series of Ashtanga Yoga. 

Dedication to daily practice is the cornerstone of my teaching philosophy. I encourage my students to develop the virtues of patience, faith, diligence, compassion and non-attachment using the integrity and genius of the traditional Ashtanga system. As these virtues are cultivated over time, students are well on the way to living fuller, happier and more balanced lives.

republished with permission

Jan 6, 2012

Why we don't practice on Moon Days

  • From Shri K. Pattabhi Jois at the Ashtanga Yoga Shala:
    "That day is very difficult day. Two stars one place (conjunction) is going. New moon also, full moon also. That day very dangerous day. You (take) practice (on that day), anyone can have a small pain starting. That pain is not going very quickly. Long time he is taking. Some broken possible. That is why that day don’t do."

  • From Richard Freeman at the Yoga Workshop:
    "Observing this restraint to practice can be helpful in not becoming too attached to practice and routine. It also provides time for the body to rest and recuperate."

    t’s part of the traditional approach to take time off during the new and full moons. This is partly due to the Indian astrological belief that it is not auspicious to do certain things on moon days. Because we are part of this lineage, we have chosen to honor the moon days in this way.

    In addition, once you practice on a daily basis (six days a week is recommended), you’ll notice that being invited to take a day off is a luxury. The body can rest (after all the ashtanga practice is physically demanding) and on moon days you feel like you have a huge chunk of unspoken for “free time” when you’re used to daily practice. 

  • From Tim Miller at the Ashtanga Yoga Center:
    Like all things of a watery nature (human beings are about 70% water), we are affected by the phases of the moon. The phases of the moon are determined by the moon’s relative position to the sun. Full moons occur when they are in opposition and new moons when they are in conjunction. Both sun and moon exert a gravitational pull on the earth. Their relative positions create different energetic experiences that can be compared to the breath cycle. The full moon energy corresponds to the end of inhalation when the force of prana is greatest. This is an expansive, upward moving force that makes us feel energetic and emotional, but not well grounded. The Upanishads state that the main prana lives in the head. During the full moon we tend to be more headstrong.

    The new moon energy corresponds to the end of exhalation when the force of apana is greatest. Apana is a contracting, downward moving force that makes us feel calm and grounded, but dense and disinclined towards physical exertion.

    The Farmers Almanac recommends planting seeds at the new moon when the rooting force is strongest and transplanting at the full moon when the flowering force is strongest.

    Practicing Ashtanga Yoga over time makes us more attuned to natural cycles. Observing moon days is one way to recognize and honor the rhythms of nature so we can live in greater harmony with it."  source

"I had one friendly comment to pass on about the ‘anandhyanana’ days: 
It is possible that the student who asked you about any prohibition of practicing yoga on the full or new moon days was doing so because of the observances of Pattabhi Jois. Much has been made of this observance, with all sorts of ideas about why he does this, and what significance it may have. However, the matter is quite simple. As you know, the Maharaja’s Pathashala (Sanskrit College) was closed each month for classes on the moon days, and the day before and after. Studies were continued by the students, but no new lessons taught. One reason for this was that on amavasya and purnima, certain rituals had to be performed by the teachers and students alike, who are all brahmins – for example, the pitr tarpana which needs to be performed on amavasya, and the ritual bathing the day after the moons – all these things take time to be performed. As well, though I have never been able to find the reference, Pattabhi Jois used to quote to us – and I also heard this from my old Bhagavad Gita teacher in Mysore – that if a teacher teaches new subjects on the moon days, his knowledge will decline, and on the day before or after, the knowledge of the student will decline! Perhaps you might know where this reference comes from? 
When I spoke to Pattabhi Jois’s astrologer while interviewing him for the Guruji book, he concurred with the idea that it has something to do with the idea of as above, so below: our mind is the moon, and waxes, wanes, and retains information in a similar cycle as the moon in the sky. 
Since Pattabhi Jois was a student at the Maharaja’s Pathashala, and then was the Professor of Yoga there from 1937 to 1973, this became a habit and observance for him. Since he held the view that yoga was a practice of Vedic origin, and that the knowledge of the Upanishads was to be accessed only through the doorway of asanas and pranayama, he ascribed the same observances to teaching them as he did to teaching Veda. He further used to say that on the full and new moon days, there was a particular conjunction of nakshatras that made it easier to get injured, and that the injury would take longer to heal. I have never been able to verify this through jyotish; perhaps this is something that he learned from his father, who was an accomplished jyotishi. 
Pattabhi Jois knew quite a bit too — the name Jois is a South Indian corruption of Jyotish, and astrology was in his family tradition. I say all this to make the simple point that Pattabhi Jois had certain habits from the time he was 14. Why he had these habits is interesting, and though we may not be brahmins, or even Indian, as his students it is good to understand why certain things were done by him, and accept that if he felt them important enough to follow, that they are applicable to us too. But we should not go making a big thing of it and creating all sorts of fantastical ideas! 
Below is a funny story to illustrate what happens when we (for example, Ashtanga Yoga students!) do not take the time to investigate simple things in a rational manner: 
A saintly scholar used to give a class on Bhagavad Gita each evening beneath a tree near a village. He had a pet cat, and this cat would sometimes run through the crowd, making a disturbance. As a result the sage began to tie the cat to the tree during the class. After some time the speaker shuffled off his mortal coil. One of his disciples continued to give the Bhagavad Gita class under the tree, and continued to tie the cat to the tree during the class. After some time the cat passed away, and the disciple bought another cat. After three generations a disciple wrote a paper on the sacred tradition of tying a cat to the tree while giving a class on Bhagavad Gita. 
So, all that being said, I think that the moon day/practice observance should be followed by the Ashtanga Yoga students out of respect for Pattabhi Jois and his methods. The purpose of following these things, and submitting ourselves to a lineage, is to create humility and thoughtfulness in the student. We will (most likely) not go to hell if we practice on these days, but surrendering oneself to a lineage has its own charm and effect on our character, so why should we not try it? I do not believe that all yoga students should refrain from practice on these days – they too should follow the observances of their teachers, and hopefully by aligning our minds with higher principles, we will all find happiness in our practices. On moon days or not!" source
  • From David Miliotis at the Ashtanga Yoga Practice:
    "Why Vedic moon days differ from Western moon days:

    In Vedic astrology, the lunar cycle, is divided into 30 tithis; 2 of these tithis are called full (pūrṇimā) & new (amāvasyā) and have been loosely translated as full & new ‘moon days’. The tithi is a specific time period that begins and ends based on its lunar cycle - irrespective of the daily solar cycle. The Western method for determining full & new moon days is to simply considered on which day the moon happens to be exactly full or new. When Guruji would speak of full & new moon days, he was thinking of their respective tithis. For this reason, we too follow the Vedic Pañcāṅga calendar system - just as Guruji did.
    " source

Jan 3, 2012

Castor Oil Baths

Highly recommended!

Relieve aches, pains and stiffness with oil baths
By Kimberly Flynn
Source Living Mysore Oct '08

Oil bath is a traditional, weekly Ayurvedic home remedy still practiced widely in South India. Shri K. Pattabhi Jois routinely recommends oil bath to his yoga students especially for the relief of back and knee pain as well as stiffness. Weekly oil bath reduces excess internal heat (pitta in Ayurveda) particularly in the joints, liver, and skin. This heat is generated by poor lifestyle, including consumption of oily, processed, and difficult to digest foods, alcohol and tobacco, in addition to stress, air pollution and inadequate sleep. This imbalance increases with the heat generated by yoga practice and hot climate. Eating an over-sufficiency of healthy foods that are deemed "heating" in Ayurvedic terms, also adds to this imbalance.

Excess heat can be felt in the joints as pain and stiffness and in the back, often in the lower right-hand side and hip, as a nearly debilitating pain. This heat also contributes to a short temper, burning anger, red skin, pinkish acne, and redness in the eyes. When a daily ashtanga yoga practitioner still carries extra weight, especially around the middle, has difficulty with weight loss or with digestion, and has a regularly sluggish bowel, these are all signs of surplus heat.

In India, oil bath is customarily taken with castor oil that is later removed from the skin and hair with a special herbal paste made of equal parts soap nut and green powders mixed with water. Castor oil delivers the best results, but is nearly impossible to remove without these powders. Guruji suggests that, after leaving India, the yoga student can replace castor oil with almond oil, which easily washes off with bath soap.

Daily baths in India are taken by pouring water over the head from a bucket while standing in the bath, a river, or other body of water. It is in reference to this bath that oil bath is so termed. In other words, the student is not soaking in a tub of oil; rather he or she is using oil first on the head. Oil is rubbed into the scalp which draws the heat upward through the body, where it finally exits through the crown of the head.

Pattabhi Jois recommends that a student takes oil bath every Saturday (on his or her day of rest or once per week) at the start of the morning. After oil bath, one should rest for the day and avoid the following: strong sun, cold water, yoga or heavy work of any kind. For men, tradition prescribes that oil bath be taken on Monday, Wednesday or Saturday. For women, oil bath is prescribed on Tuesday or Friday; Guruji provides that his female students can take oil bath on the day off, Saturday. A woman should never take oil bath during menstruation, rather, she should take it on the fourth day (following the first three days of menses, during which time she has abstained from yoga practice). If one is not able to take oil bath on a given Saturday, he or she may take it on one of the above appropriately listed days.

Directions for Oil Bath

Note: When using castor oil, first place the bottle in warm water to thin out the oil for easier application.

1. Apply ample amount of oil to your head, rubbing into the scalp and through to the ends of your hair.

2. Leave oil on the head for the allotted time. For your first oil bath, leave the oil on your head for only five minutes. Continue increasing the time weekly by five minute increments until the oil is left on the head for a full two hours (a 6 month process); this is the maximum recommendation. At this juncture, you should practice two hours weekly, not exceeding this time.

Important: Years of accumulated heat should safely be relieved in stages. Therefore, it is essential to carefully follow the time recommendation. Inappropriately increasing the prescribed minutes may lead to a cold, vomiting, chills or diarrhea, all of which are symptoms of too much heat rising too soon.

3. Having completed your allotted time for oil on the head, generously apply oil to the whole body. As you rub oil over your body, take time to rub and massage elbow, knee and shoulder joints, along the spine and into any areas that are chronically sore. You need not apply oil to the face. This step should take an additional five to ten minutes.

4. Take a very hot shower or bucket bath. Let the hot water run over the scalp as you massage the existing oil deeper into the crown. Continue to rub the oily skin focusing on the joints and spine. This is an important step as the hot water opens pores and draws internal heat from the skin and joints. This shower may last five to fifteen minutes.

5. Apply soap and shampoo, or soap nut and green powder mixture to remove oil. After turning off the shower, lather up with soap on the skin and shampoo in the hair to remove almond oil. If castor oil is used, then apply soap nut and green powder mixture rubbing the paste over the whole body and through the hair and scalp. Be careful and avoid getting soap nut powder, dry or wet, in the eyes or nose, as it will cause a burning sensation. As you rub the paste over the skin, it will turn from dark to light green which indicates that the oil is being absorbed.

To make the paste, in a large bowl mix equal parts soap nut powder and green powder with enough water to create a paste with a honey-like consistency. Soap nut is active in absorbing the castor oil and can make the skin feel very dry. Green powder leaves the skin and hair feeling soft and smooth.

6. Take a second shower or bucket bath to remove oil and lather or special paste. Take this shower at a warm, comfortable temperature and use enough soap and shampoo to remove the almond oil. If you are washing off soap nut paste and castor oil, be sure to close your eyes when rinsing your hair; you'll probably want to follow up with shampoo. This shower lasts up to ten minutes.

You have successfully completed oil bath.

7. Wash the shower/bath area. The shower floor will be very slippery and the drain may be clogged a bit. Scrub the shower area well to avoid slipping and pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain to keep it open. If you have used soap nut paste, you may be faced with a muddy mess. Clean all surfaces and be sure to pour boiling water down the drain.

8. Rest over the next few hours, avoiding hard work, strong sun and swimming in or drinking cold water. For the daily ashtanga practitioner, it is important to take a full day off, allowing the body and mind to rest and rejuvenate for the coming week of practice, study, work and family life.

If the desired results of oil bath are not felt at first, don't give up. Continue to include this time-honored treatment in your weekly schedule and be confident in the radiant health benefits it bestows.

Since 1995, Kimberly Flynn has traveled yearly to Mysore, India to study Ashtanga Yoga with Shri K. Pattabhi Jois and his family at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute. She began her studies with Pattabhi Jois in 1993 during his teaching visit to New York City. Inspired by Pattabhi Jois's vast knowledge of Yoga Shastra, she has been a student of Sanskrit Recitation, Yoga Sutras, and Philosophy under Dr. M.A. Jayashree since 1998. Kimberly co-directed and co-founded Ashtanga Yoga Shala in Los Angeles where she taught for 10 years and twice hosted Pattabhi Jois. Kimberly, AYRI Authorized, teaches Ashtanga Yoga and Sutra Chanting in Hawaii, throughout the United States, and Internationally. She began yoga practice in 1982.

Jan 2, 2012

Sanskrit Course

4 Sundays 9:45 am - 10:45 am
February 5, 12, 19, 26
Free/By Donation - pay what you can

All are welcome, no prior experience necessary.
We'll learn the basics - alphabet, reading, writing.

Recommended for:
Enthusiastic yoga students
Yoga teacher trainees
Good yoga teachers
Language lovers
Font heads

Required supplies:
Fantastic pen, notebook

Albuquerque Ashtanga Yoga Shala
206 Dartmouth Dr NE, Albuquerque, NM 87106 USA

How to wake up for yoga

At the beginning I would show up to practice as everyone from the first class was leaving and I remember just thinking to myself how impossible being up that early seemed.  I would tell myself that they were just special somehow.  Like they were built for it and I simply wasn't and that was the way it was.  Years later I have realized that getting up "early" is not only relative, but also simply a decision one makes.  Even so, there are still many ways we can make the process easier on ourselves and this post breaks it down for the skeptic and devotee alike.

How to wake up for yoga.
by Angela Jamison
posted 11/2/11
source AY:A2

After a little while, you will figure out your best sleep hygiene, and the getting-up-in-the-morning program will run itself. But at first, I do understand that it can be a challenge to re-teach the body to wake up fresh. Because we’re going against the social stream by getting up early to practice, establishing this pattern might take some focus and discipline, if not a few tricks. If you fall down some days, ok. Just keep at it. This will get easier in a few weeks.

There really are techniques for making it easy. On the other hand, if you wanted to do the pure-willpower method , the strategy would begin with taking in as much sugar, and as little water, as you can during the day. Drink at least three cups of coffee (one of them after 3pm); eat a large dinner involving heavy, dense, inflammatory foods; drink some alcohol. Watch television, engage in some arguments if you can find them, and use the internet until late at night. Spend a lot of time with people who have either a lot of negative, heavy emotion (tamasic) or an unfocused, fast-moving mind (rajasic). In the morning, try to watch Fox News, write emails to make sure the verbal wheels started spinning, and start planning the work day with extra attention to envisioning difficult colleagues or situations. While doing this, leave the lights low, consume Advil, move slowly, and keep the body cold. Tell yourself that this is hard and feels bad. Then (this is the most important part), ask yourself what you feel like doing. Between getting back in the warm bed and going out to do yoga, what would give more immediate pleasure? Yes! Bed wins! If there is someone who actually makes it to yoga practice in this scenario, she is either a hero or completely out of touch with her body. I’m not sure which is more problematic.

Maybe this will surprise you: ashtanga is big in northern Japan. And across Canada, the north Atlantic, Scandinavia, Russia. People in the cold, dark north love to practice morning Mysore in the fall and winter. Last year, I contacted daily practitioners from all these places for advice about how to adjust to dramatic seasonal changes. They offered dozens of techniques, and we tried them out. Those now entering their second year are still fine-tuning this morning practice stuff, but they’ve settled on a few really good techniques.

Here’s what they suggest. Some of this is direct, and some is paraphrased. (1) Scale way back on coffee and don’t drink any caffeine after 2pm. If you are addicted to it, this might be your time to face it and detoxify. (2) I had to get rid of the “not a morning person” myth. That’s just a story the ego tells itself. Being a “night person” might point to adrenal fatigue that can be healed though practice. (3) Eat a big breakfast, medium lunch, and really small dinner. Experiment a few times with skipping dinner. Just try it. Note what your sleep is like and how you feel in the morning. (4) Get a sunshine lamp and put it on a timer to go off at the same time as your alarm. If you sleep with someone who can’t stand it, just put it outside the room and get under that light to go through some part of your morning routine. (5) Forget about drinking alcohol during the week. (6) Eating sugar makes it really hard to get up in the morning. (7) Know that coming to practice will raise your core body temperature and keep you warm all day. (8). Be accountable to someone in the group – promise each other you’ll both be there.

This all sounds helpful. From personal experience, I would add: Get under bright lights. Jump around and shake the body a bit first thing, to get the circulation running (truth be told, I often have a one-woman blues-rock dance party at 4am). It’s nice to take a hot shower on winter mornings, letting the water fall on your entire spine and crown of the head. I do a few breathing practices first thing every day, and on cold mornings add some other kriyas and somewhat different breathing during the surya namaskara. Some of this is in the “House Specialties” document at practice, and some I can just share in person if there’s a good time. But it doesn’t do anyone a favor to talk about traditional practice on the internet. This is oral tradition best exchanged person-to-person.

With “how to?” questions in practice, I look for a balance of dedicated practice and radical acceptance, which is my shorthand for Abhyasa and Vairagya.

This pair of values comes up in Patanjali’s sutras 1.12-1.16. Some commentators say that either Abhyasa or Vairagya should be primary: that one or the other is most important. This is like Christians debating the relative importance of grace and works, or German philosophers debating about will and spirit, or tender teenagers trying to decide whether they find more meaning in what they do with their lives or who they are as people. There is usually a school of All Action! and a competing school of All Being! Hello. Ashtanga yoga is a school of not-two. Samkhya; Tantra; what’s the problem? 99% practice, 1% theory.

In a practical, embodied way, the practice sets us up to do (1) practice and (2) acceptance all of the time. Like this. It’s getting late in the evening, so I can feel that tomorrow’s asana practice is already starting. How I go to sleep is the last major determinant of how I get up. So I’m going to extract myself somewhat painfully from the laptop now and power it down. In the kitchen, there’s an oatmeal-choclate chip cookie that part of me wants eat while watching last night’s Steven Colbert, but what I’ll actually do is let habit draw me sort of inexorably upstairs to sit and do some breathwork. Setting things out for the morning, there is usually some spontaneous excitement and gratitude for both sleep and morning practice, and that will make cookies and Colbert seem boring. Both sleep and (tomorrow) practice will do themselves once I get into position… but I do have to get there. Falling asleep, I’ll notice if there’s a tendency to reel off into discursive, fantasy, or emotionally negative headspace, and choose some higher quality feelings or thoughts instead. If the neighbor is making tons of noise, or I have a headache, or Zelda Spoonbender (the cat) is licking my nose like usual, I’ll see about just rolling with that. And then pretty soon, sleep is here…

Good night, everyone. Sleep well, and see you on the mat.

full post at AY:A2 

About Angela
My name is Angela Jamison. I was introduced to ashtanga yoga in 2001 in Los Angeles, and have practiced six days a week continuously since 2003.

In 2006, I completed intermediate series with Rolf Naujokat before learning from him the ashtanga pranayama sequence. I maintain a relatively modest pranayama practice.

Later in 2006, I met Dominic Corigliano, who taught me the subtler layers of ashtanga practice, and eventually, slowly, taught me to teach yoga. During 2009, I assisted Jörgen Christiansson.

After retreats in the Zen, Vajrayana and Vipassana traditions, I began working with the meditation teacher Shinzen Young in 2009. I meditate daily, confer with Shinzen about my practice every few months, and take annual silent retreats.

I have made four long trips to Mysore to practice ashtanga with R. Sharath Jois, and to study the history and philosophy of yoga with M.A. Narasimhan and M.A. Jayashree. I will return to Mysore regularly.

In 2011, Sharath authorized me at Level 2, asking me to teach the full intermediate series.



republished with permission

Jan 1, 2012

Yoga & Detoxification: Working with Preferences

Break through to the other side... An article by Jessica Sage Stickler on the benefits of being really uncomfortable in life and yoga, addiction, relationships, shoulderstand, and more and how facing it is sort of the point, man.

Yoga & Detoxification: Working with Preferences
By Jessica Stickler
Source http://bit.ly/k8o48a

 Salamba Sarvanagasana.  When yoga teachers inevitably call out this pose, my mind screams. The shoulder-burning, the fatigue of holding myself up with my hands on my back. The claustrophobia of halasana/plow pose and karnapidasana/ear pressure pose that unfailingly follow shoulderstand. I once stopped practicing shoulderstand for two months. Starting again after realizing that avoiding the pose wasn't helping me with my utter burning hatred of it. The only thing that helped was to do it, and do it again, and again. Daily. Until my experience of shoulderstand began to change -- magically -- first to indifference, and then to a sort of looking-forward-to-it kind of feeling.

We all have the poses that push our mental/physical buttons. The poses are meant to challenge us to step beyond our own personal preferences and prejudices. Its not just the poses themselves that are meant to challenge us. We've all sat in a yoga class thinking, 'it's too hot in here', or 'its not hot enough,' even the teacher themselves can challenge you......'I really don't like that teacher's voice,' or the poses they choose 'there aren't enough inversions,' or 'there are too many inversions.' Its not the poses, or the teacher, or the people around you, or the music, or the temperature of the room; its you and your mind.

Yoga is meant to agitate the mind. Hatha yoga implies a forceful practice, not in the sense of going past your boundaries of physical safety, but in the sense that the practices are supposed to force you to your 'edge' in a way. Each pose is meant to stir up those feelings of 'it’s too intense,' or even a thought that it’s 'not intense enough,' which is also a form of that dissatisfaction with being in the moment. Each of the thoughts that come up are a signal that we are always trying to change our present situation instead of sitting with what is. It can be very powerful to practice in a way where we notice the tendencies of the mind to be anywhere except here and now. By practicing this way, we can notice a feeling or a thought arise and let that thought go.

Most of us constantly attempt to control or modify our surroundings or experience. 'I'm a little sleepy, I'll take some coffee,' quickly pendulums into 'that coffee made me wired, I need a drink.' We constantly self-medicate with a little more of this, a little more of that. All in an attempt to make ourselves happy. The underlying feeling is that happiness or sadness or weariness must stem from the outside world. We habitually try to get more of what we think we want, and try to push away the thing that we think we don't want. These tendencies are called 'raga' and 'dvesha.' Raga refers to the habit of mind that grasps to things that we perceive as bringing us happiness. Dvesha refers to the habit of mind that pushes away things that we think will make us unhappy. Raga means attraction to the things I think will bring me happiness; more french fries, more kale, the boyfriend, a new job, more money. Dvesha means trying to avoid the things that I think will bring me unhappiness; shoulderstand, that-annoying-person-at-work.

Neither grasping things that we feel are pleasant nor trying to escape things that we feel are unpleasant are helpful reactions because the premise is faulty. Take the coffee/alcohol example. At the time, you thought coffee would make you happy, and maybe it was momentarily pleasant, but ultimately the coffee was only pleasant in the morning, not in the evening. Then the alcohol seemed like it would bring you happiness too, but it was only temporary relief and in the morning may be the source of discomfort. (And possibly the feeling of need for more coffee......) These things we grasp at are not the source of lasting happiness. That said, it doesn't mean that yogis can't take pleasure in things or that we aren't supposed to like things. It’s just that whether we get the coffee or not, it’s no problem.

During meditation, every time I scratch, wipe away a bead of sweat, roll out my very tense neck, I'm potentially trying to modify my experience of the present moment. Instead of resting in the present, and finding contentment in the moment, I'm constantly trying to change my circumstances. Meditation is the place where we can potentially free ourselves from the chain of reactivity that goes from hunger to gratification to guilt. Meditation cultivates the space to intervene in the reactivity. Meditation is the opportunity to notice desire and let it go, or choose to fulfill that desire with the wisdom to know that ultimate happiness doesn’t stem from the thing outside me. Meditation is even sitting with the discomfort of the pain that comes after the fulfillment of the desire, without wishing to change that too.

In this way, Yoga and Meditation could be helpful with addiction or compulsive behavior. Both meditation and yoga emphasize that when we are feeling discomfort, whether an uncomfortable physical feeling, emotion, or thought, that we can sit with that feeling and either choose to react or choose to let it go. We can feel the feeling of hunger and we can either react to it, or we can choose to let it go.

Even the desire to 'detox' or 'cleanse' is at its root the same wish to change what we are experiencing in the present. I know many people for whom the 'detox' is part of alleviating discomfort, a purge or self-flagellation for an indulgence or a lapse in willpower. Many times we feel the need to detoxify when we feel we've overindulged. The toxins that need to be 'cleansed' are not the physical toxins, but the very desire to detoxify! The thoughts that want to pull us out of our present feeling by adding or subtracting more pleasurable or unpleasurable experiences. The desire to detoxify is a desire for things to be other than what they are right now, in the present.

Could the practice also help us heal relationships? We've all known someone who lost themselves completely in another; maybe we’ve even been that person ourselves. It cannot be: if our bliss were completely dependent on a knight in shining armor then we should give up our search for happiness now, because its a doomed proposition. Same with those people who seem repellent to us: how will running away fast and far enough from the difficult people in our lives lead to an experience of the 'oneness of being?' Erm. Its only through sitting with the bliss of infatuation, the chest-sinking heartbreak, the skin-crawling aggravation of being with other people that we come to find that we are, at our essence, love and joy, and that our purpose in life is to return to that joy.


Published May 26, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Jessica Stickler is an 800 hour Advanced Certified Jivamukti Teacher. She teaches full time at Jivamukti Yoga School in New York City. Her classes combine fun music with choreographic sequencing and intelligent alignment; meant to inspire, ignite, and incite. Jessica serves as a mentor for new teachers at the Union Square studio, and teaches workshops and classes internationally. Jessica is also an environmental and animal activist, currently working on organizing for reduction of plastic bag waste in New York City. (Follow @BackToTheSack for more info or to get involved.)

Website: JessicaStickler.com
Twitter: @sagestick

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