Aug 29, 2012

Shala Etiquette by Elise Espat

Here are some guidelines that we use at the Albuquerque Ashtanga Yoga Shala for a pleasant and productive practice environment.  Every Shala and teacher is unique, so if you are going some place new, be sure to check in with them about suggestions for practice.

Please respect the lineage, the teacher, other students, and yourself by following these guidelines.

Arrive to practice on an empty stomach. Do not bring any drinks into the Shala.

Turn off all electronic devices before entering the Shala.

Wear clean, comfortable, stretchy clothing similar to what one would wear to the gym. Avoid wearing jewelry and tie back long hair. Shoes are not worn inside the Shala, we practice with bare feet. Do not wear anything with perfumes and shower before practice.

Bring a clean towel and your own clean yoga mat. You may also rent a mat or purchase one at the Shala.

Settle your tuition before you begin your practice.

Notify your teacher well and before you begin practice of any pain, soreness, injury, past surgeries, pregnancy, illness, fasting, etc.  

If you are an experienced Mysore student, on your first day at the Shala practice the primary series.

Do not skip, add, or modify the traditional sequence unless requested.

Do not add any new asanas unless they are given.

Maintain silence and if necessary, speak quietly.

There are no classes on Moon Days or Saturdays. The first three days of menstruation are also a time for rest.

Practice at home if you are sick, take rest if you have a fever.

Everyone sweats. Clean any moisture left on the floor around your mat before you leave.

-An excellent list from Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga Ann Arbor (also here).

Aug 21, 2012

Should I practice if... by Elise Espat

I'm sick?
Yes, practice at home.  You don't want to get anyone else sick.  Just do what you can.
If you have a fever, just rest.

I'm injured?
Yes.  Talk with your teacher in person, they'll be able to give you specific instruction on what to do and how to proceed.  Practice is effort toward steadiness of mind.  It really isn't about the asanas.  Your asana practice might be a bit different when you are working with an injury.  That is really totally ok.

I'm menstruating?
No.  Rest during your first three days of menstruation.

I'm pregnant?
Maybe.  Talk with your teacher in person.

I'm feeling sad/tired/scared/angry/upset/happy/etc.?
Yes.  See "effort toward steadiness of mind".

I'm sore?
Yes.  Let your teacher know.   

I'm unsure of what to do/forgot what to do?
Yes.  Just show up and try to remember.  If nothing comes to you, your teacher will.  However, nothing will happen if you don't show up.

I'm a beginner?
Yes.  Just show up.  Your teacher will show you what to do.

It is a moon day?
No.  Just rest.

I missed days and dread what will happen?
Yes.  Just show up and see what happens.  No fear. 

I don't like it/am not comfortable?
Yes.  It is okay to feel confused, emotional, uncomfortable, etc.  If you trust your teacher and have faith in the practice, it will pass.  If you don't trust your teacher and don't have faith in the practice, find a new teacher and maybe a new practice.

I'm hungover/constipated/hungry/ate something right before?
Yes.  Just show up and see what happens.  That is how we learn.

Right, so yoga is the cessation of the thinking mind so that one can see the true nature of the self.  Practice is effort toward steadiness of mind.  It all starts to come together through consistent, dedicated, uninterrupted practice, done over a LONG period of time.  So really, you are practicing 24/7.  The asana bit, the ritual where you show up to work on the tristhana happens "every day".  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and then rest on either Saturday or Sunday and moon days.  This system works pretty well because some days you'll be like "Yay yoga!" and it will be easy to show up and other days you'll be like "Snooze!"  If you have designated rest days, then when the mind starts setting up obstacles, you can say "that's cool, we'll rest on Saturday, today I'm going to practice no matter what!"  And then when you hit snooze anyway, show up the next day for sure.  And then when it happens again and again and you think you can't go back, let the feelings go.  Turn that passion toward getting back tomorrow.

It is sort of like maintaining a long-term can't only be about the physical.  Looks fade.  Get interested in what can't really be seen, the inside stuff.  Try to figure out this steady mind thing.  Let go of the asanas.

Of course, you can't learn yoga from a website.  Ask your teacher about this stuff.  Do what they say.  See what happens.

Aug 19, 2012

Hatha Yoga Pradipika Online

"There exists at present a good deal of misconception with regard to the practices of the Haṭha Yoga. People easily believe in the stories told by those who themselves heard them second hand, and no attempt is made to find out the truth by a direct reference to any good treatise."
Whether young, old or too old, sick or lean, one who discards laziness, gets success if he practises Yoga. 2.66

Success comes to him who is engaged in the practice. How can one get success without practice; for by merely reading books on Yoga, one can never get success. 2.67

Success cannot be attained by adopting a particular dress (Veṣa). It cannot be gained by telling tales. Practice alone is the means to success. This is true, there is no doubt. 2.68
Full copy of the "Hatha Yoga Pradipika" translated by Pancham Sinh

AAYS Holiday Class Schedule Labor Day Weekend 2012

Fri 31 Aug Moon Day, no class

Sat 1 Sep rest day, no class

Sun 2 Sep
6:30 am Door Opens
8:15 am Mantra / Mysore
10:00 am Door Closes

Mon 3 Sep Labor Day
6:30 am Door Opens
8:15 am Mantra / Mysore
10:00 am Door Closes

Tue 4 Sep
Regular Schedule
Beginner Course Starts

Aug 18, 2012

Gheranda Samhita Online

"(Having closed the eyes) let him contemplate that there is a sea of nectar in his heart: that in the midst of that sea there is an island of precious stones, the very sand of which is pulverized diamonds and rubies. That on all sides of it there are Kadamba trees, laden with sweet flowers; that, next to these trees, like a rampart, there is a row of flowering trees, such as the malati, jati, kesara, champaka, parijata and padmas, and that the fragrance of these flowers is spread all round, in every quarter. In the middle of this garden, let the Yogi imagine that there stands a beautiful Kalpa tree, having four branches, representing the four Vedas, and that it is full of flowers and fruits. Insects are humming there and cuckoos singing. Beneath that tree, let him imagine a rich platform of precious gems, and on that a costly throne inlaid with jewels, and that on the throne sits his particular Deity, as taught to him by his Guru. Let him contemplate on the appropriate form, ornaments and vehicle of that Deity.” 
Full copy of "Gheranda Samhita" Translation and commentary by Rai Bahadur Srisa Chandra Vasu

Aug 17, 2012

Ujjāyī vs. Free Breathing in Ashtanga Yoga (Gheranda Samhita) by Elise Espat

We started off by looking at the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā which led to the conclusion that:
If Ujjāyī is one of the eight Kumbhakas and Kumbhakas are breath retentions, then Ujjāyī is a breath retention.  If our breathing during practice does not include breath retentions, then it cannot be called Ujjāyī.
Here is a link to the post: Part 1 = Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā (हठ योग प्रदीपिका)

Now let's look at the Gheraṇḍa Saṃhitā (धेरंड संहिता).

Notice here in chapter 5.46 that Ujjāyī is listed as a Kumbhaka (breath retention), just as it is in the HYP:

And here is GS the description of the technique (5.69-70):

If Ujjāyī is one of the eight Kumbhakas and Kumbhakas are breath retentions, then Ujjāyī is a breath retention.  If our breathing during practice does not include breath retentions, then it cannot be called Ujjāyī.

Read the Gheraṇḍa Saṃhitā
Gheraṇḍa Saṃhitā PDF

Aug 16, 2012

Some Yoga Mats - Reviewed by Elise Espat

Yoga Mat. But which one?

Originally published March 2010, Ashtanga Yoga Brooklyn Blog.  New, improved, updated. Also, some of these are affiliate links. While opinions are always my own, deciding to purchase through an affiliate link helps support this blog.  Thanks!

One thing that I really love about Ashtanga yoga is that you really only need yourself in order to practice. While there are certain advantages to going "en plein air", most people are going to use a yoga mat and sometimes a rug too.  But which mat? And why use a rug?

The Typical
Most people (myself included) started with an inexpensive PVC yoga mat. Usually around $20, one can find these mats just about everywhere from Barnes and Noble to the local pharmacy. Slippery and stinky at first, this will dissipate over time. Usually the go-to mat for yoga studio mat rentals because of the very low price, these mats shred over time. They are often thick, but not firm (a quality that beginners often mistake for a good thing). I do not recommend purchasing a PVC yoga mat. There are many health concerns regarding PVC and it is usually not recycled. These days, with a little effort, you'll definitely be able to get your hands on an eco-friendly mat at a comparable price point. Search Gaiam for mats around $30. I haven't tried any of them, let us know!  

The Eco
The common eco mats ($40-$70) are the Jade Harmony mat or the Jute mat. When you first roll it out, it has a strong rubber smell, but that goes away. I found mine (Jade) to be incredibly sticky from day one. So sticky, that certain maneuvers on the mat had to be rethought on account of the non-slippage. That said, other people have told me that it was slippery for them. The Jade mat also attracts dust and hair at the beginning, so be prepared to wipe it off a lot if that kind of thing bothers you. After over two years of use, mine had yet to shred. Other people had shredding within a year. Thickness varies, medium to firm. While the non-stick and eco aspects are positive, for people learning jump throughs I definitely recommend considering a mat with a different textured surface or placing a rug on top for seated postures. Other natural mats can be found through Hugger Mugger, and Manduka. I've tried the Manduka eKO Lite. It is super light (great for travel). It has two sides: slick and sticky. Extra padding is in order for certain second series postures.  The Manduka eKO SuperLite Travel Mat.  It has a similar feel to the eKO Lite, but is thinner making it great for travel.  A very thin mat or thick and very firm mat are what I recommend as the best practice surfaces.

The Classics
The Manduka Pro ($90) mat is an Ashtanga classic. Slippery, thick, and firm. Ideal for Ashtanga practice, but not necessary for beginners. Does not shred. These things last forever (sustainable), but to my knowledge are not eco-friendly. They are heavy and travel with them is not fun at all. We carry Manduka Pro mats at the Shala, this has been my daily practice mat for years.

The Rug
I don't really know why other people use rugs, but here's why I like them.

1. Practice seems less daunting when I'm staring at a rug instead of The Mat.
2. Rugs come in many fun colors and patterns and can liven up any mat.
3. Instead of worrying about cleaning my mat all the time, I just have to wash my rug.
4. Soaks up moisture.
5. Doubles as a resting blanket.
6. Good surface for learning jump throughs.
7. Extra padding for certain postures.
8. Some say they help with slipping.

If you aren't going to India tomorrow, you can find a Mysore rug at many Ashtanga shalas, studios, and online. Many people also use "mat towels". I prefer rugs.

How/where to get a mat
- Online (new-stores, new/used-craigslist)
- At a yoga studio (new/used)
- Health food stores (new)

What to do with an old mat
Tips here Yoga Mat:  Clean or Replace?

FAQs via The Yoga Shala

An extensive list of FAQs by Authorized teacher Krista Shirley of The Yoga Shala.  Really worth a peek.

Some questions include:
What is Mysore-style Ashtanga Yoga?
What about pre-existing pain and old injuries?
Why do I need a teacher?
Should I commit to one discipline?
I learned Ashtanga differently. Am I supposed to change what I’ve been doing?

Why am I being “stopped” in my practice?

The list of faqs:
Frequently Asked Questions

Aug 14, 2012

Ashtanga & Mysore: More FAQs by Elise Espat

You're Ashtanga curious. Here are some tips on how to get started and what you can expect.
  • Observe a Mysore class before beginning practice for the first time.  You'll be able to see what the teacher/class/space/other students/method are like before making any kind of commitment.

  • Commit to at least one month of practice.  It is easy to show up once when you feel "good".  It is even possible to show up for a week.  But in the span of a month it is much more likely that you won't always feel like going to practice.  You'll be really busy one day with a lot on your mind, or you'll be sore, or tired, or want to sleep in, or go to brunch, run a little late, etc.  It is important to realize that it isn't about every day feeling like rainbows and sunshine.  It is about showing up no matter what.  After a month of facing all these different flavors, you'll have a sense of whether or not you want to continue to do this practice. 

  • You do not have to know the primary series or anything about yoga to join a Mysore class. Although you will be practicing to your own breath, your Mysore practice will be highly supervised by the instructor. You will be taught individually one posture at a time. Your first classes will be short and will eventually be around 90 minutes. Slowly as these postures integrate, more postures will be added by your teacher and you'll continue to refine previous postures and techniques.

  • All ages, shapes, body types, genders, ethnicities, etc. are welcome to attend. You don't have to be strong or flexible or a dancer or a gymnast. The only requirement is an enthusiasm for practice.

  • The Mysore-style of learning and practicing is different than most other types of yoga practice because:
    -it is made of a set series of postures which you practice daily
    -you develop and maintain a practice over time
    -the student-teacher relationship is very important
    -students practice with one teacher
    -it is less about catering to what we are accustomed to and more about challenging ourselves to experience everything with grace
    -Students can take their time, work at their own pace, and are encouraged to marinate in certain postures if there is a therapeutic indication

  • There are six series of postures in the Ashtanga yoga system. Primary series is called yoga chikitsa which means yoga therapy. This practice tones, increases flexibility, and detoxes the body and mind. Everyone starts their Mysore practice by gradually learning and practicing the primary series.  It takes as long as it takes.  Anyone can practice. 

  • You can arrive to practice any time that is convenient for you within the designated practice times as long as you are finished before the end. For example, if your practice is 35 minutes long, you should begin before 8:55am if class ends at 9:30am. So, no, your practice isn't 3 hours long and you do not have to arrive at the beginning of the Mysore class.

  • Bring a clean towel, a yoga mat, wear clean clothes, take a shower, be barefoot, and arrive on an empty stomach. Do not drink water or other liquids during practice.

  • Ashtanga yoga is a daily practice. Really, if we are talking the full spectrum of practice, it is 24/7. In terms of being on a mat, students practice 6 days per week. Saturdays or Sundays are a day of rest as are the first three days of the menstrual cycle (called ladies' holiday). Moon days (full or new moon) are also a day of rest. If this isn't possible for you at first, do what you can.

Got a question? 
Send it to

Originally published March 2010 at Ashtanga Yoga Brooklyn. 

Moon Days 2012

In keeping with the tradition of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the Albuquerque Ashtanga Yoga Shala is closed on the following "moon days" for students and teachers to have a day of rest from asana practice.

January 9th, Monday, Full Moon

January 23rd, Monday, New Moon

February 7th, Tuesday, Full Moon

February 21st, Tuesday, New Moon

March 8th, Thursday, Full Moon

March 22nd, Thursday, New Moon

April 6th, Friday, Full Moon

April 22nd, Sunday, New Moon

May 6th, Sunday, Full Moon

May 20th, Sunday, New Moon

June 3rd, Sunday, Full Moon

June 19th, Tuesday, New Moon

July 3rd, Tuesday, Full Moon

July 18th, Wednesday, New Moon

August 1st, Wednesday, Full Moon

August 17th, Friday, New Moon

August 31st, Friday, Full Moon

September 16th, Sunday, New Moon

September 30th, Sunday, Full Moon

October 15th, Monday, New Moon

October 28th, Sunday, Full Moon

November 13th, Tuesday, New Moon

November 28th, Wednesday, Full Moon

December 14th, Friday, New Moon

December 28th, Friday, Full Moon

Aug 12, 2012

Ujjāyī vs. Free Breathing in Ashtanga Yoga (Hatha Yoga Pradipika) by Elise Espat

Q:  Is Ujjāyī the same as "free breathing with sound"?

A: No.  They are different
Ujjāyī is a Kumbhaka (breath retention). 
When we apply the Tristhana (asana, breathing, looking place) during our Ashtanga yoga practice, we use "free breathing with sound".  Each breath leads to the next with no retention.

So, what's the difference?  Explanation below from the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā (हठ योग प्रदीपिका).

Notice that one may define Kumbhaka as the retention of breath.   
बद्ध-पद्मासनो योगी पराणं छन्द्रेण पूरयेत |
धारयित्वा यथा-शक्ति भूयः सूर्येण रेछयेत || ७ ||
पराणं सूर्येण छाकॄष्ह्य पूरयेदुदरं शनैः |
विधिवत्कुम्भकं कॄत्वा पुनश्छन्द्रेण रेछयेत || ८ ||

baddha-padmāsano yoghī prāṇaṃ chandreṇa pūrayet |
dhārayitvā yathā-śakti bhūyaḥ sūryeṇa rechayet || 7 ||
prāṇaṃ sūryeṇa chākṝṣhya pūrayedudaraṃ śanaiḥ |
vidhivatkumbhakaṃ kṝtvā punaśchandreṇa rechayet || 8 ||

Sitting in the Padmâsana posture the Yogî should fill in the air through the left nostril (closing the right one); and, keeping it confined according to one's ability, it should be expelled slowly through the sûrya (right nostril). Then, drawing in the air through the sûrya (right nostril) slowly, the belly should be filled, and after performing Kumbhaka as before, it should be expelled slowly through the chandra (left nostril). 
-HYP chapter 2.8

Notice that Ujjāyī is one of the eight Kumbhakas.

अथ कुम्भक-भेदाः
सूर्य-भेदनमुज्जायी सीत्कारी शीतली तथा |
भस्त्रिका भरामरी मूर्छ्छा पलाविनीत्यष्ह्ट-कुम्भकाः || ४४ ||

atha kumbhaka-bhedāḥ
sūrya-bhedanamujjāyī sītkārī śītalī tathā |
bhastrikā bhrāmarī mūrchchā plāvinītyaṣhṭa-kumbhakāḥ || 44 ||

Kumbhakas are of eight kinds, viz., Sûrya Bhedan, Ujjâyî, Sîtkarî, Sîtalî, Bhastrikâ, Bhrâmarî, Mûrchhâ, and Plâvinî. 

If Ujjāyī is one of the eight Kumbhakas and Kumbhakas are breath retentions, then Ujjāyī is a breath retention.  If our breathing during practice does not include breath retentions, then it cannot be called Ujjāyī.

Further, in 2.51 and 2.52 the method for Ujjāyī is described and includes the instruction to restrain the breath:

pūrvavatkumbhayetprāṇaṃ rechayediḍayā tathā |
śleṣhma-doṣha-haraṃ kaṇṭhe dehānala-vivardhanam || 52 ||

Since Ujjāyī is a Kumbhaka, it makes sense that it would include instruction for breath retention.

So, in our practice, we are only "breathing freely with sound".


Aug 11, 2012

Beginner's Guide to Yoga (Styles, Schools, Traditions) by Elise Espat

 I'll be honest.  My first official yoga classes were with Jane Fonda on a VHS tape in my living room.  When I eventually mustered up the courage to find a teacher, I had no idea what to look for, or even that there were different styles.  Overwhelmed, I made my decision based on 2 factors: location and price.  I ended up at a great place with some wonderful teachers.  I was really lucky.  This was years ago when there were maybe three places from which I could choose from in my area...and I was living in New York City!  Now, it is impossible to walk down the block in NYC without running into at least one yoga establishment.  While the vast number of options might feel overwhelming at first, consider yourself lucky.  More options mean more possibilities of finding something that really works for you.

Most yoga schools, shalas, studios, gyms, church basements, etc. offer Hatha yoga.  While the teachings might overlap some of the other systems such as Raja, Bhakti, or Karma, the foundation will be a physical practice with a combination of asanas (body positions) and breathing.  

Some popular practice styles and terms:

Ashtanga / Mysore
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, R. Sharath Jois, Saraswathi Jois

Bikram Choudhury

Dharma Mittra
Sri Dharma Mittra

Sharon Gannon and David Life

Swami Sivananda, Swami Vishnudevananda

Website: various

Part 2 coming soon.

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