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Truth and Method. AY:A2 Summer Retreat.

Stone Arch, Summer 2012

Stone Arch, Summer 2012

 

What is honest practice?

What is the relationship of strong method and insight that goes beyond technique? Is it even possible to stay devoted to a practice for many years without a break?

These questions have been floating around. We will take the mental conditions they create (like curiosity, and doubt, and faith) and let them dissolve in raw experience, just by hanging out together. This retreat doesn’t offer answers, but strong inspiration for practice is a very good bet.

       WHEN. 

July 6, 2014. 10-4. (Mysore practice from 8-9:30.)

May 30-July 5. Many ashtangis will come to Ann Arbor for the whole Fourth of July weekend or longer, so a series of spontaneous gatherings the first week of July is likely. A potluck on Friday evening, the Fourth, is likely. Let me know you’re around and I will put you on the mailing list for the whole week.

       WHO.

Open now to all regular Mysore practitioners at AY:A2. And to home practitioners around the country who work with me.

Retreat opens May 15 to anyone with a daily practice in the yoga tradition: drop a line now for the wait list.

       WHAT.

July 6. (1) Regular morning Mysore practice (for AY:A2 members, and others by permission), (2) Break for drinks (Ashtangis take over the Drowsy Parrot), (3) Technique class on deep alignment – that of awareness, intention, body and energy (4) simple breathwork, guided pratyhara on working with the in-drawn senses, maybe a little chanting (5) Lunch (6) Party favors as usual.

First week of July: drop-in Mysore practice for daily practitioners who are visiting. Daily meditation group for those with an established sitting practice. Random technique discussions with AJ if the need arises. Farmers markets. Walks in the Arboretum. River kayaking. Picnics. Sparklers. Spontaneous hanging out. Whatever community you want to create with others on the same path of daily practice.

       WHERE.

July 6 is at Stone Arch, a decommissioned church in downtown Saline. (Pictured above.) Carpool available.

If you need accommodation for multiple nights in Ann Arbor, let AJ know, or check Craigslist. Many university students and professors leave town for the summer, so accommodation close to downtown is easy to find.

       TO PREPARE.

(1) Register by email, and pay now to confirm.

(2) Practice your head off. If there is ever a day you don’t “want” to practice, that’s an opportunity to burn off an old habit. Take it. If you run in to trouble, use the anticipation of this retreat as motivation.

(3) Do not actually read the book Truth and Method. If you want to read something, go for the 2013 edition of The Yoga Makaranda, by TKV Krishnamacharya; Chip Hartranft’s translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Steven Mitchell’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita. Solid gold yoga texts.

       PRICE.

Sliding scale for July 6: (1) Full-time academic students or those in financial need: 65. (Talk with AJ if you have financial concerns.) (2) Middle class people: 115. (3) Support a diverse student body: 145.

Regular Mysore practice is $20 for the day or $100 for the week. Talk with AJ if you have an unbroken daily practice and are in financial need.

       THEME.

What is honest practice? Does my mind have to be 100% concentrated? Do my intentions have to be 100% pure? Do I have to practice with no attachment to results?

Ummmmmmmm.

Faith helps, but sometimes it goes away. Consciousness awareness really helps, but sometimes consciousness gets weird. We can still practice.

This retreat is named for Hans-Georg Gadamer’s 1960 opus, Truth and Method. Those of you who have read it will have experienced the same re-recognition that rocked through me in considering the question of honest practice: Truth is a feature of conscious experience. That’s it. It is not outside of us. Moreover, our practice is given life  (and given the possibility for integrity) through really engaging with our life’s context – with our history, community, and body-mind activity.

And practice is given life by the way we talk when we talk about yoga. It has to be done some times, but it is a good idea to be careful with language, both the words in our heads and the ones that are spoken. Words create a lot of reality – sometimes too much.

But when the ashtanga practice really catches fire in us, that happens in the belly. Below the threshold of language. There is an honesty in this. A truth.

Pattabhi Jois was a textual scholar who often taught with tiny scraps of language. You take practice. You do. Small words. Modest ideas. More than modest transformation. With SKPJ’s way of being at the forefront, all AY:A2 can really offer is a chance to come together to breathe and laugh and sigh as a group. Questions that have been lurking will get some space to breathe as well.

We’ll get a chance to be around many people whose gritty, gentle sadhana isn’t a belief system, or something to prove. It is just a condition of their unfolding being. I don’t know of something more honest than the way a devoted practitioner moves through her life. Chances are you already embody more of that honesty than you think.

Retreat space is limited.

The Unknown

The Pilgrimage by Olivia Fraser

The Pilgrimage by Olivia Fraser

When you do your pilgrimage it’s not easy. Nothing will disturb you. Your aim is to see God. If it becomes easy it is not a pilgrimage. -Sharath Jois, January 2014

 

There are structures of experience so deep that it’s sort of wrong to talk about them. Wrong or ridiculous. Taboo either way.

Let’s see if I can find a light touch for this.

So in the fall, there was this question around the shala, of why I won’t help people plan their first trips to Mysore. Why I won’t help you game the system at the big shala here, so that you don’t have to go through the same awkward learning process as everyone else. Why Mysore is not a place for us to hang out.

Or – more to the point – why I don’t say much or try to fix things when a person has big questions about Janu B or Marichy C, or kapotasana, or kurmasana or urdhva dhanurasana – any one of the postures that’s bringing up emotion or confusion. Bringing up pain patterns that may be energetic or emotional in nature.

I just don’t want to get in your way.

Ok, now and then I can toss out practical information so you don’t waste time or do something dangerous. Ahimsa, always. But if I get in the way of your going through awkward or scary learning processes, you might not realize how smart and strong you are. If I hold your hand every time you come up against the unknown, then you’ll never realize how skillful you can be when the chips are down.

Besides the matter of your own growth, there’s the matter of the collective. If the majority of you don’t become Jedis who can play and create at the edge of what is not known, how is our method –how is consciousness—going to evolve?

Here’s the thing. There is a structure of transformation semi-hidden below the threshold of awareness. This is myth – not in the sense of fantasy stories, but in the sense of structures in consciousness that our nervous systems recognize and use for inner journeys. One of these structures is what’s sometimes called (we probably need a better term) the hero’s journey.

Kung Fu movies, D&D, the Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Eminem, Murakami, Obama, the Dalai Lama… straight up hero’s journey mythos, all of it. If you think I’m talking Joseph Cambell, well you’re sort of right. But consciousness is changing, and fast. There have been 3 more waves of humanity, plus a raft of new role playing games and Hollywood-Bollywood epics, since Campbell put clothes on the ghost.

Here are some pieces of this vinyasa that I think have been common for figures from Arjuna to Catness Everdine. If you want your nervous system, your unconscious, your edge, to be summoned, then it might be a good idea let something like this structure of experience envelop you. You don’t need to force it. Conscioness is already patterned like this; it knows how to unfold.

There is usually a call of some sort. A tug. And usually we start by saying no. But there are guides who champion us, and who make stagnation begin to feel unbearable. If we accept the call to self discovery, there is a crossing of the threshold into the unknown. In that realm there are helpers who represent grace, and nemeses who represent our own inner BS. Dark nights are weathered and dragons are slain – therein the ego has been drawn out of the shadows, directly confronted, and a little bit of mastery has graced us as a result. Eventually there is a denoument, when we ache for the people and places that represent home. So we return to “normal” life. Which, we finally see, has all the same treasures as the adventure realm. Normality becomes illuminated with sparks of the unknown, everywhere. Reality is enchanted. And our work becomes, always, offering whatever it was we found in the unknown realm as a gift to our communities. Making what has been given to us available to those who ask. And waiting for the next call.

The main thing in this is that it is beneficial, at key times, to step in to the unknown. Actions that scare us even though they’re not actually harmful, or anything representing danger to the ego – these things are FULL of potential or blocked energy. They are your vehicle forward, on key occasions, when the timing is right.

Some of us tough cases have to go all the way to far-off lands to shore up the myth. That was the story of my 20s, whereas my last three years have been an epic of getting grounded in the most mundane possible circumstance, so that its normalcy will be eroded and enchanted by the natural/supernatural appearance of a yoga shala. Smarter people can find it in the grit of a daily morning yoga practice (I see you: you can do it), in quitting smoking, or in a commitment to make every movement from the intelligence of the heart. You all all found it last week in the Polar Vortex, practicing in conditions in some ways more revealing and deepening than those I encountered the same week here in Mysore.

But about India. I’m going to make a bold statement about ashtangis who tell you to stay away, the same way they told me to stay away for many years. Westerners who have been here and back and lived to resent it may, just perhaps, have a special hatred for losing control. I could be wrong here. But for those of us with a perfectionist streak (which I sincerely admire, because I know intimately how sloppy and lazy one can be when born without it), Ashtanga can feel like a program for getting the minutae of life under control. Even if you know, on some level, that you have to die.

But then the person in control comes to India and the expectations game goes to crap. Society won’t cooperate. Objects won’t cooperate. Your body won’t cooperate. So you have to work with your immediate intelligence. You have to trust your gut, and trust other people. You have to let go of your way of doing things. If that’s your dragon, then India is a great place to find her. And with her, your entitlement, your hard-heartedness, the dark and light sides of your survival drives, your relaxed stability, and possibly your love. And maybe you also find something else… a particular energy that comes out of this particular vortex and seeps into you and becomes the gift you take with you when you go. That energy comes in and really makes its mark if you intend to pick up on it and let it change you on a cellular level. Spending all energy collecting other keep-sakes (stuff, asana porn-shots, or even experiences) can distract from this.

For me, India has been a different sort of journey – one of an observing/exploring introvert learning to be in community and in deep friendships. And one of a hard-headed academic + rebellious preacher’s kid surrendering to a lineage, and to her love for a teacher and a community. The study-trips here have called me out in different ways, time and again.

In any case, India is spiritually intelligent in the extreme– intelligent in a way westerners don’t even believe exists. The understanding of individual and collective and (yes) cosmic consciousness that this society has developed reveals in contrast the special backwardness of the western mind. India is also violent in the extreme. The obvious, somehow normalized mass suffering and inequality here could shake you to the core, break you, show you just what are the limits of your compassion and then push those limits a mile or three. But here is the thing. Unlike almost all other beings in India, if you are my student and you visit, you will have a hidden support system. You will never, unlike many other beings here, have to sleep in a gutter. You will never be sick without access to care and love and the best of western and eastern medicine. Somebody has got your back.

But forget about that. If this particular strange trip is one you’re called to, you’ll get the best mileage if you take the big steps alone.

How to practice by yourself.

Basement practice. Montana. March 2012.

This post is a response to questions from AY:A2 practitioners who are leaving Ann Arbor for the holidays in 2013. Anyone else is welcome to make use of it, with the caveat that the content is inspired by students I work with directly in this particular place and time.

1. Boundaries help.

Create a tight container. In the words of Iyengar teacher Paul Cabanis, the mind loves to be bound. Give yourself 90% of the time you think you need, and 90% of the space you think you need. Use these constraints to press your energy into a more concentrated stream.

Now, do not faff around. You don’t have the time and you don’t have the space. If you’re noticing the dry skin on your toes, you still have too much time and too much space. Also, do abhyanga later.

Ask companions or family to respect the bounded time-space of your practice. More on this below.

 2. Create ritual.

Part of my work is structuring experience so that participants will enter into acute yet spacious states of consciousness, and so that experiences will take on clear meaning that registers deeply with the nervous system.

Most teachers like to keep this a secret, but there are certain vinyasas – ways of putting things together – that help generate transformational space-time. Here’s a good one for self practice, taken from the Vajrayana branch of Buddhism and articulated recently by a wonderful writer, my friend Susan Piver. The effect of this particular vinyasa is to create a ritual or sacred space-time around a certain activity.

        (A) Make offerings.     (B) Ask for blessings.     (C)  Dedicate the merit.

For (A), I suggest just offering your self. Your mental state, your body, your resistance, your striving, your excitement, your badassery, your whatever. Offer this self – give it away as fuel for your practice fire – in the ritual space of the mat.

Then (B) say the opening mantra. This is a thanks and a request for support from the whole lineage of teachers’ teachers’ teachers. You name-check Patanjali and tip your hat to your whole community of practice. Let them all bless you.

Finally (C), say the closing mantra. It concludes with the statement may all beings in all worlds be blessed followed by a benediction for peace within you, in your environment, and in the forces that act on you. So, the effects of the practice are not for the small ego-self. Dedicate the ease in your body, the relaxed mental state, the openness of the heart, the balance in the breath… to any one or any thing that is not the acquisitive self. Give it to your immediate companions this day, or maybe to the strangers or animals around you everywhere, or—if you are a real Jedi knight—give it to the assholes in your life. (One might want to take advantage of the assholes now, because they may soon neutralize or disappear.)

3. Start early.

Start your practice before you start your practice. When do you need to start? The night before? How about right now, two weeks in advance? See those practices. Feel them. Be thankful for them now, already.

Future suffering can be eliminated. Future wellbeing can be cultivated. Karma is just the law of cause and effect. Thoughts are causal forces.

If you haven’t tried morning practice after little to no dinner the night before, self-practice may be the time. For 2 in 3 practitioners, scaling back on dinner will make you sleep better and wake up more energized with much stronger bandhas. (For some, however, you will find that a substantial dinner is exactly what you need for strong practice the next morning. Depends on your constitution.)

As for putting practice off until after breakfast, or after errands, or after a nice talk with family, no. I do not suggest giving yourself this out. Instead, get up a little early, brush your teeth, and then brush your brain. Do not make practice the main event of the day. The mind will be even weirder if you wait until afternoon, especially during holidays. This is a morning practice.

4. Gear.

Build a mat stash. This holiday, take the cheap-o mat you used the first month of practice (before you invested in a long term mat) and leave it in the attic at your family’s house. Next year, it’ll be waiting for you.

Otherwise, get a little manduka travel mat. If you’re flying, you can fold it in a square and put it at the bottom of your carry-on. Or count your mat-bag as your personal item.

Take some tealights and maybe a couple of other ritual objects. (Personally, I like rocks.) Once the candle flame is lit, it represents your awareness. Guard your awareness.

5. Breathe.

Initiate movement with breath. That’s it. Do not allow your limbs to move unless the breath is there a microsecond beforehand. This technique is huge. If it’s the ONLY thing on this list you do, you’ll be fine.

The one concern I have about you practicing alone is that you’ll teach yourself to breathe incorrectly (including the potential loss of bandha). Students breathing wrong in self-practice is one of the four things I worry about in this life. (The others are fracking, factory farms, and Coca-Cola). So please have compassion. Don’t join the ranks of fracking and Coke. Breathe correctly.

6. Relationships.

Let your companions know you’re teaching yourself to do something that is very important to you. Most likely they’ll support this in a way you can feel on the mat. Not only will companions respect your boundaries – they’ll give energy to your practice simply through their love and respect of what you’re doing. The energy from loving relationships is VERY real and it shows up strongly on the mat.

One way to garner the respect and support of loved ones is to be low maintenance. DO NOT MAKE YOUR PRACTICE THE MAIN EVENT OF THE DAY. Get it done, and don’t ruminate or talk about it. People care about the effects of our practice, not our thoughts about it.

When I left academia, I feared that my romantic partner since 1998 (who is now a Sociology professor) would find me boring if I lost touch with the cutting edge of intellectual life. But he told me that my relationship with the yoga displayed far more integrity than my relationship with my research (as an academic, I got hung up in cleverness and in sophomoric applications of my hyper-analytical mind, and was easily distracted by shiny informational objects). Rob actually liked the devotion and discipline the practice brought out in me over time.

My guess: your loved ones really can relate with your highest self, and on some level they admire your intention to practice. On some level, they want you to be grounded and loving and healthy and awake. I suggest relating with your practice in a sort of humble way, that minimizes self-obsessed dramas and brings a sense of the sacred to your side of your relationships. Ironically, the more genuine and modest you are about personal practice, the more energy you’re likely to get for it from the people in your life.

Not recommended: performing your practice. Don’t do it for a crowd. Don’t record it for the internet. Yes, performing it will give you all kinds of energy and focus. That’s how attention works – performers take energy from people watching us. (If this doesn’t make sense, try thinking of daily life as an energy awareness classroom for a while. Notice what sorts of activities give or take energy, and the different qualities energy takes on. Once this makes some sense, consider these energy economies from the point of view of your personal ethics.) Here’s the issue: is there an egoic by-product of doing your so-called self-inquiry as a performance piece? Please factor that one into the equation in deciding whether mainlining the attention of others is worth it for you in the long term.

7. Music.

Possible life raft. It may save you a few times if you’re drowning on the mat.

I used music for the first few self-practices after I landed in Michigan in 2010, and somehow it created a cushion around the intense grief over leaving my community and home in Los Angeles. It got me through the very difficult phase of establishing a new habit, in the presence of a hardcore delusion-fest (i.e., self-pity and longing for another situation).

If you use music, know that it will likely push parts of your real experience deeper into unconsciousness. The more variable the music, and the more words it has, the more it will push you around. So choose something with an energy you really want to match with your nervous system, and keep the lyrics to a minimum.

If you rely on music for the long term, some deeper long-term transformations may get buffered out. Obviously, you can do gymnastic yoga all day long while listening to music, and you will progress in the physical practice and also achieve some nicely adrenalized mental states. That is not the method.

That said, if this is a music sort of a day, so it is. Let the assistance do its work of shifting your mind-body state. Don’t fight it or regret it. Go with the flow.

Over time, you’ll generate the flow just by stepping on the mat.

Yes, you will.

Blessings, love and respect to you this holiday. It’s your practice and you know exactly what to do.

 

It’s Not About the Content: A Retreat on Listening

 

Stone Arch, Summer 2012

Stone Arch, Summer 2012

WHEN. 

July 21, 2013. 10-4. (Mysore practice from 8-9:30.)

WHERE.

Stone Arch, a decommissioned church in downtown Saline. (Pictured above.) Carpool available.

WHO.

Open now to all regular Mysore practitioners at AY:A2. Retreat opens June 21 to anyone who has taken class with me and has a daily practice in the yoga tradition: drop a line now if you’re interested.

WHAT.

(1) Regular morning Mysore practice (for AY:A2 members, and others by permission), (2) Break for drinks (Ashtangis take over the Drowsy Parrot), (3) Technique class on integrating asana, pranayama and pratyhara, (4) Breathwork and guided pratyhara on working with the in-drawn senses, including techniques for enhancing the likelihood of spontaneously dropping into stillness, (5) Lunch by Kasia, who catered our summer 2012 retreat, (6) Party favors as usual.

TO PREPARE.

(1) Register by email, and pay to confirm.

(2) Watch this closely. Read this closely. Unlike our previous retreats, there is no book. Instead, read the book of your own life, as Krishnamurti urges in the article above. But read your life, listen to your inner world (body and mind together) not for meaning or for content: listen instead like John Cage says he listens.

(3) Play with the dharana technique BKS Iyengar describes in Light on Yoga: when you are looking intently at an object, look with your ears. Sound impossible? Just play and notice the effects. We will work with this in detail on the retreat, and that experience will be much more interesting if you do some practice beforehand.

PRICE.

Sliding scale. (1) Full-time academic students or those in financial need: 50 (this is below cost – please do come). (2) Bourgeois Professionals (you might be bourgeois if… you think you might be bourgeois): 100. (3) Support a student: 125.

THEME.

Once an artist invited me to write an article about subjective experiences of energy in the body. I interviewed a dozen ashtangis, spent hours interpreting and embellishing their stories, then edited everything into a florid, evocative cantata. And then: the artist translated the whole thing to braille. Everything down to the byline: just some bumps on a smooth plane.

Can the meaning-making function be perceived as nothing but ones and zeroes, or like a series of raised dots? Yes! And beautifully so. John Cage describes it thus:

When I hear what we call music, it seems to me that someone is talking. And talking to me about his feelings, and about his ideas, of relationships…. But when I hear traffic, I don’t have the feeling that anyone is talking. I have the feeling that sound is acting. And I LOVE the activity of sound. It gets louder and quieter, higher and lower, and it gets longer and shorter… I’m completely satisfied with that. People expect listening to be more than listening, and so sometimes they speak of the meaning of sound. When I talk about music, it finally comes to people’s minds that I’m talking about sound that doesn’t mean anything…. I love sounds just as they are and I have no need for them to be anything more than what they are. And the sound experience which I prefer to all others (smile), is silence.

This retreat, and the sensitizing exercises of the next six weeks, are about raw listening. Close listening. Naked listening. Minimalist listening. A sort of receptivity that not only (1) sets the stage for consciousness to fall into a restful state, but is also (2) completely OK with the fluctuations of the mind just as they are.

Classical yoga offers thousands of techniques to change our inner experience. This is good. But having a body means that fluctuations will arise. The same is true for having a mind. If you breathe, there will be vrittis.

So, in addition to having the tools to quiet or the mind, it is also good – and surprisingly enjoyable at times- to be able to step back and let experience be whatever it wants to be. No fix-its. No analysis. Just hanging out, consciously, with the mind as it is.

Minimalist listening of this sort is a big part of yoga. It is a kind of self-acceptance. And as the patterning of the mindbody’s blips and bump become clear, a door in consciousness opens to calm, curious self-appreciation. It brings on a John Cage sort of laughter… the kind doesn’t mean anything at all.

Space is limited. But not particularly exclusive. Drop a line to inquire.

REFERENCES.

Brenda Ueland’s essay “The Art of Listening” in Strength to Your Sword Arm: Collected Writings; Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar; The Listening Book, William Allaudin Mathieu’s  collection of techniques for musicians on savoring sound and sharpening your ear; and Shinzen Young’s magnum opus, Five Ways to Know Yourself as a Spiritual Being, esp. pp. 22, 36, 53 and 93. Thanks to Christopher Conn of Edinburgh for inspiring the theme.

AY:A2 Apprenticeship

Thank you, AY:A2 students, for your support of the apprentices I’m training. Your generosity of spirit affects them in very good ways. Because several of you have said you’d like to hear about what I’m up to with this apprenticeship stuff, and because I want you to feel that you’re part of this, I’m going to dish. What we’re doing is actually somewhat bold, if not a tiny bit subversive.

When AY:A2 incorporated in 2011, I gave it a dual mission. First and most important, we support yoga practice with the resources of a teacher, a method, and community. Second, AY:A2 will provide teaching mentorship in a way that benefits not just our shala but the wider ashtanga community and the future of the practice.

The second mission has attracted much of my creative energy for the past year. In return for this creative investment, training apprentices has begun to give me all sorts of happiness as well as confidence in the future of the ashtanga practice.

How AY:A2 can serve the future of the practice.

For ashtanga teachers, transitioning from sadhana to seva (from self-focused practice, to service) can be weird. It can stunt one’s growth dramatically if done without sufficient (1) preparation as a student, and (2) support from teachers and community. When this transition is made because the student puts herself in the teaching role, and not because her own teachers identify her as sufficiently skilled and prepared to teach, the challenges just mentioned are multiplied.

(Subtext: do not get in to ashtanga teaching unless you full-on cannot avoid it. Resist!! Don’t give yourself over to it unless you basically have to do it in order for your own practice to grow, and unless you have tons of support.)

Given these challenges, most teachers need active, invested mentors to whom they are accountable. (I do.) They need a (1) clear method and (2) a sense of history to keep from getting confused. They need to have strong equanimity and mental clarity, so they can (1) stand outside today’s “yoga” market and culture hype and (2) influence that culture positively.

Teachers need to be able to identify, and resist, the ego’s urge to use teaching to feed root chakra needs: money, sex, power, and attention.

(Subtext: yoga BS, and yoga scandals, happen when teachers don’t have all the support they need. Or when they fail to realize that they actually do have sufficient money, sex, power and attention – and thus they constantly grasp after more and more of the same. This happens when we don’t have anyone to call us on our, well, crap.)

It’s going to take time, but the vision is to find some mature practitioners, and offer them exactly this sort of support. When they’re done, they can use this training however they choose. So far, we’ve found that just going through the apprenticeship process is a great joy for me, and inspiring for them. We work sort of hard. But in the big picture, it gives more energy than it takes.

Apprenticeship here is invitation-only, merit-based, and free.

I look for compassion, open minds, and relaxed self-discipline. All apprentices:

(1) have been practicing daily without a break for at least two years and preferably longer,

(2) deeply understand the ashtanga method on its own terms, and

(3) have been drawn intuitively into some sort of meditation practice without any push from the outside.

(Subtext: don’t ask.)

Before they begin apprenticing, I ask for three commitments:

(1) continued daily practice (before teaching, even when that means getting up at 3am),

(2) full-on forgiveness regarding any lingering issues with any previous yoga teachers, and

(3) a commitment not to get romantically or sexually involved with any student in the shala.

After they start apprenticing, I ask that they meditate daily. Apprentices assist about one day per week (so you as students get used to them). And they meet with me 2-4 times a month for an informal talk like those I used to have with Dominic after assisting him. Unlike just about everyone else, apprentices have my phone number and a high level of access to my energy. They’re encouraged to start exploring new questions and lines of study regarding yoga. I get interested in whatever interests them, so that I can be an interlocutor regarding their individual lines of historical, physiological, spiritual or whatever inquiry.

Apprenticeship ends.

Apprentices get 200 hours from AY:A2. After the first 100 hours of classroom assisting, they do have the option to choose to continue assisting me for another 100 hours or so if they’re still learning from it. However, this can’t go on forever. Somewhere around the 200 classroom hour threshold (300 hours total), AY:A2 starts paying apprentice teachers.

This goes to the point of the motives for the apprenticeship program. The motivation is to support great teaching.

My legacy is to avoid apprentices as much as possible. For example, when I started assisting Dominic, he had about 60 students per day at the flagship Yogaworks in Santa Monica. Many people in that scene wanted to assist him, because he was a yoga somebody and his vibe was so crackling-intense, ego-blinding and badass that being around him was an education in itself. But… he wasn’t interested in assistants. Same goes for Sharath – it was only after much resistance that he allowed authorized teachers to assist him in the shala in Mysore, and he only did this as an alternative to the residential teacher training program, when he discontinued it. So that’s where I’m coming from. I’m not looking for help in the Mysore room.

But, working with apprentices excites me tremendously. This might be a little weird. Training apprentices does take a lot of work and it does generate new responsibility for me to carry. Eh, whatever. It gives me a chance to do even more yoga, and to fill my own need to have a positive impact on the world. If this stuff didn’t excite me so much, I’d find an easier way to train assistants or just not bother to do it at all. 

This program is politically conscious.

The majority of yoga teachers are exploited. Exploiting them is easy because they’re inexperienced as practitioners and poorly trained as teachers. But exploitation, inexperience and poor training don’t help anyone – not really.

I had to read Das Kapital backwards and forwards to understand labor relationships well enough to see that exploitation of yoga teachers (combined with expensive teacher trainings that flood the labor market) is where studios make a profit. But most people are quicker studies than me: you can see how the industry works. (I actually enjoy teaching for little or no money. But that’s another matter, related to the way I define my own “profits,” given that my basic needs are already fully met.)

But here’s the thing. Trying to pretend you know what yoga is when your practice is not fully developed is a formula for arrested development. Thrusting a person into this job for matters of convenience is not cool. It’s the reason western yoga is full of elementary-level instruction trying to pass itself off as something more by adding special effects.

(Subtext: when you meet someone who wants you to teach regardless of whether you’re ready, and for matters of their own convenience, is that your teacher? Do you deserve better?)

Teacher training and the KPJAYI.

A note about a promise I have made to my teacher, R. Sharath Jois. Apprenticeship here is a support to (not a substitute for) travel to the main ashtanga school in Mysore, India. Like all of us blessed to teach by the KPJAYI since about 2007, I have promised not to participate in western style teacher trainings. We sign a contract: no teacher trainings.

A KPJAYI diploma is a basic qualification for starting one’s own, independent, full-on Mysore program. It is a professional criterion in a field with low barriers to entry. Those who take leadership positions in this profession without it tend to have difficulty feeling fully supported in their work. This may come out in all sorts of ways. And it may be passed on to students in still other ways. It is so hard to grow when we feel we have to defend our basic territory. I want more for AY:A2 apprentices. It is good to be fully nourished in your personal practice, and in your teaching practice.

Besides, the transmission thing is no joke: spending time on the ground in Mysore brings a particular taste of BS-transcending, firey, relaxed excitement to a teacher’s vibe. Making the sacrifices required to get there simplifies life and priorities – which one has to do anyway in order to run a Mysore program without being crushed under its weight.

Love.

On that note, a restatement of the obvious. Training apprentices in a focused, personal, high quality way floats my boat. I do it for kicks. It’s just the particular way that my excitement for the practice is manifesting now. Within the parameters I have set, the program will change over coming years. And over time we will bring in visiting teachers who have their own unique approaches to apprenticeship.

My own training in the beginning was unsystematic, informal, random, and hilarity-imbued. And this was perfect! I’m still being mentored in my teaching, in many ways too intimate or subtle to mention, and much too specific to reproduce for others. There’s no one way to learn to teach.

This just happens to be my way of taking maximum joy in my work. So, again, AY:A2 crew, thank you for being awesome to the apprentices. You are implicit teachers to them, and I’m glad to see you enjoying their presence in the room.

APRENTICES.

Rachel Garcia. Rachel was introduced to Ashtanga yoga in Reno, Nevada in 2007. She has practiced under the guidance of Angela Jamison six days a week since April, 2011. She completed a 200 hour teacher training course through the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center in 2005 and has taught Sivananda and vinyasa style yoga classes since 2006. In April of 2012, she began assisting, and then co-teaching, the Mysore Light class on Sundays, and in September of the same year she began assisting one day a week in the regular Mysore style Ashtanga yoga classes. A licensed massage therapist, she is also a student of kiniesiology at the University of Michigan.

Rose Tantraphol. I’m fuzzy on exactly when I stumbled into my first led ashtanga class, but I still distinctly remember the feeling of intrigue, of knowing I needed to return. There weren’t shalas where I lived in western Massachusetts, so I did what I could based on books (hint: not much). I had the chance several years ago to start taking led classes a few times a week, but that wasn’t enough to truly manage the chitta vrittis. In August 2011, more than a decade after that first taste of ashtanga, I found my rhythm and started the traditional Mysore practice schedule. The six-day-a-week ashtanga practice has been my Rosetta Stone, helping me decode how to eat more mindfully, meditate more consistently, keep work stress at bay, and simply feel more comfortable in my own skin.Thanks to AY: A2, I’ve traded in my night-owl proclivities for early-bird habits, which include making the hour-long drive from Lansing to Ann Arbor to practice four or five times a week.Passions other than ashtanga? Blogging at YogaRose.net and salsa dancing with my husband, Scott. (Salsa dancing at the Phoenix Center, by the way, is how I found Angela. Seeing that little calendar posted on the bulletin board would change. my. life.)

Kasia Glanowska…

Tim Visser. Tim began practicing yoga in 1990, when curiosity brought him to a class taught by Elizabeth Bunker during his last year of law school.  Living in Boston at the time, he had the opportunity during that decade to study extensively with senior Iyengar yoga teachers Karin Stephan, Patricia Walden, and Peentz Dubble.  He also studied with Barbara Benagh, with her unique style inspired by Angela Farmer, and taught himself the ashtanga sequence from Beryl Bender-Birch’s “Power Yoga” book shortly after its debut in 1995.  This century, after moving  back to Ann Arbor, Tim has gradually intensified his focus on Ashtanga, first at the weekly Inward Bound class led by Jonathan Tyman, then almost daily at the former Yoga Shala in Ann Arbor where he also participated in teaching led and Mysore-style classes, next as a founding member of the A2shtanga yoga cooperative, and finally (and gratefully) with the AY:A2 program as it was conceived and gradually grown after Angela’s arrival here in 2009.  He is thankful to his wife Jimena and kids (Miranda & Owen) for their support of his householder practice.

How to practice when hell’s freezing over

Yesterday, a wave of sadness crushed me to the rocky ocean floor and held me under for an hour. You can read my personal thoughts about that, or just jump to the numbered list below for the practical stuff.

I came in from an appointment, closed the curtains, sat on the sofa and cried. When the chemical-emotional wave ended, some part of my nervous system refused to let it go. So, without realizing what was happening or why, I started thinking sad thoughts. My imagination went on search, landing on a succession of increasingly sad subjects: homeless people; then the hundreds of orphan children I grew up with; then on to wars in the middle east.

This is one way an unenlightened nervous system works under stress. It solidifies the exact experience it wishes it weren’t having. It seizes upon—and identifies with—the thoughts, images and emotions that hurt the most.

Some part of the system relishes the strong sensations of suffering, insists on suffering at all costs. Otherwise, how do I know who I am?

Strong sensation lets me know I’m alive. When that sensation is negative, and not accompanied by equanimity (radical freaking acceptance) it lets me experience myself as separate from everything else. It’s a setup. Suffering + “I’m special and different” = huge ego boost. Getting off on negativity is a version of this: self-loathing and self-congratulation are ego hangups of equal magnitude. They’re both just separateness trips.

It’s all ok. I don’t mind a little ego drama in myself. It is actually important to go to the crossroads and think, hard, about homelessness and war. It is interesting to have full experiences of the range of pleasure and pain. And it opens up space for love when I understand, and then stop getting off on, what it feels like to be radically alone.

But seriously. My seasonal affective jag does not equal homelessness and war. I am not my seasonal affective jag. Because I’m not it, there’s no shame in going through it. And maybe, it’s not just me who feels this. Which would mean this suffering (like all suffering) does not make me special. Instead, the suffering is exactly what makes me just like (almost) everyone else.

I wanted to open up about this in honor of anyone who sensed that an energetic, hormonal or emotional low was part of the territory the past three days. Some of you are stable enough in your yoga practices that you didn’t feel it. Thank you for that stability. If I were only doing my personal practice and not teaching so intensely, I’d likely be with you. This is because when practice stabilizes, the ups and downs become gentle. That’s kind of the point.

But back to the stormy sea. Anyone else cold and nauseous? Darn if this is not a cold, cold ocean. So. Are we going to practice with this situation or what?

YES. But now I’m just talking to those of you who want to do what you want to do. You who have already committed to showing up here, consistently, not for me but for yourself. You who are with me on valuing equanimity as a developmental skill, to using the resistance life throws you to make your practice so much more effective than it would be under “ideal” conditions. So, my job for you is to support that aspiration, to hold you accountable, and to share with you my unshakeable understanding that this is a very, very, very good idea.

I’m not going to try to work the push factors. It’s just not my way. The truth is that my experience of unbroken practice is sourced in love. Practice just really turns me on. I can’t teach you to practice from guilt or shame or self-punishment because I don’t know how. I know people fuel self-punishing neuroses to propel spiritual practice all the time, but it isn’t necessary. Pull factors are what I understand.

So here’s what I’ve got so far. Like all the lists here, it’s a living document open to revision. To improve it, I’d love to add your experiences. Please talk to me about what works for you, or leave your findings in the comments.

1.

One easy way to stay in your practice when there is resistance is by deciding to be awesome. The dead of winter can be a kind of hero’s jourey. And you can use it to discover – and to decide – what you are made of.

The dark side of being a hero is that any stories about how hardcore it is to do what we do will just have to get dismantled later. If it gets you across the squalls of Februrary to think like a badass, ok. But leave the sleek fire-powered Batman wetsuit on the shore when you get to the other side. That thing will get hard to carry, especially when saturated with last season’s stories.

2.

Take a hot shower in the morning. Let the water run on the crown of the head and down the spine. Feel your feet get very warm. Stay in the water just a little longer than you usually would. Same principle at practice: if you wear a long-sleeve layer, leave it on a little longer than you usually would.

3.

Note that practice will give energy, not take it. The Mysore room is a resource for you. It has been created to give you energy, and to ease the everyday resistance that comes with having a body.

This fact might not come immediately to mind if you ask yourself whether you want to go to practice at the one moment you least want to move – in a warm soft bed in the. If you catch the thought “Practice will take too much energy,” please question it or subject it to an empirical test. I sumbit that practicing more + decreased resistance about practicing = waay more energy.

As always, it doesn’t matter what your practice looks like, or how many postures you do. Surya namaskara + savasana = practice. What gives energy is to move and breathe, in the morning, with a single-minded awareness, and with the support of the community, teacher and subtle energy that make the room what it is.

4.

As Amy told me last year, the Mysore room is also a source of long-term internal heat. This is a place where you can heat up your core body temperature warmer than is possible anywhere else. As a result, you will be far more warm all day long.

5.

This isn’t a time that one can afford the energy suck of emotional eating. It isn’t the time to fall back on sugar, excessive wheat or other drug-like foods that leave a hangover.

I assume folks aren’t that in to alcohol, since it is depressive, and toxic, and makes twisting painful. But my husband says that the winter weeknight wallow is such a part of Ann Arbor intellectual culture that I should talk about it for the academics. I don’t know. I always toasted my professors’ cognac with tea back at the UCLA faculty club; it was nice. If eating late, having a beer and staying up an extra hour right now feels like a good idea, ok, that is one coping strategy. It sabotages practice. Please don’t try to do both. Trying to do both is torture. Usually, torture leads to unhappiness.

6.

Gear. Those who have lived here more than a year and aren’t too hip to wear NorthFace know how this works. (My gear is mostly from the thrift store.) If you moved here lately, ask anyone. It’s about a burly winter coat, actual boots, and all the layers you can find. The whole package costs less than a plane ticket to the islands. Please don’t just wait for winter to end: it won’t.

7.

Carpool. A few people are doing this and say it helps tremendously. They say the main resistance to frequent practice is the work it takes to leave the house. Knowing someone is waiting for you cuts through that resistance. Simple.

8.

Or walk. It’s a half mile from my house to the shala. Under all these thrift store layers with Jayashree in the headphones and fire in my belly at 4:30 in the morning, I am sweating by the time I get to the shala door. Even on the mornings it’s below zero. Try it. Could be awesome.

9.

Choose your stories deliberately. They are part of the deep structure of the nervous system.

Here’s an example. I severely frost bit my right foot 15 years ago while sleeping in a snow cave for a month. Not a good scene. For years afterwards, I would lose sensation from the knee down as soon as temps dropped below about 40. This was experienced as a re-traumatization, bringing with it fear and anger. Restoring sensation to the foot was painful, requiring gradual soaking and self-massage. The layers of association of this history with my experience of cold are complex and subtle, and have offered an awesome opportunity to do nervous system surgery on myself this winter. Turns out there is no necessary connection between that older, much less mature, experience of cold and my new experiences of Ann Arbor winter.

But there are other associations I’ve actually revived for the sake of amusement. For example, way down deep, my body remembers ice skating for miles on bumpy frozen irrigation ditches across Montana cornfields when I was a kid. Calling forth that gleeful young ice-skater, and letting her reinhabit me makes skating down treacherous ice-covered streets outright joyous in the early morning hours. My whole body relaxes into the bizarreness of my situation, and adult-y complaints about dangerous street conditions fall away. Kids are smart: they love winter.

10.

Drop your awareness into the belly and leave it there. Draw up your mula bandha, soften the front of the belly, and practice deep breathing into the abdomen. Really deep, even breathing. Imagine a little flame there in the belly, flickering brighter and brighter as you stoke it with breath. Turn the belly into a little crockpot, or as Rachel says, a portable heater. Feel the heat from this fire in the belly radiate up the body and out into the limbs. Get familiar with this technique while seated, and then learn to do it while walking around.

I wouldn’t say this if it didn’t work as well or better than this other practical stuff. If you practice ashtanga yoga, you can make contact with and use subtle body practices of this kind. Do not waste time: if you relentlessly keep drawing your awareness inside and feeling your inner experience very closely, you will learn to interact consciously with your own nervous system.

This too is the point of practice – getting focused and smart enough with your energy and your mind that you can just play with and be fully alive in whatever circumstances. Sadness, coldness, tiredness; vitality, warmth, joy. It is all here.

Yoga 3.0. A retreat for an accelerated culture.

WHEN. 

January 13, 2013. 10-4. (Mysore practice 8-9:30.)

WHERE.

The Stone Arch, a decommissioned church in downtown Saline. (Pictured above.)

WHO.

Open now to all regular Mysore practitioners at AY:A2. Please join us! Retreat opens Dec 15 to anyone I know with a daily practice in the yoga tradition: drop a line now if you’re interested.

WHAT.

– Regular morning Mysore practice

– Break for drinks (Ashtangis take over the Drowsy Parrot… again!)

– A session on some subtle body or alignment principle of use to our group

– A short session on working with vrittis that arise during silent practice (this is a “reveal codes” talk – principles of traditional teaching method articulated!)

– Lunch by Gauri, who catered our 2011 retreats (“The two best meals I had this year were prepared by her” – Tim Veeser)

– Playful discussion of Yoga 3.0

– Gifts for all in attendance generously provided by Dead Sea Warehouse

TO PREPARE.

(1) Register by email, and pay.

(2) Read Chapter 3 of Yoga 2.0 by Remski and Petrie. $9 on Kindle, or borrow my copy.

(3) Mull over what Yoga 3.0 could be. What practical, political, technical, emotional, intellectual, activist, relational, devotional, or other qualities might equip us to create it?

PRICE:

– Full-time academic students: 45 (this is below cost – please do come, students)

– Retirees; Non-profit, industrial and service workers: 65

– Bourgeois Professionals (you might be bougeois if… you think you might be bourgeois): 85

– Support a student: 100

THEME.

In 2010, Remski and Petrie wrote: Yoga 1.0 is history. It is a book on a shelf, and perhaps a lecture talking about the book. Yoga 2.0 is a conversation. 2.0 invokes a move towards empowerment, interactivity, and relationship in its transmission. 2.0 shreds the illusory veils between east and west, and between past and present, between science and spirituality, and between yoga and any other form of intensive inquiry (p. 9).

This is an accurate, rousing description of post-modern yoga. It features not just consuming information, but talking back to it. It breaks old divisions like east/west and past/present. It is non-hierarchical and all-inclusive. For post-modernity, nothing is not yoga.

I would submit that, having encountered post-modern, commercial yoga some time since the 80s, each of you gradually developed a taste for something a little stronger. Yoga 3.0? You moved from being consumers (1.0), to commenters (2.0), and gradually became producers (3.0) of practice. You take your practice everywhere, and can create it under any conditions. This is not to say that any practice is yoga: you know quite well when you fall off your game. And while you are practicing an overtly egalitarian form (Pattabhi Jois said “anyone can do ashtanga, except lazy person”), there is an element of exclusivity in it. Taking action (showing up) does matter. Mastery is real.

Expertise accrues. The expertise you have after 3 years of daily practice is not just the same as that which you had after one year of practicing whatever you felt like just on the occasions you were in the mood. Unlike many post-moderns who mistake their own egoic attraction/revulsion reactions for their “inner teacher” and reject all other teachers because they trust no one, you are capable of being genuine and whole-hearted students. But, thank God (or, rather, thank post-modernity!) you’re way beyond the 70s-era illusion that surrender to what is (isvara pranidhana) is the same as abject submission to an inscrutable guru-authority.

In other words, you have a method, even if (again, thanks to post-modernity) you don’t think that method is perfect or timeless. But you do recognize that yoga has a factual, practical history rooted in India – yoga wasn’t made up in the last five minutes, cosmically speaking. Like Karl Marx, you study and embed yourself in history so as to be more powerful revolutionaries in the present.

When it comes to commercialism, Yoga 3.0 – being self-manufactured – is not marketable in the same way as is Yoga 2.0, which can be all things to all people. Yoga 2.0 is a brilliant grassroots movement, but, ironically, it is also highly amenable to commodification, buzz, and mass market appeal. But, bored by all that, you invest a different sort of energy in practice: your time, attention, and bodily participation. Practice has probably come to give you more energy than it takes, but this is only because you have invested quite deeply on the energetic dimension. That’s what is required to move far past consumption and spiritual materialism into the mindset of production.

Do bits of this sound at all familiar? Either way, I offer these fragments as raw beginnings for the post-post modern zeitgeist. Because I think you’re the ones who will make it happen.

Right now, as we hold our breath for the end of 2012, I suggest we start thinking about the foundation for the yoga that will burst forth after the collective exhale, and after the apocalypse that will never come. Lucky 13 is another turning of the wheel of yoga’s history. Let’s make it a strong revolution. I have no idea what it’ll look like, but I look forward to finding out together.

Space is limited. But not particularly exclusive! Drop me a line to inquire.

 

 

REFERENCES: the novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture by Douglas Coupland. The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx. You might be a redneck if… late 90s comedy routine by Jeff Foxworthy. Yoga 2.0 Mala 1: Shamanic Echoes by Matthew Remski and Scott Petrie.

How to get up for yoga, again.

I’m unconsciously competent. The longer I practice, the less I can articulate how to begin. So I must keep learning from those who are new to ashtanga. Thank you for being open about what’s hard, brave in dropping old habits, and enthusiastic in your own practice. I love this phase of the learning.

At the start, getting up for practice requires strength and guts: I admire you, and we will all support you. Later, you’ll be able to do what you want to do with ease, and will embody that grace to yet new beginners.

Again this year, I’ve surveyed our group to remix the autumn antidote to SAD. The Earth is changing, our student body is changing, the zeitgeist is changing: so, a practice so fine-tuned as ashtanga also has to adapt. (This is true, too, of subtle changes to the method emerging from the main school in Mysore: our old practice is ever new. Because we are ever new.) Anyway, after a month in the lab with your findings, here’s this year’s get-up-early elixir. No kidding: stick to a regular practice rhythm, and ashtanga’s the only prophylactic you’ll need.

1. Alchemize your word.

What’s the value of your word? If you say you’re going to do something, is that an ironclad statement? Is it as good as a 50/50 bet? Is your word more like hot air? If you decide strongly that you are going to be a woman or man of your word, then you can use the golden quality of that word to hold yourself to your own intentions.

Recently, three different practitioners who were struggling to get on the mat consistently got out of their own way with this single, uncompromising practice. They decided to be the kind of people who have zero daylight between what they say they will do, and what they do. In those painful mornings when the bed was especially seductive, they asked themselves if sleeping through the alarm was worth the pain of going back on their own word. It wasn’t. Because they had turned their word in to gold, it was able to cut through tamas, doubt, and even the softest bed.

Thanks for the inspiration. You know who you are.

2. Use the moral values that help you practice; lose the ones that don’t. It turns out that getting your words and actions lined up is efficient. Similar is the Bhagavad Gita’s teaching that a yogi remains detached from the fruits of her actions and simply absorbs her attention into doing her best in the present moment. Ashtanga is not about getting an awesome body or a perfect mind or “nailing” some posture; it’s about maintaining some concentration and equanimity for every breath, regardless of what it looks like.

Grasping for results isn’t morally wrong; it’s just not smart. What we can control is our attitude, not the outcome of actions. So why waste energy fretting about what we cannot control?

By the same token, why waste energy fretting about the past? Most of us—myself included—have absorbed a Puritan meta-morality from western culture. This includes a lot of emphasis on moral purity, with a countervailing internal assault team of guilt, shame, self-loathing and regret.

Total waste of energy. Enough already, Hester Prynne. Regrets for the past kill excitement for the present. You are worthy and you are welcome: if the (internal) puritan mobs come for you, laugh at their feeble 17th century weapons and get your lightning speed mulabandha in gear.

3. The drugs. 1 mg of herbal melatonin 30 minutes before bed for the first 2 weeks. Don’t try to wake up at vastly different times on different days. People seem to suffer too much doing that. A key insight of Ayurveda is that the body loves a stable rhythm. Reset the whole system, so your serotonin-melatonin dynamic is stable.

4. The rock’n’roll. Big sound, bright light and a hot shower in the morning are still key. See here.

5. Practice in the body you have today. The corporeal body… and the student body. The new people having the most fun this year are those rolling out your mats near the veterans. People who have practiced for a while embody a tacit (hormonal, energetic, phermonic?) knowledge that does rub off. Get in!

The veterans’ prime time used to be 7-8 am, but like in most Mysore rooms, it’s crept earlier because they just can’t wait to get on the mat. Most newcomers say it helps to know that getting up early for practice is effortless for so many. (For that matter, my alarm now goes off at 3:30 instead of 4; and in Mysore I usually get on the mat at 4:15. And, to be brutally honest, it’s awesome.) For now, our group’s energy is strongest from 6:30 – 7:30. You can come later if you want! But if you need a boost, you’ll get it by jumping in the 6:30 updraft. By contrast, if you arrive when the majority of people are finishing, what you’ll experience is their most calm, grounded, quiet energy. That’s also very nice, but one cannot really draft off it.

6. Start in with a sunshine lamp routine now. Get one and follow the instructions. If you don’t want to invest the money, ask your friends. Everyone who has one will tell you it changed their life. Michigan newcomers usually suffer their first winter or two before figuring this out. Why waste a year? I use a Phillips goLITE BLU light therapy device.

7. Get closely in contact with your love of the practice. It’s there, even amid suffering, obstacles and madness. Why else are you doing this, anyway? Ayurveda teaches that our deep desires are wise, and that on some level the nervous system knows things. I see different ways that each of you loves, and respects, and gives thanks for this practice. It is personal. I see that some of you love the way your mind and body operate on the days you practice; some of you love the quiet of the mornings; many of you love the sheer honesty of staying with this when it is physically, emotionally or psychically hard.

Whatever it is, that awe and love are high quality fuel (whereas guilt, shame, pride, superiority and achievement are not as great). Love and a little reverence tend to give us all more energy as the rhythms—hormones, appetites, emotions, inner vision, et cetera—find their way into agreement with each other.

This is how it works. Most of us have to effort it strongly at first, and then practice starts to do itself. I see for those of you in your second year that you are not pushing yourselves to practice so much as being practiced. Yes. Once this thing has a strong spin of its own, you move from (1) depending on external practice resources (like high concentration environments, others’ strong energy, and social norms that promote precise mental discipline) to (2) producing them for yourself and others. In this way, too, in the long run the yoga gives more energy than it takes.

Guest Teacher, Dominic Corigliano

Dominic Corigliano is my teaching mentor. He will guest teach Sunday, October 21 – Thursday, October 25, during the waxing moon.

Dominic is coming because he mentioned offhand that he could swing through Ann Arbor, and I took that seriously. I’d like him to see the house that he helped build here. And I’d like for the practitioners here to experience one of the most awesome yoga teachers in the world – someone whose energetic and psychic clarity you have heard me mention with delight and bewilderment.

Finally, because I will not be traveling to Mysore this January due to my responsibilities at the University, I need to create circumstances in which I can be a student in a Mysore room. Having made a long, quasi-sociological investigation of Mysore programs that fail, I’ve concluded that there are three practices of highly effective Mysore teachers. Those who don’t follow these practices tend to  lose sight of the way that one’s teaching practice is just another aspect of ashtanga yoga – a method that systematically checks the ego and endlessly asks us to give up our dull ideas of who we think we are. Anyway, one of the three practices of effective teachers is maintaining strong, loving, respectful relationships with our teachers. All of them. Ever. This builds on an underlying skill we all know, by intuition, that our teachers must practice to be worthy of our trust: that of being a student. Anyway. What a blessing to get to practice asana in the room along with you all.

My time as Dominic’s student, and then as his apprentice, altered the course of my life’s work and my inner evolution. This was a process supported by the the space that he held, by his rare and subtle of cues that would significantly reorient my awareness and guide my energy deeper, by a loving community, and just the method of daily practice itself. The shift that took place in those years was of the ineffable sort, so it’s most honest to pass over it in silence. The most I can say is that I learned to take a predominantly energetic practice (my consciousness was centered in pranamaya kosha) and integrate an awareness of all levels of my being – physical, analytical/discursive, intuitive/psychic and spiritual. The boundaries I’d set up between my practice and the rest of my life began to really fall away. Experiences of weird stillness started to happen, and stayed happening.

I will not project these experiences on to Dominic, but he did hold the space for deep shifts to occur naturally. And he did keep sufficient distance and comfort with uncertainty about what would happen next that I could undergo a phase of very rapid growth. The gratitude is endless.

In general, Dominic’s teaching is energetic. After a while, there isn’t much verbal instruction. He will not fix anything in your practice; he doesn’t think you are broken. He won’t give you a take-away technique, because the teaching is about the present moment. He won’t give you better (insert bugaboo posture here), because he’s too energy-efficient to do anyone’s work for them. As a teacher, he taught me to (1) relax, (2) establish rapport, and (3) shut up. At one point, I felt that I’d had my head ritually anointed with SKPJ-brand teflon – this reflective coating helps transmitters of the method to keep our personalities from distorting our teaching  (having a personality is cool, but I do not teach Jamison yoga); and it helps us not to take stuff personally. SKPJ teflon, turns out, is also quite flexible.

Instead of giving people teachings that can be noted in books or turned into checklists, Dominic shows up and channels the  energy signature of Pattabhi Jois (which, sources say, is also the vibe of Krishnamacharya). It’s not really a big deal; and it’s not something we can grasp on to or take home for later. This way of being is mostly indescribable, because it arises from a nondual awareness that sounds like a myth until it is experienced directly, and consistently. Yet this vibe does have some obvious qualities: diamond clarity of mental awareness, a spacious and not-personal feeling around human interactions, a clean and safe way of honoring the differences between masculine and feminine, and radical equanimity that allows students to drop social hierarchies and comparing-mind.

The signature element of our lineage is fire; and the closer we stay to the source, the warmer and more clean it burns. It doesn’t matter what the physical practice looks like, if we have a perfect body, or if we have a perfect mind. What is that, anyway? High quality heat and light are super effective for buffing out self-torturing ideas we inherit from popular culture. So just show up like usual. It’s no big thing.

Dom is not some yoga celebrity. Yoga celebrity is as dead as the Gaiam mat you shredded in the first month of ashtanga practice. It’s as dead as stock growth at Lululemon. It’s as dead as the animals in the fast food meals that (sorry; it’s the practice’s fault) have stopped smelling good. Dominic’s not anything high and mighty at all. Nobody is. He is a dude who’s got an uncommonly strong line on the source. Turns out, yoga’s just really awesome like that.

Dom does have a resume’ and stuff. It includes 3 decades (thirty.years.) of teaching experience, being the film guy for Pattabhi Jois and Sharath on one of their long world teaching tours, lots of time in India, being one of a handful of Certified teachers, being a father, and husband, and a motorcycle travelin’ man. And funny. He’s very human; and very funny. He’s no-bullsh*t; and he loves to shoot the sh*t. That’s what it doesn’t say in the resume’.

So. This is a pretty awesome moment for ashtanga in our region. To support everyone out here on the new frontier of ashtanga yoga- the Midwest – I will be opening up some drop in slots during Dominic’s visit. Home practitioners out there in neighboring states, or any daily ashtanga practitioner from around the area, this is for you. Saraswati Jois puts it like this: You come. But she means Mysore. That’s more logistics than a drive to A2. Just email and we’ll figure it out.

House Recommendations

Here are a few more out-takes from the House Recommendations. The full document is available to regular Mysore students here upon request.

The House Recommendations are just some suggestions for mental hygiene, efficient learning, and honest practice. They are crafted for ashtangis in their first five years on the mat. If your mind feels closed just now, it’s not useful to read further. If you feel curious and open, then perhaps a few of these will be useful.

The main recommendation is: Streamline. Also…

Breathing

Initiate movements with breath. Literally follow the breath with the movement. NB, practitioners who actually do this tend to be the same ones who can carry off solo self-practice without self-interruption.

Breath is white noise. If your mind is taking you for a ride, replace the auditory sensation of internal talk with the sound of breathing.

Get fascinated by breath in whatever way you can.

Learn to move from the deepest strength in the body: mulabandha and uddiyana bandha as they respond with the breath. This takes great concentration at first. Over time, breath, bandha and driste synthesize into one single practice.

Mental Hygiene

Cultivate positive triggers. These are repeated sensory stimuli that shift you into the mind-body state of practice. The jolt of the car’s ignition, the quiet exhilaration of being awake in the still morning hours, the feel of the door in your hand. Any sensory feedback loop can entrain a state-shift. (Personally, my mornings start with nauli and trataka, followed by a one-woman blues rock dance party. The latter is not typical.) These associations will slowly strengthen your focus, and raise your energy, over time.

Guard your awareness before practice. In the morning, avoid anything that winds up discursive mind. Especially the internet. (If you’re disciplined about this, your verbal/ analytical mind will be smarter when you turn it on later. Mental hygiene increases cognitive function.)

The first part of drste is keeping the eyes in your own space, with only soft, peripheral vision engaged if you want a sense of the whole room. This is huge. Drste gets subtle, but at first it’s simply a commitment to keeping the eyes still. Eyes are powerful. Use them well.

Even as difficult emotions arise, stay in contact with the positive emotions of practicegratitude, confidence, love, joy, humor, ecstasy, calm.

Let difficult emotions and thoughts arise and move on. Observe and note their patterns. Do not repress your experience – this deepens emotional blocks and increases unconsciousness.

Be cautious about repeating negative thoughts (or talk) in a compulsive manner. You have choices about the (inner) environment you inhabit. It’s funny, but physical practice is easiest when there’s a vibe of kindness and generosity to oneself and others. It is possible to cultivate positive emotions and thoughts while accepting and studying any negativity that arises.

Sutra 1.12. Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tat nirodhah. Roughly: It takes both will and surrender. Will doesn’t mean force: it is regular discipline. Surrender is not submission to authority: it is radical acceptance of whatever is happening now.

Another way to describe Sutra 1.12 is as a cheer for (1) concentration and (2) equanimity. These are practices. They’re deliberate choices. They can be life skills. Most westerners lack both. But most people drawn to Ashtanga yoga are intuitively interested in them.

Rhythms

Primary series can be difficult. I’m here because I believe it’s worth your effort. It is the most genius, exacting, and healing program I have found. Aches, tweaks and energy fluctuations diminish dramatically after a couple of years of consistent practice. Be gentle and mindful with any ups and downs.

If you take a break, or practice in an erratic rhythm, significant ups and downs (mental, emotional and physical) are likely. Don’t worry about it. Dial down expectations. Take a cool (detached) interest in the experience.

Practice in the body you have today. No matter what, you can accept and move with the body-mind that’s here right now.

If in doubt, come to class. It’s practice, not a performance. Modify for pain or fatigue if they actually arise. You might be surprised – they may have just been in your head.

To avoid injury: (1) Really know your unique breath pattern. There will be some kind of disruption in the pattern if you’re on the edge of injury. Meditating on the breath is a safety feature. (2) Practice in a regular pattern. If you fall off the wagon, be truthful to your moment-by-moment experience when you come back. Your body-mind needs time to remember things. (3) Toss the NSAIDS. They dull your perception and damage a healthy inflammation response. For muscle healing or soreness, use: rest, castor oil packs, warm Epsom salts baths, zyflamend, anti-inflammatory diet, the old RICE method (if your body responds to it – ayurveda would suggest otherwise), and focused relaxation of protective patterns when appropriate.

To see growth in practice: Relax about transformation. Really. Not only is this the whole practice of yoga, but paradoxically, this attitude is also necessary for developing ashtanga’s specific skillset. The Bhagavad Gita is a sort of mind-blowing story about this paradox.

This practice restores muscles to their full functional length. Strong parts become flexible; flexible parts, if they were weak, become strong. Both types of effort – creating flexibility, and creating strength – happen most efficiently with focus, repetition, and a relaxed attitude.

Three days of practice a week is the minimum to establish any sort of rhythm. Four or five days a week enable significant healing and vitality. Six makes a life practice. It is much more effective to practice a little bit every day than to do big practices every few days.

Ashtanga is a house-holder’s practice. In teaching, my job is to support people whose daily lives are far more complex than my own. As you figure out what level of intensity on the mat is right for you, please stay grounded. Ashtanga yoga is designed to support you in daily life with your family and work.

Experimentation. When you modify a personal habit or way of moving, give it a month of daily practice (or the equivalent) before you re-evaluate it. Otherwise, the judging mind will try to highjack the experiment before there’s enough data for a decent assessment.

Tone

The House suggests: treat yourself and the practice with care. Be aware of the vibe you give off. Be open. Do not be lazy. Be modest. Give space to each other literally and figuratively. Some helpful qualities are: spaciousness, implicit camaraderie, quiet loving-kindness.

Fellow practitioners are a resource. The quality of your practice is enhanced by the quality of theirs, so even out of narrowly defined  self-interest you need to support them to support you. Here are two practices that have helped me. (1) I never talked to others about particulars of my asana practice or relationships with teachers. I let go of that discipline when I became a teacher, because now my practice and lineage belong largely to you. (2) I set the same intention with yoga friends that my husband and I articulated in our wedding vows: to be in relationship in a way that promotes mutual awareness, growth, and service to others. This has helped me to find wonderful friends.

After practice

Leave it on the mat. No need to review or evaluate practice after it’s done. During ashtanga, do ashtanga. Otherwise, do otherwise.

Regrets are a waste of energy. I don’t judge you; I don’t have the energy. Please take it easy on any self-reproach (and on looking down on others – a similar kind of drain). Just practice.

Superiority is poor quality fuel. Our esprit d’ corps comes from better sources. Even if looking down on others has given you energy in the past, eventually it takes more energy than it gives.

I don’t pretend that “it’s all good” out there. There’s probably a good amount of yoga delusion, confusion and egomania out there somewhere in the world. That’s fine. Totally not our business here. Let’s just practice.

Eight limbs. Practice on the mat encompasses limbs 3-5 and sometimes 6 of Patanjali’s classical system: asana, pranayama, pratyhara and (eventually, naturally arising) one-pointed focus.

If you get interested in the first two limbs (social ethics, and what I call the useful virtues), cool. They’re fundamental. If not, ok. Ashtanga method values yama and niyama a lot, but in a relaxed way. Most of the recommendations here actually derive from daily practice of yama and niyama. Virtue is practical, not theoretical. It helps to avoid being uptight about it. Ashtanga is not a religion.

Limbs 7 and 8 (absorption states and godknowswhat) arise on their own if at all—they’re not practices. But there are ways to increase the chances that the last two limbs will sprout. This has to do with developing strong concentration (an incredibly rare skill), and honest equanimity.

Watch the envelope. The boundary between practice and life might shift or go away. If you catch yourself just being fully alive to mundane activity, or emotional ups and downs get less dramatic; if you sleep better; if sometimes you notice you’re projecting instead of just buying in to your own judgements/emotions regarding others (i.e., if you don’t believe everything you think); if there is less experience of the mind reacting to experience with patterns of attraction/repulsion, love/hate, respect/disdain… well, this is all normal. You are doing it right. Come to practice.