Home Retreat

Taking home retreat is a very good thing. It’s also pretty radical. I do a lot of 4-6 hour home retreats, and see this practice as the foundation of my equanimity in the teaching practice.

If this is your first home retreat, start with a half day. If that goes well, you might get in to a routine of doing this annually or quarterly. If you practice Ayurvedic cleansing, you might take a structured half-day retreat with each purgation. After a few short retreats, it would not be unusual to take a full day retreat. If, later, you want to design a multi-day solo retreat, I can help. As of this writing, I have taken 9 highly structured retreats of 6-12 days’ duration.

It’s important to start small because this is a learning process. It does not work very well to re-condition consciousness in a dramatic or abrupt way. Think homeopathy. You want to be able to move in to, and out of, the experience with grace. If your retreat design is “hard core,” or abrupt, then the day after you may feel disoriented. But we’re going for long-term nurturance of our inherent clarity, concentration and equanimity. I think of this as giving mother nature a little extra push in the process of evolving through the medium of our minds.

I’ll distinguish two kinds of home retreat.

First is a “Zen” approach that balances periods of contemplation with sensory nourishment and creativity. The most obvious effect of this program is mental, emotional and digital detoxification. Think of it as de-fragmenting your hard drive. It’s cleansing. Do this style self-retreat first.

Second is a “Pratyhara” style retreat that places more emphasis on silence, stillness and determination. In this approach, we minimize sensory stimulation, and gently increase the duration of the sits to the degree concentration can be maintained. Think of this as pushing back the veil of unconsciousness just a little further than ever before, so that new parts of previously unconscious experience become available to the conscious mind. If you sit a little bit every day after your Ashtanga practice, eventually you may need this kind of retreat in order to open up new territory and dive a little deeper. This kind of retreat benefits from psychic support, and from having a buddy to compassionately tell you if you lose your grounding in ensuing days. Let me and any accountability partners know what’s up.


– Start by planning everything well in advance. When the mind knows that it has retreat coming days or weeks in advance, it takes subtle (possibly subconscious) measures to settle and open up for it.

– Choose your date. Block off 4 hours, starting 1-2 hours after a meal. (You could also start at 4-6 am and conclude your retreat with breakfast; this is a great way to go if it works with your sleep requirements.)

– Ensure there will be no large to-do items on your agenda the entire day. A big to-do list waiting for you can create psychic tension.

 – Ask for the support of family and friends. They probably won’t do anything, unless you live with them and they truly get on board with helping you create silence and stillness for those 4 key hours. In any case, for most of us, it helps the mind concentrate when we feel specially supported in an endeavor of any kind. This also clarifies that contemplative practice isn’t purely selfish if contextualized in the right way. One of the most important uses of contemplative practice is that it makes us both less selfish, and more self-aware, in relationships.

– If you live with people or talkative, super cuddly, pets, explain to them about Noble Silence. Ask them to honor your silence both during your retreat and in the hour or two after – especially during your meal.

In this planning period, do anything else you can to pre-emptively simplify your environment on retreat day. Plan to turn off your wifi at the source if at all possible. Eliminate any scents you can from your retreat space and clean it thoroughly. Shop for simple, sattvic foods.

– Choose your space. Less is more in this regard. One room or even corner of a room will probably be sufficient for a 4-hour retreat. Keeping the space small will focus your energy. For a Zen retreat, I suggest including outdoors space for walking – even if it’s very cold or hot outside, or if there is precipitation.

If it’s a Zen retreat, choose a creative activity. Something that allows for chaos, like drawing, writing or dancing.

– Remind yourself of an idea that inspires you. Look to the foundational content of the Dharana course, or bring in some contemplative writings or imagery that connect you to your most idealistic reasons for practicing.

– In the days before retreat, eat simple and light to the degree possible. A day or two of kitchari would not be a bad idea, and kitchari the day of your retreat is also great.

At least 24 hours before you start retreat, finalize your exact schedule. The schedule should begin with a dedication of your intention, using the inspirational content you’ve already gathered. The point of this is to clarify intention and purpose.

For a Zen style retreat, follow the setting of the intention with 30-60 minute sit, with extra care to the element of concentration. Open the sit with your hatha yoga practices, then stay on your technique. For the remaining four hours, schedule alternating periods of formal sitting practice (including 5-15 minutes of hatha yoga techniques per sit, as appropriate), walking, and creative practice. Sitting periods are 30, 45 or 60 minutes long. Walking periods are 15-30 minutes long and should be outside unless you would be very disturbed by your city’s chaos. (When you’re walking, do not ruminate. Pay attention to your sensory experience only. If you’re believing instead of witnessing your thoughts, remember, it’s not practice.) Add one creative period of 30 minutes, to take place directly after sitting. The last thing you do will be a 30-60 minute sit.

[For a Pratyhara style retreat, do the same as above but take extra steps to ensure relative silence and simplicity in your environment. Eliminate the creative period and the outdoor walking period. As desired, add some 15-minute periods of gentle yoga asana between your sits. Include one sit of at least 90 minutes, increasing to 2, 3 and finally a full 4 hours. Be very careful with the physical body as you increase the duration of your sits. Elevate your cushion higher than usual if needed and give yourself permission to make occasional, non-reactive shifts in the posture.]

– The morning of your retreat, clean your space again and put your kitchari to soak if that will be the meal with which you conclude the retreat.

– DO NOT ALTER THE SCHEDULE. It’s there to support you so that you don’t have to expend most of your energy debating over what to do next. It’s the schedule that you yourself chose. One of the most important things on your first few retreats is learning to rest within the schedule.

During your retreat, it’s fine to drink decaf tea or water between sits. But be careful, because you won’t interrupt a sit to pee; wait for your bell each time. When your final bell rings at the end of the day, there’s a moment take time to notice the effects of the practice and to remind yourself briefly why you did this. Finally, go prepare your meal. Your senses will be sharp and your movements clear and equanimous. Sit down and eat in silence, noticing the sensory experience of eating. [For a Pratyhara style retreat, don’t restrict awareness to sensory experience, but also use the witnessing awareness to gather new information on previously unconscious mental and patterning present when you eat.]

– Use the meal to digest the experience of the retreat. Savor the whole and welcome it into your tissues, into your being.

Finally, here is a concluding mental vinyasa for strengthening resolve. Think of who (or what) besides your small self benefits from your taking practice, and consider offering the new benefits of the day’s practice to that entity or ideal. (This is sometimes called “dedicating the merit” of one’s practice, and it’s done to prevent the buildup of the idea that one is some sort of spiritual superhero.) Think of a resource, being or coincidence that inspires gratitude. Then, as a result of that thought, possibly experience gratitude. 😉 Finally, again notice the effects of the practice on a physical, emotional, energetic, mental and psychic level. Is it working? Decide now if you want to do this again some time in the future.

Then go do the dishes.

In a little while, find an awesome way to break your silence. With some gravitas, and with some grace.




You taught yourself to wake up for yoga. And how to wake up for yoga again. Maybe the nervous system needed a month or so to repattern. And maybe, by now, your body has forgotten what it felt like when that was really hard.

Now that you can be wired in the morning, is it just as easy to be tired at night? In a culture where rest is something we pay to experience in artificial (spa) or far-flung (vacation) environments, the winding down skills aren’t so obvious. So it may take more clarity and subtlety to learn deep relaxation than it took to learn to wake up for yoga. If you choose to accept this mission, it might take an explicit commitment, and deliberate placement of the attention, over and over again.

One Ayurvedic definition of health is ability to maintain a balanced environment both within and around the body. I use this as a lens for examining my actual behaviors. Looking at the matter clinically, am I balanced in my inner being and in my actions? To clarify that question, my physicians have offered 15 points of daily self-assessment. The first pair is waking up easily/going to sleep easily.

Waking up, check. Around here, we like intensity, sharp focus, and fire. Life on the razor’s edge is sweet and clear. But if you only practice getting up strong, and do not practice going to bed soft, then imbalances can form in the nervous system over the long term. Some of the first indicators of lack of deep rest may be: fuzzy mind, emotional unavailability or reactivity, and susceptibility to illness. In this light, deep rest enables creativity, meaningful relationships, and vibrancy.

Conscious relaxation shows in a person’s bodily tissues, in the personality, and in how she relates with time and with the earth. It is the foundation of Jedi mind training. Here are some practical ways in.

First, a note for those of you with young kids. You may be tired often; maybe for years. I have not been through this, but I sense what you’re going through. Possibly this article can inspire you to take deep rest if and when you can, and to cradle yourselves sometimes with the same comforts you give to the little ones. Also, in case it helps, here’s one very strange piece of information. Some of the most intense spiritual warriors across the world, and across generations, have pursued insight in part with a long term schedule that deprives them of sleep. I do not understand this, but Shinzen Young lectures often on the ways that sleep deprivation can enable a person to let go of her in-born clinging to the small self. (On retreat, I have gone without sleep and experienced subtle pain, astonishing clarity and a kind of self-transcendence as a result.) I have no clue if lack of sleep plays some role in the self-transcendence you sometimes describe when raising children. In any case, if accepting some tiredness is part of your parenting, then it’s the path. And… when you can…. deep rest is a good idea.


  1. Decide to care. Sleep hygiene is a thing.
  1. Screens off two hours before your intended sleep time.

Deal breaker? I disagree. That might be a push notification dopamine addiction talking. Or a tendency to simulate productivity by keeping up with the feeds. The highly stimulated and rapid activity associated with screen life is itself usually not conscious or relaxed, but there’s a simpler problem here.

Screens flicker. The blips land on the permeable, glassy surfaces to each side of the nose and from there fall right in the center of the brain. We don’t fully know what mysteries go down in the command-and-serenity center around the third ventricle, but it’s probably safe to say your pineal gland abhors screens. It’s not fair to expect a melatonin brain-marinade on demand as soon as you close your laptop. Even if you can get away with pushing your screen right up until bed time, it’ll probably result in relatively tense sleep.

Personally, I read at night. Because I teach, I feel it’s important to read from the wisdom traditions daily. Either that or sci-fi novels. Whatever content I take in the last two hours before sleep invariably shapes the content of my dreams.

  1. Build a practice of directing the mind as you fall asleep.

Here’s what I do. I lie down either in bed with the head on a Therapeudica pillow (recommended), or on the wood floor in our yoga room. I briefly review my day, think and feel how grateful I am for several specific aspects of my life, and see myself waking up refreshed and on fire to practice very early the next morning. I give thanks for the space to extend my whole body to rest. I notice the quiet, the fact that there is no violence or conflict around me – only peace. This is really humbling. It is rare as a human to enjoy this safety, ample space, peace, and quiet. Then I take note of the feeling of my head on the floor or on the pillow, and I relax my face. This takes time, and is so pleasant that it holds my attention. Then I relax the head, and then a set series of locations around the physical body, and so on until I transition in to sleep.

Developing this practice took discipline at first. In the book Yoga Nidra, Satyananda wrote: Most people do not know how to sleep. They fall asleep while thinking over some problem or while prey to some anxiety. In sleep their mind runs on and their body is tense. I hear from a lot of people that they have a stock of fantasies or anxiety scenarios they go to before sleep. Before building a more conscious way to go to sleep, notice the default patterns and ask if they truly express the person you want to be. Because again, the last things you do with your mind before sleep strongly impact the quality of your rest.

  1. Insomnia? If you’re stuck awake, that’s not a problem. No kidding. If you can consciously relax, while awake, you will still be fine the next day. This is common on meditation retreat, where there is some pull in consciousness away from sleep. Conscious relaxation is sufficient, but to stay with it for hours requires dedication.

Yoga tricks for insomnia: inhale gently through the mouth, exhale through the nose. This slows down the exhalation, privileging its calming effects on the nervous system. Or roll to the right side and rest the head on the right bicep until the left nostril clears. It’s not just that you’re stuffed up – there is erectile tissue in the nose that usually keeps one nostril relatively less clear. For restful states, it’s best to have the left nostril more open and the right nostril less open.

  1. Self quantification is a slippery slope. This is not a vote for bringing a fit bit to Mysore practice, but using a sleep app for a little while might generate some useful self-knowledge. I like Sleep Cycle.
  1. Floor sleeping. Weird but great. If you’re a pro at conscious relaxation at the shala, but cannot find the same depth of rest in bed, reconstruct savasana. I got in to the habit of sleeping on the cool marble floors in India. It’s a strange habit, and one your family may not appreciate for the long term, but I’m telling you about it because a long-term student shared that he does it too and finds it beneficial for his lumbar spine.
  1. Yoga Nidra. I first listened to a Yoga Nidra cassette about 10 years ago. This brilliant practice has changed my consciousness and my life. Yoga Nidra is not sleep – it’s deliberate re-patterning and gentle self-hypnosis. Over time, what I have learned in Yoga Nidra has shaped the personal practice I gestured to above for taking myself over the threshold from the waking to the sleeping state.
  1. But I’m a night owl. I have to stay up late for my creativity. (Insert image of Angela not buying it.) Yes, maybe you do have trouble switching off at night. Because of screens.

Here’s how a lot of people around here have finished the book, prepared for the trial, taken 5 finals in three days, and so on. They place a tourniquet around the creative mind. When they get up, they learn to float in the space of don’t-know-mind, in the space of felt sense, in the long-term marriage with their breath. When they are finished, they make their tea, sit down, and un-kink the hose. Against that slight restriction, so much discursive, creative, useful content has accumulated. Morning productivity is sharp, and it’s consistent.

You don’t have to be a victim of the muse. Dance with her and give her down time she can depend on. Put routines in place, and do your creative practice every day. Year in, year out. Life-long creativity is a practice.

  1. Food. I don’t have much to say on food, because I think your practice can sort this out over time if you really listen.

But… eating late really messes people up. I have a feeling that much of the dis-ease in western culture comes from our lack of relaxation skills and resulting tendency to rely either on (a) total exhaustion or (b) late, carb-heavy meals in order to get to sleep.

Eating late (especially carb-heavy meals) strongly affects sleep. (It also makes it hard to wake up refreshed.) If you get in the habit of eating large breakfasts and lunches with light activity after each meal, then it’s possible to learn to enjoy the feeling of going to bed with the stomach fairly empty. Your digestive system will thank you.

  1. Some of us have the option to ride the hormonal cycle.

Mother nature serves cocktails once a month. If yours fatigues you for a day or two, is that a problem? What if rest days were your feminine entitlement? Some cultures see it that way – it’s just us westerners that believe we have to hide or fight the cycle. (I have come to see our western, capitalist approach to menstruation as not very feminist.)

Some people tell me you want to practice right at the start of your cycle – even though you’re tired – because there’s sudden relief as your energy moves downward. The body opens again. Ok. But where is that openness? Is it in the connective tissues around joints, perhaps due to sudden hormonal shifts? If this were the case in your body, the very start of the menstrual cycle would be the most important time to back off the bending.

On the other hand, if you give your system serious rest when it asks for rest time, it can give you serious activity when it’s action time. It might be useful in this regard to check out what western science says about the effects of a consistent hormonal cycle for metabolism, bone density and emotional stability. There are esoteric reasons we put so much attention into the 28-day moon cycle around here.

  1. Cultivate positive triggers. Babies often learn to understand bath time as the cue to switch over into rest mode. For me it is shutting off email and settling in to my reading chair. Find a whole-body experience you can give yourself every night as an initiation into down time. Brush your teeth, and then brush your brain. It’s not time for sleep per se; it’s just the time to turn in that direction and let the different functions of the body gently power down. So that when sleep comes, it can be truly restful.


Jungle Doctors

Greetings from the ayurveda ashram in Tamil Nadu.

It’s a jungle out there, as expected, but I haven’t seen it. What is visible is the rise of a massive half-dome formation in the haze – a rock-mountain of captivating severity – and the outbuildings of the Happy Valley Business School beyond the ashram’s gardens.

Feline update: you may know I spent the week before departure making mental contact with the leopards Makarand says live around here, in hopes of encountering one directly. As if a little remote mind-melding could summon my muse. Well, the biggest cat I’ve seen has been a yowling, prowling mama cat so skinny she makes Mysore Carlos look like my fluffy housecats. (Carlos is the street cat who I thought I’d merely over-fed when he grew fat in 2012, but then she birthed two kittens in my suitcase three days before I was set to leave India. Long story short, Carlos turned into that season’s Slumcat Millionaire/ internet ashtanga celebrity and, despite my landlord’s view of kittens as rats with especially large scat, the babies lived happily ever after.) Now, as usual, there is a pair of kittens about, easy to find at play in the hibiscus bushes. If mama were more of a leopard, maybe she would figure that out. But instead she wanders the gardens hour by hour, calling for her babies. She, and the jungle doctors’ mantras, are always in the background.

I am here for understanding, not for a health complaint. Krishnamacharya was an expert in ayurveda, and in almost all the Asian embodied or “martial” arts it is folk medicine and healing practice that is the wellspring of the strong bodily disciplines. No matter my intention: this learning is not academic. It takes place through experience. There is a full course of treatment, and a pair of doctors come find me twice daily for a chat. They are present without complication — unrushed, undivided —and want to chat about everything from my bowel movements (always an interesting topic here), to gemology, to my dreams. The meta-theme throughout is how do we cultivate sattva? – a kind of luminosity, insight, aand deep balance and creativity of personality that affects the world for good.

The place is laid out according to Vastu (Vedic Feng Shui – the library has Swoboda’s book on the topic if you’re interested). Straight lines in cardinal directions, careful attention to the expression of the natural elements and the intra-relatedness of differently purposed spaces – cooking space, relational space, sleeping space, and so on. The buildings are terra cotta blocks pressed from local mud; and an overflowing of plants and the most beautifully directed light brings life to the structures. I stay within these walls mostly, internal and quiet, discovering what my mindbody does when it has minimal stimulation and zero stress. Doctors’ instructions. Keep calm. Do not go running about.

But one day, the abhyanga and elakkazhi treatments were a tiny bit rushed. The two therapists, who feel bad for me that I don’t speak at least Hindi, communicated that they had to get to a wedding. Over the course of the treatment, while the therapists thought about weddings, my blood pressure increased, as did the vata in my pulse. (These touch-based indicators of health are monitored many times each day.) So there was more agitation in my system after treatment than before. What an important, embodied teaching for me: the kind of awareness one keeps when holding space for others could have direct and objective effects on them. Anyway, this time I was still grateful to have been rhythmically oiled and lightly pounded with steaming herb poultices, and the vata and BP came back down to barely there by watching the kittens in the hibiscus.

Tuesday was the climax of the treatment.

The experience created a ripple in my extremely reverential and receptive frame of mind where ayurveda is concerned, and with that ripple an opening to share with you about my time here in a relatable way. Before I go there, I want to say what you’ve heard from me so often regarding the yoga. The revolution can not be televised. And post-game recaps are a bit suspect. To the degree that a person can refrain from projection – from seeking outside the experience for some kind of reference point or conceptual grounding, from performing the practices for effect or reducing them to punch lines, or from generating internal experience through reactions to an imagined other – to that degree only, pratyhara is happening. Pratyhara is the fifth limb, and the last one that can be deliberately practiced. The others can be caught but not taught, as they say. With withdrawal of projections through pratyhara, and a setting aside of the mental concepts to which we are kind of addicted, then only can the methods take us into the mystery. Into that which we previously did not know – be that our tissues, deep emotional realms, energetic patterns, a self beneath all of the habits, or (if you suppose something like this exists) a realm of spirit.

So, later I’ll forget I ever passed through this jaunty state of mind and will reply to requests for more information about my experience by saying something like, well it was kind of deep and I don’t know what to say about it._But for today, for your amusement I’ll say a bit about the formal treatment of panchakarma. Read at your own risk. Really. If imagining me in a bathroom moment is too much for you, you have to stop right here.

Tuesday morning one of the jungle doctors came to my room at six, a concerning two hours before his shift should start, and a lucky one minute after I finished ashtanga practice on the bare slate floor. (Learning to practice for real without a mat – and without pants for that matter – has been one of the several benefits of Air France having sent my suitcase to Mumbai rather than Mysore; one might say that lost luggage is just part of the vinyasa when flying on a new moon. The same person might also say you study the planets to become aware and eventually free of their influences, not to fear them.)

“You have to come with me now. I have special medicines for you today.” These Doctors have the bedside manner of Ram Dass – equanimous in the extreme, but radiating adoration as if you were their own child – so the severity in his face sent my heart pounding. Hello, fear in the body. Not a mind-modification I get to work with often at all. It was interesting to witness the limits of my ability to keep my physiology in check in the ayurvedic face of doom. Clearly more practice is needed.

He takes me in a back room, sits me down on a chair in front of an altar, and gestures to a mug waiting next to a burning ghee lamp. “Today you take purgation. Virechana.” Then we chant together and he hands me the mug.

I am braced for castor oil, which is the customary purgative for seasonal cleansing. Though I promise that castor oil is the unguent of the gods, by mouth it can be a bit disgusting. Taking it back home goes like this: fill two shot glasses, chant to Vakratunda (which, when you learn what that means, might strike you as adorable), paste a phony smile on the face and toss the the shots back, immediately to be chased by orange juice. Mmmmmm. You can do that with us come April, no problem. But by contrast, Tuesday’s purgative was delicious– more or less a warm cup of chili powder and dirt, maybe a touch of jaggery.

After the first sip, my thoughts went to you all, and how we really must replace the castor oil with this stuff for the next cleanse. I tell the Doctor how much I like this purgative, and the stern look returns. “This is… more deep… than what you are used to. It is a lot.”

Two hours later, when I’d had only nine gentle “movements,” he frowns. “You have miles and miles to go.” Impatience arises.

Next thing I’m in the bathroom, getting on with it, when roiling pain fills my abdomen and cold sweat starts to seep from my thighs and pour from my head. I simultaneously throw up and begin to black out, filling with gratitude that Indian bathrooms are covered floor to ceiling in tile (no cloth or paper anywhere). Blackness roaring in my head and a bright piercing in my belly, I intend to fall backwards. This all happens in super-slow-mo, leaving opportunity to savor the full palate of the pain and remember this is practice for meeting future pain. Which is inevitable. Future suffering can be avoided (that’s in the second pada, worth memorizing; if I remember correctly, Iyengar’s translation – which is in our library – is “future grief can and should be avoided.”). Specifically, one way to avoid future suffering is through studying empirical pain. Because the suffering is what can be avoided, not the pain.

Last thing before I lost consciousness and tipped over, I hallucinated an American rishi who may be related to Vakratunda. There’s a scene in Back to the Future where Doc Brown looks Marty McFly full in the face, just before McFly’s first ride in the flux-capacitated Delorian. He forebodes, “Where we’re going, we don’t need… (flips down sunglasses) roads.” And in the second before consciousness checked out I was McFly, staring at Doc agog as he said, “Where we’re going, we don’t need… toilet paper.”

Saturday I’m off to Mysore, possibly to be reunited with my pants. And toothpaste. Chewing neem twigs has its limits. However, the jungle doctors’ fulminations against chemical shampoo have done their work. If, as they promise, a little green gram powder can sort of get two weeks’ of daily oil treatments out of this hair, I’ll toss out the Kiehl’s and go natural that way too.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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


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


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


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.


(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.


(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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


– 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


(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?


– 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


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.