Tag Archives: Ashtanga

Lineage of yoga created by K. Pattabhi Jois, requires mastery of series of postures

Special events in October – a milestone

Now that Yoga Month has come and gone, we can get on with our regular practice. Shiva Rea is coming back to the DC area in October 9-10 at Flow Yoga. This will be one of the largest mega-classes this year because Flow will probably hold the event in an outside site to pack as many yogis, shoulder to shoulder, into a limited space. Sign up early (if you still can) and go early.

Photo: Brian Kest yoga class at Thrive Yoga - Brian speaking
Ganesha's playfulness matched Brian Kest's humor

I will be looking forward to the Brian Kest workshop at Thrive Yoga on October 23-25. A leading advocate of Ashtanga yoga on the West Coast, he has been a symbolic bennchmark for me. When I started out doing yoga five years ago, I used to watch the free yoga workouts on my cable service. For a while, it was one of Brian Kest’s videos. But they were so demanding for me that I could never get beyond the opening sequence before pooping out. The cable service rotated the video to other yoga instructors so I never got a chance to catch up with Kest’s pace. Of course, it took me a couple of years to just make it through a full vinyasa session.

Now I think I can handle it. That’s pretty amazing considering that I turned 60 last week. And I look at the coming decade of my life as even more challenging and fulfilling than previous ones because I am a more whole and healthy as a person.

K. Pattabhi Jois has passed away

A global yoga pioneer has died, as announced on Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute:

May 18, 2009
Guruji passed away today at 2:30pm (Indian Standard Time). Thank you for all your condolences and prayers. Please kindly refrain from contacting the family directly at this time.

Sad news for anyone who has been touched by his work. Below, I am posting the best articles and tributes that I come across:

Taking Ashtanga seriously

Today, I did not do my usual Sunday routine of meditation and vinyasa at Thrive Yoga in the morning. I took a special master Ashtanga class that Devon Roe offers, usually on a monthly basis at Thrive (next time is in August or September). Devon studied with Beryl Bender Birch and teaches in several yoga shops in the DC area, mainly in Virginia. It’s two hours and focuses on the primary series. There were only four students in the class so it was a chance to focus on the asanas and get hands on corrections.

I have taken a few Ashtanga classes or workshops in the past so it was not completely foreign to me. For that matter, the whole vinyasa trend is strongly influenced by Ashtanga. I was surprised that I could handle the class physically, that I did not have to fall down in child’s pose in order to recover my breath, recoup my strength and steel my will (except for one brief time in downdog, but that does not count). After the whole thing was over, I did not spent two hours collapsed on my couch at home because I have developed stamina, thanks to my running and practice. In other words, I did not feel intimidated by the difficulty of poses, I just knew that some of them were beyond my reach.

If it were a strict Ashtanga class, I would never have gotten beyond the first pose that requires anything approaching half-lotus: hips and hamstrings are still too tight to allow me to fold. Then, there are still issues with behind the back binds because of stiff shoulders and my inability to rotate my should joints more than a few degrees. The other major flaw is core strength, especially in the lower abs: I still don’t have enough strength to lift my legs off the ground when seated in staff pose, for instance, or when sitting cross legged.

My biggest surprise was that when I was in shoulder stand and plow poses, I was able to breathe smoothly. In the past, my stomach (and probably other organs, like liver, kidneys and intestines) pressed down on my diaphragm and made me feel as if I was suffocating. I suspect that I’ve gotten rid of some belly (omentum) fat. That changes lifts a burden off me in the inversion phase of my yoga practice because I don’t have to fight off the panic feeling of suffocation and can concentrate on balance and breath.

Coming yoga events in the DC area

Beryl Bender Birch, the master instructor of Hard and Soft Power Yoga (within the Ashtanga school), is giving a weekend workshop at Georgetown Yoga on Friday, June 6 and Saturday, June 7. As noted here and here before, I participated in a Bender Birch workshop at Thrive Yoga. I really enjoyed the opportunity to benefit from her insight and inspiration and would recommend her to any serious yoga student.

At Thrive Yoga, there are a couple of great workshops coming up:

  • Govindas & Radha – Waves of Love Weekend on June 13-14. Govindas is a Rockville native who now lives in California and leads workshops that combine asana with kirtan, music, rhythm and joy. You can buy his CD at CD Baby. The Friday evening event is going to be a family affair in which you can bring offspring and friends for a single price.
  • Anusara Yoga with Desiree Rumbaugh will take place on the July 11-13 weekend. Desiree is an exception teacher and associate of John Friend. She has multiple two DVDs that deal with body issues through yoga. These sessions are going to be 2-3 hours long so that will really reveal a lot about Anusara’s approach to the body .

There is nothing like take an intensive workshop (just one session or multiple days), to break through barriers in your practice.

Milestone — being yoga

The workshop this past weekend was a milestone in my practice. I’ve been noticing a shift in my focus on yoga for several weeks now. I notice how incomplete I feel when I’m not able to get to class aBrnd how energized and alive I feel when I have done a good practice. When I was traveling, I made it a point to reserve an hour or two in the evenings to roll out my mat and do some work. What a glow this solitary practice gives to your body and mind as you move through the vinyasa moved only by the rhythm of your own breath! No instructor, no audio cues.

I came to yoga four years ago because I wanted to reap from its benefits — yoga for depression, anxiety, and heart aches; yoga to deal with back pain and aging; yoga for losing weight and gaining flexibility. The US market is full of this message. I still want those pluses, but I noticed that I am motivated less by the benefits and more by the practice itself. The most succinct explanation I’ve heard for this attitude is Shiva Rea saying that she was not interested in “doing yoga,” but rather in “being yoga.” That shift in focus makes a big difference. I not only get the same benefits as before, but they seem to be compounded because they are unencumbered by the resistance and tension that build up when I am specifically seeking an outcome; I become aware of other aspects of my practice that I failed to sense because I was targeting my efforts too narrowly.

In a sense, my purchase of a new mat and other paraphernalia and my participation in the workshop is a long-term investment in my yoga practice. It’s not just a hobby, a pastime or a fitness exercise, but an integral part of my self-image and a tool in my personal development. I am taking a stake in the future.

And this past weekend, I celebrated my four-year anniversary by tapping into a shared energy and flow with other yogis who also realize the prospects of the discipline and rejoice in the varied stages of practices that others might bring to the mat. In other words, no novice, no expert, just yogis sharing the reward of the practice. Beryl told us that in India yoga was originally meant to be practiced in a group setting, in the neighborhood shala with other practitioners. She was so right. I was fortunate to celebrate this milestone in the studio that has been my shala for the past three years.

Beryl Bender Birch at Thrive Yoga

I’ve just spent three days focused on yoga with Beryl Bender Birch at a Thrive Yoga workshop. I am writing this posting on a staggered basis because I’m still putting my thoughts together about the workshop.

Beryl has been a pioneer of introducing yoga in the United States, starting nearly 35 years ago. She now operates out of the Hard and the Soft Yoga Institute on Long Island and has taught several generations of yoga instructors. She built up traction teaching yoga to athletes in New York City in the 1980s. She coined the phrase Power Yoga as a more appropriate tag for Ashtanga yoga that American could understand. She also wrote two books, Power Yoga and Beyond Power Yoga: 8 Levels of Practice for Body and Soul, that were among the first to reach a broader audience.

We had four 2.5 hour sessions, one Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday. In the second Saturday session, we did a restorative pose for 15 minutes and closed with a meditation. In between, Beryl distributed a half dozen different translations (or interpretations) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and had us read them out loud. Then, she led us in a discussion of what yoga is, why we practice it and what we want to obtain. That was one of the traits of her teaching. In our first class before doing a jump-back or starting ujayay breath, she held up her hand with about an inch between thumb and index finger and said, “Yoga is this much about asana.” The conversation was lively and informative.

For the actual practice, Beryl led us through the Ashtanga Primary Series. It was my first time following a traditional sequencing of poses, though many were modified for practitioners who had not mastered a specific pose.

I think that the appeal of a workshop is the chance to discover the alchemy of shared practice, bringing together an experienced teacher and a roomful of bodies and minds focused on getting the most out of the opportunity. 50-60 sets of lungs churning up the prana in unison — that’s some pretty powerful magic. Beryl did an excellent job of creating the right atmosphere. She always spent the first 30 minutes of a session building up a rapport with the students, giving us an idea of where she wanted to take us, letting us tap into her wisdom and getting a feel for how we could handle the work.

There were actually students who had not taken more than 10 hours of yoga before the workshop. On the other hand, several yoga instructors who had trained under Beryl also showed up for the workshop. At several points, Beryl stopped a student from doing the vinyasa and had them looked at other students as they did the practice: “You can learn as much from watching as from doing.”

Beryl had a nice gesture at the end of the final session: she brought out a box full of yoga books (a few courtesy copies but most purchased with her own funds) and she gave them away to the students. Spread the wisdom!

Up to scratch

Rate Yoga Resources – Rate and review your favorite Ashtanga Yoga resource: “Read our reviews of Ashtanga yoga resources. We’ve scoured the internet to find the most useful books, DVDs, CDs, videos, posters and practice cards for Ashtanga yoga, suitable for both beginners and advanced practitioners.” Sue Zann is putting up a site for reviewing yoga resources, mainly in the Ashtanga lineage, but I told her that she should expand her criteria to include other traditions. From my own experience, it’s hard to work through the books and CDs and then write up a review. At my current rate, I won’t need to buy another yoga book for a couple of years — but I know I’ll break down at one point.

I will be adding Sue’s link to my Gateway page.