I encourage anyone who takes yoga seriously to have a look at Dave Williams’s Ashtanga Yogi site. He was one of the pioneers who brought Ashtanga yoga to the States back in the early 1970s. Alan Little took a class from Williams in July and I forgot to flag it here. [I did comment briefy here within a longer piece.] What I really liked was reading through some of the articles posted on Williams’s site by his students. Williams fills his instruction with lots of attention-grabbing declaration that underscore his deep commitment to teaching yoga right. Cara Jaspen recounts:
He recalled the words of his first yoga teacher, who said, ‘Try to be a yogi during your practice, then after practice try to carry your aware state into the outside world. At first this may only last ten minutes, and then you become the same old jerk you were before. With time, one gradually becomes more yogic more minutes and hours of the day.’
I think I am able to sustain my yogic state about 30 seconds after practice, but I’ll get better over the next 10 years.
Over the long holiday weekend, I took in a lot of yoga at Thrive Yoga, two classes with Susan Bowen and one Tuesday evening with Rachel Levine. These were all full-bore 90-minute classes with no break to learn new positions or prepare for getting into harder positions as happens in my more learning-oriented classes in Flow Yoga. Last night I went to my weekly encounter with Stephanie and yoga at Flow Yoga, but there was a new teacher because Andrea is visiting family. It was more a flow practice than before.
It’s intriguing how frequency and intensity of classes increases the quality of the experience. I needed a towel to mop up the sweat and I still ended up soaked. I lost control of my breathing at several points but it was because I was going deeper into poses, not chasing to keep up with the flow. These occasions helped me realize how far I had come in strength and stamina and how much I still had to learn and gain in flexibility and knowledge.
One thing is for sure — I think I finally feel comfortable in the standard vinyasa sequence (chatarunga to cobra or up-dog to downdog). I got lots of reps in the past few days. I came to regard this sequence as a kind of rest period within the routine. But the new ease with which I approach this sequence also opens the possibility of experiencing them more intimately, observing how my body and its parts integrate in each pose and how I go deeper.
By sheer coincidence, Alan Little went to a yoga workshop in Berlin at the same time as I was sweating my practice. As usual, his blog entries are thought-provoking because they help me understand where my body is taking me. Alan explains about Pratyahara: “Normally translated into English as ‘sense withdrawal,’ pratyahara is about transferring one’s attention from what is going on in the outside world, to whatever the yogi’s chosen object of attention might be.”
Alan provides some notes from the David Williams workshop, but the core of the teachings can be found at Williams’s website in three articles written by people who had attended his classes. Williams also provides a good summary in a Letter to Students. Some really grounded advice.
Of course, the most discouraging comment was that a Hindu yogi once said that the first ten years of yoga practice were really pre-yoga. In other words, it takes that long to train your body to keep out of the way of meditation. That means I’ll be ready for retirement (65 years old) when I get up to speed with yoga.