Thursday, November 29, 2012

Shadow Ashtanga, dropping like flies, and moving to Idaho

This morning, I decided do my practice in what used to be my Buddhist prayer/practice room (for more details, see this post) instead of the living room, where I have been practicing for the last two months. I just felt that the prayer room seems to be quite a bit warmer than the living room, which might make for an easier practice (less internal heat to have to build up to get my system going).

Because the prayer room is smaller than the living room, the lighting from the ceiling light impacts my body at a more direct angle. Which means, among other things, that I could actually see my shadow on the wall as I moved through the Suryas. It's especially cool (not to mention ego-boosting) to be able to see my shadow lift its lower half cleanly off the ground in trini position, and then float and land neatly in Chaturanga. I even suspect that my shadow may actually look better than its owner (me) doing Ashtanga! For the record, I've never actually video-ed myself doing Ashtanga before. Which also means that I've never actually seen myself doing Ashtanga. Isn't it interesting that I'm never seen myself doing something which is so much a part of my daily life?

Practice on the whole was good today, if I ignore my rather uninspiring performance in Karandavasana. Tried the posture four times. Every single time, I missed my forearms/elbows, and dropped like a fly into seated padmasana (Ha! "Dropping like flies in Karandavasana"... sounds like a song or poem or book title :-)). But setting aside the uninspiring performance in Karandavasana, the rest of practice was great. The energy level was great, and I moved through the whole thing at a good clip; I did primary up to Baddha Konasana and second up to Karandavasana in about an hour and forty minutes. I know that the speed of one's practice is not the only indicator of the quality of the practice, but I really think there is something to be said for moving through the practice at a good clip. Builds heat, and also prevents one from over-thinking things. But maybe the downside is that if I had practiced at a slower pace, I would have had more energy to do a "better" Karandavasana; I can't help thinking that it may be easier to land Karandavasana (and eventually, come back up) if my breathing were a little slower. I don't know. We'll see what happens tomorrow.   


In other news: I will be moving to Pocatello, Idaho in early January. A few days ago, I was offered a short-term teaching position at Idaho State, and decided to take it. It is not a tenure-track position (obviously), but the terms are, well, better than my present employment situation, so I decided to take it. Ah, the joys of not being on the tenure track...

Anyway, I just started looking online for apartments today, and basically getting myself into relocation mode. It's not exactly a small move, distance-wise: Pocatello is 16 hours from where I am presently at. I guess I'm lucky that I don't have a lot of stuff, so I won't have the problem of having to lug a whole truckload of things across the country. But I do have a few boxes of books (mostly works of philosophy and literature) that I would like to give away to anybody who would like to have them. If you live near where I am (Fargo, ND, and Moorhead, MN), and are interested in coming into the possession of a few (or more than a few) good books, please email me. Otherwise, I'll have to try to give them away to local used bookstores or my department or something. 

Anyway, I know nothing about Idaho. The only people I know who are from Idaho are not even from this world:

Anybody seen these guys lately?
[Image taken from here]

So yeah, it's not like I can get in touch with Uncle Rico, Napoleon or Kip, and ask them if they would like to hang out and maybe do some Ashtanga or Rex Kwon Do together. Oh, and if you don't know what Rex Kwon Do is, boy, are you missing out! It's so kick-ass, it makes Mixed Martial Arts look like a walk in the park. As they say, a (moving) picture says a thousand words. Here's a powerful demonstration of Rex Kwon Do from the Rex himself:

Impressive, no? ;-) 

Anyway, long story short, is anybody reading this blog from Idaho? If you are, feel free to email me. Maybe we really can do some Rex Kwon Do together? ;-) 

And also, does anybody know anybody who does Ashtanga in Idaho? Probably a long shot, but I guess it can't hurt to ask, right? I looked on the KPJAYI website, and it seems that the closest authorized teacher in that part of the country lives in Missoula, Montana, which is five hours from Pocatello. Maybe I'll take a little detour when I am moving there, and see if I can drop by and study with him for a day or two. 

More later. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What cats can teach us about Karandavasana

What does an Ashtangi (more specifically, this Ashtangi) do on moon days? Watch asana videos, of course! Particularly videos of asanas that he is working on at the moment. Following Erica's suggestion in a comment she left on my recent Karandavasana impotence post, I decided to check out the following video of Sarah Dee practicing Karandavasana under the expert guidance of Lexter the cat. David (Garrigues) and Joy are the owners/parents of Lexter; I imagine Lexter must have absorbed much yogic wisdom from them, and decided to impart it to Sarah. Hmm... maybe I should also volunteer to cat-sit Lexter the next time David and Joy go to India? ;-)

Anyway, here's the video. Enjoy, and happy moon day!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Is "do your practice and all is coming" simply an accident of history?

Or more precisely, did Guruji say this because of the historical fact that his English was limited, and he couldn't verbally convey the full breadth of the yogic teachings to his western students? Guy Donahaye seems to think so. In an interview with Elise Espat, he says:

"When I arrived in Mysore in the early '90s Guruji used to give regular theory classes, but his ability to communicate was often thwarted by language problems. 

Guruji spoke a little English but he had a strong accent which was often hard for English speakers to understand and mostly impossible to understand for non-native English speakers when he started to talk about philosophy.

In the first few years I was there, there were 15-20 students at his theory classes. We were French, German, English, American, Dutch, Swiss… a jumble of languages with varying limitations on the grasp of Guruji's broken English and Sanskrit. So his efforts were often mired in frustration. I felt for him (and for myself - I was also frustrated we were unable to learn more from him in this forum).

There were also increasing numbers of students who did not want to think too deeply. For them being in India with Guruji was perhaps a bit of a lark and not an opportunity to absorb the fullness of what he had to offer. Often they turned Guruji's theory classes into a bit of a circus.

Guruji was a scholar and had the desire to share the gems of the Upanishads or the Yoga Sutra with his students, but as time went by, the quality of the interest was often brought down to a lowest common denominator by questions such as "Guruji, what is the best kind of yoga clothing or mat to use?" or other perhaps important, yet mundane subjects.

In the end Guruji would often shake his head in frustration and resignation and say "You don't understand! Just do your practice and all is coming!" This was accepted by increasing numbers as a motto, and for some, as an invitation not to question any deeper. But I felt it was said in the context of frustration that direct teaching through the mind was not possible."

If Guy's account is correct, then it would also seem to be correct for us to surmise that if Guruji had a stronger command of the English language, he would have spent more time teaching yoga philosophy and theory. And if this had happened, then perhaps Ashtanga would not suffer so much from the bad rep it has in some corners of the yoga community: That it is a very "physical" yoga that is totally concerned with unquestioningly doing what your teacher tells you to do. And it probably also doesn't help that another of Guruji's famous aphorisms is "Yoga is 99 percent practice, 1 percent theory." 

Another thing that also seems to lend support to this view--that the relative lack of yoga philosophy instruction in traditional Ashtanga is due to Guruji's being hamstrung (no pun intended) by his limited command of English--is the fact that many of Guruji's senior students (Tim Miller, David Garrigues, Richard Freeman, Kino MacGregor) have since gone to great lengths to expound and expand upon the yoga philosophy that underwrites the practice in many of their lectures and workshops. It's hard not to conclude that at least part of these teachers' motivation for doing this is to fill in a gap in Guruji's pedagogy, by using their much stronger command of the English language to do what Guruji was not able to do. So in a sense, we can say that Tim, Kino, Richard, et al, are Guruji's verbal proxies. I don't know this for a fact, this is just my personal theory. Don't go around quoting me on this (like I can stop you anyway...).

But here's an opposing thought. What if it really didn't matter one way or the other that Guruji's English was limited? Guy Donahaye believes that "do your practice and all is coming" was something that Guruji "said in the context of frustration that direct teaching through the mind was not possible." Well, consider this: What if direct teaching through the mind (whatever this means) is something that is ultimately impossible, regardless of one's language ability? After all, language is just one of several different tools that one can use to get ideas across to people. Could it even be that Guruji's lack of facility with the English language may ironically have made him a more eloquent teacher, because he was not constricted by words and their linguistic/conceptual associations in the way that many of our western minds are? Could it be that because he wasn't so verbally eloquent, his students were forced to get out of their heads more, so to speak, and relate to him on a more... visceral and immediate level? I don't mean to make things unnecessarily mystical and esoteric, but we all know that many of Guruji's students' most cherished memories of him involve his famous, often grammatically incorrect aphorisms ("Why fearing, you?"); aphorisms that arguably would never have come into existence if he spoke better English (in which case he would probably sound like Mr. Iyengar). So perhaps it is as it should be: Guruji is the best Guruji there ever could be, with his linguistic limitations and all. In any case, David Williams also famously said that, "Before you practice, the theory is useless. After you practice, the theory is obvious." So maybe all really is coming when you practice :-)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Karandavasana Impotence: Is there Viagra for Karandavasana?

Ha, I can't believe I'm actually stooping to using such provocative titles to attract readers; but as they say, it happens to the best of us (not to say I'm the best blogger or anything; just a manner of speaking...).

Anyway, during this morning's practice, I finally returned to working on Karandavasana after more than a year of not working on this posture. I had been quite successful in getting my feet into lotus in headstand over the last week, so I thought: Why not give Karandavasana a shot?

Well, I ended up giving the pose four shots this morning. Here's how the four tries went:

First try: Got into Pincha Mayurasana, got the feet into lotus, tried to land the knees on the elbows, but ended on landing in a seated padmasana.

Second try: Got into Pincha, and lost balance before I could even get my feet in lotus.

Third try: Same as second try.

At this point, a voice inside me was saying: Look, if you can't even get into lotus in the last two tries, you should probably call this a day. Your muscles are probably fatigued. Maybe try again tomorrow?

But the stubborn side of me prevailed over this voice, and I decided to give the pose one last try. So:

Fourth try: Got into Pincha, got the feet into lotus, and then... voila, my knees landed on my elbows with a little spring! At least, it kind of felt like my hips (or whatever) had springs in them, because when the knees touched the elbows, they felt like they were going to bounce off my elblows. But they stayed, and I landed the duck.

But the hard part was getting the lotus back up into the air from the elbows. It's a very strange feeling: It just feels like there is simply no "ground" to push off from. I don't know if this makes any sense, but in arm balances like Bakasana and Bhujapidasana (as well as in jumpbacks) there's always the ground to push off from, and you know that if you are going to get anywhere, you need to push away from the ground. Of course, anybody who has ever worked on arm balances would know that the whole picture is a bit more complicated than that, but nobody would disagree that pushing off the ground is the starting point of the arm balance. But with Karandavasana, at least for me, it feels like there's just nothing to push off from. So after staying with my knees on my elbows for five breaths, I simply lowered myself down to a seated lotus.

So I, ahem, couldn't get it up in Karandavasana today. I wonder if there is a Viagra for Karandavasana on the market yet?

   Is this what I need to get it up in Karandavasana? 
[Image taken from here]

In the meantime, if any of you seasoned Karandavasana-ers out there have any tips/suggestions on how to treat this Karandavasana impotence (without Viagra, of course), please feel free to share. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fear and self-loathing in not-Las Vegas

I don't usually like writing confessional blog posts that border on throwing oneself a pity party, but I'll like to begin this post with a little confession: I suffer from self-loathing. At least, that's what Wikipedia says. I don't consciously hate myself, but I do experience feelings of dislike and antipathy towards people whom I see as belonging to groups that I either belong to or identify with. Wikipedia also tells me that such feelings may be associated with feelings of autophobia. I've no idea if this is true. In any case, I'm not going to try to use Wikipedia to self-diagnose. But I'm saying all this to give you some idea of where I'm coming from.

Here's a very recent example of this self-loathing/autophobia. First, a little background story. At the coffeeshop near my home that I do my work at, there's another regular, a young guy in his mid-twenties who started coming to this coffeeshop a couple of months ago, and whom I've spoken with a couple of times. He got a degree in accounting from a nice private Catholic university in the Midwest a couple of years ago, then decided that accounting really wasn't his thing. So he went on to get an MFA in creative writing, and he's now trying to bang out a screenplay while reading novels by contemporary writers (Jonathan Franzen, etc.) in his spare time. I've no idea what he does to pay his bills, nor do I want to know. Let's call this guy the Aspiring Screenwriter (AS).

After speaking with AS a couple of times, I consciously and unconsciously began to stop talking with him. Not in an aggressive or rude kind of way: I'd just come into the coffeeshop, get my coffee, greet him in a perfunctory kind of way, and then sit down in my little corner and start working on whatever I happen to be working on that particular day. Not all of this is motivated by self-loathing; I also have a certain aversion towards talking with people in a non-professional context about what I am working on (see this post for more details), because everybody seems to think that just because I work in bioethics, they have something authoritative and insightful to add to what I am doing, and frankly, I'm starting to find that very annoying. I am totally aware that I am probably adding to this stereotype that many have of professional philosophers as aloof people who walk around with their heads in the clouds and cannot relate to "ordinary" people. But well, it is what it is.

But I digress. Back to the main story. Yesterday, my fiancee and I were at the coffeeshop having coffee, and AS was sitting at the table next to ours, working on his screenplay. He saw us, and tried to make conversation. He asked me how my work was going. I replied, "It's going." And then I turned back to my coffee. But then I felt that since my fiancee was with me, and she had never met him before, it would be very rude not to at least introduce them. So I did. I also pointed out to my fiancee that he also used to live in Milwaukee, where we lived for a year. That started a pleasant conversation going between the three of us. We started by talking about our favorite places in Milwaukee. From there, we somehow drifted into talking about literature, and the influence and interactions between literature and religion and the ills of the twentieth century, like anti-semitism and the rise of Hitler.

I really enjoyed our impromptu and spontaneous conversation. At the same time, I also realized that what caused the conversation to be so enjoyable for me was also precisely what caused me to avoid speaking with him most of the time. I sense that we have a lot of things in common, but at the same time, I also have this prejudiced perception of writers and literary/creative types as flakes who talk a lot about stuff but never get stuff done. In a way, you could even say that much of my adult life has been spent trying to make myself into a different kind of flake: A flake who actually gets things done. I mean, think about it: How many flakes do you know get up at 4:30 a.m. five or six days a week to practice yoga? Or maybe the very idea of a flake who gets things done is an oxymoron. Which makes me a walking oxymoron. In any case, what I'm trying to say is this: My self-loathing self perceives the flake in others, which reminds of the flake that is in me. And this reminding makes me not want to have too much to do with people who remind me of the flake in myself. Does this make sense?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Padmasana in headstand, Tandoori Turkey, James Bond; Is it possible to vicariously violate Ahimsa and Brahmacharya?

During this morning's practice, I decided, on the spur of the moment, to see if I could get into padmasana without using my hands in headstand (well, can you get into padmasana using your hands in headstand? :-)). What happened was, my body was itching to try Karandavasana again after laying off that infamous pose for more than a year. But I told myself to take it slow, and first see if I can get into padmasana in headstand first.

So I tried doing that, and it worked quite fabulously! My balance wobbled a bit in the first stage, which involves bringing the left extended leg way back to open the hips to accommodate the right foot into the left hip crease. But everything else went quite well after that, and I stayed in headstand padmasana for ten breaths. I think my hips have become more open over the last few months, because it didn't feel so easy the last time I tried padmasana in headstand, which was, I think, more than a year ago. So yeah, this is quite exciting. Maybe this means that Karandavasana is coming. Or not. We'll see.

Speaking of padmasana in headstand, Kino recently made a video about this. It's very helpful. Check it out:


And of course, today's Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy, be merry and be grateful! Whether you are eating Turkey, Tofurky (or some non-meat version of the bird), or not eating any Turkey variation or all, may your Thanksgiving feast be tasty and joyful. If you are eating Turkey (like, the bird), you might want to give thanks to the bird for providing you with food. Perhaps say a little prayer for it to be reborn in more favorable circumstances. 

I won't be eating any Turkey today or any non-meat version of it; never really been into Turkey. We might go to the local Indian restaurant for a late lunch, as they are having an all-day buffet today. I hear that they have Tandoori Turkey or something along these lines at the buffet. But I won't be partaking of it.   

Later in the day, I'll try to see if I can persuade/convince my fiancee to go with me to see Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie. I'm a big fan of Daniel Craig. I think he's the best James Bond ever. I mean, Sean Connery and Roger Moore and all those guys are great, but all they do in their movies is jump off a couple of moving vehicles and throw a couple of punches, and then the rest of the time is spent drinking martinis, saying semi-smart things to hot women, and looking sharp while driving around in fast cars. But Daniel Craig... boy, can the guy move. I think he probably did more running and jumping in the first five minutes of Casino Royale than Roger Moore did in his entire acting career. The guy really brings a realistic, gritty action-packed feel to the franchise. To get a sense of what I am saying, check out the following parkour chase scene from the beginning of Casino Royale. Be warned:  You might want to skip this video if you are allergic to guns, hand-to-hand combat, and other Ahimsa violations.


Gosh, I don't think I'll be able to move like Sebastian Foucan (the African guy Bond is running after in the video) even if I practice Ashtanga for another twenty years... but then again, that's not what the practice is for, right? :-)  

Okay, I realize I'm rambling about something you're probably not all that interested in. I'll stop. But let me see if I can shift the conversation towards something more yoga-related. Well, here's a question to think about: Does watching James Bond movies constitute a vicarious violation of the yamas? I mean, one is not actually violating ahimsa or brahmacharya, but in watching the movie, one empathizes with and puts oneself in the place of the main character (Bond) and, I'll be honest, takes a vicarious delight in the pleasures he experiences and suffers vicarious pain in the suffering he goes through in the course of the movie. So is one then vicariously violating Ahimsa and Brahmachraya by watching Bond beat bad guys up and cavort with hot chicks? I'm assuming, of course, that it is possible to vicariously violate Ahimsa and Brahmacharya. 

Just a thought. I don't know the answer to this question, one way or the other. But if you are not too stuffed with Turkey (or Tofurky), and wouldn't mind exercising your brains a little by pondering this question, I'll love to hear what you have to say. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Vritti Deadzones; I now guest blog for Connectedtrips

I just read Danielle's latest blog post from Mysore, where she is now studying at the KPJAYI. She offers a very honest and down-to-earth account of her day-to-day and moment-to-moment impressions of studying with Sharath. Do check it out. This line from her latest post really strikes a chord with me:

"The quiet, focused energy turns the room into a sort of a vritti deadzone, where your wandering mind is deprived of vritti-enhancing oxygen, making it easy to really tune into your breath, your energy and the power of this practice."

Vritti deadzone... I like this. Perhaps this is really what brings us to the mat every day after we have been doing the practice for a while. I mean, it's nice to be able to do fancy things like touch your hands to the ground in Uttanasana, float forward/backward in Surya Namaskars, bind in Mari D or Supta K... you name it. But I suspect that after a while, what really draws us to the mat each day is this opportunity to use the practice as a clearinghouse of the vrittis, to turn the mind into a vritti deadzone (or as close to one as possible) for at least a couple of hours. Which is the not the same as shutting off your brain or becoming a thought-empty zombie. Rather, the idea is that even though thoughts will naturally occur as you breathe and move through the asanas, one also becomes aware of a deeper layer of being that is undisturbed and unmoved by these thought-waves. It is this deeper layer that is the vritti deadzone, a zone where vrittis cannot reach.

I also think that certain physical circumstances of the practice make it easier to access this vritti deadzone. Right now, for instance, I have just embarked on a new asana sequence in my practice, having added the Tittibhasanas (A, B, and C) and Pincha Mayurasana to my practice last week. I'm not sure why exactly this is (if I have to guess, I'll say it's probably the combined effects on the body and nervous system of doing Titti B, C, and Pincha Mayurasana in succession), but I'm totally winded when I go into the finishing backbends. And the thing about being so totally spent is that there is much less space for vrittis to come up. Which means that one gets to access the vritti deadzone in a more immediate and visceral manner.

This, at least, is my two cents' on how vritti deadzones work in the practice. None of this is based on anything that's in the Yoga Sutras or any yoga texts; just my personal interpretation.I also have this theory that for most of us, the practice gives us this daily space in which to kind of reset our "vritti settings": You do your practice, get in touch with your vritti deadzone, and then you go out into the world, and your mind becomes assailed by vrittis of all kinds from all sorts of directions. And then you practice again tomorrow morning, and get into the vritti deadzone/vritti clearinghouse again. So in this way, doing the practice daily is kind of like cleaning up your computer's internet cache; just as your computer's performance slows down if it has too much stuff in its cache, your mind/body's performance also slows down and becomes less effective if it has too much vritti residue clogging it up. Just a thought. Again, none of this is based on any yoga theory or whatnot.


In other news: My recent post on Learning, Struggle, and Ashtanga Yoga has been reposted as a guest post on the Connectedtrips Website. Feel free to check it out.

Connectedtrips recently approached me and invited me to guest-blog on their site, and I agreed. So I guess I will be writing things on their blog from time to time from now on. I'll still be doing most of my blogging on this blog, so I don't think this is really going to change anything, as far as Yoga in the Dragon's Den is concerned. This is basically just one more avenue through which the world can to come to know about and bear witness to the glorious greatness of Ashtanga Fundamentalism :-)

Since the folks at Connectedtrips have been so kind to reach out to me in this way, giving me this wonderful opportunity to further spread the gospel of Ashtanga Fundamentalism, I'll return the favor and tell you a couple of things about them. Connectedtrips is a new global travel website that promotes yoga, meditation, nutrition, exercise and healing courses, centers, teachers, retreats and holidays. You can think of it as a sort of one-stop-shop where people who are interested in yoga and holistic living and all that good stuff can search, find, and book retreats and workshops around the world that fit their purposes and interests. Kind of like a for yoga and holistic living people, if you will.

End of promo. But seriously, do check them out, if it strikes you as something you might find useful. There is also a link to them on the right-hand side of this blog. More later. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Yoga teacher trainings, the business of yoga, and the American Dream

Before you read this post, I should issue a couple of disclaimers here:

Disclaimer (1): This is more of an apology, really. This post is super-long. I can't seem to find a way to make it shorter. So if you don't have a whole lot of time, don't read this; no, really. Don't worry, you won't hurt my feelings. I'm not that easily hurt :-)

Disclaimer (2): PJ Heffernan, an authorized Ashtanga teacher who features prominently in this post, was my first real Ashtanga teacher. More precisely, it was my meeting PJ and studying with him at his shala in Milwaukee during the one year I lived there that turned me into a full-time Ashtangi (before that, I was a "dabbler" who did primary series once or twice a week). I suppose you can even say that PJ was ultimately responsible for turning me into the Ashtanga Fundamentalist that I am today, for better or for worse. Anyway, the whole point of this disclaimer is to alert you to the fact that I may not be very impartial or unbiased with regard to the story I'm about to tell (then again, when have I ever been impartial on this blog?...). But I'll try.

So here's the story. A few days ago, I read this blog post on by Lindsay Garric. The post is motivated by a recent incident that happened between PJ and Core Essence Yoga, a prominent yoga studio in Milwaukee. Core Essence recently offered a yoga teacher training (YTT) which it advertised online as follows: "Core Essence Yoga's 200hr Teacher Training Program is a foundational program rooted in Ashtanga yoga (the eight limbs)."

This advertisement prompted PJ to respond by posting a public facebook message. In this message, PJ sternly chastised Core Essence for dishonoring the international Ashtanga community and Guruji, by offering Ashtanga Yoga TTs and purporting to certify people to teach Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga when they have no connection to the lineage. He writes:

"My guru taught me Astya, in the first limb of Ashtanga, means no stealing. I asked Guruji what I should do if unauthorized people start teacher trainings and charging others for classes. His eyes welled up a bit and he said to me 'You go there and ask them why they are doing this!' How do unauthorized teachers with no connection to this lineage certify others to teach a method they themselves have no right to be sharing? This is lying, stealing, greedy and it harms terribly. It is dangerous and unjust... I shake with sadness for what you are doing. I promised Guruji I would ask and his spirit compels me to do so. You have full legal right to make up your own yoga. You don't have the right to lie and steal. You dishonor the international Ashtanga community, you dishonor us, you dishonor my Guru and the Jois family. You dishonor Ashtanga yoga itself and its core teachings. You are capitalizing on people's ignorance and should be ashamed of yourselves. For what you are charging ($4,000!) students could fly to India, live, eat, train and study sanskrit and mantras at the AYRI for 3 months."

In response, Core Essence Yoga explained that it was not their intention to train people to teach Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga as taught by Sri K Pattabhi Jois. Rather, their intention was to train people to teach Ashtanga (eight-limb) yoga, as in the eight-limb path that was laid out in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. Shayne Broadwell from Core Essence responded to PJ's message thus:

"I would like to clarify that we are not teaching Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga as taught by Shri K. Pattabhi Jois. Through our teacher training program students learn to teach a vinyasa style class. Any reference that you might have seen to Ashtanga is referring to the eight limb path as laid out in the sutras by Patanjali, and is stated as such."


PJ was happy with this explanation, and was satisfied that Core Essence had no intention of dishonoring the international Ashtanga community and Guruji. The entire incident, it seems, was sparked by a simple misunderstanding. But in his reply to Core Essence, PJ also brought up a big-picture issue:

"I think shining a brighter light on all the teacher training madness is the issue. I am glad this happened though because it has a lot of people talking and it forces us to look at ourselves as a community and examine some of the greed and silliness being displayed. Short cuts and quick fixes. Quick cash does nothing for knowing and growing. Bless."  

If PJ is right (and I personally think he is), then this Core-Essence-Ashtanga incident is really just the tip of a much bigger iceberg; an iceberg involving YTTs, big money, quick fixes, greed and silliness (not to mention the thousands of aspiring yoga teachers each year who buy into all this in absolute good faith and total purity of heart). YTTs, as many of you know, are not cheap to attend. To get a sense of where things stand, Garric gives us some useful information in this area:

"In the Milwaukee area, here are some fees for teacher trainings I pulled directly off their websites:

Yoga One, Cedarburg: RYT 200-Hour Teacher Training Program: $2,800
Kanyakumari, Glendale: $3,500
YogAsylum, Brookfield: $3,800
Yama Yoga, Third Ward: $3,150
Haleybird Studios, Wauwatosa: $3,000
Core Essence, East Side: $3,200-$3,500"

As PJ points out, for the amount of money that one would spend on any one of these YTTs, one can fly to India, live, eat, train and study sanskrit and mantras at the KPJAYI for 3 months. But maybe this is kind of beside the point: After all, we can't assume that everybody wants to go to KPJAYI :-) In any case, Garric goes on to observe:

"Let's say 10 students sign up for one of these studio's training programs. You do the math. That's a nice chunk of change for the studio. With drop-in class rates averaging between $10 and $20 and "monthly unlimiteds" hovering around $100, teacher trainings (and retail products) are driving most studios' revenue these days."

As many of us know, most YTTs that are in session often have more than 20 students enrolled at any one time. Which adds up to, well, a very nice chunk of change.

So here's the question: Is there any problem with yoga studios offering YTTs and making a nice chunk of change from doing so? Garric tries to offer a balanced perspective when she says: "I personally see both sides of the issue. Studios have costs to cover and need to make a profit to exist." 

I think Garric is being very kind and diplomatic here. But I will be a little less kind and diplomatic. If you'll bear with me, let me start by stating the obvious: In a free-market economy, businesses have to cover their costs and make a profit. Covering its costs (making overhead, paying its workers, etc.) enables the business to stay solvent. Ideally, however, a business should strive to go beyond simply staying solvent: It should aim to make a profit. This profit can then be channeled back into the business to buy new inventory, expand operations, develop new product lines, and basically do a whole bunch of things that enables the business to stay competitive. And all these things would, ideally, allow the business to make even more profit, and continue to stay competitive. If the business doesn't stay competitive, it risks losing market share (i.e. customers) to other competitors and eventually going out of business. Thus, in a free-market economy, making profits isn't just good for the business: It is a matter of survival. 

Those of you out there who own businesses (such as yoga studios, for example) should already be familiar with all this. So I thank you for putting up with my long-windedness here. But there is a point to all this  long-windedness. Try asking this question: What can a yoga studio do to make a profit? Some possible ways include: Building a new studio/expanding the existing studio, attracting new students, or selling merchandise such as mats, clothing, fancy props, yoga shoes (?) etc., which the student may or may not need in order to do yoga. And, of course, offering YTTs. Which--depending on the student's motivation for taking the YTT and who is conducting the YTT--may or may not enable the student to grow in his or her yoga practice and become a great yoga teacher.

There is thus a certain tension in the very idea of running a yoga studio as a business. As an entity that is ostensibly devoted to spreading this wonderful thing called yoga, the yoga studio should only do things that enable its students/clients to grow in their yoga practice. As a business, it needs to generate profits. And theoretically, it is very possible for yoga studios to do both at the same time. After all, a yoga studio is offering a product (yoga) that is good for you. You go to the studio to do yoga. In the process, you do something that is good for yourself, and also help the studio to survive as a business. 

But things become more complicated as more yoga studios appear in a particular area. Now we have more and more businesses competing for the same pie. Which means that unless a yoga studio finds a way to hold on to or attract more students to its classes, its slice of the piece can only shrink. Which means that there is more and more pressure on studios to do things to attract students, even if these things may not actually help the student to grow in his or her yoga practice. 

How to attract more students? A studio could try offering more unconventional classes ("Yoga for Chocolate Lovers", "Yoga for Wine Lovers", "Yoga for Sex Lovers/Addicts", "Yoga for People Who Hate Yoga"... hey! somebody should offer a class like this. I'll definitely sign up :-)), offer class deals ("buy 10 classes, get 1 free"), and so and so forth. 

But all these ways of holding on to or attracting more students may or may not work. And even if they do work, they may or may not bring in that much extra revenue. Enter the YTT. At $3,000 a head, that's a lot of revenue, even after you take into account things like running costs, whatever fees one has to pay the Yoga Alliance to run the YTT, and the costs of making binders for trainees and fliers to promote the YTT. However you look at it, YTTs are a very good way of generating profit for the studio. And moreover, most YTTs do not even require students to have any desire to teach yoga; all that is needed is a desire to "deepen your practice." Which means that the pool of potential teacher trainees is very big indeed. Which means even more revenue and profit. 

Maybe I'm being overly cynical here. After all, there must be a number of good-quality YTTs out there, run  by great teachers who sincerely want to pass on the flame of yoga to future generations by training and fostering more capable yoga teachers. But given the rather lax manner in which the Yoga Alliance is policing (is this an appropriate word choice?) YTTs, it seems like any--excuse the expression--Tom, Dick or Harry (or Mary, Jane or Sally) with some business savvy can open a yoga studio and start a YTT. I mean, how else would one explain the proliferation of YTTs across North America? Which makes it difficult for one not to be cynical here and conclude that a great number, if not the vast majority of YTTs are run by people who want to make a quick buck while compromising the quality of yoga instruction and exploiting the good faith of yoga teacher trainees.


So what to do? What can be done to address this crisis of North American yoga, to put the point rather dramatically? Well, I don't know. Maybe somebody with enough clout in the yoga community (who would this be, I wonder?) should stand up and impose a moratorium on YTTs and yoga studios, and declare that from now on, yoga studios will cease to exist, to be replaced by employee/teacher-owned yoga co-ops. And maybe only a centralized authority (again, who would this be, given that there are so many schools and lineages of yoga?) should be qualified to train and certify yoga teachers.

But even if we can overcome all the difficulties and put such a co-op system in place, it wouldn't fly. Why not? Because like all good Americans, many yoga teachers and yoga studio owners cherish the American Dream. You know, having a nice house in the suburbs, two (or more) cars, sending your kids to nice schools, being able to send your kids to college, and still have enough left over for a reasonably comfortable retirement. Now don't get me wrong; I have nothing against the American Dream: if you can afford it without stepping on other people to get it, more power to you. But again, to state the obvious, to be able to live the American Dream requires money. Quite a bit of it, actually. And if you don't start putting away the required money when you are relatively young and strong and able to, how can you possibly be able to afford the American Dream? And let's face it, it is pretty difficult to be able to build this nest egg if you are self-employed and running a business that is only just breaking even all the time. So, to put it very bluntly, the YTT is many a yoga studio owner's ticket to the American Dream; given the cut-throat nature of the yoga business, YTTs remain one of the only sure-fire ways of generating a lot of money in a relatively short time; and some of this money will surely go towards building up the studio owner's American Dream Nest Egg. 

But maybe there's nothing wrong with any of this, when all is said and done. After all, we Americans (okay, I'm not American, but whatever...) have an inalienable right to live our lives as we see fit. Including pursuing happiness, as embodied in the form of the American Dream. Moreover, any feel-good spirituality out there that's worth its salt will tell you that you have an inalienable right to abundance. Furthermore, all those teacher trainees out there who signed up for these YTTs in good faith did so of their own free will; nobody put a gun to their heads and forced them to sign up. Everybody's happy. So, what's the problem? Huh... maybe there's no problem, after all. Which means I just spent half the afternoon writing this long-ass post about... nothing! Gosh... don't I have better things to do with my time?        

Monday, November 19, 2012

Beautiful handstand video, courtesy of Kino; Why is Tittibhasana B so difficult?

First, a little video eye-candy. I'm not particularly big on posting yoga videos, especially videos of people doing handstands. I know lots of people out there are fascinated with handstands, but honestly, I've never really understood this fascination. Don't really know why; I guess I just don't get what's so magical about being able to lift your feet all the way above your head without support; I mean, aren't there enough things to work on within the practice already? Besides, I often have this suspicion that people who make handstand videos are really just looking for an excuse to, well, show off their asana prowess in a gratuitous kind of way (btw, is there such a thing as non-gratuitous showing off? Hmm...).

Or maybe I just have a bad case of sour grapes. But in any case, there are handstand videos, and then there are handstand videos. The following handstand video that Kino recently made in Bali is so well-shot (the peaceful surroundings, the sound of water flowing from the stone buddhas, etc.) that even I have to suspend my usual non-fascination with handstand videos. It's definitely in a class of its own. Check it out:


Now on to more serious asana business. A few days ago, I added more second series postures (Tittibhasana A, B, C, and Pincha Mayurasana) to my practice. Pincha was fine: Glad to know I can still balance on my forearms after all these months of not doing this posture.  

The Tittibhasanas are another story. Titti C is nice; there's that nice burning sensation in my thighs that tells me that I am seriously working my quads in that posture in a way that has never been done before :-) 

But Titti B is especially puzzling. I can get into Supta Kurmasana from Dwipada Sirsasana, and am able to put my leg/s behind my head. But when it comes to Titti B, I can only just barely grab my fingers after considerable effort. I don't think I am particularly fat, by any standard. So how come Titti B is so difficult?

Any thoughts/tips on Titti B? 

President Obama meets with Aung San Suu Kyi

On Monday November 19th, President Obama visited Myanmar for the first time, and met with democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi at the house here she was placed under house arrest for most of the last two decades. Very inspiring. I guess I'll let the video speak for itself here:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Learning, struggle, and Ashtanga Yoga

I just read this article on NPR about how eastern and western cultures have very different views about the relationship between struggle and the learning process. Although the article isn't about yoga, I can't help feeling that the insights that it offers sheds some light on how many of us in the west perceive Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and may even shed some light on why Ashtanga isn't more widely practiced than it is.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. If you'll bear with me, I'll start by quoting a long passage from this article:

'In 1979, when Jim Stigler was still a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he went to Japan to research teaching methods and found himself sitting in the back row of a crowded fourth-grade math class.

"The teacher was trying to teach the class how to draw three-dimensional cubes on paper," Stigler explains, "and one kid was just totally having trouble with it. His cube looked all cockeyed, so the teacher said to him, 'Why don't you go put yours on the board?' So right there I thought, 'That's interesting! He took the one who can't do it and told him to go and put it on the board.' "

Stigler knew that in American classrooms, it was usually the best kid in the class who was invited to the board. And so he watched with interest as the Japanese student dutifully came to the board and started drawing, but still couldn't complete the cube. Every few minutes, the teacher would ask the rest of the class whether the kid had gotten it right, and the class would look up from their work, and shake their heads no. And as the period progressed, Stigler noticed that he — Stigler — was getting more and more anxious.

"I realized that I was sitting there starting to perspire," he says, "because I was really empathizing with this kid. I thought, 'This kid is going to break into tears!' "

But the kid didn't break into tears. Stigler says the child continued to draw his cube with equanimity. "And at the end of the class, he did make his cube look right! And the teacher said to the class, 'How does that look, class?' And they all looked up and said, 'He did it!' And they broke into applause." The kid smiled a huge smile and sat down, clearly proud of himself.

Stigler is now a professor of psychology at UCLA who studies teaching and learning around the world, and he says it was this small experience that first got him thinking about how differently East and West approach the experience of intellectual struggle.

"I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you're just not very smart," Stigler says. "It's a sign of low ability — people who are smart don't struggle, they just naturally get it, that's our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity."

In Eastern cultures, Stigler says, it's just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle.

"They've taught them that suffering can be a good thing," Stigler says. "I mean it sounds bad, but I think that's what they've taught them."

Granting that there is a lot of cultural diversity within East and West and it's possible to point to counterexamples in each, Stigler still sums up the difference this way: For the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in schoolchildren is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated but is often used to measure emotional strength.'


Thanks for reading the above passage. Honestly, I have some reservations about agreeing wholeheartedly with Stigler. After all, there are studies that show that Americans are one of the hardest working peoples in the world, at least in terms of number of hours spent in the office per week and number of vacation days taken in a year by the average American worker. We also know that many Americans hold in high regard the image of the self-made entrepreneur/businessman who built himself or herself up from zilch by struggling tooth and nail to get where he or she is today.

So it is perhaps too much of a generalization to say that Americans necessarily see struggle as a sign that one is not very smart. But maybe Stigler is trying to make a more specific point: Maybe what he's trying to say is that struggle in the classroom or in any kind of formal learning environment is commonly seen as a sign that you are not book-smart or academically inclined. After all, in high school, the kids who do well in math or science just "get it". At least that's how it looks from the outside. Actually, this picture seems to make sense: If nothing else, it might explain the anti-intellectualism that pervades so much of American popular culture. After all, if the book-smart people are people who just "get it" without having to struggle, then the rest of us common mortals who don't have the smarts simply have to suck it up, struggle, and hopefully make good through our struggles.

A bit simplistic, perhaps, but I think there is a grain of truth to this picture. And at the risk of reading too much into things and drawing connections that are not substantiated by hard data, I can't help feeling that Stigler's observations about eastern and western attitudes towards learning and struggle are also relevant to how Ashtanga is commonly perceived in the western yoga community.

As you probably know, Ashtanga practice is not easy. It involves deliberately making yourself do things that, for the most part, aren't glamorous or nice to look at (especially true if you are doing that seemingly interminable sequence of forward bends and hip-openers called primary series), and which are physically and mentally challenging. And whatever series you happen to be working on,  you can be assured that a considerable amount of struggling is built into your practice: Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the entire point of the practice is to push you to your perceived limits and make you sweat and struggle. And of course, hardcore Ashtangis/sadomasochists do it six days a week.

Not surprisingly, Ashtanga isn't everybody's favorite style of yoga. There are lots of reasons for this, but one oft-cited reason is that Ashtanga is "boring", "repetitive", and "hard". The cynical part of me believes that at least some of these people who say that Ashtanga is not their cup of chai because it is boring and repetitive and hard are using the allegedly boring and repetitive and hard nature of Ashtanga to conceal their real reason for not liking Ashtanga: It makes them struggle. Or, perhaps more to the point, they are humiliated by the idea of having to struggle. Especially in yoga. After all, isn't struggle supposed to be anathema to yoga? If yoga is supposed to make you feel good about yourself and blissful and all that, wouldn't the very notion of struggling in yoga be an oxymoron? Furthermore, if you grew up in an educational culture that socializes you to see struggle as a sign that you are not "getting it" and are "not good at" something--whether that something is drawing a three-dimensional cube or calculus or Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana--it would be only natural for you to see Ashtanga practice and the way it makes you struggle (and struggle in public too, if you practice at a shala) as a systematic attempt at self-inflicted humiliation, as a needlessly brutal method of shredding your self-esteem to pieces day after day, week after week, and month after month.  

Of course, if you have been practicing Ashtanga for a while, you will know that in a sense, shredding your self-esteem to pieces is the point of the practice. The practice breaks you down, and then builds you back up. And in the process, you come to recognize that what you thought was the shredding of your self-esteem is actually the destruction of your ego, something that needs to happen in order for something better to grow in its place. Creative destruction, if you will. But it's not always easy to see and appreciate this, especially when it's happening in the heat of practice... Speaking of which, I think I'm going to go make some dinner now, so I can go to bed early and get up early in the morning to have my self-esteem shredded all over again. More later.   

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A few thoughts about Cloud Atlas (the movie)

Last night, we (my fiancee and I) went to see Cloud Atlas at the local movie theater. I decided to go see it even though I haven't finished reading the novel (I still have about 100 of 509 pages left to go); judging from the trailers I've seen and the complicated narrative structure, it looks like the sort of movie that is best experienced in a movie theater. And I'm not just talking about the big-screen experience (although that is definitely a plus when it comes to experiencing CGI); with a movie that has a complicated plot structure, you kind of want to be in an environment where you are a captive audience, and cannot be easily distracted by the kinds of distractions that often abound (getting up every ten minutes to make yourself a drink, go to the bathroom, feed your cat, etc., etc.) from watching movies on DVD in the comfort of your own home.

If you have been following the reactions to this movie, you will know that it has been getting very mixed reviews so far. At its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, it got a ten-minute standing ovation. But many reviewers do not seem to think much of the movie. For instance, Richard Brody of the New Yorker called the movie an exercise in "synchronized banality" and "a whole lot of nothing."

Damn. That's harsh. Especially harsh, I thought, for what I think is a valiant attempt at adapting a very complex novel with many complicated themes to the screen. Personally, I thought the whole thing was quite well executed. In adapting the movie from the novel, the directors (Lana and Andy Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer) changed quite a few things in each of the six stories that made up the novel; which is something that has to be done if you are going to try to tell a more-or-less coherent story in under three hours (and yes, the entire movie runs for almost three hours; so make sure you go to the bathroom before the start of the movie, even if you don't particularly feel like going; some reverse bandha activation will probably come in handy here :-)). A number of plot twists in several of the stories had to be simplified, and some not-so-major characters in the novel were excised from the movie version altogether in order to make the narrative more streamlined.

The movie also lays out each of the stories in a different way from the novel. The Russian-nested doll narrative style of the novel (if you don't know what I mean here, read the novel; this is too involved to get into here...) is discarded, in favor of a mosaic style in which the camera stays in one story just long enough for you to get a sense of what is going on there, and then deftly moves on to the next story. Then rinse and repeat, until all six stories are completed. And it helps that the same actors (Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Bae Doona, et al) plays various characters in each of the six stories. Which helps emphasize the themes of eternal recurrence and reincarnation that are at the heart of the novel, lending a sense of continuity to all six stories.

I was actually rather concerned that my fiancee, who has not read the novel, wouldn't get what the movie was about: As mentioned above, the movie shifts deftly between the different stories, and truthfully, there isn't much of the kind of hand-holding explanation of every plot detail that American audiences have come to expect from directors (which, I suspect, may be why so many reviewers do not like the movie). If you miss a small detail in a particular scene or the significance of a particular piece of dialogue, you'll miss how things hang together, and given the pace of the storytelling, the directors don't do much to help you get back onto the horse. To my surprise, my fiancee told me after the movie that she liked it very much; even though she didn't get all the plot details in all the stories, she liked the overall tone and understood the general message of the movie.

If her response is representative of at least some people out there, it reinforces a particular theory I have about movie-goers in general. I believe that there are basically two kinds of movie-goers in this world: The kind that understands movies mostly with their heads (I am a member of this kind), and the kind that understands and connects with movies more on a gut-emotional level. I get the sense that Cloud Atlas appeals at least as much to the second kind of movie-goer as the first. In fact, it might work better for the second kind of movie-goer, because people who understand movies primarily with their heads want to understand everything the moment they see it. And if they haven't read the novel beforehand, and also missed or misread a few details in the movie, the whole movie will probably come across as a big piece of eye-candy that doesn't really seem to be saying anything in particular (hence the "synchronized banality"). This, at any rate, is my theory. So yeah, it may be a good idea to read at least some of the novel before you watch the movie, at least if you are an in-the-head kind of movie-goer like me :-)

But all in all, I highly recommend this movie. Try to catch it at a screen near you before it goes to DVD. I think it's worth the experience. In the meantime, I'm going to go finish the novel. I'll also leave you with a piece of eye-candy here. Enjoy!


Thursday, November 15, 2012

This might be interesting to read if you are a Mysore Virgin...

And plan on losing it sometime in the future. I just came across this recent Elephant Journal article by Genny Wilkinson, in which she offers some hints and tips about what to expect on your first Mysore trip in a tongue-in-cheek tone (at least, I think her tone is tongue-in-cheek; some of her commenters don't seem to think so... sometimes I think that people who comment on blogs and articles take themselves a wee bit too seriously...)

(UPDATE: The link to the Elephant Journal article did not link to the correct article... my bad. It has since been corrected, as of 1:41 p.m. Central, Thursday November 15th. Happy reading :-))

But anyway, I think that at least some of you out there might find Wilkinson's perspective to be useful and interesting, not least because like many of us, she was prevented from making the trip to Mysore for a long time by real-world householder duties. For example, she writes:

"Until a couple months ago, I possessed a dirty little secret: I’d never been to Mysore, India—a pilgrimage for serious practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga...

Hard-core ashtangis aren’t worth their weight in salt unless they’ve been to “the source” where the KPJ Ashtanga Yoga Institute is situated. I’ve been ridiculed, marginalized and ignored when the truth comes out. Not by everyone, mind you, but the judgment that I wasn’t to be taken seriously as a practitioner, or a teacher, was always lurking in the background.

So why hadn’t I gone?

Simple, really. Four children in six years, three intercontinental moves and three career jumps. I simply didn’t have the time, or money to abandon four babies for a month-long jaunt in India.
But gradually the babies grew into boys and became less dependent on me, and I became more financially secure. And this summer, finally, I did it."

That part about not being worth one's weight in salt unless one has been to the source should, in my opinion, be taken as an instance of the self-deprecating, self-directed semi-caustic humor that seems to be characteristic of many British I've met. I don't think  it is meant to be taken as a straightfaced condemnation of Ashtangis who have not made the trip.

In any case, as a sidenote, if you are in the interesting position of being a Mysore Virgin who is a little self-conscious about your Mysore Virginity (and are also understandably nervous about what non-virgins might think about your status), here's something you can do to alleviate this condition: Start a blog, and broadcast your Mysore Virginity to the rest of the world, like I have done. You might still get a few snarky comments now and then from Virgin-haters, but at least you have, you know, come out of the closet. And coming out of the Virgin-closet is an empowering move in and of itself. Just a suggestion.  

Anyway, the rest of Wilkinson's article also offers glimpses of what to expect and do/don't do when practicing in the shala in the presence of Sharath (don't ask Sharath for new poses, for instance), as well as what you can do to pass the interminable daylight hours between practices. All in all, a very interesting and, possibly, useful read, especially if you plan on losing your Mysore Virginity sometime in the near (or not-so-near) future. Check it out.   

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Practice Report: There may be something to that long-breath-short-breath thing, after all

I found this out the hard (?) way this morning. As I started my practice this morning, I couldn't help thinking about Grimmly's recent posts about the length of the inhalation and exhalation, and paid more attention to my breathing. It turns out that I start out with fairly long breaths in Suryas A and B. And then, for some inexplicable reason, once I get into Trikonasana, my breaths suddenly start getting shorter. Not sure why I do this; it's not as if the standing postures are particularly physically challenging. Anyway, I noticed this tendency, and tried to compensate by deliberately making my breaths longer. Boy, did that make Virabhadrasanas A and B harder; my thighs were positively burning. Turns out I have been slacking in the standing postures without even being aware of it.

The interesting thing is, once I got into primary (starting from Paschimottanasana), my breath automatically regained the length it had in the Suryas without any effort on my own. Curious, don't you think?

In any case, I have Grimmly to thank for bringing my attention to these fluctuations of my breath during practice. Moral of the story? I don't know... do not be dismissive of other blogger's musings about practice?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Long breath, short breath; Is there a place for Yoga Teacher Trainings in Ashtanga?; The (possible) Republic of Texas

The last few days have found me in a state of blogging malaise, in which I just can't find any motivation to blog. It appears that the most active conversation in the Ashtanga blogosphere right now involves the question of how long or how short your inhalations and exhalations should be in the Ashtanga practice. But honestly (and apologies to Grimmly here), I really don't get this conversation. As far as I'm concerned, I agree with David Garrigues' position on this issue, which Karen has most generously shared on Grimmly's blog:

'...David Garrigues talked about balancing the energies that can arise -- tamasic, potentially, if you go too slow; rajasic, if too fast. Instead of a "correct" answer, it's about the individual paying attention to the energy he/she is creating with the breath.").'

And that's that. If your present rate of breathing in your practice is causing you to become restless/rajasic for the rest of the day, then you need to lengthen your breaths. If your present rate of breathing is causing you to become lethargic/tamasic, then you need to shorten your breaths. Simple, right? Again, many apologies to Grimmly for being such a wet blanket here; I would probably be pretty pissed myself if other people were to throw a similar wet blanket on conversations that I started. But well, it is what it is... 


Fortunately, Claudia has rescued me from my state of blogging malaise with her most recent post, in which she addresses a reader's question about whether any studio should train Ashtanga yoga teachers. 

Just so it is clear that we are talking about the same thing, by "Ashtanga", I mean "Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga", i.e. the practice that I (and hopefully, you) have come to love, and of which I am a self-declared Fundamentalist. 

So... should any studio be offering teacher training to train Ashtanga yoga teachers? In a way, the issue is moot. As we know, KPJAYI has explicitly stated that it is the only body that has the authority to authorize teachers of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga (whether you agree with KPJAYI or not is another story...). But this has not stopped studios all over the world from offering teacher trainings that purport to train people to be able to teach Ashtanga competently. Just the other day, in fact, I actually ran into a couple of people here in Minnesota who are doing a yoga teacher training. When I asked them what style they are being trained to teach, they said, "Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga." I thought about starting a debate with them about why they believe that their teacher trainer is qualified to teach them to teach Ashtanga, but decided against it. First of all, such a conversation would violate the doctrine of Minnesota Nice. Moreover, there's just something about this culture of niceness that prevails in the yoga world (see this post) that makes it difficult for anybody to initiate a debate in a real-life yoga conversation. So I left it at that. 

So maybe the more interesting question would be: Is there any place for yoga teacher trainings within an Ashtanga studio? I recently learned that a certified Ashtanga teacher whom I greatly respect will be starting a teacher training program in her studio beginning from next year (I think Claudia mentions some such thing in her post as well; I wonder if we're talking about the same teacher/studio?). When I learned about this development from this teacher's Facebook page, I immediately emailed her and asked her what her reason was for doing this, given that Sharath has quite explicitly stated that only KPJAYI has the authority to authorize teachers to teach Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. 

Damn! I really am becoming the Ashtanga Police, aren't I? :-) To my pleasant surprise, this teacher took a generous amount of her time to write a lengthy reply to my email. In her reply, she explained that although only KPJAYI has the official authority to authorize teachers of Ashtanga, the fact is that many capable students at her studio who wanted to become teachers were searching all over the city for yoga teacher training (TT) programs. Rather than have them take a Power Yoga TT or a TT from some other style of yoga, she decided that it would be better for her to offer them an in-house TT program; this way, she can at least have some control over what they are learning and how they are learning it, so that they won't go around the city teaching Ashtanga and saying that she has trained them to teach a particular way when she hasn't. She also hopes that at least one or two of the graduates from her TT will be able to help her teach an Intro to Ashtanga class that she is planning to set up at her studio. 

In addition, she also emphasizes that this TT she is offering is by no means a substitute for going to Mysore, and that she agrees with KPJAYI that if somebody wants to teach Ashtanga in the traditional way(as in teach Mysore style, beyond the Introductory class level), they have to make the trip to KPJAYI.

I think this teacher (I have this feeling that many of you probably know who she is) is adopting a very wise policy, and I agree with what she is doing. So, to answer the question above: Yes, there is a limited role that TTs can play within an Ashtanga studio: They can supplement and support, but do not replace the trip to KPJAYI.       


In other news: Did you hear that there are a bunch of people in Texas (more than 60,000 people, actually) who want the Lone Star State to secede from the United States? Crazy, right? Well, at least I think it's crazy...

Well, if this were to happen, those of you who are reading this blog from Texas will soon be reading this blog from outside the United States! Bizarre, no? And if I want to go to Texas, I will then need to have a passport! Woah... 

But seriously, I hope this won't happen. Texas actually hold some beautiful memories for me. It was actually the first place I lived in in this country; I was an exchange student at UT Austin in the fall of '99, and benefited much from and learned much from the hospitality of the people in the capital of the Lone Star State. So... well, I guess you can consider this post to be my unofficial non-endorsement of the secession of Texas from the Union! Not that anybody would care about my opinion one way or the other, but I thought I'd take a stand anyway. Damn! If I keep talking politics on this blog, I'll soon have to rename this blog Yoga and Politics in the Dragon's Den. Truthfully, this doesn't sound half as catchy as Yoga in the Dragon's Den.      

More later.