Friday, December 9, 2011
I've had many students write in regarding Pasasana and since its the first posture of the second series I thought it would be fun to leave 2011 with an Asana Kitchen post on the ever challenging pose that wields Ganesha's noose. Please read the summary of notes and then scroll down for the video.
Summary Notes On Pasasana (The Noose Posture)
1)Establish a Grounded, Immoveable Foundation
Balancing in a full squatting position is one of the most important and challenging aspects to this posture. The feet are your foundation, they are directly in contact with the earth. Organize your posture directly over this foundation noticing when/if you are either too far behind or in front of your foundation. Start by planting the feet while feeling the support of the arches. Squat all the way down. Close the knee joints entirely. Lower the hips, touch buttocks to the backs of the lower legs. Orient your squat directly over your feet. If you have any difficulty squatting you will feel unstable when you squat as though the hips are too heavy, that they drag you down and back. You may want to lift up the heels. But instead elevate your heels with just enough height to truly balance on the feet as you feel your hips, torso and head align more clearly over this foundation. When you feel stable, centered and immoveable in your squat, then you are ready for the next step.
2) Remember the Twist
As you develop and refine how you work in the posture remember to return your orientation to the twist along the central axis. Study the rotation of the torso in order to study the middle channel. Remember that part of creating a satisfying twist is in becoming receptive, especially within the torso and spinal area. And so position yourself to receive the action of turning the spine, and endeavor to rotate your spine more evenly from base to crown. Notice the inner refinement that can take place along shushumna, the middle pranic axis.
3) Position of the feet/knees
To make the posture easier place one foot or knee slightly forward of the other. If you are twisting to the left you can facilitate the twist to the left by moving the right foot and/or knee forward of the left. This also brings the right hip forward of the left hip and thus makes twisting to the left easier. For some of you this will serve to clarify the central axis, and give you more freedom in a certain direction to twist, and will help establish a more stable, grounded foundation. Your posture and twist will not be served If you are too strict and insist on keeping the feet/knees together or the heels down.
But for others keeping the feet and knees more together will help you to hone in on the vertical axis and improve the feeling of the rotation. In each case you want to continue to refine your sense of the breath, cultivate an awareness of the actions and the resulting counter actions along the glorious axis set in motion by the breath, and observe how that awareness leads to intelligence in your asana's.
4) The Energetic Chain of The Noose
At one point in the video, using Rob as the model, I trace what I call an 'energetic chain' formed by the upper back, shoulders, arms and connected hands (the parts of the body that form the 'noose' that give the posture its name) Rob was twisting to the right and I used my hands to trace the energetic chain in a counter clockwise direction. But what I didn't mention was that the direction of the chain that I indicated in the video was actually the more subtle counter loop. If you are twisting to the right, first try experiencing a clockwise direction to the energetic chain formed by the loop of the upper torso, arms, and hands. And afterwards experiment with a counter clockwise direction to the loop.
I have also included an extra clip that didn't end up in the final video on How to work on lengthening your achilles tendon.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Fall is in swing here in Philly. At the Ashtanga Yoga School of Philadelphia the heaters are on high as the tapas burns. I would like to thank Dhyana Yoga (Dhyana Vitarelli and John Vitarelli) who have been supporting our school in many ways! Several students from their strong rooted Philadelphia Vinyasa program have taken up ashtanga and I am so happy they are part of our community!!
In the next couple weeks I will begin solidifying my spring schedule and am excited to announce that I will be teaching further south (at Balance Yoga in Atlanta) and north (at Florence yoga in Northampton) ! My teaching is reaching a wider circle of people partly due to you all who enjoy my blog, thank you for continuing to show your support and spreading the DG word! Hopefully this year I will get the opportunity to meet new people and share yoga with many of you.
Now to the goods!
Below are two excerpts from my journals. They were both drawn out of a notebook I used last winter in Mysore. Enjoy!
Perfect that Single Asana!
The theme or premise is that asana practice is based on a single asana created by breath. That posture could have several names including
Generally speaking in our daily practice we can get sucked in by the lure of our fantasy about the forms of the asanas in sequences. Each asana in the sequence could be thought of as an excursion towards and/or away from that one single asana that is the essence of all asana. In our fantasy of what we will look like and how good it will feel we overextend ourselves in our efforts to achieve what we consider to be the end goal or final pose. Our excursions take us too far away from the center where the skeletal support is, where our breath really does lead the way-- where we make optimal use of our muscles and organs and where our brains are situated properly to minimize reality obscuring ego striving.
For example, to go for a drop back and be unheeding of the position of the skeleton in order to get your hands to the floor is a long term mistake. In the short term there might be a thrill, a sense of accomplishment and a sense of maximizing progress. a feeling like you are working at the edge so you will improve and be an intense student--- (like yoga sutra 1-21 for the intense student--- yoga--nirodah is near). How strict are you going to be? How close to center are you going to stay? How many props (please note: only if necessary and desired and under certain, specific conditions) are you willing to use to remain close to center, close to principles?---We want to explore the foundational principles of the positions and see how those principles will always lead back to that central asana that has so many important names---but actually is unnameable---
--- this is precisely why asana is limb 3 and Samadhi is limb 8--- samadhi is more based around the center, where movement is subtle and stillness reigns---
you have to be sure you are not sacrificing your body to your ego. That you are not going too far in order to compensate for unconscious feelings of unworthiness--- you don't need to use your asana practice to 'prove' you are good and worthy.
and yet don't underestimate the amount of shakti, energy, both physical and mental, that it takes to strike a pose and remain utterly centered in dynamic absorption.
It is ironic that the more gymnastic posture appears to be more difficult---But from an energetic and emotional place, sitting, working with breathing, can be more challenging, require more energy--- because of what will be revealed about you, because of what you will experience about yourself.
The World is a Sacrament
Never mind that to many people it is blasphemy. The truth is that you don't need to be inside a church or in some official place to worship God. In fact, I've found that for me being outside, under the sky, feeling the air, seeing the sun, or the sea, or the mountains puts me in touch with God. I've taken to saluting the sun, facing the sun and moving through a set of exercises. I coordinate my movement with breath and I become prayerful. Filled with joyous connection and know a sense of deep peace and belonging. To me the entire world is a sacrament--- everything and everyone everywhere is sacred--- and its up to me to attune to this ever present beauty wherever I may be.
Friday, September 23, 2011
Here are parts 2 and 3 of my series on Ashtanga and Diet. If you haven't watched part 1, I strongly suggest you watch it. I have included it in this post for your convenience. I am so pleased to see such a strong and enthusiastic reaction to these diet posts. I have seen amazing progress in students practices once they alter their diet. Even the slightest changes can result in less injury, faster recovery and FULL STRENGTH! I have also added some great diet books on my reading list page of this blog.
Joy and I have bought our tickets for Mysore in January and my one month Mysore intensive in Kovalam! We are looking forward to meeting some new faces and having lunch with some old friends.
Hari Om and enjoy!!
Monday, September 19, 2011
For years I have been asked what do I eat? Two weeks ago I posted a Ghetto Kitchen on how to make brown rice and gomasio and it occurred to me after the posting that there wasn't enough context for where the rice fits in a Yogic diet and specifically how it can help your daily asana practice. So I created a 3 part video series on Yogic diet and how food can positively and negative effect the Ashtanga practice.
So here is part one. Part one is a discussion room between Joy and I on the Yogic diet. Part 2 and Part 3 take you into a local Philly farmer's market and into a huge corporate supermarket.
I have also included in this post a rudimentary listing and circle diagram attempting to set forth the Yogic Principles and the specific foods that the practitioner should both adhere to and avoid.
up to 50% of the diet
(if desired take with gomasio sesame seed condiment)
fresh ground wheat for chapati's
Whole grain noodles
whole grain, hearty real bread
hot cereals, cream of wheat, sweet brown rice cream, steel cut oats, and occasionally oat bran, instant natural oat meal
(based on what's in season)
Greens (swiss chard, spinach, kale etc)
cabbage (all variety)
winter squash (kabocha, delicata, butternut, pumpkin, red kiri etc)
2nd Tier for use more sparingly for variety, freshness, flavor, texture, color etc
peppers (bell, chili, etc)
Vegetarian Protein Sources
beans (adzuki, pinto, chick peas, black etc)
legumes (red lentils, small french lentils, toor dal, split peas etc)
occasional use vegan chorizo, vegan sausage, vegan hot dogs, ready made tofu or tempeh
high quality sesame oil
extra virgin olive oil organic, first cold pressed
whole grain crackers
apples or other select in season fruits
rice or corn cakes
eden soy milk, or rice etc
teas (bancha,herbal, green, black etc)
organic cane sugar
fresh apple cider
fresh seasonal juice
dark low sugar chocolate 60% or more of caoco
heathy whole grain, less sweet cookies,
soy pudding, yogurt
Occasional use foods
romano or parmesan
Off limit or rare use foods
Animal Protein Sources
if you must then choicely wisely
organic, cage free eggs
organic free range chicken
soy and other grain milks
white flour pastries
bad oil chips
Tropical fruits or out of season fruits.
Sunday, September 4, 2011
The Ghetto Kitchen with Chef DG is back! In this installment I will be teaching you how to cook brown rice with a pressure cooker (one of two keys to tasty brown rice) and how to make the condiment gomasio (the second key to eating brown rice). The video is self explanatory but if you would like to learn more about the Macrobiotic diet you can email me and I will send you some resources. I truly believe that the practitioners diet is often the final frontier to a strong and fruitful practice.
I hope you enjoy and get to cooking!!!
Sunday, August 21, 2011
The diaphragm is the main muscle involved in breathing; when you get an experiential feeling of its actions, that knowledge helps you breathe better and thus helps you develop your yoga practice.
You can learn to sense the diaphragms anatomical location within the torso and to follow its contraction (inhalation) and relaxation (exhalation) phases. The diaphragm is a large sheet or dome shaped muscle that resembles a mushroom or a parachute and divides the upper and lower abdomen. It has an unattached gathering of fibers called the central tendon at its top that helps give its dome shape.
It attaches to several sets of ribs and has 'stems' that are called crura that attach to vertebrae along the front of the lower spine. The diaphragm is both a particularly large muscle and a core muscle. This is significant because, being large, its rhythm, actions and movements are quite easy to observe. And considering its deep and central location , the basic observation of its actions can take you far within your self, into the root and center of you.
Here's an image for you to work with: Imagine that your torso is a vast inner ocean. And the diaphragm is a giant jelly fish that is entirely at home floating up and down on the ocean currents within your torso. As you inhale experience its fibers contract, move down, flatten and spread and as you exhale experience its fibers relax, move up, bunch together and reform their dome like shape. Work with this image until you feel that the diaphragm's coming and going rhythm is THE fundamental rhythm within you; feel how central this rhythm is and how when you really tune into it, this rhythm pervades your entire body, and imagine that this rhythm could be the source of all of your movements. Following your diaphragms actions can lead you to discover and activate bandha's. For example, the elusive and challenging practice of mula bandha can be accessed with more ease and more logic when you approach it through observing the movement of the diaphragm. As you watch the rising and falling and expansion and contraction of the diaphragm see how the pelvic floor mimics the diaphragm by lowering and widening as you inhale and then rising and 'bunching' together as you exhale. When you tune into the diaphramatic and pelvic floor actions particularly during exhalation, you can better understand how to effectively 'seal' the pelvic floor in order to 'pull up' and redirect apana vayu. Both the pelvic floor and the diaphragm are horizontal, sheet like surfaces within the torso, one large (diaphragm) and one small (the pelvic floor). These two areas share a synergy, they act symphonically, and tuning into the larger, grosser one helps you tune in to the smaller, more subtle one.
Mula bandha is often defined as 'forcibly pulling up apana vayu' and causing the otherwise downward apanic energy to flow upwards. The upward movement of the diaphragm during exhalation provides you with the means of finding this redirection, the 'against the grain' energetic upward direction that characterizes mula bandha. You can achieve mula bandha by causing your perineum to ride on the coattails of the diaphragm as it ascends the torso when you exhale thoroughly, and there by seal your prana at the root. Following the grosser rhythm of the diaphragm and then the more subtle rhythm of the pelvic floor is what trains you to 'master' your senses, by moving mentally inwards towards center and gaining the ability to discern more and more subtle plays of opposing energetic, skeletal and muscular patterns.
Due to it's ability to help you tune in to Muladhara, the root support at your base, following the diaphragm also helps you to sustain your attention along the central axis from it's earth origins upwards. Observing the vertical action of the diaphragm and its influence on the pelvic floor is the key to aligning your self along the axis known as the pillar of light or most glorious (Shushumna). To be able to sustain your focus along the center line of the body from the base through the crown is one of the rewards of practicing pranayama partly due to observing the diaphragm within your torso and understanding how to optimize its muscular actions. Start by befriending the giant jelly within, see how to shape and guide the movements of this large muscle, and see how that skill leads to awareness of the more subtle physical actions following the breathing patterns all the way to their ends and awakening the the subtle actions of the bandha's.
And here's one more note: because the diaphragm drives the ever repeating cycle of the breath, it has a major role in helping you understand vinyasa. When you study the diaphragm you study vinyasa from a a central vantage point; through breathing you follow the opposing movement patterns that make up the ashtanga sequences. In Ashtanga yoga practice, through combining vinyasa and breathing, you endeavor to generate and to harness the dynamic bio rhythms at the heart of you. That is why Sri K. Pattabhi Jois called Ashtanga a 'breathing and movement system'. The most accessible way to get to the heart of the rhythm of this breathing and movement system is to doggedly follow the actions of the diaphragm and see how those actions translate into vinyasa, into sequences of rhythmic opposing movement patterns.
See if you can follow the diaphragm's vertical, up and down actions within the torso, focus on the connection between rhythm in breathing and rhythm in creating actions in your asana's and in your movement transitions. Each time you effectively tune into the deeper rhythms of your breath, you are in a position to have some small epiphany about your movement or your posture at its source. Go into your earth support and along your glorious axis, find the immovable state of the asana, get the spectacular view all through the simple act of tuning into the diaphragm and heartily enjoying your breath!
Sunday, August 7, 2011
If you are in the Philadelphia area, Sunday, August 28th, the Ashtanga Yoga School of Philadelphia will be having its opening party. I will be teaching a special class in the late morning and then a potluck will follow.
Today's post deals with the idea of Samskara and how our daily practice is a pressure cooker and an avenue to change these past patterns.
Yoga Sutra 1:18
Another form of thorough knowledge is preceded by resolute practice to completely cease identification with the contents of the mind. As a result, only subliminal impressions remain and their residue has no impact on the mind.
Make the connection, the crystal clear connection between Samskara, a latent impression or conditioned groove that perpetuates ignorance (Avidya) or illusion (Maya)...and how these translate into the body, into your movement and postural patterns. To become aware of alignment and to adjust your movement and postures according to alignment principles helps you neutralize Samskaras. It helps you replace ignorance and blindness with knowledge and insight.
Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita that only one in thousands reaches him. It is too easy to remain steeped in Maya, to fail to wake up, to remain unconscious playing habituated roles, dead ending. Never seeing through the veil. What a diligence, a fierce, committed, sustained effort is necessary to see through your patterns. It is a major step to even want to see through, to face your automatic reactions, the nature of which is automatically deficient, unoriginal, painful and ignorant.
The ignorance EXTENDS to the body-that's the point-you can move ignorantly. Ignorance is not confined to behavioral or emotional thinking, failure in relationships, or in love. Maya and Avidya extend to physical movement. Your asana practice can provide a perfect microcosm that shows the impossibility of your predicament. Asana practice can show you how entrenched your conditional patterns are, how difficult it is to change even a little bit, and in the end how unwilling we are to be deeply hurled in the nitty gritty process of real change.
We often practice as though we are not interested in being bothered with the details of our ignorance. We have better things to do--like catch our heels in Kapo or land our set of drop backs for the day. We don't want to be bothered with how we achieve our posture, we are more interested in simply achieving it in any manner that gets results. Deep asana practice requires a high degree of what I call Hanuman like energy-- or animal intelligence that is coupled with human self awareness and reflection. Hanuman is famous for being a nearly unconquerable warrior, for his magnificent strength and agility but also for his learning, diplomacy and erudition. Working for true alignment during your unfolding practice requires you to inhabit the body in an intuitive, animal like way, with reflection and awareness.
To some extent developing your asana practice means developing your ability to handle power and force. The depth of asana is partially determined by how energy is set in motion and how much energy is within you in the posture. Distraction, pain, extra weight, unawareness, sudden bouts of lethargy, depression, all serve to dampen the energy that goes into play in an asana. All manners of diversions share the characteristic of dampening life force--Do you see that? To be truly engaged in life, living your dreams, putting your self, your creativity, your love on the line takes tremendous energy.
You have to be able to manage those levels of energy--going into a depression, or eating, or day dreaming about a different life, or thousands of other diversions give you an escape value. If you go and have a beer or smoke a joint or dip into the pint of B and J's, you are temporarily relieved but that relief is not really relief. Because a large source of our panic, desperation, anxiety, loneliness, and unhappiness comes from not attaining the full capacity of our life force.
You can learn to enlarge your capacity to enjoy, process, and transform large amounts of energy within yourself. Do you really need to divert and dampen your energy with old often repeated patterns? Isn't time to really observe, really feel, go through fear, and allow more love to enter into your world? That is what practice is ultimately for so why not let it do its work? Stop interfering, stop standing in the way, let the fire in, the challenge, the risk, let your love in and let it come out.
The practice is there in front of you each day, now do what is necessary to really do it. Do all the advance preparation, arrange your life so that you show up at your best, ready to dive into that special world. That world of posture, breath, sequence of intense concentration and exertion. You've had at least glimpses of what is there for you, now is the time.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Here is an excerpt from the book Om Creative Meditations by Alan Watts. This passage explains one of the major themes I am playing with during the Indepth Study.
"What is actually going on in the world is far, far different. Every view that we take of the world and every selection we make of what is important to notice is simply one way of looking at things, and there are infinite ways of looking. Considering such things makes us aware of how much our knowledge of the world is conventional knowledge. We tend to a selection of particular things which we have been brainwashed to notice, and we disregard the rest. It is as if the world were a Rorschach blot and there is one offical interpretation of the blot. Everybody agrees that is the way it is. Along will come some great genius who points out that we can look at the world an entirely different way, and at first everyone will say it is crazy. But if the genius persists long enough, we come to accept the new vision. Now we can look back at Cezanne's paintings and see that it does look like that. We can look at Van Gogh and see that he really did understand how it feels. They have taught us to see.
The moral is that each one of us has a certain veiw of the world which both horrifies and delights us. We have a program for cradle to grave of which we believe society approves, and we get very put out if we do not get to follow it exactly. This social interpretation of the cosmic Rorschach blot is expressed in words and conventions and we think it is what life is all about. Well, it is nothing of the kind. In trying to escape convention and the barriers that words create between you and reality, you may choose to renounce your identity, in effect saying "Now the game is over. Let's find out what lay behind it. What is really going on?" Be very careful that the next passing swami does not sell you on still another institutionalized version of the real world. For instance, the notion that when you are awakened all differentiations will vanish is a conventiaonal view of the universe.
Now obviously there is a way in which you can see the world for yourself; it may very well agree with what other people see and you will be able to communicate that way of seeing to others. It may be by no more than a glint in the eye that you will know someone else sees it just as you do.
All our meditation practices are simply to open our consciousness to what is going on, as distinct from what is said to be going on. To do that, we must suspend our words, suspend our descriptions, and be alert to the actual happening.
It is as simple as that.
-Allan Watts (Om Creative Meditations)
Here is an excerpt from day three of my Indepth Study!! This was filmed during the Apprenticeship session when I discussed how to work with a student who is resistant to instruction.
Friday, July 22, 2011
I have started a new track in this year's indepth study, an apprenticeship program. I have 6 apprentices and each day we meet for an hour and discuss a wide range of topics from specific adjustments, to the students own individual practices and much, much, more.
Here is a clip from today's apprenticeship session.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Its about 8pm and I'm in Spokane, WA (almost directly across the country from Philadelphia!) and I'm reviewing and prepping for day two of my annual In-depth Study program. Today was the first of the ten day program. I'm very pleased with the students, their intelligence, kinesthetic awareness, and overall enthusiasm. I have decided to post an excerpt each evening from the day's events. This is from the afternoon session where I discussed and walked the students through the vinyasa.
I hope you enjoy and come back tomorrow where I will have some more goodies for you and your practice.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Saturday, July 2, 2011
One extra note: please watch, ponder, and absorb the themes in these video’s! Personally I feel that the content of these discussions is of vital importance for us continuing to mature and really enjoy the fruits of practice. The play of the universe that we are all part of has reached such critical proportions that there is an urgency to bring forth what is sacred within of each us. Even our tiny contribution is vital and essential. What we choose to focus our energies on makes a huge difference in giving ourselves and the coming generations a fair chance to play the beautiful game at a higher, highere levels. I’m calling out to all of us to bring more intentional Bhakti into our practices, more devotion that goes to to the root of us, to the heart of us, where we know what is really important and sacred. Enjoy! Om Namah Shivaya! David
Friday, June 10, 2011
I have also decided to teach a month long Mysore style intensive in Kovalam, India this February. The intensive will entail a six day a week Mysore class with extra classes of pranayama, chanting, and other yoga studies. You can apply or find more info on davidgarrigues.com. I hope you can join me in India~~ its going to be a great way to go deeper into your practice!
Yoga is Youthfulness Interviews Certified Ashtanga teacher David Garrigues
When did you first go to india and what took you there?
I first went in 94′. In 93′ I saw a video tape of Guruji teaching Richard Freeman, Tim Miller, and Chuck Miller. A couple weeks later I saw an ad in the Yoga Journal saying Guruji was going to be teaching in LA so I went there and studied with him for the month. After that month he went and taught in Maui so I followed him there and studied with him more. On Maui he and Chuck Miller encouraged me to travel to Mysore and to take practice in India. I didn’t hesitate. I knew Ashtanga was for me so I bought a plane ticket, waited tables to save money, and went to India.
What happened and how long were you there that time and over the years?
When I first arrived I was completely blown away and overwhelmed. I can distinctly remember being woken up by prayers blasting out of mosques and temples, the smells, riding my bike to Guruji’s house early in the morning and how small the room we practiced in was (Old Shala). There were so few of us in the space. If there were 20 of us there that was a lot of people.
Often in the evenings Guruji and Amma would sit outside their porch. We would all walk by and talk with them and hope Amma would offer us coffee. Going to India was something I never imagined or even day dreamed about so I had no preparation or expectations. In my life I never thought I would be doing this or thought I would be searching for someone, a guru, to study with.
Sometimes India was so intense I would walk outside and then go back inside. At that time India was not used to foreigners so the Indians were extremely curious. As a westerner I was paid attention to all the time. It was hard for me to be so conspicuous. Sometimes too hard. I also meet a dear dear Indian friend of mine, Ravi. He was playing a flute on the street and he took me in to his house. We would hang out and listen to Indian music. I became hooked on Indian culture from my first visit. Ravi introduced me to my future singing teacher, Virabhadraya. At this time I wanted to learn how to play tablas so I started taking lessons from Virabhadraya’s friend.
But mostly, I remember loving the practice.
My first visit I was there for four months. Since then I have been there over 15 times. My longest stay being a year.
What was meeting Guruji like and when did you first know he was your teacher?
I first meet Guruji in LA and I was very scared. I was so scared that I fasted on fruit the entire month. I thought if I ate fruit I would get less stiff. I was in a big cleanse. I practiced in the morning and then I would practice again during the afternoon. I was completely unaware this was too much tapas for my body. I was unaware of the whole scene. I never touched Guruji’s feet. I just had no idea what to do. I was in awe of the whole thing. I didn’t know what the counting was or what it meant. I had no idea that the Sanskirt was in numbers. I attached esoteric significance to it. When he would bellow out “cetwari” I thought it was something sacred, “Woah, what does that mean?”
What was scary to you?
I had only seen Tim, Richard and Chuck practice from the videos and I saw how Guruji adjusted them and this was scary for me. In the class there was this guy who every day got the adjustment in Baddhakonasana and every day he would cry and everyday Guruji would put him through it. And Guruji would say, ‘Why crying?” and the whole class would laugh, It was good natured but intense. I was terrified it would happen to me and of course he finally adjusted me in it. At that time my knees did not come to the floor in Baddhakonasana so he put one hand on one knee and one foot on the other and one hand on my head. He pushed down on my knees and then he started to push my head outwards. It felt like I was looking down from above on to the ground and it all felt big, like a wide expanse for me. My orientation was shifted and there was this opening! I got terrified. Guruji pulled me back up and he said, “no fearing you go.” It’s one of two adjustments I can vividly remember.
Guruji was always a strategist. If he wasn’t helping you it was part of his plan for working with you, it was not because he wasn’t noticing. For example, on my first trip he didn’t help me much, but he was nice. I figure he knew I needed to take practice so he left me mostly alone. On my second trip he didn’t help me and was not really very nice either. I was expecting and wanting more help but still he just left me to practice and work things out on my own. Occasionally when I would break out of my old patterns he would be there all of sudden to help me, which meant to me that he was highly observant of my practice and waiting for some things to shift inside me. But it was a source of pain that he wouldn’t help me and I got really frustrated. I thought about quitting. You had to earn help from him. By my third trip when I started working on third series, he began helping me a lot.
Though there was no specific moment when I knew Guruji was my teacher, it was an almost unnoticed evolution; one day sort of all of sudden it dawned on me how much I had learned from him and how significant he was/is to me. It was a profound and happy realization but also a little bit sad because I felt that I hadn’t properly appreciated him before that time.
How does music relate to your yoga practice?
In some ways music conflicts with my yoga practice and what I’ve discovered is that music has to take a small role in things and proportionately it has to be small compared to my asana and pranayama practice and my teaching. If music takes too big of a role in my life it doesn’t serve my Yoga practice. But if music is in the right proportion it helps me to be more devotional, prayerful, and it opens me up to a part of my soul that is very deep and sacred. Music also soothing for me. At times the asana practice has a crushing kind of quality, it can really challenging and feel full of failure. It can even be hard to feel good about my self when practice is so hard; playing music, just enjoying a little song or melody can be a healing salve for me. It helps remind me of the soul and sacredness of my efforts.
To me yoga can and ought to be used for personal expression and personal transformation but also since we are all in it together yoga can to be about collective and social transformation too. As a yoga teacher I feel that music and chanting helps me share something different with my students, sharing a little song brings a more universal dimension, something campfire like that brings you to a primal place of sacredness that we can all find a kinship with.
How has yoga changed your music and how has the Indian musical/yogic experience you have had affected your music?
I would like to talk about how I switched from the tablas to singing. My singing teacher Virabhadraya had me start singing because I have a damaged finger and couldn’t strike the tabla properly. It’s funny to me, he literally made me sing. At first I resisted it, but it was the best thing that ever happened to my music. I love singing and I needed that vocal work to really become less introverted and to open up to the power of my voice as speaker and as a singer. Its been a very important part of my psychological and emotional growth.
Do you still study music in India now?
Yes, though as I balance it with my Yoga practice, I don’t have as much time as I would like. I have less time to study Indian music. To study indian music requires total commitment and dedication and I’m not on that path. I do my best to keep up a practice Indian scales and I work with the slow, ‘alap’ phase of raga development. I try to practice the things that are relevant to what I share with people in my yoga classes.
Do you see your musical practice and your yoga practice as related? How?
Yoga and music share rhythm, they come from the same great source and use them both go back to that source. Since music, breathing, and asana are all based on the elemental, primal life rhythms, I feel they all support each other. To be musical helps your asana practice to become more melodic and to have rhythmic vibrancy and intelligence.
Has your practice changed as you have aged?
For one, I’ve slowed down some and the physical practice is harder. As I’ve aged its been challenging to consistently keep the asana practice at its top level. Partly thats due to aging but it’s also due to losing focus mentally. There are so many responsibilities and things that seem to call for one’s attention. Its all cyclical, but consistency of focus is really challenging. It’s a marvel to see how challenging it is to put the asana practice first with a consistency that spans over decades. This commitment effects all of your choices. Also as I’ve gotten older the focus and intention behind the work is much more genuine and smarter. I’m able to utilize the asana and pranayama to open up within myself in much more powerful ways even though I can’t necessarily bend as swiftly or even though I don’t consistently have quite as much ready energy. Now I have to listen to my self and my body more attentively and be willing to go into what is there today. Sometimes that means being satisfied with less and being more subtle in my awareness.
Also, I used to need a lot of asana practice, a lot of sweat and rhythm as a catharsis, as a way to wrestle with demons and overcome things within myself. I needed to exhaust myself through that kind of battle. Now that isn’t as necessary or relevant and so I don’t need that same kind of intense rhythm every day that I needed in the past. Through my practice I’ve worked through a lot and understand what constitutes a deep asana for me. Its such a curious paradox because I understand what a deep asana is and I can go there much faster now even though there’s a sometimes more physical unwillingness. Sometimes I feel a tinge of regret, I wish I had figured out some of what I know now sooner.
As I age I have more appreciation for Guruji and his method and the sequences of asana’s. For example I see this incredible depth in the second series. Consider Krounchasana, it is more of a forward bend then all of the forward bends in the primary series. When you strike Krounchasana you are expected to be ready immediately, you are expected to bend forward deeply without the preparation and repetition that exists in the primary series. There’s an immediate depth that is asked of you in the second series. All the series have these deepening layers that continue to be revealed as you practice year after year.
Or take Dristi, as I’ve gotten older I orient myself differently with regard to basic gazing. Now I’m more centered, steady and clear. I also have more clarity about different sets of variables that go into each posture and have more skill to work with those variables in a more immediate and balanced way.
What made Guruji special to you? Did he permanently change your life and how?
He was large enough and grounded enough to see and understand some important things about me and about many people. In this significant way he let me know that what I was doing was alright. This ‘alright’ feeling gave me permission to let my energy flow freely and in directions that were right for me. It took somebody really grounded to do that because I had so much raw energy and so much inner conflict and fear. To have somebody be so grounded and to see my fear and understand it somehow gave me permission to see it too and thus move through it and let it go. Guruji had this knowledge of Yoga and that’s what gave him this largeness and this ability to embrace so many people. He showed me the how big Yoga is; he showed me yoga’s breadth and what it can encompass and how I can find belonging and expression in it. Yes he changed me permanently. He helped wipe out my self hatred, inner turmoil, anger, lack of confidence, in a fundamental way forever. Now I have those things but they can never go as deep as they were because he helped me find that deeper place of love. Practice keeps renewing it but Guruji gave it to me in such a way that even if I never practiced again, I will still have it.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
April 4th, 2011
Recently, I told this story about myself in a workshop.
In September my partner and I went to India, it was my first trip there after the death of Guruji. I had emailed Sharath to tell him we were coming and all was set but I had this resistance to Mysore. I'd made more than a dozen pilgrimages to India and never once 'traveled' or seen the other parts of the country. Guruji was in Mysore, why would I want or need to go anywhere else? I was sad to have to directly face that Guruji wasn't there anymore and surfing had been on the back of my mind for more than a decade. As a skateboarder, I would pretend to surf the concrete like a wave. I'd always wanted to set aside some time to have a surf vacation, preferably in or near India so that I could still do some Yoga. But my practice and studying with Guruji always took precedence. But this time I decided to go with the surf yearning...sort of.
Somehow my partner and I ended up on these remote islands off the east coast of India called the Andamman islands. I had a twin objective: to spend some much needed time focusing on my asana practice and surf. We found an idyllic setting on a pristine island. The color of the ocean was dreamy and inspiring. We found a resort with a largely unused Yoga room located up above the lodging area with a panoramic view spanning towards the ocean above the jungle foliage and tree tops.
So the surfing and Yoga combo started well enough. But it didn't take long for the battering of the waves to take its toll on my body. Practice became more like trying to stretch out and 'recover' from surfing. But I was still determined to do both. So I kept pushing for intensity in my practice. Then IT happened. I was in Parivrtta Parsvakonasana-twisting side angle. I felt this little, but distinct lightning bolt streak of strong sensations run directly across my sacrum. I immediately stood up and lost my Yogic powers of detachment and content. I limped around uttering plenty of expletives. I knew almost instantly that my month of intense practice and surfing was finished. I was very disappointed and also angry with myself for pushing just beyond my edge and allowing myself to play so close to it. I regretted the energy I had put into surfing. As the afternoon and next few days unfolded I realized my nightmare was true I could not really bend in any direction forward or backwards in any capacity. I made a decision to work with my Yoga practice in whatever capacity that was available to me no matter how limited. For the next month I did several hours a day of Pranayama alternating between supine positions and dandasana with my feet at the wall.
I thought I had reflected on what happened there and perhaps even extracted lessons out of it but it wasn't until I told this story to the people in the workshop that I realized I hadn't fully processed the event. When I told the story there wasn't really a point, whereas usually when I tell such a story there is some inspiration or message behind it. For me something was still dangling. And then an 'aha' moment came soon after. I'd always had two nagging dreams in my life; The Surfing Dream and The Yoga Dream. I'd had the surfing dream since I was a boy. It was also a fall back idea for me if the Yoga relationship didn't work out. I'd just become a surfer, spend my time in the ocean, riding waves. Then I had the Yoga dream. The Yoga dream was to continue to maintain and develop the art, grace and beauty of my Ashtanga practice. Since that time on the islands I realize there has been a shift in me.
As we all age we see how challenging it is to continue to practice in such a way that our bodies and minds stay truly strong, fit and supple. Other priorites come along to replace the fire, zeal, and devotion we have for practice. It is tempting to let ourselves off the hook thinking that asana is for youth. That somehow being intensely physical has a cut off point-perhaps it does for some of us. But for many of us, the discoveries we make as we flow though our sequences continue to feed our body's, minds, and souls. And we continue to be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to really go into our asana practices. We also realize more and more the extent to which we have to give up other things. This is the key if you want to have a fruitful serious asana practice, you must know it and fashion your life and choices to ensure it. There really is limited time and thus limited things you have available to put your energy into. The reality is that Ashtanga Yoga asks much of you; it gives you much but also asks much. The surfing dream has lost its power over me. Stuck on the Andamman Islands unable to really practice well, unable to surf--but able to sit there with lots of time for incubation and musing--it felt like the universe was saying: ' IF YOU WANT BOTH YOU'LL HAVE NEITHER' ... whoah!
Do you see it? What is holding you back, from going further, I'm talking about things that truly don't belong there. Not things in your life that do belong, like a great job, relationship, children, art and such, ultimately, those things feed you and your soul in just as necessary ways as your practice does. I'm talking about the things only you'll know what they are. The expendable parts of your life that you are choosing to divert your energy into. The reality is that Ashtanga might help a person be better at nearly any physical activity, but nearly any other physical activity will compromise your Ashtanga practice in some way. For me, even how much I admire the soul of true surfing, I still choose my Yoga practice. There's a subtlety to it that is not found elsewhere. Even dreaming about being a surfer diverts my attention, even the possibility that I might drop my serious practice and go surf takes away from my practice.
I now feel more grounded, lighter, and more excited about Yoga practice. I wish I could just touch your feet and you'd feel what I feel and then you would drop those lesser dreams you are harboring that aren't worth it. Funnel your energy towards the real heart of what you want to share, create, and become-- unswerving, able to keep the target in your sights. You'll see a major shift in your experience, new found energy for what you want will arrive to help you. I'm no longer dreaming of surf vacations, I'm dreaming of dropping into my body, into my center, finding that flow, finding the depths, the athleticism, presence, power, finding that ability to illuminate the entire inner field. I prefer sensing, feeling, intuiting and thinking my way into the pure enjoyment, pure consciousness, and the profound experience of now, that Ashtanga Yoga offers.
May 2011 Research for my new Pranayama dvd began on the Andamman Islands.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Greetings! Here's the final installment of this Viparita Chakrasana series; I could easily have made this an 8 part Asana Kitchen or more! There is so much to explore about this complex, dynamic, and amazing posture. However, by reviewing pts 1-3 you should be able to make a decent start. Or if you are practicing tics tacs, I hope you can get new ideas for how to develop it and refine it and eventually nail it! Enjoy!
I would also like to mention that the application for my 2011 and 2012 Indepth Studies are now posted on my website. I will also be teaching a Mysore Intensive in India (Kovalam, Kerala) for the month of February, 2012. You can apply for that on my website as well.
P.S I will be back with a new post in two weeks!
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Part two of this series deals with rhythm in the tic tacs. It is the shortest video of the three because I want you to work with the 1, 2, 3, rhythm for a week before you move on to Part three. It is crucial that your body understands how much momentum and rhythmic motion is needed to successfully come back over. So this week your job is to integrate the 1, 2, 3 into your backbend!
Check back next week for part three!
Sunday, May 1, 2011
I am pleased to announce a new installment of the Asana Kitchen. For the next three weeks I will be posting parts 1-3 of the challenging and beautiful Viparita Chakarasana, otherwise known as Tic Tac’s. I would like to thank all of my students who participated in the filming, Joy for editing the epic post, and Claudia who not only asked the question but also filmed herself doing the posture. Sending in a video was a great way for me to directly see what she needed to work on.
I hope you find the instruction helpful!
Friday, April 22, 2011
I have been working on this piece in my head for months and finally I have completed the article!! I am happy to share it with you and I feel like it is an important and crucial aspect to the practice.
I would also like mention that I have opened up the Ashtanga Yoga School in Philadelphia. If you are ever in the area I invite you to practice with me and the amazing Philadelphia students. You can also read this post on my new blog!!
Ashtanga Yoga (as in the 8 limbs) begins with Ahimsa, non-harming. Yama is the first limb of the eight limbs and ahimsa is the first Yama. Thus ahimsa can be considered the base, the very foundation and support of the 8 eight limbs. Consider the use of the word ahimsa, the main root himsa, means violence, harm, aggression. When you add the “A” in front of it it becomes ahimsa, the opposite of himsa. The use of the word Ahimsa in this ‘negative’ manner is intentional. For example the first yama could have been ‘peace’ or ‘care’ but instead it is stated as the opposite of non peace. That is because himsa is simply inherent, part of you and me, an automatic, survival response to fear and/or perceived threat.
Often emotionally we start from himsa, we are born with a bent, a tendency to express aggression and violence under certain circumstances. In order to get to peace or empathy, we need to find our way through our aggression by cultivating its opposite. You must adopt a conscious stance or intention that helps you turn your energy around and go ‘against the grain’; to find a different choice, as was practiced by both Gandhi and MLK.
Stated positively Ahimsa means care, extraordinarily high level, genuine, deep, sustained care; the kind of care that begins within your body when you take up a serious, soulful asana practice. Curiously both mula bandha and ahimsa are found together there. They are both foundational, core practices that involve harnessing the powerful energy that exists in the form of deep drives within us. Mula bandha and ahimsa involve redirection of this energy, a causing of this energy to move out of mundane channels, to flow along spiritual channels to draw forth what is real and what has truth within us.
Ahimsa and mula bandha meet as two complimentary allies in your daily practice, in fact with practice you discover they are one and the same practice. In yoga when you enter into the body, you enter into your center, the realm of mula bandha, the root support at the base of the spine. Breathing, moving, and creating your stance, or posture from center gives you a kind of empathy and willingness to be open to your self, leads you to relate to and work to understand anything and everything that occurs within you. This is the basis of ahimsa and the foundation of yoga practice. You find that in order to get a grip on the practice of ahimsa, you must also work on mula bandha and vice versa.
Guruji insisted on the importance of practicing and performing Mula Bandha. He said that mula bandha is a contraction of the anus, gives mind control and must be practiced 24/7. In a recent conference with Sharath Jois (Guruji’s grandson), Sharath related a story about how he asked Guruji about the difficulties he was having with a challenging section of an advanced series postures. This set of postures requires you to alternate between opposing postural patterns (ie extreme extension to flexion etc) without a warm up, without the hand holding type of continuity of first or second or even third series offers. Guruji told Sharath it was only possible to master this sequence by achieving a strong Mula Bandha. This story lit up the point that you practice Mula Bandha to strengthen your base, your center so as to be able to choose more freely both physically and psychologically, and thus not get caught in one kind of pattern or groove. You become oriented and strong in the middle, in your core, and become capable of switching between patterns, even extreme opposites with relative ease. Mula bandha could be defined as ‘the ability to stay rooted and centered with ease and thus to stop and redirect your self as is desired and necessary. Ahimsa requires this same ability, you must learn how to respond creatively to the strong drives within you, neither blindly following their dictates, nor rejecting their power and the directions they may be indicating that you need to explore.
The need to be able to redirect your energy is true in an asana sense, but more important, it’s true in a psychological sense. When Guruji spoke of Mula Bandha giving ‘mind control’ he meant precisely this, that to apply mula bandha, you have to have enough mental strength to ‘stop’ the patterns of mind that take you away from where you want to go. You have be able to do this as immediately as you are able; with sharp, razor like control that is coupled with receptive, insightful care. Without mula bandha, without inhabiting your center, you won’t have the immovable stance, nor the mental maturity that you need, and so you will frequently and even helplessly watch your self think and behave in ways that are against your innards.
Anger often bursts upon you with a swiftness when it comes, as do other strong emotions. Before you know it you’ve said or done something harmful to your self and/or others. Working with your base, mula bandha allows you to match the energy of those emotions and thus to diffuse or re channel that energy and transform it into something else, something more right, more appropriate to the situation, more creative and personally empowering to you. In part the trick is in the timing; can you catch your self, reflect, let go of the grudge, make a different choice. Can you do it now, or in 10 minutes, or an hour, or a day, (or years later in your head)?
The reasons we waste our energy in harmful and small ways is at least in part based on a fundamental unwillingness to face our pain and fears in timely, sustained ways and with enough commitment and emotional engagement to change ourselves. And we also waste our energy simply because we’ve forgotten how to just be happy, how to celebrate life with ease, and how to be truly joyous as happens when we are involved creatively in our lives or when we just simply stop and breathe and tune in what is here exactly now.
But frequently, rather than really see ourselves moment to moment with our contradiction, weakness, vulnerability, insecurity, and emotional nakedness, we’ll pass up the thrills and joys of now, and instead, we’ll dissipate energy, let our power go down and out of the body somehow. We’ll indulge in something in one way or another whether it’s anger, envy or something that promises immediate happiness. And we’ll convince ourselves that it’s alright this time, and fail to remember how many times and for how many years we’ve let it be ok ‘this time’.
Maya (ignorance, or the veil) lulls us into drowsiness and steals our sense of the passage of time. We can become bafflingly unreflective, meanwhile the life we want floats by, mirage like, our dreams shimmering up ahead hazily out of reach but tantalizing close, close enough and distinct enough to feel real. And yet the years pass and we’re still eating when not hungry, drinking or smoking or shopping or watching tv or computering to forget our pain or how hard it all seems. We’re still pushing away the intimacy we so long for, and finding ourselves caught in our personal round of ‘life drama’s’ ‘that seem to come up one after the other and effectively sap our energies and prevent growth.
Mula bandha’s relationship to ahimsa provides a vital link between the physical practice and the emotional, mental aspects of practice. I don’t only do mula bandha so that I can perfect my ’float’ in jump backs. Those jump backs need to be connected to a greater awakening within myself. Can I bring that same grace and power to my emotional life, to my hidden attitudes about myself, to my behavior in relationships and even to such basic things as my eating patterns. Practicing mula bandha as ahimsa gives you the ability to close the gap between the little you and the you as your unique expression of the Divine Self, the Cosmic Magician, The Trickster, The Beloved, the Secret one, the one with a Thunderous Voice, the one you really wish and yearn to be.
Some examples of redirection of Prana to be able to switch back and forth between these as the need dictates, without ‘stickiness’ and immediately as possible:
anger to forgiveness
envy to appreciation
fear to faith
shouting to listening
craving to contentment
aversion to indifference
superficial to deep
gross to subtle
judgement to empaathy
blue to red, red to blue
scarcity to abundance
taking to giving
peripheral to central
inherent sadness, depression to inherent joy,
will and effort to receptivity, being
Saturday, March 26, 2011
I am back in the US touring and teaching. You can find my updated teaching schedule on my website. You can also read this post on my new blog! www.davidgarrigues.com/blog
Filling and Refilling Yoga’s 5 Jars
(Or Qualities to Cultivate for Progress in Practice)
Prajna——-AWAKENING OF WISDOM OR INSIGHT
Found in Yoga Sutra 1-20, this unique combination of qualities are meant to be cultivated and are the gifts of your practice. They can be thought of as 5 jars that you want to fill and keep filling. Note that these jars can be difficult to fill, can easily become depleted, the contents can get used up without your noticing, and you can also easily neglect to fill them back up.
Each person will have a different relationship to the qualities and jars. Sometimes one or two of the jars will seem very large compared to the others. These larger jars will be easier to fill up, easier to keep a ready supply of, and will take longer to deplete. Other jars will be very small, difficult to fill, hard to keep stocked and to replenish. It can be challenging to get an accurate sense of exactly what your relationship to each one is at a given time. For example do I have a big jar of faith that is easy to re-fill, how much faith (vs doubt) about Spirituality and/or my individual path do I really have? How easy is it for me to trust the inner work I’m doing and trust that this personal work is connected to something important, something larger then my ego, something that will lead to healing and wisdom within me and extend to the world around me? The difference between what I believe consciously and what I believe unconsciously might make accurate awareness elusive and therefore thwart my sincere attempts to acquire any given quality.
To make an accurate accessment about my ready supply of these five qualities I need to be able to observe myself carefully and without judgement. If I struggle wtih doubt often, then I need to know that about my self. I need to know that the faith jar will be challenging to fill up and might get depleted easily. But the tricky part is I may also not feel ready to fully face and accept my small doubts nor my large doubt. Here’s a little story that illustrates some of my struggles with faith vs doubt.
Recently I was really chewing on the idea of faith in practice. I felt sorry for a student of mine who is very rational and very skeptical of anything he can’t see. He asked me if he can keep practicing if he doesn’t buy into any of the Hindu underpinnings that are present in Yoga. He dismisses reincarnation, God, prayer, and approaches his study from a perspective of philosophical inquiry with it’s high regard for skepticism and reliance on rational thought. But its not as simple as that because he also doesn’t at all feel like practice is merely physical and finds the idea of practice as a glorified gym workout singularly distasteful. He states plainly that he doesn’t do Yoga for merely physical reasons. Listening to his struggle, I felt so blessed for my seeming ease wtih FAITH. I thought that somehow there’s part of me that simply ‘knows’ that there is a purpose each of us has to fulfill–that our consciousness is meant to be used for realizing the ‘ truth’ or ‘goodness’ of everything, of the Source.
I thought I was done considering the possibility of, ‘What if I believe there is nothing inherently spiritual about people or things? What if I deeply question whether there is any purpose, any grand truth? What if this is all random, meaningless, and there is no ultimate realization or meaning or something that existence is leading to?’
I was mulling all this over when I saw a low budget sign in front of a fire station. This sign had removable letters so that the firemen could post different messages frequently to keep passersby interested. The message on this day read:
SMALL DOUBT SMALL FAITH
GREAT DOUBT GREAT FAITH
Wow!! Revelation—-Faith does not mean blind faith, easy faith. This caused me to really look within, to see the small ways that I lack faith, to see how frequently and largely I doubt both Spirituality in a collective sense and my own personal relationship to my faith. When I really dig down inside I see that faith is something I have wrestled out of my doubt–one practice at a time–something I’ve agonized over and continue to agonize over especially when it’s time to apply my faith. When you look within I imagine you’ll find your supply of faith is contained in a jar you lovingly fill as you pour energy, unstintingly into your practice. Its a freeing and powerful realization that having doubt, large or small, is not necessarily a sign of a lack of faith. It could be quite the reverse–and that could explain why my student so clearly knows that practice is so much more than physical and yet he is not going to pray to Ganesh or take a set of beliefs such as those of reincarnation that don’t fit for him.
Furthermore when you really consider your practice and your relationship to any of these five qualities, you will likely see that, in the long term, none of these jars are easy to fill, nor to keep filled. If you think one of them comes easily, it may behoove you to look again, and see if there is more depth to explore.
Each quality has to be artfully chiseled as a stone mason does when she patiently, one hammer stroke at a time, fashions a figure out of stone. Your ability to meditate (samadhi) to become entirely mentally absorbed in what is unfolding within you will be hewn painstakingly out of your practice. Prajna-wisdom born from deep within your body will also come, hard won, from your practice. Indeed you fashion your energy, insight, faith, concentration, and your memory out of the long string of daily practices performed lovingly with great patience and care.
In closing here’s a little poem that speaks to the challenge of filling and refilling the jars:
How soon do you forget what you just learned in practice? Almost immediately
How soon does doubt replace faith? Almost immediately
How soon is meditation replaced by distraction and scatteredness? Almost immediately
How soon is the bright fire you kindled during practice diminished to a faint glow in the hearth? Almost immediately
How soon is the wisdom you gain, even the deep wisdom covered by ignorance? Almost immediately
There it is, But
I and you begin again
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
I'm pleased to offer a new short video discussion on reactions during practice. I speak about how to cultivate the mental power, to sift through various mental states, and how to identify the types of thoughts, emotions or reactions that are worthy of care and attention.
Also, Joy and I have created a new Facebook fan page for David Garrigues Yoga and will be using it as a platform to post daily blog like ideas and thoughts. We invite you to join us and help create a daily community on the Ashtanga Practice.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
I am constantly writing (in notebooks) about the practice. The writings are usually ideas or drafts for blogs, scripts for videos, or random personal thoughts. Joy loves to flip through them and says she finds a lot of helpful notes. A couple of weeks ago she threw out the idea that I should start posting some of them. Here's one, enjoy! David
"Here's what I say--go for it with all your might and gusto-put everything you have into achieving your asana's but...for christ sake---please play safe, be smart, stay alert to how you are treating your body--Think long term--aligning your edges.
The physical edge is how you push yourself physically--the intensity with which (you) meet your challenges, how much time and energy you put into developing your asana practice. The edge is the risk zone, the zone of discomfort. The physical place where you are not comfortable, where you find yourself wanting to escape somehow--you want to shift positions, move, adjust--where you feel strong sensations within your body--whether forward or backward bending, each person has a place where fear arises, where there are feelings of insecurity or doubt, success or failure is not certain--where things become physically challenging, more strength then you have may be required, or more flexibility-----A significant part of asana practice is to encounter physical hardship, it is by challenging yourself physically that the body becomes firm, strong, and healthy--the strong body enables you to work with your mind. As you develop the capacity to extend your physical edge you become ready to work with more mental aspects of practice--
You begin to work with your mental edge. The mental edge refers to working with expanding your awareness and focusing on your mental challenges. The types of emotional responses that habitually come up for you given circumstances. Just as you develop your physical practice through Yoga, there is a process of developing mental and emotional maturity---The mental edge arises where you have resistance in your emotional response or to how you behave. Pattabhis Jois used to talk about mind control and about strengthening your mind. The mental edge occurs when you feel your self responding to a situation involuntarily, seemingly without your consent--a mood over takes you, all of a sudden you are angry or envious--and you respond in a way that doesn't feel right, but you persist in that response because you don't have the mental strength or emotional maturity to express a more fitting response.
You have the opportunity during Yoga practice to encounter your mental edges. They can be less obvious and thus more difficult to pin point. Your mental response to what you experience in your asana work can help you remove the coverings that obscure your wisdom. To intentionally pay attention to what comes up for you mentally during practice adds an essential dimension to your work and reveals deeper layers of practice."
Monday, January 24, 2011
Joy and I made a video of Sharath’s conference on Sunday. It takes a second to load up but it does work. I have recently updated my workshop schedule for the spring and summer. Please take a look at it and hopefully we will be able to connect!
I also want to remind you that if you follow my blog I have switched over to a new one! So please subscribe it. In a couple of weeks I won't be posting to this blog anymore.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
David: No this is actually very basic classical yoga 101 stuff. Sharath presented this on purpose to the whole group who range from raw beginners to serious veterans. These concepts are fundamental and point to how to purify your body and better inwardly view the practice. I guarantee that most veteran Ashtanga heads have practiced at least some of these kriyas (Neti, Nauli, Trataka, Kapalabhati) as a way of furthering internal cleansing and better understanding their ashtanga practice.
Reflections on Sharath's conference
Sharath spoke about each of the **6 classic yogic cleansing practices (Kriya's-Neti, Nauli, Dhauti, Vasti, Trataka, Kapalabhati see below) and concluded that Ashtanga practice achieves the same benefits and thus largely replaces these practices. However because Sharath took the time to discuss these practices, I conclude that knowledge of these can give you new and valuable ideas for how to think and approach your ashtanga practice.
For example take Neti, Nauli, Dhauti, and Vasti; all of these relate to cleansing the entire digestive tract from mouth to anus. The quality, quantity, breadth, depth and intensity of the asana work we do in ashtanga is equally potent for thorough internal cleansing that includes purifying the digestive tract. This simple fact alone can inspire you to practice and help carry you across challenging times such as when you pass through a phase where you lack motivation to get up and get on the mat. Sharath spoke about how continuing to do this practice can help you look 10 to 15 years younger than your age-- largely due to the digestive fire that results from practice. He even quipped that the answer to the perennial question 'Why do you do Yoga?' is 'to look younger'--what more reason do you need?--ha!
Also, the proper use of Jalandhara, Uddhyana, and Mula bandha's helps your body emulate and thus receive the same benefits as the 4 above mentioned cleansing practices. When you use ujjayi breathing to draw the breath in from the root of the palate, the flow of prana through the nasal passages and sinuses clears these passages, similar to the use of a neti pot. And frequently working with the 'take it up' action of mula bandha during vinyasa transitions can simulate the same sort of drawing up action from your base that vasti asks for. Also as you practice, the continual moderate lift of Uddhyana Bandha coupled with awareness of redirecting apana vayu upwards when inhaling and exhaling can create an equally effective nauli like 'churning' of the abdominal region.
The similiarities between dristi and trataka are obvious; essentially dristi is a form of trataka and the fact that both systems emphasize the value of gazing in practice serves as a reminder that meditation and all inner work are greatly enhanced by cultivating awareness of where and how you orient your self visually. The movements of the spine are intimately connected with how you orient your posture through your eyes and what you see moment to moment. Both meditation and graceful movement have origins in awareness of the integrity of the body's central axis from the base, seat of Mula Bandha, along the length of the spine to the neck and head and finally through eyes in the form of the gaze, the Dristi.
Sharath briefly demonstrated the technique of kalapabhati, suggesting that people try it, and thus somewhat singled it out as a practice that could perhaps add dimension to your breath work and provide something energetically new that straightforward ujjayi might not provide.
Lastly Sharath spoke about what Yoga ultimately is about: 'uncovering the God within'. Each person is Brahman (the 'real, conscious, blissful' Self) but there are enemies within, anger, greed, jealousy, delusion, etc that cover this truth. I find it helpful to sit with the image of covering versus uncovering--yoga practice dissolves the coverings that obscure us and thus helps us uncover our Spirit. We can too easily make the mistake of thinking that the 'positive' coverings, the more superficial, outer pursuits are all there is and not even bother to dig down, go inwards, cross our joyous and challenging waters and sort through our inner enemies, our blindness to our strengths as well to our greed and our anger. And also we can feel like there is something wrong with us for our hunger, our need to search for depth and meaning, something wrong for being 'unhappy' or dissatisfied or having to struggle so much to make progress on our paths. To me Ashtanga or any serious spiritual practice is not necessarily for the 'happy', the well adapted, the contented, the ones who find what they are looking for in getting, spending, or who continue to place more value in pursuits outside of themselves. Ashtanga is for the hungry, the ones who have something gnawing inside, the ones who honestly aren't happy accepting complacent norms. Ashtanga is for those who are alive with intense feelings that there are worlds to discover, worlds that are found by reaching passionately inwards for expression that will contribute to personal and collective healing.
**The Six Cleansing Techniques (Shat Kriya's)
Neti: Using a water pot for nasal passage and sinus clearing.
Nauli: Abdominal churning
Dhauti: Cleansing by swallowing cloth
Vasti: Cleansing through natural colonics
Trataka: Fixed gazing or gazing at a single point.
Kapalabhati: Pranayama through technique. Exhalation active, inhalation passive
I found a swami demonstrating Kapalabhati. The video certainly has its own style. Enjoy!