It's almost Thanksgiving! I have a couple things to tell you on this moon day!
You may have noticed a few pictures and statues perched on the altar at the front of the room. The big picture is of Somaskanda, one of the names of Śhiva, one that arose in south India. Somaskanda can mean “sa uma skanda” — "Skanda who is with Uma." Fittingly for a Mysore room, Uma is the goddess as breath, and She nurses Skanda, their youngest son. The picture will also often have Skanda's brother Ganesh, or Pillaiyar, as he is called in Tamil.
The Shiva who comes from the north of India is often portrayed in one of three ways: the lord of the dark cave, where he is depicted as a formless linga. Or he's lord of the cremation ground, with wild dreadlocks and body covered in ash. Or else he has retired to a mountaintop to meditate.
As he made his way south, however, Shiva took on new understandings and names, such as Daksinamurti, Nataraj, and Somaskanda. The darkness of the cave has become the privacy of the household, which stands in sharp contrast to the withdrawal of the ascetic. The formless linga has given way to the family portrait. Somaskanda is an archetype of yogis in the everyday world. He is fully engaged in everyday life, hiding in plain sight, as it were.
If anyone's interested, we could move into Somaskanda's bija mantra practice, though that will be taught one-to-one.
It's ironic that I "dropped out" a bit (e.g. quit job, bailed apartment, abandoned car) in order to go to India to practice with Pattabhi Jois, a man who absolutely never "dropped out," who had a long-term "love" marriage, owned a home, raised children, and had a professional career from which he ultimately retired. Jois was — as are many of us — a yogi hiding in plain sight.
+++ANNUAL HOLIDAY MEMBERSHIP DRIVE
The time is nigh! $1,399 for Unlimited yoga! Save $520 and get free mat storage, which will save you another $120. Also I am working on book number two, which you will receive for free sometime in 2018! Please bring cash or check December 1–15.
+++THANKSGIVING MYSORE SCHEDULE + BLACK FRIDAY LED PRIMARY
Something a little different this year: We are open on Thanksgiving! Come stoke your digestive fire with practice!
November Holiday Schedule
Thursday, November 23: Mysore, 8–10 a.m. only.
Black Friday, November 24: Special Led Primary Series class, 7–9 a.m.*
*Open to all, free to members, all levels welcome. No Mysore following, though we will grab coffee downstairs.
+++ASHTANGA FOR ALL YOUR FRIENDS! 33% OFF INTRO TO ASHTANGA YOGA COURSE
As Oprah would say, "You get Ashtanga! And you get Ashtanga! And you get Ashtanga!" Just think, you could be someone's Oprah! The next Intro to Ashtanga Yoga course starts Monday, December 4, and runs two weeks, Mon-Wed-Fri/Mon-Wed-Fri, 6:30-7:45am. To get the discount, type "strong&flexible" on checkout. Here's the link!
+++DAVID GARRIGUES IN BEND!
A couple people are heading down from Portland to Bend — David Garrigues will be teaching at Bend Ashtanga Yoga from November 30 to December 3. He will conduct semi-private Mysore classes on November 30 and December 1 (space limited), and hold an Ashtanga Weekend December 1–3. If you're interested in finding out about an Airbnb, reply to this email and I'll connect you. Sign up now.
+++STRENGTH AND GRACE: A COLLECTION OF ESSAYS BY WOMEN OF ASHTANGA In the latest edition of "I am late to the party": I just saw this Strength and Grace book online! I haven't yet read it, but the essay topics look incredibly compelling, and the book itself looks exquisite. I want 250 words on my desk Monday from each you. Find it here.
+++CHRISTMAS COOKIE SWAP
Do you love cookies? Of course you love cookies. What are you, some kind of monster?! Katie E. and Tara (my wife) are hosting a Christmas cookie swap Sunday, December 17, 2–4pm. Bake some cookies, bring some cookies, leave with some cookies. Location details are on Facebook, so email my wife: email@example.com.
I just spent 20 minutes looking for an R. Kelly Cookie gif, but could not find one G-rated. This means it is time to wrap up this newsletter.
Well, the temperature has dropped sharply and the holidays are almost upon us. As the days grow shorter and the nights colder, we move closer together, instinctively and following ancient rhythms, for warmth, comfort, strength, and support. We gather with our friends and family, to be sure — and we also do it in like-minded company on our yoga mats. So hold fast! It's going to be a hell of a ride!
Logistics for Friday, October 20: they are re-doing the floors on the first floor, and so the building entrance on Hoyt Street, the bike locker-room, and the downstairs common room will be closed.
You will have to enter the studio on 13th, through the lobby where Barista coffeeshop is located. If you do not or cannot get to your mat, I will provide a loaner. Here's Barista on Google Map.
Swenson in September! The David Swenson workshop in September was incredible. I am standoffish about yoga workshops, by virtue of attending dozens, and yet I found David inspiring and revelatory, on many levels.
He taught and cued physical postures with a spare economy of words, and introduced maximally useful variations that belied decades of practice, and made it apparent that he has taught hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
He was also genuinely enthusiastic and passionate about yoga, and Ashtanga specifically. It was contagious. This is a guy whose internal joy radiated outward.
Finally, he was so clearly inspired by and loving toward Pattabhi Jois. Stories, jokes, and anecdotes about Guruji informed and influenced almost every aspect of his teaching.
I've written many times before that, as the workshop host, I often get very rewarding moments during the car rides to and from the studio, as well as during the dinners and the coffees between sessions.
What struck me about David was that "off-stage" he was exactly the person he was "on-stage" during the workshop, just toned down a few notches. He was not adopting a different persona --- he was just as enthusiastic, positive, warm and welcoming.
It was also great to talk about and catch up on our mutual friends in the Ashtanga community, many of whom span the globe. If you practice Ashtanga, you are part of a community, and David really brought that point ---we're part of a community that spans 40 years and the globe.
The Annual Holiday Member Sale will run December 1–15 --- unlimited yoga, plus free mat storage at the studio, yours for the princely sum of $1,499 ... Cash or check only. Save $120!
If I'm yet again writing about the Annual Member Sale, that means the Portland Ashtanga Yoga anniversary is around the corner --- as of January, I've offered daily morning Mysore under that name for the last eight years, and for 11 years total in Portland.
Give your friends, family, co-workers, and arch-nemesis the gift of Ashtanga Yoga! They might just fall in love with Ashtanga; at the very least they'll walk out with their own Ashtanga Yoga practice, as well as respect and understanding for what you do every morning. This promotion is good for $29 off the Intro, taking it to $120 from $149. The Intro to Ashtanga Yoga series is 6 classes over 2 weeks, generally 6:30–7:15 a.m. They can enroll at this link--- enter the code: strong&flexible
If you don't have an arch-nemesis, find one.
Led or guided Ashtanga classes are such a powerful experience --- they improve your pacing and focus, they offer relief from the routine of a Mysore practice, and you can take practice as a collective. We'll hold a three-class trial run of the 6-7:30 a.m. time slot. There is no Mysore class following, and all levels are welcome. Free for current members, drop-in fee for visitors.
"Last Friday" Led Primary upcoming dates:
November 24 (the day after Thanksgiving!)
Have you noticed that sometimes the moon days don't line up with your calendar? I got this explanation from JoisYoga.com:
Why do Jois Moon Days Sometimes Seem a Day Early?
We use an Indian astrology system of calculation (rather than a simple astronomy calculation). In this system, it is the period of time prior to the point the moon becomes exactly new/full that is considered the ‘moon day’ (called a tithi in Indian Astrology). Furthermore, in this system, the day is considered to begin at sunrise rather than mid-night.
Our moon days come from the following online source: www.mypanchang.com.
Further explanation: In India, where yoga comes from, the term ‘moon day’ is a loose translation of the Sanskrit term ‘tithi,’ and would be more accurately translated as ‘lunar phase’ rather than ‘moon day.’ Each tithi is the time period it takes for the the moon to traverse 12 degrees in the sky, thus making 30 tithis (or lunar phases) per lunar cycle. These tithis begin at varying times of day, and actually vary in duration from approximately 19 to 26 hours. What loosely gets termed the full and new ‘moon days’ – from our teacher’s (Sharath Jois’) perspective – are actually the 15th and the 30th tithis of this Indian Astrology (Jyotish) system.
The weekly schedule will be:
Monday & Tuesday: 5:30-7:30pm
Thursday: 5:30-7pm [Thursday may go until 7:30, but I'm waiting for confirmation.]
There will be a 10-class Pass for $149 and 3x/week Autopay for $135.
Ashtanga practice thrives with consistency. As a result, you can practice either Mornings or Evenings, just not both. I'm really trying to avoid people using an evening class as an excuse to not get up!
We'll see how this goes! This is a 3-month trial run --- I'm going to revisit it November 11 and make the call as to whether enough people are still interested!
Sign up here!
All days and hours as normal, 6–9 a.m., except for following studio closures --- there will be no class on the following days:
Sunday 23 (Moon)
Once more! If anyone you know might want to attend an evening Mysore class --- please reply to this email, or to the Facebook post! It would most likely be Mon-Wed-Thu, 5-7pm at Yoyoyogi.
This is mainly for people who cannot make early morning practice, and so in order to cultivate an evening group, evening Mysore would feature its own fee.
I'm getting a sense there's interest --- but please, if you haven't let me know, now's the time to speak up!
Can I do Ashtanga and [insert sport]? Sports usually mentioned: running, cycling, lifting weights, Crossfit, aerial arts, jiu jitsu, etc etc.
I think often in many cases, what we mean when we say, "Can I do Ashtanga" is: Can I get more flexible and stronger? Can I master the poses and the transitions?
Personally, I was curious to see what, how, and if I could expand my sense of competence through more complicated postures and transitions.
However, I've come to appreciate that's a tricky perspective to maintain over time. On the upside, an abiding curiosity, a "rage to mastery," and a growing sense of physical competence --- dynamism and passion --- are terrific incentives to practice.
The downside (there's always a cost) is that that perspective can reduce practice to a Pokemon hunt to collect postures. It also reinforces the idea that the poses can be perfected, or mastered, as if there were a finish line to cross and trophy to hoist upon ‘completion.'
The good news/bad news combo --- there are no finish lines. There’s only more. It's difficult but more rewarding to see Ashtanga as a process or system, one that is maintained or tended to, like a fire. From a systemic view (not a series of goals), Ashtanga practice is breath, posture/vinyasa, and looking-point. This system is then run through a circuit of set posture sequences.
To me, this is what Guruji (P. Jois) meant when he used to say, "Anyone can do Ashtanga." The forms and shapes of the series direct, guide, and channel the practice of the tristana.
Meanwhile, Ashtanga practice forces us to ask deeper, more difficult questions, ones that do not present clear answers; rather, they present questions that must be continually asked, with the understanding that it is the honest asking of questions, rather than finality of answers, that is part of the point.
What does this mean for Olympic weightlifting and Ashtanga? It means, in my opinion, go ahead and get after it! You will find, as I did, that experience will force a question, and you'll have to decide in which direction to move.
For example, training for a triathlon and Ashtanga six days a week exhausts you, and you have significant problems getting out of bed. Which endeavor do you dial back? How do you dial it back? There's no right answer and there's no final answer, rather it is the engagement with the question that is an important part of the practice.
Those thresholds, when our routines break, are important inflection points. All I can hope to remind you is that a 30-minute practice --- sun salutations, standing poses, sit down, lie down (lie down 10 minutes!) --- this is unequivocally Ashtanga, too!
The Summer Membership Sale is upon us! Save yourself $400 on a year of unlimited yoga at Portland Ashtanga Yoga! It is $1,499 for one year of yoga! That is cash or check only --- the sale runs July 1 through July 15!
This Sunday: Chapter One of the Bhagavad Gita, 9:30-10 a.m. We’ll undertake a chapter (maybe two) each Sunday --- come and check it out! If you want to follow along, I’m using J. A. B. van Buitenen’s translation. Or bring your favorite own copy and we can compare!
David Swenson is set to visit Portland during an incredible seven sessions during the weekend of September 15-17. We’re again hosted by Yoga on Yamhill, and the event is currently more than half full. Sign up now if you have even the slightest interest, because it will fill up.
Okay, that's it for this June! We're set to baste this weekend --- I believe I saw 100 degrees for Saturday and Sunday? --- so please stay cool, and I hope to see you on your mat soon!
My friend and handstand teacher Nicolo Kehrwald has released a book on handstands! Everything you wanted to know in order to do them! It is an incredible little book.
Tara and I wandered into his living room for private handstand practices seven or eight years ago --- our first 2-hour handstand session was mindblowing.
I highly recommend that you pick up a copy --- Nicolo is able to talk about handbalancing as an art form and as a practice.
Get it on Createspace or Amazon.
Barb has practiced with me since summer 2007, when we first moved to Portland. Her handstand has come a long way since then!
She’s a mother of two and I can only confidently say she is over 40. She teaches at PSU and travels overseas frequently to teach classes on conflict resolution. However, when she’s in town she’s in class every damn day! In fact, she often shows up before 5:30, which is when I get to the studio.
I had Barb perform this handstand at the end of her practice, so she wasn’t as sharp as normal. But she’s learned to kick to the wall and use her midsection to pull her feet from the wall. Finally, she’s also now able to use her hands and wrists to balance in this position.
Barb practices her handstands in between navasana. For her, they’re fun and challenging. At this time we are not focused on moving off the wall --- in my opinion, at this time for Barb the risk/downside/exposure to injury is currently not worth the reward/upside/benefits.
(More on the appropriateness, utility, and inclusion of handstands and splits later.)An obvious takeaway is that the the “perfect” performance of an asana, or asana sequence, is not a predictor or sign of yoga, as I consider Barb a beyond accomplished Ashtanga yogini.
Often my job is to merely remind people: you are already doing it!
What is the opposite of "throwback"? I don't know. I posted an old photo (2006) the other day, but you can't live in the past.
So this one is from the other week. Ren assists me in upavishta konasana. The most difficult aspect is that he tends to jump, leap and otherwise stomp around on my back.
He plays with the balls and cart, the plank in the foreground is for the handstand practice.
Nothing stays the same is the only constant. Yet the essence of what drove my interest in marichyasana D (and the other poses) hasn't changed --- that is, my interest in yoga --- but its expression certainly has!
The delightfully flexible and strong Rebecca Z. demonstrates a sequence she used to learn and practice taking her ankles in backbends.
As a lazy Ashtanga Mysore teacher, I hope to subtract my physical involvement from students’ practices. This is one progression of postures that I have used to help students work on the strength, flexibility, and awareness to grab their own ankles. That way I no longer have to hold them aloft while pulling in their arms, and then stand there, holding them, forever.
Rebecca expressed a terrific range of motion and awareness when she started at Portland Ashtanga Yoga, and at this point she has practiced daily for many years. She spent some months on shalabasana as well as pulling herself up into viparita shalabasana in order to develop active spinal flexibility, strength, awareness, and connective tissue strength.
At that point, she could drop back and pause the motion at almost any angle from the floor.
A general note on the “stages” below: they are obviously an organic continuum and the boundaries between are not discrete. Essentially Rebecca practiced moving to each stage and holding it for at least 5 breaths, and she would repeat specific stages for weeks or months before moving to the next.
Stage one: walk fingertips to touch feet.
Stage two: curl hips forward to pull herself onto her fingertips. She would hold on her fingertips for 5 breaths.
Stage 3 (she doesn’t really show this one): one hand --- fingertip. Other hand: one fingertip only (pointer finger). This stage is how she learned to free up one hand to reach in to take her ankle.
Stage 4: Holding one ankle, she pulls back to the fingertips of the hand on the floor. She spent a long time at this stage, because she would focus so much on grabbing one ankle she would drift away from her legs and end up glued to the floor.
Stage 5: Holding one ankle, other hand only pointer finger on the floor.
Stage 6: Take both ankles.
I’m not sure if she’s interested or not, but she could possibly start walking her hands up her shins, or even work on grabbing her shins without touching the floor. We have tried that before, and Rebecca reported it didn’t feel great.
We watched this after I filmed it, and told Rebecca it looks way smoother than it ever had --- she displays a smoothness between stages due to pure repetition and comfort.
The Primary Series Saturation starts this weekend! On the real, there is a very strong chance we will not work on grabbing our ankles in backbends. However, we will bring this patient, progressive, step-wise approach to any and all other postures! You’ll also get into the myths and philosophy that surround this practice.
Finally, you can enroll in single sessions! $199 for the whole thing (11 hours), $40 per session (2 hours/ea), or $99 for the seminar (5 hours plus break).
Jason owns and directs Portland Ashtanga Yoga.