accumulating asanas is NOT AT ALL the purpose of yoga. yoga is for the purpose of healing oneself and returning to a state of equilibrium and well being within one's own mind body organism.
practice is a tool for checking in, not check out. it may feel like checking out when our focus begins to move in a singular direction, and our minds are no longer spinning out of control scratching at the past or reaching for security regarding our impossibly unknown future. the challenging aspects of practice, whatever they may be for each of us individually, are so simply because we aren't yet sharp enough to check in with ease. over time, with consistency and proper intention, checking in comes as a choice and is more readily available. the sense of "I" that persistently holds us hostage slips off for longer stretches of time, and instead of grasping outwardly to find satisfaction we merge into an integrated relationship (experiential wisdom) with what is. the further we've drifted from that state, the more effort it will take to return to it. the word "effort" isn't actually fitting here. the possibilities of residing in experiential wisdom are likely greater when unlearning and not doing become a part of our practice. striving is counterintuitive. effort suggests "I" am going somewhere, when in fact i'm not, or that "I" may lose something, when in fact i have nothing to lose aside from the concept of an individual self that i've spent so many years cultivating and defining.
each time i check IN i invite myself to snuggle up to the notion that the "I" i've fabricated is neither permanent nor without change, and that's quite a valuable six day a week lesson.
for the sake of levity...let's consider for a second that in a yoga teacher offering to a student the 'next pose' with the implication stereotypically being, "congratulations. you've accomplished something. here's something else to work on"… what if the implication was instead, "man, you're totally crazy. here's another yoga pose to help work on your monkey mind. good luck!"
in a few days the broome street temple, home to ashtanga yoga new york will close its doors. i spent my formative years of ashtanga yoga building a daily sadhana at the temple under the guidance of my teacher eddie stern and his assistants. i'd like to say that a space is just a space. the more enlightened me will say that someday…maybe. but for now i just can't. something happened in that room - something cleaner, clearer, brighter - something like tea steeping, not for minutes or hours, but years, decades. it became potent, infectious, it buzzed. the walls changed colors, and changed colors, and changed colors, until the walls were moved, and again changed colors. with lectures, temple worship, holiday gatherings, kirtans, yoga therapy sessions, and weddings, including my own, it was a place to gather. for sangha, for in depth study of self. eddie always referred to it as the "yoga school". and yet beyond this, it was something else to me and for many others too. each of us may have our own ways to describe it and this is only mine.
the temple was an impossibility that somehow made itself possible in a city that doesn't seem to do anything better than keep the possible an arms length away. i wondered, 'how in the hell does this all happen in a city that's strangulated by inflated egos, inflated rents, and inflated ideas around money in general?' having the temple as a safe space gave me hope for the possibilities of mankind. really it did.
my strongest impression was that i felt like we were getting away with something that we weren't supposed to be getting away with. there was a 'this is how things are supposed to be', and then there was the broome street temple with its motley crew of students, participants, and devotees. it was other than. if we were in that room, we were safe from the "bad people"…the ones who might come and take this place away. i know that sounds kind of childlike, but that's how it felt, in my experience. we had the freedom to play seriously in that space. from the point of view of an artist like myself what's better than having a place to commit to self research and not be bothered? we were given permission, by the deities, by eddie, his assistants, each other, to turn our backs for just a couple hours a day on the constantly in flux outside and look inside towards the upper case SELF. it was a softer more gentle way for many of us to say "fuck you". we'd been trying to express these words in many ways for so many years, but finally we could do it by making an offering, of love and commitment. the practice, the teachers, fellow practitioners, they elicited what true love elicits for most of us…joy, confusion, disappointment, contentment, frustration, sadness, clarity, anger, jealousy, relief, softening, acceptance, letting go, and so on - all qualities of any valuable and insightful relationship.
in short, as my friend kelley put it, "it wouldn't be so sad if it hadn't been so awesome". absolutely correct.
i have the deepest of gratitude for this humble little room on the second floor of 430 broome street. i bow down to the teachers who served the ashtanga yoga new york community over the years, to the deities that sat heavy in the elements so that we may transform, and to eddie and jocelyn who invested their lives into this epic awe inspiring project. it was special, and i will miss it.
give me the gift of a book that details the entirety of the grand canyon and i'll regurgitate it's contents back to you...receive an A+. give me the gift of placing me in the center of something so large and awe inspiring that i cannot help but be humbled and stunned into a language free state. experience. wisdom. give me the gift of sitting in meditation, and i may find that unlike the grand canyon, the spaciousness of the inner self is more vast than anything i could ever imagine and without beginning or end. wisdom.
accumulation of intellectual knowledge or accumulation of degrees in this subject or that one, not unlike obtaining material objects, can often be mistaken for wisdom or permanent truths. our collections of ideas are temporal in their nature and subject to change like anything else. if we hold onto them too tightly or mistaken them for wisdom we are selling ourselves short. it's suggested that wisdom is likely spontaneous. we can set ourselves into what seem to be the ideal circumstances to allow for wisdom to arise, but most likely our ego (our small self) is just taking us for another quick ride around the amusement park.
a short video to commemorate the 100th birthday of sri k. pattabhi jois - moments from ashtanga yoga shalas around the world stitched together.
happy 100th birthday from mysore oakland to the late sri k. pattabhi jois (guruji). please join us to honor the life and teachings of guruji this sunday @ flying studios.
7:15 - 8:45am led primary series - please bring an offering for the altar. it can be a piece of fruit, a flower, a bunch of flowers...
a "guru" is one who sheds light onto what was previously dark and facilitates an awakening to ones ignorance. a guru is one who is heavy in her/his seat; strong, stabile, and with an unfettered mind.
i've wrestled with depression for as long as i can remember. it was most painful before i was able to identify what it was, and before i developed coping skills. i've learned for me, the depression isn't just going to leave. i've been told over the years in every possible way you can think of that i could will it away if i just "saw" things differently, or thought more "positively". those of you who know depression know this is completely ludicrous. the methods suggested to me lead to something else. it's called repression. this in turn leads to anger, or perhaps a deeper depression. whatever it leads to, it most certainly brings along with it a further sense of isolation from others, because for some reason you just cannot think your way out of being depressed. if YOU can, your in luck because you don't suffer from depression.
the one thing (i'm sure there could have been others) that has cultivated lasting relief from the overbearing effects depression has had on my life, is practice. they say ashtanga yoga attracts type A personalities (those with plentiful energy, usually competitive, aggressive, etc). this isn't me. i'm the one who wakes up in the morning and thinks in a very low heavy inside tone, "ugh…no….argh, no….shit…ugh, and many more ughs". i'm certainly never jumping out of bed ready to get on that mat and kick some ass. when i began ashtanga yoga i found it difficult to commit to myself and get on the mat regularly. BUT, what i've realized over the years and here's where things start looking up, is that "i have depression", "i can't get out of bed", "i don't have a good practice", "i can't do that pose", etc are all just stories i tell myself. now that doesn't mean those things aren't absolutely true! they are. but, they have power over me only when my mind engages with them as truths. when i let the stories spin, they strengthen. the question at some point became, with these stories carrying some weight, can i - without ignoring them - rather walk straight into them and by my daily actions slowly and patiently change their strength which had a seemingly inescapable grip on me. will they ever change? and so it began, the get your feet on the floor and get in the shower method. it's a daily baptism for me. that hot water hits my back and some of the bullshit immediately washes down the drain. i can see beyond what i had 30 seconds ago perceived as my personal limitations for the day. it's not a thinking thing. to the contrary: get two feet on wood floor, stand, walk on floor towards shower, etc. the physicality of it all is the only way i've found it works for me. this body takes action and this mind follows. in other words, this body can be a vehicle used towards reorienting myself in the world, and asana is available for the same purpose if we chose to use it that way.
asana has never come easy for me. for the sake of insufficient language let's call it "a struggle". i can guide you through the elaborate (hi)stories that live in my body as to why, and you could shake your head, "yes, yes timothy. i see why things are hard for you". but then who needs more stories? and you know something…in a world with so much inexplicable suffering and violence - physical and emotional - it's an incredible gift to have any practice that challenges us, reveals our strengths, and brings our minds towards ease. a luxury. for a second let's consider the billions of cells that have to shift for us to make the simple gesture of raising our arms overhead…it's a miracle, truly! so why mention the "struggle" with asana? because the struggle is no reason to give up, no reason to stop showing up for myself and trying. that struggle, the very limitations, are the walls that keep me contained in a space that allow me to learn and to grow. when we paint, we are limited by the borders of our canvas, when we dance, by the walls around us, or exhaustion. when we pray, by language, when we are human, by mortality. the spirit however is boundless. it is that inside of us that understands limitations are only as powerful as the narratives they weave in our mind. and acknowledging that and putting it into words doesn't mean i'll spontaneously become enlightened or be able to do some advanced pose, but for now it deepens the way i love, guides me towards compassion, patience, strength, and grace. i show up every day for these things. not expecting to receive them, but rather making myself available to their unveiling, just in case. as a friend once said, "when the divine wind blows, set your sail!"
primary series (yoga chikitsa, yoga therapy) asanas names
- sūryanamaskāra A+B (sun salutations)
- pādāṅguṣṭāsana (big toe posture)
- pāda hastāsana (feet on hands posture)
- utthita trikoṇāsana A+B (triangle + revolved triangle posture)
- utthita pārśvakonāsana A+B (side angle + revolved side angle posture)
- prasārita pādottānāsana A,B,C,D (wide stance forward bends)
- pārśvottānāsana (intense side stretch)
- utthita hasta pādāṅguṣṭāsana (upright hand to toe posture)
- ardha baddha padmottānāsana (intense bound half lotus posture)
- utkatāsana (powerful posture)
- vīrabhadrāsana A+B (warrior postures)
- paścimattānāsana (intense western stretch posture)
- pūrvattanāsana (intense eastern stretch posture)
- ardha baddha padma paścimattānāsana (bound half lotus forward bend posture)
- tiryaṅgmukha ekapāda paścimattānāsana (one legged forward bend - three limbs facing forward posture)
- jānuśīrṣāsana A,B,C (head beyond knee posture)
- marīcāsana A,B,C,D (posture of the rishi marichi)
- nāvāsana (boat pose)
- bhujapīḍāsana (shoulder pressure posture)
- kūrmāsana (turtle posture)
- supta kūrmāsana (reclining turtle posture)
- garbha piṇḍāsana (embryo in the womb posture)
- kukkuṭāsana (rooster posture)
- baddha konāsana (bound angle posture)
- upaviṣṭha konāsana (seated wide angle posture)
- supta konāsana (reclined angle posture)
- supta pādāṅguṣṭāsana (reclined hold the big toe posture)
- ubhaya pādāṅguṣṭāsana (both big toe posture)
- ūrdhva mukha paścimattānāsana (upward facing forward bend posture)
- setu bandhāsana (bridge posture)
- ūrdhva dhanurāsana (upward bow posture)
- salaṁba sarvāṅgāsana (all limbs posture – shoulder stand)
- halāsana (plough posture)
- karṇa pīḍāsana (knees to the ears posture)
- ūrdhva padmāsana (upward facing lotus posture)
- piṇḍāsana (emryo posture)
- matsyāsana (fish posture)
- uttāna pādāsana (intense leg posture)
- śīrṣāsana (headstand)
- baddha padmāsana (bound lotus posture)
- yoga mudra (seal of yoga)
- padmāsana (lotus posture)
- utpluthiḥ (uprooting)
- rest (rest)
"To acknowledge that 'i am this body' is not to reduce the mystery of my yearnings and fluid thoughts to a set of mechanisms, or my 'self' to a determinate robot. Rather it is to affirm the uncanniness of this physical form. It is not to lock up awareness within the density of a closed and bounded object, for as we shall see, the boundaries of a living body are open and indeterminate; more like membranes than barriers, they define a surface of metamorphosis and exchange. The breathing, sensing body draws its sustenance and its very substance from the soils, plants, and elements that surround it. It continually contributes itself, in turn, to the air, to the composting earth, to the nourishment of insects and oak trees and squirrels, ceaselessly spreading out of itself as well as breathing the world into itself, so that it is very difficult to discern, at any moment, precisely where this living body begins and where it ends. Considered phenomenologically - that is, as we actually experience and live it - the body is a creative, shape-shifting entity. Certainly, it has its finite character and style, its unique textures and temperaments that distinguish it from other bodies; yet these mortal limits in no way close me off from the things around me or render my relationships to them wholly predictable and determinate. On the contrary, my finite bodily presence alone is what enables me to freely engage the things around me, to choose to affiliate with certain persons or places, to insinuate myself in other lives. Far from restricting my access to things and to the world, the body is my very means of entering into relation with all things."
THE SPELL OF THE SENSUOUS - David Abram
"opening your body is like opening an envelope. you can rip it, or you can steam it open without a trace."
- david williams
"The image I always have when I am performing a wedding is the image of a triangle in which there are two partners and then there is this third force, this third being that emerges out of the interaction of these two. The third one is the one that is the shared awareness that lies behind the two of them. And the two people in the yoga of relationship come together in order to find that shared awareness that exists behind them in order to then dance as two. So that the twoness brings them into one and the oneness dances as two, and that’s a kind of a vibrating relationship between the one and the two. So that people are both separate, and yet they are not separate. And they are experiencing that the relationship is feeding both their uniqueness as individuals and their unit of consciousness."
- Ram Dass
a student reminded me today of wise words a teacher once offered me in art school 15 years ago.
i was walking out of my painting class and looking to the teacher i said, "take care." his eyes drew wide and he sharply replied, "no, NO! don't take care!" i was a little scared, but more confused… he continued, "don't take care. to be careful and to be careless are two ends of a spectrum, both based on fear. don't be careful, and don't be careless. there's something in between the two, loving. be loving". he was a very smart man, and gave me a project worth lifetimes of hard work with those simple words.
thank you jerry.
in 2010 on the last night of a 10 day vipassana silent meditation course in markal, india (just north of pune) i became violently ill and dizzy. it's not fun being sick, but especially unpleasant being sick in a foreign country where little english is spoken or understood. the long story, like most post travel to india, is filled with fairytale like moments that don't seem possible on the earthly plane.
i'll give you the short of it: on the grounds of the meditation retreat i was starting to lose it. i really thought i could die…perhaps i caught some crazy disease and had hours to live…seriously. everyone was leaving the center and i didn't know how i could travel under the circumstances. i could barely walk. after some time surrounded by indian men (who had also just finished the intense course) scratching their heads coming up with crackpot schemes to save the sick american man, a buddhist monk approached me, placed his hand on my forehead, and told me to close my eyes. after a moment he said i would be ok, and for me this was the beginning of letting go. he invited me to ride with he and his friends in an already packed car. i sat on the monks lap in the backseat with my backpack perched on my neck. the ride into pune wasn't long, but it felt like eternity. the car overheated, and several times we pulled over so i could be sick. the monk rubbed my back, and a woman pulled an image of buddha from her bag and handed it to me. "here, buddha will take care of you". i had no choice but to submit to this process of being taken care of, by these people, by buddha. the monk took me back to his monastery, in a very poor buddhist community within pune city. he and the other monks put me to rest on a makeshift bed. underneath the bed were the monks alms bowls. over the next few days, this community nursed me back to health. after sleep i would always wake to a bag of bananas, rice, and/or a coconut by my side. when i was up and walking again, i was invited into the homes of neighbors and fed. one boy atish and his mother who lived directly across the street took a particular interest in me. one night they fed me. we sat in their 10 foot squared home where atish, his three sisters, and mother slept. his father passed a few years before. after i ate they presented me with a small acrylic statue of buddha as a gift for being a guest in their home. it brought me to tears. i've never in my life been taken care of with such selfless loving kindness. it's something we should all have the opportunity to experience, if only once. it was a practice just for me to accept my helplessness in the situation. here i was, the westerner, seemingly having everything in the world, and there they were seemingly having very little. but in the end they had exactly what i needed. love, and attention.
over the next few days i slept on the monastery floor at night and was woken early each day by a couple of young monks chanting through the loudspeaker. the sound filled the neighborhood, and the boys were most certainly happy to return to sleeping when they finished…back onto the floor under the blankets, rolling to their sides, moaning a little, and back to sleep. in the daytime young people of the community would come to see the westerner who happened upon their home. with barely a word of english, we played games, they performed dances for me, and we took photos of each other. it was an accidental experiment in crossing cultures which wouldn't normally meet under any circumstances. and after three days, they bought me a bus ticket and sent me back into india.
i will never forget this community and their willingness, no. not even willingness…for them it was dharma (duty). they didn't will anything. they simply did what needed to be done, and i am forever grateful.
"Real freedom comes from clarity. The very need to make a decision, the very act of decision-making, is an indication of conflict. If you're trying to decide anything, you may as well wear a sign around your neck reading 'i'm confused.' If you knew what to do, if you saw clearly what's appropriate, there'd be no decision. You would know, and you would do it. In the moments when you're trying to make a decision it's possible to see clearly that you are confused and in conflict. To see clearly that you are unclear is seeing something clearly. This is seeing what is, which brings a movement or shift to a different way of holding the situation. You may see a more appropriate alternative, or drop the whole thing, or put it on hold until more clarity comes."
- The Passionate Mind Revisited, Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad
"The game is not about becoming somebody. It's about becoming nobody."
- Ram Dass
"Everything changes once we identify with being the witness to the story, instead of the actor in it."
- Ram Dass
“Body is not stiff. Mind is stiff.”