Friday, March 30, 2012


"The notion of an original yoga is a just-so story that is constructed about the cultural context of yoga, which is transmitted (often by ill-informed students) at the time practices are taught.

The aspect of yoga that involves extensive physical discipline and the exploration of the anatomical-physiological bases of spiritual practice, that is, the yogic tradition known as haṭha yoga, was never a major part of “classical” yoga, if we can even speak of classical yoga, given the paucity of historical records, which are mostly shrouded in mythology or iconography ... "

"The Reflexivity of the Authenticity of Haṭha Yoga," Kenneth Liberman
Yoga in the Modern World: Contemporary Perspectives, page 100

I'm always curious as to the degree and depth with which modern Yoga scholars discount or disregard the role of orality within Yoga and the Hindu tradition in which it flowered. 

It seems that if something isn't written down, it didn't happen.

I guess what I'm inching toward is the question of the limits of knowledge about ancient, medieval, and modern (and post-modern) Yoga.

From social and historical viewpoints it seems that our knowledge is often limited to existing texts — often written on banana leaves and, what's critical, supplemental or auxiliary to oral transmission.

This reminds me of that story (a Calvino story?) of the man looking for lost house-keys under a streetlamp in front of his house.

A passerby helps the man search. The two search on their hands and knees for an hour, but to no avail. The passerby finally asks, "Well, where did you last see your keys?"

The man points toward his darkened doorway.

"Why are you looking out here on the street?"

"Because," says the man, "this is where the light is."

Again, in Black Swan, Taleb mentions a line in Will Durant's The Story of Civilization in which the Phoenicians are described as a "merchant race" due to the absence of a written legacy; it turns out that the Phoenicians wrote prodigiously — only they used a highly perishable type of papyrus that did not weather the passage of time.

The parallels between banana leaves and papyrus, as well as the limits of certain kinds of knowledge, seems to me rather striking. 

Also, I am noting a circular web of references and citations. Yet if we're all citing, for example, White's The Alchemical Body, and no one has scrutinized his scholarship, how are we not building a house of cards? 

There are, however, many heat-rocking mega-bangers of articles in Yoga in the Modern World.  

Thursday, March 29, 2012


I’m hip-deep in Gudo Nishijima’s translation of the “Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way” by Nagarjuna.

(Published by Monkfish.)

I understand (based on Amazon comments) that Nishijima’s translation, as well as his understanding and presentation of Buddhism, may be non-traditional, perhaps even a bit iconoclastic.

However, I find that he speaks simply and plainly about what can often be abstruse.

His reading of verse 7 of the Skanda Pariksa section was of interest to me, especially as how it relates to our establishment of sankalpa (intention) at the beginning of our Ashtanga practice.

People often establish private, personal intentions for their practice, which can be done by verbalizing a sentence or flashing on an image. 

Patanjali lists some great suggestions for this, by the way.

I personally find it easier and more resonant to “sprinkle” myself with seed-sounds that constitute various archetypal figures. (Okay, you caught me: bijas that make up various deities).

However, even if one doesn’t call to mind a mantra, inspiring figure, or deity, among others, to merely recite pranava (om) and the Ashtanga opening invocation is to establish an intention of sorts.

The opening invocation is also just that: an invocation, a ritual summoning that calls together thoughts and intentions that will shape, direct, and guide our practice.

We then end our practice by banishing or dispersing those energies when we reciting the closing chant.

The opening and closing chants of Ashtanga mark out the boundaries of our practice and therefore give it shape, duration and, as a result, meaning and value.

Anyway, Nishijima speaks simply and powerfully about the role of intention during practice, as it turns out that our intention (coupled with action) can affect the entire universe:
“When we want to acquire knowledge about anything, the intention of that study is always included within the study itself. Thus our intention will always color the outcome of that study, no matter how carefully we try to avoid doing so … Furthermore, all action is very much related with the inclusive totality, or the entire universe. No action takes place without affecting the entire universe in some way, and no object exists by itself unrelated to the rest of the universe …”


I know I'm late to the party, but have you seen "Hipster Yoga"?

"Step 1. Begin in extended trust-fund pose."

I laughed so hard I sprayed Pabst everywhere.

Of course, the trouble is that I just see photos of kids dressing crazy.

I thought that was what being young was all about: dressing crazy. Excessive partying. Maybe both together at the same time?

Oh Internet, you strip the context out of everything!

Also, can't be mad at a My Bloody Valentine T-shirt.

Monday, March 26, 2012


I had a conversation some months back with a power yoga teacher, in which it was suggested to me to consider playing music during class. "People love hearing good music!" she said.

If I played music, I asked, how then could people hear their own breath? Alas, I believe this suggestion fell on deaf ears, as it were.

It did get me thinking, though, about the various niches and demographics that not just Yoga but Ashtanga Yoga could invade, penetrate, or insert some your favorite masculine-encoded corporate term.

All we have to do is jettison this notion of lineage and tradition. God knows, the marketplace could certainly use several more Yoga For Insert Title Here.

I present now a series of marketing ideas that for sure will make my Ashtanga DVDs Target and Wal-Mart best-sellers. 

1. Ashtanga Crossfit
I see 400 meter sprints between sun salutations, rope-climb uth-pluthi, and 45-pound weight vests in class; binding might be challenging during the twisting postures, but then I understand the Crossfit people love difficulty.

2. Ashtanga for MMA
Look, laying aside this whole ahimsa yama (clearly ridiculous), this is a no-brainer, given the overwhelming popularity of MMA and Ultimate Fighting. I envision people moving through sun salutations and standing postures while their teacher attempts to punch, kick and otherwise hurl them to the ground. Consider the lucrative merchandising tie-ins — we could see a Tap Out sticky mat! Also, imagine the quality of your ujjayi breathing when someone has you in a choke hold!

3. Ashtanga for Fixed-gear Bike Riders
I don't really have any thoughts about what the practice would look like, but I had spun out various titles like "Ashtanga for Pabst Drinkers," "Ashtanga for Mustaches," and "Ashtanga for Williamsburgers, Portlanders, and Silverlakers." Basically, they all amounted to Ashtanga for hipsters. Though it has always seemed to me that the term hipster is such a cliche.

Also, I can't front on dudes with Pendleton flannels and neck tattoos who like to drink shitty beer, skateboard and ride fixed-gear bikes and home-made choppers. (Hits a little close to home.)

4. Ashtanga for Stockbrokers
The beauty of this is that I don't change the series or sequences at all — I just market to stockbrokers, high-power corporate execs, beleaguered lawyers, and basically anyone in a high-stress, exhausting job. Then I simply shout at them more.

5. Ashtanga for Free Spirits
The beauty of this is that, again, I do not change the series or sequence at all — I just market to jam-band-concert-goers, hoopers, Burners, and any and all Patchouli-wearers. Then I simply tell them they're beautiful more.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Okay, no more weather updates — commenting on spring weather in Portland is like, as has been observed, commenting on traffic in Los Angeles.

In addition to the series of articles by Matthew Remski, another great bit of Yoga-related writing popped up earlier this year, an essay by Carlos Pomeda called "Reflections on Spiritual Authority."

I think this one is a great read for those of us who practice Ashtanga, as Pomeda discusses the tension arising from the intersection of traditional Hindu guru-shishya relationships, one of absolute ultimacy, with a more Western, individual-centered humanistic perspective.

The editors at Elephant Journal draw some obvious parallels to Ashtanga, as they feature a photo of Pattabhi and Sharath Jois in addition to John Friend.

In the article, Pomeda clearly spells out the different distinctions between types of teachers, from shastri and upadhyaya to acarya to guru. The question becomes, as he asks, "How do we determine the degree of authority?"

Ashtanga doesn't seem to me to currently have a sadguru in the sense of how Pomeda defines one, that is, a teacher whose authority rests on his or her own "spiritual attainment, which must be accompanied by scriptural knowledge and by the ability to transmit such knowledge and experience. This authority is conferred on such gurus by their own preceptors."

He does make the point that the "boundaries among these terms [for different teachers] are often blurry."

The article makes for an interesting read, at least to inspire consideration of where on the continuum our own teachers sit — to use the two models that Pomeda introduces, do they occupy an academic role ("The teacher holds more technical knowledge, and as students we will defer to him or her as much as he or she is best elected to the task." This idea of deference is quite different than that of submission)?

Or do they hold a seat within a more humanistic model ("The true guru is within").

As a side note, I still can't figure out the deal with Elephant Journal — I think you can read this article for free?

Also, I see that it's just part one; part two oughtta be a good one.

Carlos Pomeda "Reflections on Spiritual Authority"

Saturday, March 24, 2012


I may (or may not) produce a later post whose sole content will be titles and one-sentence summaries of posts I've written and subsequently lost the steam to finish and publish. Maybe this tendency is a consequence of the hunker-down in winter mind-set?

However! Spring popped in Portland yesterday (Friday), today it's 64 and sunny and the whole city is hot to party — the only other time I've felt a comparable manic spring madness was in Tokyo during cherry blossom season; San Diego springs were much more laconic.

Despite the dearth of posts of late, I do hope to share a few articles written recently that I think are worthy of further consideration.

The first are three by Matthew Remski. I confess I know nothing of Remski but what I've read in these posts, which he published at the end of February.

They're responses to the apparent collapse of the style of yoga known as Anusara.

I was and remain awe-struck at the pure blinding speed with which this system appeared to implode.

Part of what compels me to share Remski's series was a line that jumped out at me just a few days after attending the first Ashtanga Confluence in San Diego.

In Part 3, Remski writes: 
"[T]he airplane and hotel-bound modus operandi of any transglobal yoga corporation will have a hard time fostering grounded relationship, because it mimics the alienation of all late-capitalist structures. How could it not? Either cynically or unconsciously, the corporation will try to hide its relational weakness behind escapist/transcendental philosophies, exclusive knowledge hierarchies, classist economic barriers, distractive marketing copy written in Shringlish, and the palm trees and spa robes of its resort-retreat-intensive gatherings."

 This was striking, as just a few days prior I had worn a spa robe — well, my wife and kid grabbed the spa robes, but we had all basked in the San Diego sun and gazed at the token palm trees that littered the Catamaran Resort in Mission Bay. Tara and I had attended Mysore class, workshops, and discussions in a banquet hall full of hundreds of fellow students and teachers.

In his series, Remski offers not just a critique of Anusara specifically, but global yoga "brands" generally.

To paraphrase Remski, "In yoga it is obvious that economies of scale obstruct relationship. Go big or go home? Let’s go home, thank you very much. Let’s think smaller ... more than six mats in the room and you lose relationship."

The irony is that, at the Confluence at least, all five long-time students of Pattabhi Jois shared (to several hundred people, in a resort-like setting) what they felt were among Guruji's greatest strengths and gifts: that he invited small groups of students into his home to teach them yoga — through the application of postural sequences — with no bureaucracy in place. He took them in and he treated them like family.

I think Remski inadvertently spells out some of Mysore-style Ashtanga's greatest strengths, chief among them that Mysore classes are settings in which a teacher addresses the person directly in front of them.
As the articles are titled, Remski talks about the need to "ground" Anusara and its principal teacher John Friend in the day-to-day routine of work, family and practice.

For those unfamiliar with Anusara, the closest and best analogy I can use to describe how it was taught by Friend is that it was (is still?) similar to jam-band concert events — hundreds, thousands of people would gather for extra-large classes held during extended weekends at banquet halls, resorts or retreat centers.

This "grounding" feels to me to be a chief strength of Mysore-style practice. The people who find this practice love it, and do it every day, and enfold and entwine it into their daily lives. During this process and relationship, we all get to know each other, our spouses and significant others, our children, our pets, our careers, our home and work lives.

His series are worthy of a read, and the questions he raises are worthy of further and deeper discussion for Ashtanga people. 

Among them: Does Mysore style as it's currently practiced hide any "relational weakness" behind "escapist/transcendental philosophies"? Thankfully, as Eddie Stern indicated at the Confluence, there isn't yet any explicit Ashtanga company "brand" as there was with Anusara, as in, a registered property with trademarks.

Still, do we have "exclusive knowledge hierarchies"? At first glance, Ashtanga is also, in many ways, very much not "open source," though I think this perspective falls away on closer examination of the specific and individual situations in which it's taught.

Are there "economic barriers"?

While we don't have "Shringlish" to consider, Ashtanga does contain its own jargon.

Does a Mysore class size inhibit, or perhaps even diminish the practice of Yoga? How big should a Mysore room get? Does it even matter? 

This begs another question: Is it necessary to have a personal relationship with your Ashtanga yoga teacher? What exactly does a "personal relationship" entail, and what does this look like?

At any rate, I recommend his series. 

And anyone well-versed in Ayurveda: I would love to read some thoughts on Remski's prescriptions. What would are Ayurvedic pitfalls to Ashtanga, which can become overly grounded or routinized? 

Oh! And I included the link to Part 3 on Elephant Journal, rather than Remski's own blog, because  there are some BANGING discussions in the comments. Here's one: 

Shyam Dodge:
"While I'm not advocating for a pedagogy devoid of teachers or of connection to lineage, I fear that an over-emphasis on non-authorship (for much of the sastras while attributed to a mythic figure are in fact a product of many nameless authors)--and the traditional model of sampradaya--has the tendency to reinforce archaic educational dynamics that are in themselves tyrannical. This is because the metaphysics are inextricably wedded to the pedagogical theory. 

Because, in reality, JF's downfall was not just the product of “late-capitalism” but also of the metaphysics underlying Anusara and the traditional model of the guru-student-sastra paradigm."
Is the traditional guru-student-sastra model inherently "tyrannical"? Is the way Ashtanga is traditionally taught, posture-by-posture, "tyrannical"? Do we skate around this by proclaiming "I'm not and never said I was a guru"? Is some "tyranny" acceptable, or even necessary? 

Friday, March 23, 2012


I don't want to oversell Portland to everyone, but I really feel there's a burgeoning Mysore scene happening here — the community at Portland Ashtanga Yoga is growing, Casey Palmer's coming up on his 10 year anniversary at Near East Yoga (10 years! Read it and weep!), and Johnny at Yoga Space has to be closing in on his 6-month anniversary.

Point being, there are three great places to take part in Mysore-style Ashtanga, each space inflected and infused with a different vibe.

At any rate, I send out a monthly newsletter, and last week the March edition went out. There's almost too much Ashtanga stuff going around at the moment, it's ridiculous.

Hey everyone,

I'm still waiting for the lamb of March to turn up — so far we've had nothing but lion! Alas. At any rate, thank you for continuing to practice and support Mysore-style Ashtanga in Portland, and Portland Ashtanga Yoga!

1. Thank You Kevin Kimple!
Thanks for coming to Portland, Kevin! This is the second time Kevin Kimple’s been here — and hopefully not the last! The guy is awesome, and I'm thankful he's able to fill in for me while I'm away! Everyone had a phenomenal time.

2. Confluence Notes!
I’ve been feeling rather underwhelmed when it comes to writing about my time at the Confluence, which was down in San Diego April 1-4. 

Basically, it was an opportunity for five highly regarded leading lights of the Ashtanga community to come together to teach and discuss. It was also a way for the community to come together, Stateside at least, in a way that hasn't been possible since Guruji's world tours.

Suffice it to say, it was a lot of fun to see so many long-time and dear friends.

Regarding the classes and discussions, I came away with the sense that Ashtanga is moving forward under the auspices of many talented and trained stewards.

As a further note: I had great conversations with many great people, and I got to practice next to my wife IN THE MORNINGS. This last — a morning practice with my wife — is an  incredibly rare occurrence.

3. Richard Freeman Will Visit Portland!
Richard's coming to Portland. This is an opportunity not to be missed. Richard's an incredibly erudite yoga teacher, and one of the guiding lights of the Ashtanga tradition.

He'll be at Norse Hall on May 4-6. Sign up ASAP! This will fill up!


4. Living Yoga Yogathon
Portland Ashtanga is proud to help sponsor Living Yoga. We're putting together a team for their annual Yogathon.

You know the benefits of your practice and how much yoga means to you — Living Yoga, a non-profit outreach program, helps spread the positive aspects of yoga by teaching it as a tool for personal change to people in prisons, alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers, and transitional facilities.

The Yogathon will run for the month of May, with a celebration party on June 16 at Castaway Portland. The cost to join the Portland Ashtanga Yoga team is $20, which includes registration, tote bag filled with goodies, a personal fundraising website with fun social media, free yoga classes throughout Portland, and more.

Dedicate your practice for one month by setting goals for fundraising and make a change to our community. All you have to do:

• Sign up today at Our team is Portland Ashtanga (not to be confused with Yoga Pearl)!

• Get your friends, family, co-workers, etc. to donate money to this great cause.

• Do Yoga!

For more information you can go to or contact Karen Leib at

5. Spring 2012 Portland Ashtanga Yoga Reader
During the last several months I've collected several online essays and articles that deserve more serious contemplation; I have trouble reading long-form pieces on-line, so these are writings that I've printed out to read.

(Though apparently the new Kindle app for the iPad 3 is supposed to be RE-DICULOUS, so maybe it will solve this problem for me.)

I want to share this "Reader" with anyone who's interested, so I'm going to print them out, staple them together, and give them to anyone who might be interested.

Sound like you? Email me if you want one.

6. Sharath in Encinitas
Sharath will be holding several weeks of classes in Encinitas in April. For those of you looking to make a direct connection with the grandson of Pattabhi Jois, and a long-time teacher and practitioner in his own right, this is a rare opportunity to do so outside of India!


7. Find Me Online
Facebook Page? YES:
Blog? YES!
You're not seriously on Twitter? YES I AM EVEN ON TWITTER! @leapinglanka