Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Therapeutics

Recently my friend and colleague Karen Kirkness, founder of Meadowlark Yoga Edinburgh, asked me how I felt about the use of therapeutics in the Mysore room. This might involve research postures, or props, and general deviations from the vinyasa aspect of the system in times of injury or blockage. Here is what I replied.

The thing I'm thinking abt recently is how the magic Ashtanga can reveal to us is present in the vinyasa not in the asana. It is the unifying principle of the practice, rather than its composite parts that enlightens us. For the western mind it's so easy to fixate on the obvious, tangible form of an asana- and this is where alignment cues, while necessary for health and safety at times, tend to take center stage in the mind. When too many months or years go by without a focus on the unifying principles of Ashtanga (Trishtana and vinyasa) and the individual's BELIEF that such unification can be present in ones practice DESPITE pain and injury [which are omnipresent actually]--students may lose touch with this mystical aspect of Yoga. It is important to note that this unification of which I speak is experienced in the mind, and the body is only its vehicle.

The word vinyasa was originally used to describe the specific placement of an action in the larger manifestation of a ritual. Therefore, the concept of vinyasa, as I use the word, does not necessarily refer to jump-back jump-through, but implies instead the larger picture of self-transformation and the steady evolution of our practice as an attribute of a Life lived in touch with mystery, magic, and the depths of human experience.



Repost from 2008! On butt-washers.

A conversation today prompted me to track down my old blog one-yoga.blogspot. Reading this, I see wow how much India has changed and the experience here in Mysore for yoga students. Here is a post from 2008, when butt-washers were a new thing around here! My first trip to India was in 1998- there were butt-washers in some areas then, but definitely still the bucket-flush method. I will spare you any stories of my past here with buckets... 

01/16/08 God Speaks

I haven’t quite figured out which direction to point the butt-washer to avoid spraying water all over the back of the toilet. The “butt-washer” looks just like the sprayer in your kitchen sink, but its coming out of the wall where one might expect to see a roll of toilet paper. Rather than the now old-fashioned method of big bucket-little dipper (a science unto itself) butt-washers are popping up in modern Indian homes. However, the western style toilet has also caught on, which when coupled with the butt-washer, is just plain awkward, in my opinion. I miss squatters. My Amma in Chennai said it best: “I don’t understand this western toilet. I find it much less clean to put the behind where another’s has been than to put the feet.” Amen. 
It’s things like this that make India such a unique travel experience. Confusion in the most simple, yet inescapable of arenas. In so many ways, we are all plucked from our lives here and plunked down in a land where what usually validates us is distant. We are called to redefine our routines and expectations constantly. For instance you thought you had the bowel movement thing worked out, but now there’s water everywhere. Next time. And in this, perhaps we may be gifted with the Grace we are all seeking. Validation in our own Divinity.
God speaks through Butt-washers, yes it’s true. 
Our mission here, should we choose to accept it, is to let go the need to have it figured out. The western traveler’s face is often an unmasked display of confusion. Sometimes frustration. Rarely playfulness. At the temple sites and cow-filled intersections, you see looks of amazement and sometimes delight, but rarely in line at the train station or while haggling with a rick-shaw driver. Can we keep the drishti on Grace in even these times? Challenging times are more common in India, anyone might tell you that. My friend Mahesh: “Shit man, this place works me and I’m Indian. I can’t imagine what it must be like for you guys.” Amen again.

Sharathji is working his skinny butt off with all of us in there, sweating it out as though we might gain some of that Divinity (even a sprinkle?) from the daily pursuit of asana. I have come to know for myself, its more about the “daily” part of it than how jamming I can be today and what anybody else thinks about it. A daily observance of my own evolution, a safe place to do the work, health benefits, and a really fun time (provided I am living a lifestyle of enough sleep and clean food). If I can just remember to laugh at myself; if I can just remember to smile while I move and breath… this is a good start to the day. Maybe when the phone hangs up, internet crashes, belly hurts, I will be that much closer to smiling. Life is a Vinyasa, start to finish. It’s the same thing always we are remembering, despite the shapes and sounds we are making in this world.

Mysore Mothership 2018: Balancing Stability and Deep Transformation

With sub-zero temperatures back home in Boston, Im pretty happy to be in Mysore. It is a new paradigm here as the group of maybe, 300?, is not changing over at the beginning of a new month. The same group of students will persevere until January end. The assistants are changing over, and I‘ll be on first batch, from 4-630ish AM, followed by a rather long practice. By 6:30 the walls are sweating and I go wash my feet, change my soaked clothes, and wait for a practice space to open up. It is quite an honor to assist Sharathji and I feel a little shift as it is my second time with the early batch now and Im less nervous! Last season, I found it a learning curve to assist in someone else’s mysore room after being only in my own room for 10 years. People practice differently here than they would at home, when one has to teach or go to work right after. When there’s nothing pressing, and you don’t even have to cook your food if you don’t want to (though Rich and I do), you can really put your all into the practice. 

When I started teaching in my 20s, my life had consisted of only epic morning practices, a foraged fruit diet, and hitchhiking around to odd jobs when I could get them. Living on the porch at Nancy's (I remind you I started the yoga/travel life at 19 and never had a more conventional “life” situation) with a rotating cast of mystical characters added to the ambience. As my east-coast roots and family ties took hold, the calls from Boston came and your desire for a teacher called me from the gulches of Maui. Coming to you all in Boston, I learned so much about the “real world.”  How I offered the practice to each person became a live process of observing how the practice fits into the rest of life. I find it a unique, and familiar, expression of imbalance to have little else in the life but asana practice. So here I am assisting in the middle of it all! Majority of the people in the first batch are also teachers, so supporting them in this short time where they get to focus on their own practice is quite a meaningful time, but also a bit of a dance, as I don’t know their bodies at all! And I know you all from looking at you every day for years! It is a neat skill that requires absolute presence for what the moment is presenting, rather than relying on a cumulative experience. It requires the heart, the eyes, and the hands, and an experiential familiarity with the way energy moves in bodies. I try to be well rested, digested, and alert, then there is nothing to do but trust in the past 10 years of teaching to serve us now as we do some very intense backbending together. 

Bear with me. I guess what Im reflecting on is the intersection of daily life and Yoga, and the evolution of the mind. As usual. Is it our goal, as practitioners, as aspiring yogis, some of us as stewards of yoga communities, to cultivate the kind of presence where yoga is manifesting in its Absolute fullness as we practice asana, and all the other stuff melts away…AND simultaneously cultivate the ability to fluidly, and willingly, shift the attention back to the daily life when the shower/hairdry/dress happens, as I watch the crew head off on the demanding road to work? Here’s the thing. In my experience, the fabric which hangs between these two modes of attention becomes a thinner and thinner weave. Yoga pokes through at the most surprising times, like shooting stars, and we might not even notice it as such, in the beginning. Until the fabric between daily life and Yoga is a silken filament, there to nurture and protect us while we balance stability and deep transformation. Life moves in us as a rhythmic breeze, and its current becomes something omnipresent in our awareness, most palpable in the essence of movement and breath practice. Which is why the practices draws us in. Isn’t that why we love it?

Oh, it is from this sacred place I aspire to teach, to assist this month, to live this life! And it is this current of Life I hope to share with you all as I return to Beantown. Thank you for that opportunity.



Choosing Ashtanga

Paths diverged a handful of times in my first decade of studying yoga. I had opportunities to enter the world of Yoga Journal conferences, high-end studios in majestic places, and my photo on the cover of this or that. Every time it came up, I chose ashtanga, and gave a silent prayer for my future self who seemed destined to remain a broke unknown, devoted to an obscure method.

As a practitioner, I kept choosing ashtanga because nothing else felt right. It was the first yoga method I experienced as a traveler in India, and from then on anything else just didn’t’ get me excited. Ashtanga got me excited! There was all my crap - in my face - for an hour and a half, clear as day! And a little bit disgusting, the Ego was. My commitment to getting to know this aspect of “myself,” and to transcend it is what kept me practicing. I hitchhiked to drop-in classes when there was no ashtanga class anywhere, and the music, the changing sequences, seemed to somehow get between me and the inner work I had set out to do. Any of our students will tell you: it is the heart that keeps you coming. A pure love of the practice, paired with a thirst for evolution; it’s undeniable.

As a teacher, I kept choosing ashtanga because of the Mysore method of teaching. The opportunity to work with students one-on-one, as the group bolsters each other practicing together, yet individually, allows me to feel like I can really help people. Observing them closely, I come to know how the practice moves in them, and where they need to go. I can take my time, or bust some chops, depending what any individual needs to learn at this time. Upon entering the room, each student makes a commitment to studying the self, and to being seen. The breath is always at the forefront, and distractions are at a minimum. Each student has signed up for this specific way of learning yoga, there is no one-time drop-in, no wandering in unaware. The method of teaching and practicing is specific: a practice of breath, movement, and mental focus moves towards the goal of self-transformation. My teachers taught me by example, and I trust the method works. I feel very lucky.


Shifts in Seasonal Eating: Late Winter Insights

You know I usually travel out to India in the winters, but there were a few years recently where I wintered through in Boston to see what its all about.

The main thing I noticed, in regards to general seasonal changes and Ayurvedic routines,  I would like to share with you:

When it is very cold, the fires recede into the core of the body, the digestion actually gets stronger, and heavier foods are craved, and needed, then digested well. I got on an enjoyable program of enjoying more oat bars and whole grain cookies and spiced milk. But here’s the thing.

It was in March- and perhaps even late February for those of you who live in warmer climes- that my cravings for the cookies began to subside. BUT, I kept eating the cookies. Because its still not nice out, its still relatively cold (thought not freezing), Im still wearing big jackets and boots- man- don’t take my cookies!? While the spring please doesn’t happen until April, March proved to be a very important time to slowly begin changing the diet to lighter foods. (I often replace dairy milk with non-dairy, eat less sweets, and choose hot cereal over pancakes or eggs.) 

When I kept eating the cookies, I had a harder time adjusting to the damp spring, experienced more mucous, a more sensitive immune system, and ended up catching a cold that caused me to finally give up the cookies anyhow. It could have been smoother! The following year, I watched for the change in my appetite, which did come very early in March (earlier than I expected it to, I remember). You will notice it does go with the weather, when it warms up the appetite goes down. If you eat according to appetite when this happens- rather than sticking with the food routines which have been serving you through the winter- your body will naturally burn off winter weight and mucous, and you will have an easier transition, and enjoy better health.


Digestive Tricks for Winter Festivities ... and Beyond!

This winter I published some helpful digestive tricks (and a bonus recipe!) for those of us preparing for winter festivities this season on my newsletter. If you are not yet signed up for my newsletter, you can sign up at the bottom of the page.

I am all for celebrating the holidays and indulging in special beloved treats with family and friends. That said, we all know the holidays can also be quite taxing on digestion and therefore the body. Here are a few tips and tricks to help keep your digestion on track.

To preserve a happy gut this season, try any of the following:

Before Meals:
• Eat a thin slice of ginger with a squeeze of lemon about 15 minutes before to increase Agni (digestive fire).
• OR
• Take ¼ tsp of ginger powder, and ¼ tsp of black pepper in a cup of water.
During Meals
• Sip warm water, a small cup, with your meal.  
• Eat slowly, take rests between mouthfuls, sit back and make it last.
After Meals
• Take Ama Buster, ginger tea, or mint tea.
• Avoid any other beverages, even water, for about 2 hours.  
• Lie on your left side for 15-20 minutes.
• Get up and take a light walk outside.
Dr. Chauhan’s Ama Buster
ake a paste of 1 Tbsp grated ginger, 1 Tbsp cumin, 1 Tbsp coriander, 2 Tbsp Mint, and 2 Tbsp fennel by smushing with mortar and pestle.  Refrigerate and take 1 tsp after meals for the holidays and at least a few days

Looking for a new warming and cheerful beverage for the holiday season? Ayurveda, after all, is the art of indulence...

Christmas Cape Codder
4 cups unsweetened cranberry juice (like Knudsen’s Just Cranberry)
OR 1-cup whole cranberries and 3.5 cups water
1 chopped apple
4 cups water
5 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
6-8 drops stevia or 4 tsp honey
Vodka to taste (if you must : ) )
Blend first 2 ingredients.  Warm on the stove with all other ingredients for about 15 minutes. Pour through strainer into mugs for virgin drinks, or take off the heat, stir in honey, then add vodka in a shaker and pour into martini glasses.  You can garnish with cinnamon stick.


Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Curious About Hing?

I was interviewed recently by NPR about hing, or asafoetida. Hing has numerous uses and benefits in Ayurveda, including the ability to pacify vata dosha. It does makes its appearance in the Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook, but as a new taste for a Western pallet, it may take a little kitchen experimenting until one is confident cooking with hing.

What is a Fundamentals of Ayurveda Training?

It's kind of a new thing. It's about getting a basic foundation for understanding an epic, ancient wisdom-tradition. This amount of study helps one to see the big picture, and slowly build from there. The sister arts, yoga and ayurveda, are so vast, a practice so interconnected, learning about one helps you understand the other, and practicing them together in the daily life is a set-up for life-long success. Be introduced to the classic texts, and know there is a deep root to what you are learning. Know this root will continue growing in you at an appropriate pace.

The word training implies a focused time spent refining a specific activity. A 200-hr ayurveda training implies devoting 200 hours of your life to studying and practicing the tradition of ayurveda.

In a course of this length you will study things like dosha, sub-dosha, Sankhya philosophy, enough Sanskrit to pronounce things correctly, digestion, nutrition, and anatomy of the body according to Ayurvedic terminology. Example: the body has 7 tissue layers, fed by the digestive tract in this order

Rasa- plasma

Rakta- blood

Mamsa- muscle

Meda- fat

Asthi- bone

Majja- nerve

Shukra/Artava- reproductive

Therefore, if the reproductive tissue is deficient for some time, the nervous system, and then the bones will suffer. You might begin to understand connections like this in your body from participating in a Fundamentals of Ayurveda training, and you will learn tools for managing early states of imbalance. You will also learn to apply this language to personal yoga practice, and promote balance through pranayama and yoga.

More importantly, you will practice Ayurveda in your own life. You will be required to scrape your tongue, oil your skin, and do some breathing and movement techniques as close to everyday as you can get (what?? Scroll down for videos on scraping and oiling). You will be encouraged to live Ayurveda in your own way throughout the training, and you will be asked to log changes in your body and mind, and be counseled in how to understand these changes.

Example: You may realize that you have a deficiency in a tissue layer, and learn a few recipes for foods that will feed that layer. Then, you will cook it, and eat it, and see if you begin to feel a difference.

Please do not do yourself, or the tradition, the disservice of expecting to practice or teach Ayurveda professionally after 200 hours of experience. The very beginning level of practice, Ayurvedic Health Consultant, requires 650 hours of study, and like yoga, is only appropriate after taking time to allow the tradition to live inside you first. Adding the burden of professional practice before leaving space for true embodiment will create stress. I encourage you to consider a Fundamentals training an investment in your own health and realization. Should you desire further education, 200 hours of training can be applied to affiliate 650 hour programs in the US. The standardizing body for ayurvedic practice in the USA, NAMA is a good place to learn more about the profession.

You can find more info about upcoming programs in Boston here.