In Taylor Hunt’s A Way From Darkness, the reader gets a first-person view of the author hitting bottom—hard—only to get up and find a new and meaningful way of life. Hunt’s decade-long journey from heroin addict to father, husband, and Level II Authorized Ashtanga Yoga teacher with hundreds of students is inspiring because of its honesty and appeal to tradition. He makes it very clear that he wouldn’t have found sobriety without the 12 steps and help of other recovering addicts and alcoholics, which is refreshing in a time when anti-institutionalism and self-help is in vogue.
Continue reading “Book Review: Taylor Hunt’s A Way From Darkness” »
“Patanjali’s dictum in sutra II.16, ‘heyam dukham anagatam,’ means that we need to avoid creating future suffering. If you intuitively feel that the performance of a particular posture will be detrimental, then take the responsibility of your own body into your own hands and do not perform it…you may have heard that yoga looks at the body as a temple. How will you worship the Divine in this temple if you have defiled it through an injury because you wanted to live up to some ideal?”
-Gregor Maehle, Ashtanga Yoga The Intermediate Series
This doesn’t give me license to skip or avoid postures that I don’t like or find uncomfortable, but it does empower me with discernment, one of the qualities invoked in the opening chant. The line “sankhacakrasi dharinam” provides an image of a conch, discus, and sword. The sword represents discrimination or discernment. I like to break the idea of discernment down into part of the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
If I begin each practice by invoking discernment, the wisdom to know the difference, then choose to ignore the little voice in the back of my head saying, “you know, that pain in your low back is more stabby than achy at this point. This might be a good place to stop,” then I’m not practicing the very thing that I pray for.
We are allowed to stop when the body says stop. Sometimes, we have to scale back and rebuild. It’s so easy to let my ego get in the way of this.
I’m injured right now, which is only fair. I’ve written about injury often enough in an abstract sense, so now it’s my turn to experience the very literal effects that being hurt have on my practice. It’s my turn to learn about injury, equanimity, and compassion.
My practice has been compromised since the end of October. Around that time, I had been catching my ankles with assistance and had just learned Kapotasana. All seemed well, but then I felt low back pain, something that troubles 31 million Americans. Now I’m one of them.
Continue reading “On Injury and Practice” »
I suffer from depression. Maybe it came with the alcoholism. Maybe it led to the alcoholism. Either way, it’s part of my life and sometimes, like recently, it’s all-consuming.
Photo by Michelle Craig
Lately, my mat has felt like a life raft. Not in a “yoga is saving my life” way. Not even in a “my practice is the only thing keeping me sane” way. It’s a life raft because I feel like I’ve been shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean, and if I don’t hang on to my raft, I’m going to drown.
Continue reading “Depreshtanga” »
It’s been exactly one week since I started my at-home practice. That’s right. I’m taking a break from the Mysore room at CITYOGA, which has sustained me and my practice for almost three years.
Continue reading “Self Practice is HARD” »
Remember when I said I wasn’t going to quit my day job and teach yoga full time?Remember when I did it anyway?
Well, I’m back to my original stance. I’m not ready to be a teacher.
I tried. Really, I tried. At first, I thought I’d teach mostly Vinyasa because I lacked the experience to teach Ashtanga. I made playlists (that no one liked) and sequences (that looked like the Primary Series). I taught Hot Yoga, Yoga for Runners, Yoga for Athletes, and Yoga for Writers.
Continue reading “So I Thought I Wanted to be a Yoga Teacher, Part 2” »
Taylor Hunt, an authorized Ashtanga teacher in Columbus, Ohio, wrote a Facebook post this week that really clicked.
“Yoga for me has always been hard work. From the very beginning I have struggled to change and stood in my own way. So often in the yoga community I hear the words love and light get tossed around with such ease. I never understood what that meant. Yoga was never pretty for me and it required that I was determined to change and be a better human being. I understand the reference of love and light but do you understand the struggle.”
Yes, Taylor, I do.
Continue reading “This is not about love and light.” »
Yesterday, I touched ducklings. A mama duck was leading her flock across the street and jumped up on a median that was too high for her babies to follow. Eight ducklings hopped at the edge of the curb, cheeping and flapping useless little triangle wings. They looked like popcorn. Mama quacked and paced, but couldn’t figure out how to help them.
This is not my photo. I didn’t stop to take pictures of the ducklings’ distress.
Continue reading “Ducking my Instincts” »
My friend Scott takes my led Ashtanga classes at White Pine Wilderness Academy. He’s been a hardcore competitive runner his entire life, even through his battle with cancer. Prior to his diagnosis, he was working on qualifying for the Olympic Trials. 100-mile weeks and two-a-days were considered normal.
So yeah, he’s that type of runner.
Continue reading “Runner starts fundraiser, practices yoga” »
Practice has been hard lately. Really hard. Almost as hard as it was in the beginning.
An early attempt at Utpluthih in a scenic setting.
I didn’t come to Ashtanga yoga with a background in gymnastics, dance, or martial arts. I didn’t even come with a strong yoga background. I did Rodney Yee DVD’s and the occasional studio class off and on for thirteen years. My heels didn’t touch the ground in down dog, I couldn’t hold Navasana for five full breaths, and I certainly couldn’t jump through or jump back.
Continue reading “Back to the Beginning” »
It’s not a huge secret that I’m a sober Ashtangi. My sobriety date is April 1, 2009, and I’m still active in the program that helped me change from a suicidal drunk to a human being of service. My life hinges on me being free from drugs and alcohol.
How I feel hinges on the diligence of my practice. Being sober makes practice possible for me, and practice makes daily life possible. Ever seen the “If you think I’m bitchy now, you should see me when I don’t do yoga!” e-cards, or the “I do yoga to keep the crazy away” sweatshirts? They’re pretty accurate.
Continue reading “Twelve Steps for Ashtanga Yoga” »
Last weekend, I booked my flight to go practice with Maia for the first week of January 2015. I’m beyond excited. My practice is more fluid and focused thanks to the changes we implemented together. It’s also become easier and steadier. Sthira sukham asanam, right?
But this post isn’t about me, so let’s get on to the good stuff. Continue reading ““Yoga’s not about following a path of feeling good.” An Interview with Maia Heiss…Part 2” »
When I first saw Maia Heiss, I thought, “There is no way this woman will be able to drop up all 140 pounds of me back, much less get me into Supta Kurmasana.” She was all sinew and sweet smile, not an ounce of body fat.
Boy, was I wrong. Not only did she drop me back, she held my body six inches from the ground on the way up, urging me to root into my feet and lift into the chest, and only letting me come back up when she finally felt that shift happen. She also got me into the first comfortable Supta K I’ve ever been in. For the first time, that posture felt right. There was all openness and space where there’d been nothing but constriction and compression. I could breathe. My brain…popped. All was well. It only happened the first time she put me in it, but it was crazy. It was connection. It was union. It was yoga.
Continue reading ““The resistance of the earth in your hands…” (an interview with Maia Heiss, part 1)” »
Sadly, the Indianapolis Star didn’t post my interview with the fantastic Kino MacGregor online. I’ll have to scan a hard copy and post it here. Until then, let me share our post-workshop conversation with you.
After flying into Indianapolis from Miami (on the day of the Monumental Marathon, AKA Crazy Traffic Day) teaching two two-hour workshops, practicing, signing dozens of books and posing for dozens of pictures, Kino MacGregor was still smiling and full of energy. Continue reading “A (second) Conversation with Kino MacGregor” »
I spent a wonderful week on the West Coast and I’m still playing catch-up.
Stay tuned for interviews with Maia Heiss and Kino MacGregor. Continue reading “Coming soon…” »
Teaching changes things. I miss my regular practice. I miss practicing at the same time every day. I miss practicing in a room full of Ashtangis. I miss getting daily assists into Supta Kurmasana.
See how much help I need in this pose?
But I wouldn’t change a thing about my life right now. Continue reading “Transition to Teaching” »
There was that time I extended into my fifth Navasana after a strong lift-off, the morning sun streaming in the wall-length windows, and let out an echoing gastronomic eruption in an otherwise silent room. Continue reading “Awkward Ashtanga Moments” »
I’ve been a dedicated ashtangi for a little more than a year and a half. At first, my practice was less than traditional. To be fair, it wasn’t all my fault. Our Mysore program had two different teachers with very different styles, so there wasn’t as much consistency as there is in most Mysore rooms. Continue reading “Treatise on Tradition” »
My teacher Amanda Markland gives me an assist into wheel.
From guest blogger Auriel Benker:
Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah – Yoga quiets the chatter of the mind
One thing that drew me to yoga was its close connection with meditation. My mind was constantly running and I was searching for a way to quiet my “monkey mind.” Continue reading “Yoga Quiets the Chatter of the Mind” »
As mentioned in a previous post, both me and my friend and guest blogger Auriel learned Garbha Pindasana and Kukkutasana recently, and it’s been interesting to watch our very different bodies adapt. Continue reading “Body Envy” »
Steve of The Confluence Countdown posted this incredible discussion of the irony present in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga on January 7, 2013. That happens to be the Monday of the week I went to my first-ever Mysore room. Continue reading “Isn’t it ironic? Don’t ya think?” »
In the Primary Series, we talk about getting new poses, but with every new pose also comes the vinyasa that follows it.
For the uninitiated, we ashtangis do a vinyasa in between most poses, and in between the left and right expressions of them. After exiting the posture, we inhale, press the palms into the ground, lift our bodies up, exhale, and toss our legs back to lower through chataranga dandasana, then inhale to urdhva mukha svanasana (updog) and exhale back to adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog). Then it’s inhale and jump up, lifting the hips and exhaling to float the body through the arms and into position for the next pose. Continue reading “The Power of Transitions” »
From guest blogger Auriel Benker:
After I had been practicing Ashtanga for a few months, I started to hear talk of castor oil baths, also known as “Saturday practice.” Traditionally, Saturdays are the day of rest from an otherwise 6 day a week practice.
Continue reading “It’s Saturday- Grab the Castor Oil!” »
This video helped me get up and get my ass to class this morning.
Chanti, chanti, chanti.
“Oh, I couldn’t do Ashtanga. It’s too advanced for me.” “Beginners shouldn’t do Ashtanga. They’re going to get hurt.” “Ashtanga is a painful practice.” I hear statements like these all the time. The practice is not to blame for this phenomenon; it’s competitive practice rooms where the focus is on getting the next pose no matter what.
Continue reading “Ashtanga doesn’t hurt people. People hurt people.” »