Traditionally in Ashtanga, many teachers will teach with absolutely no props. I think there’s some benefit to that but, personally, I like using props when I teach (and in my own practice). I think they foster independence and can be extremely helpful learning tools. Props can create space when we don’t have it naturally, and they can help us to repattern, and I would say that these are the two main times when we want to use props.
So, what does that mean? When I say creating space (or taking space away, maybe). It could mean helping you catch a bind, it could mean helping you shift forward to catch a bind, it could mean helping you make more space for your shoulders, or something along those lines. What it comes down to is this: if you cannot do the posture without the prop, use the prop – especially if you’re practicing at home and don’t have someone to help you!
The other time to use props is when you’re working on repatterning, and an example...
I get a lot of questions about what I think of "continuing education" in yoga - workshops, immersions, in-depth studies, teacher trainings, retreats; basically anything outside of the Mysore room or led class.
There is so much pressure to do that it can be difficult to know how to judge whether a learning opportunity will be beneficial to us. I'm going to broadly say "workshops" to talk about this, but I think the lessons of this post and livestream really are applicable to most continuing education opportunities.
On a community level, I think that workshops and other continuing education offerings can be a great way to strengthen bonds with your existing community, as well as a great way to expand it. Workshops give you a chance to connect with your teachers and fellow yogis in ways that there just isn't the space for in the day-to-day practice. If supporting your community is something that's important to you, workshops can also be an especially great way to do that with...
In my last Ashtanga 101 blog I wrote about when is the right time to start a new series. Read it here.
This of course raises the question, how do you go about adding postures?
Personally, I am a fan of adding one pose at a time to the end of the current series. For example, a student would continue to practice all of Primary first to lead into the addition of Second Series postures. After setu bandhasana, Second Series postures would be added one by one. When a student finishes the last posture of their current Second Series practice, it’s time for backbends and closing sequence - this always remains at the very end of the practice.
There are occasions when I teach new postures in pairs, but I generally try not to overwhelm students with multiple new postures at once. There are exceptions when it just makes sense - like dhanurasana and parsva dhanurasana. It’s beneficial to sit with a pose and really incorporate it into the body and practice before adding the next....
Ashtanga 101: When is it time to start a new series? And how do you do it?
A question that I hear a lot is, how do I know if it’s time to start a new series? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of when (or how) to move onto a new series. It would be best to ask a teacher who you’ve worked with personally and who knows your practice, but I can share some of the things I take into consideration when I introduce a student to a new series.
A relevant starting point when you’re wondering about this is Patanjali’s yoga sutra 2.46 – sthira-sukham asanam, most commonly translated to mean that posture (asana) [should be] stable (sthira) and comfortable (sukha).
Sthira is the ability to “hold steady” in an asana, not only in the body but in your mind and in your energy – all three of these things need to be in balance for an asana to be considered steady. Muscles would be evenly engaged, you wouldn’t be losing your...
In popular culture, yoga is typically portrayed as an exercise routine for limber, attractive women. In reality, though, dedicated students of yoga are impossible to pigeonhole, and yoga is something far beyond an exercise routine. Everybody — all ages, body types, races, genders — can tap into the subtle currents of existence that keep us coming back to our practices, day after day, month after month, and year after year.
The physical benefits of yoga are trite (and true) and well-documented in Yoga Journal and clickbait advertisements:
But what I see as the most interesting benefits of yoga are much more subtle, and much harder to market.
It's easy to bang our way through decades of life ignoring how we feel, how we think, how we operate. Despite the incredible contradiction of using our physical bodies to transcend our...
As much as I love summer, I have also love the energy of fall. Personally, I’ve never quite been able to get myself off the academic calendar, and September always feels to me like the right time to start something new.
This seems to ring true on the yoga scene, too. We all seem to return to a more normal routine come September — summer vacation is over, kids are back in school, travel dies down, temperatures start to cool and the pace of living gets back into its usual rhythm. All of this makes it the perfect time to double down on your yoga practice.
That’s why I think September is the perfect time to consider starting a Mysore style practice. I know how intimidating starting something new can be, and starting Mysore can be especially scary. I so vividly remember the first time I went to a Mysore class. I was in grad school and already familiar with Primary Series, though I hadn’t committed it to memory, and I dragged my sleepy butt to the Metro at five in...
One thing I think about a lot, both for my own practice and for the practices of my students, is how to really make sure the practice is as sustainable as it can be. Sustainability is one of the hardest and most important things in Ashtanga. And when we look closely, the things that keep a practice sustainable are also the things that strengthen and deepen it.
For me personally, the past year has been a big lesson in sustainability. With one injury after another, I have watched a lot of poses I worked very hard for disappear. I constantly remind myself that yoga is an internal practice, and there are still many ways I can practice.
Here are some of my thoughts on sustainability.
Dedicate One Day a Week to Primary. A piece of practical advice for keeping a practice sustainable is to dedicate one day a week exclusively to Primary Series. This helps to keep your practice sustainable for a number of reasons. To begin with, it’s a great way to keep yourself returning to the...
For the last year and a half or so, I’ve been feeling weighed down by the constant news about abuses of power - in the world, in spiritual practice communities generally, and in yoga specifically. Realizing the scale of how often students find themselves feeling pressured or abused by their teachers has been truly heartbreaking.
For me it’s been like a slow-boiling pot. In the last few years, the revelations within the yoga world, coupled with our country’s leadership, have been almost too much to bear. It feels like we have reached (or are nearing) a tipping point, and it’s past time to push back, shift how things are done, and try to create healthier environments. We are in the midst of an extreme situation in the Ashtanga community, broadly speaking, but what does this look like in our own lives? For me, it’s a generalized anger and a very deep drive to do a better job as a teacher in our community.
There’s a culture of silence in Ashtanga...
It's hard to believe the summer solstice is upon us. We’re also getting to the point in the season when all the changes in our routines are starting to settle in. Among countless other things, kids are out of school, summer trips are planned, and the sun is in the sky well into the evening. Which is just to say that our day-to-day lives and routines all get kind of out of whack in the summertime. But the quality of our lives (and the quality of our practices!) is deeply tied to our routines, and these changes can present unique challenges to our yoga journeys.
With good habits anything is possible. I often tell students that all they have to do for a good practice is unroll their mats and stand in samasthihi. That counts. If more happens? Awesome. If not? You’re still in the routine of your practice, and that is one of the very most important things. Having good habits isn’t about being perfect at those habits - it’s about letting yourself sacrifice your old...
Lately, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about what it really means to hold space for others. I think about how my understanding of that concept has evolved over my years as a teacher, and how glad I am for that evolution.
As I watch what Tim has done every day for decades, and continues to do, I have such a great appreciation and admiration for it. While I’m moving away from thinking in terms of the word “guru,” I continue to learn from Tim every day.
We talk a lot about holding space in the Mysore community. I believe that cultivating the capacity to hold space is the single most important thing we do as teachers - more than the adjustments, more than the teaching, even. Without being able to hold space, we lose the opportunity to truly meet others where they’re at in their practice and growth, and we miss the chance to see how we can be most genuinely helpful as we spend some time with them on their journey.
As a teacher, the idea of holding space...