Why We Need More Than One Teacher

ashtanga parampara teacher Dec 07, 2018

Modern Ashtanga tradition holds that students should only have one teacher. In my experience this has been a generally accepted rule and even a bit of a taboo subject.

Ashtanga culture emphasizes the student-teacher relationship The Sanskrit word paramparā, which denotes a lineage between student and teacher, is widely understood amongst practitioners. Who you practice with has become a badge of honor.

I asked Richard Freeman about this on a recent retreat and he pointed out to me that the very first words of the opening mantra, “vande gurunam” denotes plurality that is more than one guru. It loosely translate to “I bow to the two lotus feet of the Gurus,” suggesting that historically multiple gurus were common.

The word lineage denotes a narrow line, but true cultural heritage looks more like a family tree with many branches. If we look down the line, we might only see one teacher, but behind that teacher stands many others.

For the majority of my Ashtanga...

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Ashtanga 101: FAQ

So do I practice every single day? What if I don’t feel well?

This is actually such a common question that I wrote an entire blog on it, called When to Practice and When to Rest. And there are plenty of times when you should rest — like if you have a fever or an acute injury. But there are also plenty of times when you’ll probably feel like resting but should actually still practice, like when you are sore or tired.


Do you do anything other than yoga for exercise? (Or some variation of this.)

I always tell students to do what they love. Whether that’s climbing, surfing, riding, hiking, playing football, or staying out late dancing and drinking – by all means, do it. But just remember, like with anything in life, there are tradeoffs and what you do off the mat will have its effects on your practice. It’s important to remember this, and to be realistic about it. Pursuing other athletic endeavors might make you feel tight in certain places, or...

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Ashtanga 101: Welcome to Ashtanga

Here’s the truth: Starting an Ashtanga practice is hard. Yoga is often misrepresented as being all happy feelings and pretty asanas, or my personal favorite “relaxing.”  But the fact is that getting serious about your practice is a challenging endeavor. The thing is, though, that that’s the case with starting anything new. It makes us feel awkward and frustrated and challenged. Starting something new is a struggle.

A big part of an Ashtanga practice is learning to honor the struggle.

Unfortunately, the struggle is a hard sell. Yoga is sold as a feel-good, relaxing experience, when the truth is that a daily Ashtanga practice will make you work. There will be a lot of difficult steps along the way and there will probably be days that you don’t want to practice.

The benefits of an Ashtanga practice, though, far outweigh the struggles that they grow from. If you engage wholeheartedly, your practice will change you – first it will change your...

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Keeping On

Today marks the beginning of my third month in Encinitas. And, so far (as I should perhaps have expected somehow, although it’s naturally impossible to expect this) nothing has gone as I planned. I realize now, though, that perhaps I’m not the one doing the planning.

When I announced to my community that I would be taking a sabbatical and leaving DC to study with Tim Miller for a year, I told them to keep doing their practice. We all need to remember that practicing because of an attachment to a teacher is a dead end. In fact, to practice for any reason other than a love for the practice is a dead end. Practicing because you love a teacher is like looking for something you’ll never find - teachers can give us a false sense of permanency, especially considering how formative a good teacher can be, but one of the most crucial things this practice teaches us every day is that nothing is permanent.

I certainly didn’t think that I would get here and be...

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Learning Janu Sirsasana C


Janu Sirsasana C is one of the most challenging poses of Primary Series. It's very confusing and scary to new students. This video talks about some techniques for approaching this pose.

Remember for this one, its the hip joint and the ankle that rotate - not your knee. Your knee is open about 75 degrees to the side - and there should be no pressure on your knee. It should all originate from the HIP JOINT - but people with tight hips tent to recruit flexibility from the knee here. Additionally, it is one of the deepest flexions of the knee in primary series.

I use a bench or windowsill to teach this pose to new students. This helps the student understand what the foot and hip are doing in the pose - because when the student is standing its much easier to open the hips. It also gives the student a lot more space to work with.

Want to learn more about opening your hips? Check out my online course Be Hippy!

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Practicing Yoga through Pregnancy


Students frequently ask me about practicing while pregnant. I've had lots of students practice their entire pregnancy and others who weren't quite up to it. I think the key is to do what feels right for you - and continually reevaluate what that is.

However, since I have never been pregnant I thought I should ask the expert. So here is Christina Flemming. Pregnant Ashtangi and Mid-Wife, who knows what she is talking about.

I hope this is helpful.

  • Change the way you approach the practice and let go of idea of moving forward.
  • Embrace going slower, letting go of bandhas, and letting go of postures.
  • Grieve the losses of your pregnancy - not only the postures but other things that are changing.
  • It's typically safe to continue with any practice you had before the pregnancy, be that marathon running or yoga practicing.
  • Don't add any new postures.
  • Continually reevaluate where you are at.

Watch the video for more talk on the subject.


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The Value of a Six Day a Week Practice

A student recently told me she was feeling burned out and wondered why we practice 5-6 days a week in the Ashtanga system.

In a nutshell, I think the answer is transformation. But I’ll give you some of the details.

When we practice 6 days a week we get the opportunity to learn faster. By repeating asanas and vinyasas on a daily basis we are able to memorize more quickly — both in our minds and our bodies. When you practice 6 days a week it can help prevent injury because your body becomes more accustomed to the movement and you become more aware of what your body can and cannot tolerate — which of course lends itself to progress in the poses.

Your body will acclimate to the practice more quickly if you practice consistently. Your flexibility and strength increase at a faster rate with a daily practice. Its easier to adopt a daily routine that you can stick to. You’ll find going to bed early and waking up early enough to practice easier when you do it...

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Assisting Guidelines

I had the big honor of assisting Tim in his Mysore room last week last week. Luckily, I've had plenty of time to think about how I believe assistants should serve in the Mysore after working with my own assistants for many years. So, I thought I would share some of my personal guidelines for assisting while it was fresh on my mind. These are some lessons that I’ve taught to my own assistants, as well as what I let guide me while assisting Tim.

First off, I tried to teach like I’ve learned from Tim. He always influences me, of course, but I do think it’s especially important to honor his teachings when I am teaching in his room. So I don’t go into his Mysore room and teach like anyone else. I just do my best to emulate Tim’s style and philosophy while still bringing myself.

I made sure to introduce myself to as many students as I could. I always ask students' names and try my hardest to remember them - I think this is important when working with...

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How to Optimize your Morning (when you aren't an early morning person!)

I know better than anyone how hard it is to have a successful morning. I am a morning person, yes. But I am more of a 7am morning person, not a 5am in the morning person. So teaching Mysore in the wee hours of the morning goes against my natural rhythm.

When you have to be someplace at 6am every minute counts in the morning. Here are my tips for optimizing my morning and maximizing how late I can sleep.

  1. These are the things I do every night before bed so that I have the best possible chance of getting out the door and to the studio on time in the morning. These tips are helpful for anyone, not just if you are going to Mysore.
  2. I prepare my beverages the night before. I like to drink water with lemon in it while I am teaching in the morning. I fill up my water bottle with lemon the night before. I use a hydroflask so that the water will stay cold for 24 hours. And then I put it in my bag the night before so that I don’t have to think about it at all in the morning!
  3. I take my...
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My Worst Case Scenario

For every situation in life we can imagine a worst case scenario - sometimes a conversation goes drastically different than you’d hoped; sometimes workplace drama turns ugly; sometimes you break a bone or a window or a heart (or your own); sometimes you find yourself stuck with all your worldly possessions on the side of the 101 freeway in the rain because your movers showed up a week early with too big a truck to fit down your street.

Or maybe that one’s just me. But, either way, the story of rebooting my life started with what was basically my worst-case scenario. My movers, who had already been somewhat less than professional moving me out of DC, were more than a week ahead of schedule for the delivery to California. So, I changed my flight, packed my bags, and left without the chance to say many goodbyes or to let anyone in Encinitas know that I would be arriving early.

It was 7pm when they called to let me know that they’d sent a bigger truck than...

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