Roguish Musings #4

I hope that you are enjoying these brief posts on what I am doing, reading, practicing, etc.  I have to admit that I stole the idea from Tim Ferriss, who does a weekly email newsletter called “Five-Bullet Fridays.”  If you haven’t subscribed to those, please do so. It’s a great source for breaking up the monotony of routine and of our normal sources of information.

  1. What I’ve been reading: The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas.  Specifically the Penguin translation available on the above link.  I read this novel, in its unabridged form, three times when I was in high school.  It was that good.  Yes, it is a hefty tome (at 1200+ pages), but I read only ten to twenty pages every night (more on the weekend when I have more time).  The writing is rich.  The story is a classic tale of intrigue, wrongful imprisonment and the pursuit of vengeance (and the realization of the consequences of one’s actions).
  2. What I’ve been listening to (music): Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, 4th Movement.  Beethoven has always held a special place in my heart.  Shortly after my father passed, I discovered a box full of miniature tapes he had used to record music from the radio in the late 70s and early 80s.  Among the tapes was a tape with Beethoven’s 9th symphony, conducted by Herbert von Karajan.  On the other side was a recording of my father talking with my mother and the two nurses shortly after my mother gave birth to my brother and me.  I could hear myself screaming as a newborn.  Granted, it was a PKD-esque moment.  Anyway, this is all to say that Beethoven has been one of the major lietmotif in my life.
  3. What I watched for Christmas: Elf, with Will Ferrell.  ‘Nuff said.
  4. How I made a ten-hour drive to Kentucky more manageable: I hate long-distance driving just as much as everyone else.  I am, by nature, someone who cannot sit still for long, and driving for too long really just leads to back and hip pain.  So I decided this time to do a set of 20 push-ups and 10 squats every time I stopped for gas or for rest.  It made a world of difference in relieving any feelings of discomfort.  The frequent breaks and the extra movement broke up any body staleness from sitting for too long.
  5. Quote I’ve been pondering: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” -Seneca

And lastly, we are approaching the end of 2016.  It seems like, more than any other recent year, 2016 has been particularly tumultuous.  The Presidential elections, the premature deaths of many talented musicians and actors, and for me…well, there has been a lot of change.  My business failed.  I lost some very close friends, some who no longer speak to me.  I was on a roller coaster of despair and hope all year long, and my ego took one hell of a thrashing.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) this wild back-and-forth, I dug deeper in my yoga practice, into my readings of books, and into the philosophy of Stoicism.  I have been blessed with mentors who came to my aid when I needed them the most and who also gave me enough slack to try to accomplish something by myself.  My true friends have stuck with me through thick and thin.  My family has shown me love and support when I needed it the most.

I know that this year has been hard for all of us.  I don’t hope that 2017 is an easy year.  It won’t be, and no year has ever been easy.  What I do pray for is that I may be able to withstand the sea-change of events with greater equanimity, that I may be able to be of greater service to family, friends and colleagues, and that I may help to create a better world, one relationship at a time.  I hope that I can help to make kindness, honesty, and integrity the core values of all my relationships.

My heart to yours.

7 ways to reinvigorate your Ashtanga practice

Here are some ways to enliven your practice, especially if you have been practicing the same way for a long time.   I do not suggest trying to combine exercises (eg doing standing postures 10 breaths each, with full vinyasa and left side first….too many things to juggle!).  Play with these as your time and interest permit.

1.  Hold standing postures for 10 breaths each, once a week.  Observe the effects on the rest of your practice.
2.  Hold the first half portion of primary postures (paschtimottanasana to marichaysana D) for 8 to 10 breaths each, once a week.
3.  Do full vinyasa for the first half of Primary Series (if you have never done full vinyasa before, ask me and I will instruct you.  Your practice session may be longer than usual!).
4.  Hold upward dog for 2 to 4 breaths when doing the floor vinyasa in Primary Series.  (Especially if all you do is primary series and no intermediate series, you need to start holding upward dog longer at least two practice times a week).
5.  Slow down the breath to a five-count inhale and five-count exhale when doing the finishing series.
6.  Do Primary Series left-side first.  This includes surya B left lunge first, stepping to your left in standing, doing lotus left-side first, rolling anticlockwise in garbha pindasana, etc.
7.  Use a belt around your elbows and/or your thighs in urdhva dhanurasana.  Especially if you have tight shoulders, this is a good exercise to do for a month or longer.  Just remember to take one session to do the posture without the prop!

I would love to hear your feedback on any of these experiments.  You can leave a comment below!

Roguish Musings #3

Happy holidays, everyone!  I hope that you enjoy these musings as much as I do.  It’s an opportunity for me to share with you what I’ve been thinking about, what I’ve been doing or reading, and (if I have the time to sit down and watch) what I am watching.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @rexxanthony and @rogueashtanga.

Safe travels!

  1. What I’ve been reading: Tim Ferriss’ best-selling new book, Tools of Titans.  Filled with interviews of over 200 world-class performers from his podcast, this book makes Wikipedia weep for all of the rabbit holes it presents the reader.  I’ve listened to more podcasts driving into work every day this past week, than I have in the past year.  And each podcast gives me more nuggets to chase down and start applying.
  2. What I’ve finished reading: The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick.  Written in 1962, the novel’s major premise is “What would it have been like for the Americans if Japan and Germany won World War II and colonized the US?” It may take you a bit to get into PDK’s noirish, bizarre style, but you will get hooked with the multiple storylines, the contemplation of alternative histories, and the questioning of what is real.  Before you watch the Amazon Studios mini-series, read this.  If you like this book, check out the Library of America edition, which contains 3 other early novels, including the inspiration for Blade Runner.
  3. What I watched: Jean Claude Van Johnson, the pilot.  A great send-up of JCVD and his film work, and humorous commentary on how action movies have changed.  Free with your Amazon Prime membership.
  4. What I use to practice Ashtanga: Manduka Pro The Black Mat.  These mats are the gold standard of yoga mats. Yes, they are heavy.  Yes, they are plain.  But they will survive a nuclear attack.  I had my first Manduka mat for 15 years, and I had to get a new one only because it contracted some sort of jungle fungus when I was in Bali.  These mats are investments in your practice, just like a good pair of shoes is for a marathon
  5. Decadence for the holidays:  Buche de Noel.  The French are always stylish, and this signature holiday dish is as decadent as you can get.  I will need to do 108 sun salutations to work off this.
  6. Quote I’ve been pondering: “To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.”-William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Roguish Musings #2

It’s that time again! Roguish Musings is inspired by Tim Ferriss’s five-bullet Friday emails.  In these short blog posts, I share what has been on my mind, what has been on my reading list, or what I have been doing for physical training.  I try to offer a wide range of interests and suggestions, as I am an avid reader of many different subjects. I don’t just read yoga books!

  1. Moon Sequence: Matthew Sweeney, my Ashtanga teacher in Bali, designed several vinyasa sequences that are meant to bring balance to your daily practice and to offer alternatives to the traditional Ashtanga sequencing.  His first sequence, the Moon Sequence, is a therapeutic sequence with the same physical focus as the Primary Series (forward bending, core strength and hip opening), while taking pressure off the shoulders, wrists and lower back.  If you are interested in learning this sequence, it is best learned in the Mysore format I teach at Yoga District.
  2. Morning pages: This idea is taken from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: Morning Pages Journal, as featured in Tim Ferriss’s new book, Tools of Titans (by the way, if you want a compendium of tactics, tools and techniques to turn your life around, pick up a copy of Tim’s book.  I bought the hardback AND the e-book, it is that good).   So what are morning pages?  You just take three pages of blank paper and start to write whatever is on your mind (I use a softcover Moleskine lined journal).  Don’t edit, don’t try to be perfect, don’t try to control the process.  Just write, for yourself.  It’s not going to be Hemingway, but it will be you.
  3. Godfrey Devereux: I consider Godfrey to be the “Richard Freeman of Europe.” I first became aware of him when I started practicing Ashtanga in the late ’90s.  Like Richard (who also has a new book, The Art of Vinyasa, available this month), Godfrey focuses on the marriage of alignment and fluidity of movement, drawing from his extensive practices in Iyengar Yoga and Ashtanga Vinyasa.  I recommend Godfrey’s book, Dynamic Yoga, for those new to his work.  He also has some new e-books available from his website.
  4. “Grease the groove”:  This is a technique to build strength endurance, where you do half the reps you are capable of for any particular exercises (Tim Ferriss includes this information in Tools of Titans on page 90 in his interview with Pavel Tsatsouline).  For instance, I am a big fan of pull-ups because most yoga postures do not work the body in these rowing movements.  So I can do 14 pull-ups in a row when testing.  For “grease the groove,” I do only 5 to 7 pull-ups.  When I am writing from home, I will do them every 90 minutes as a way to break away from my desk and get some movement in. If you want to try this out, pick a simple exercise (pull-ups, push-ups, squats) and do half the number of reps you normally do in a row.  Give yourself at least 15 minutes between sets. The idea is not to go to failure, but rather to build new pathways for these movements to become more efficient, without building up lactic acid or soreness.
  5. Quote I’ve been pondering:  “This is the mark of perfection of character – to spend each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, laziness, or any pretending.” -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7.69


5 essential ways to learning Ashtanga Yoga faster

Learning yoga is like learning how to cook.  You are presented with a cookbook, and you get excited about all of the different recipes you could try.  You start to thumb through thecookbook-stack pages, looking at what you can make for breakfast, for lunch, for that weird phenomenon called brunch, or what to make for dinner or dessert.  The possibilities seem endless!

But eagerness can soon be replaced by a feeling of being overwhelmed with too many options.  Where to start?  Which recipe should you try first?

Similarly, students feel the same way about yoga.  Because yoga practice has become more popular and more commercialized, the options have exploded.  You have hot yoga, power yoga, gentle yoga.  This person’s yoga vs this other yoga celebrity’s yoga.  Flying yoga, yoga with silk suspension cords, yoga with weights.  The buffet can be overpowering, and before you know it, your ambitions to start a yoga practice sit on the shelf like the cookbook you have yet to use.

This is why Ashtanga Yoga is so appealing compared to other forms.  It is a set sequence of postures, arranged in a particular, well-recognized order, that never varies (well, it has varied and continues to vary but that is for a different blogpost!).  You know that when you practice Ashtanga Yoga, you will be doing these postures in this order, every single time.  You don’t have to worry about what comes next.

So how can you set yourself up to learn Ashtanga Yoga faster than normal?

Here are five easy-to-apply methods to turbo-charge your memorization of the sequence:

  1. Seek out a teacher who has been practicing the Series for at least ten years and who lives close.  The teacher may or may not be certified or authorized by the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore.  These certified and authorized teachers will have taken multiple trips to Mysore over several years of study to earn these credentials.  However, there are many teachers who either have not been to Mysore in a long time or who have never gone to Mysore, yet they maintain daily practice and study the method of Ashtanga.  I happen to be one of the latter.  cropped-rexx-assists-marina-3.jpgI have studied with senior students of Sri K Pattabhi Jois over the years, and I have committed myself to learning the subtleties of the system from two teachers in particular, Matthew Sweeney and Richard Freeman.  I have also maintained a daily practice for over 15 years.  Lastly, it is best to learn the Ashtanga Series from a teacher directly, as it will minimize any mistakes in learning the postures, the order or the vinyasa.  Stick with one teacher for at least six months so that you focus on establishing the habit of practicing in the morning, of memorizing the sequence, and of getting to know the teacher.
  2. Practice your Surya Namaskar A and B, regularly! These two sequences are the bedrock of the Ashtanga series.  They are also the first series of postures you will learn, and they will teach you how to link  your breathing with your movement.  The Salutations are also the first opportunity for you to taste what it is like to practice yoga by yourself, at your own pace, rather than being guided through the series.  The Salutations also contain within them the seeds for more complicated movements, like jumpbacks, jumpthroughs, backbends and balancing postures.  So, even if you can only make it to Mysore practice a few times a week, do the Surya Namaskar A and B at home by yourself, 5 rounds of each.  Make sure to hold downward facing dog in A and the third downward dog in B for five breaths each.
  3. Right-side first!  You step your right foot forward first in Surya B. You pivot and step to the right for all of the standing postures.  You place your right leg into the folded position for all of the seated positions.  Your right leg moves into lotus first.  Just remember Right Side First and you will have already solved a few of your potential pitfalls.
  4. Practice patience.  Ashtanga is taught one posture at a time.  You will, at maximum, learn one to two postures a day if you make it a habit to attend class three to five days a week.  You will not learn the entire sequence from the get-go.  Led classes can teach you the entire sequence so you can have a grasp of the overarching structure of the Primary Series, but it is one thing to be led through a sequence, and quite another to do that sequence by yourself.
  5. Take a little time every night to review a chart of the postures you have learned.  Learn the names of each posture as you learn it.  I recommend Matthew Sweeney’s ashtanga yoga as it is cover photobook, Ashtanga Yoga As It Is (third edition) because it has a very thorough introduction and has easy-to-read charts of each sequence (Primary, Intermediate and Advanced) as well as of the subsequences (Surya Namaskar, Standing Postures, backbends, and finishing postures).  It’s really easier than you think.  Because you are learning the postures one at a time, you will only have to learn one posture name at a time.  Day by day, week after week, you will memorize more of the sequence, without having to strain.  It’s like learning a poem by memorizing one line every week.  If the poem is 20 stanzas long, you will have learned the entire poem within 20 weeks.

These five strategies are guaranteed to help you learn the Ashtanga system faster than normal.  You will always learn a system faster if you approach it methodically, with interest, enthusiasm and patience.

Let me know in the comments section if you have any other suggestions.