Ouroboros

August is a good time to take a break from routine.  It is the traditional month for taking holidays in Europe.  So the Rogue in me will be taking a few weeks away from posting.  Look for new content starting in September.  Topics will include:

  • making yoga a sustainable business
  • why you are not working hard enough in your postures – no excuses, and…
  • how fighter pilots and Navy SEALS can teach yogis a thing or two.

In the meantime, if you want to read some of my more popular posts, check these out:

A cautionary tale on operating yoga studios”

“Questioning the Mysore Style”

“Apprenticing in Yoga”

“Why you will success with a minimal practice done daily”

Also, I will be leading two workshop on the Moon Sequence (Chandra Krama), designed by Matthew Sweeney, at the Washington Yoga Center.  You can sign up for September 24th or October 22nd.

Vale! (Stay Strong!)

 

 

 

New Moon, New Paths

Today Thursday is a New Moon.  In the Ashtanga tradition, you take rest from vigorous asana practice.  So enjoy your day of quiet, restoration and rest. =-)

New Moons are associated with new beginnings.  It is a time to plant seeds, to start new projects, to take on new challenges.  So it is unusual, yet also fitting, that I announce that, as of Friday June 9th, I will be stepping back from teaching the morning Mysore program at Yoga District, for the foreseeable future.  Claudia Paredes will be stepping in to start teaching the Mysore program on Monday June 12th.  I would like to thank Jasmine, the owner of Yoga District, for giving me this opportunity to teach the morning Mysore program for the past year.

I will continue to teach some led classes at various studios and corporations, and I will be conducting workshops and intensives once I am able to get some time to recuperate from my exhaustion.  I will also be available for private instruction.  So please stay tuned and share my information if you are interested in learning Ashtanga, Vinyasa Krama, meditation and pranayama.

In short, Rogue Ashtanga is becoming more of an individual project, more like consulting than a regular program tied to a studio.

This has been a hard, but necessary, decision to make, because I am, frankly speaking, burned out and I need to make this more sustainable.  I’ve been teaching yoga for over 17 years, practicing yoga for nearly 20 years.  I’ve given a lot to the yoga community.  I’ve seen it all.  I’ve been a yoga teacher, a studio manager, a teacher training director.  I’ve taught regular weekly classes, special workshops, teacher training modules, donation-based fundraisers, Mysore programs (twice now), and international yoga retreats. My studio was a part of the yoga landscape in DC for 6 years, before rent obligations and flagging sales caused us to close last year.

And most recently, I have taken to blogging about the “whys” and “hows” of yoga practice, specifically Ashtanga Yoga and Vinyasa Krama as taught by Matthew Sweeney.

I’ve advised yoga teachers on their classes and their career paths.  I’ve advised yoga studio owners on their business strategy and their vision.  I’ve aspired to be what Keith Ferrazzi calls a super-connector in the yoga community.  I have lived, breathed, eaten, slept yoga for a long time.

And it seems that I am reaching a midlife crisis (3 years early! Early bloomer!).  I am questioning everything about what I am doing, about why I am practicing yoga, about why I am a full-time yoga teacher, about how the yoga community is organized, about how yoga as a business is conducted.  I’ve been asking myself, “What are we doing when we say we practice yoga?  What are we teaching when we teach yoga?”

In fact, why is the image of yoga presented to the public, mostly through Instagram and Facebook these days, about being tanned and flexible, posing elegantly in a difficult yoga posture (or handstand, more and more on one hand) in an exotic location, hash-tagged with the following bizarre litany: “#yoga #yogapants #yogachallenge #yogaeverydamnday #yogainspiration #yogapose #yogalover #yogagram #yogafam #yogateacher #yogamat #yogaforlife” ad infinitum.

Dig deeper.  A casual search of the instagram hashtag #yoga delivers 34,647,365 posts (that’s over 34 million, just to write it out for full effect), the top posts showing one yogi in an oversplit (see image),Oversplit-400x269 another yogi in a jumping split (like a cheerleader?), a protein vegan bar, a model in a white dress (doing pout-asana? upward-facing duck-face asana?), a video of a student “nailing the straddle press” into handstand (while on Keramas Beach, in the yoga hotspot Bali, Indonesia), a student taking a selfie near her mat, a video instructional on bakasana, a  quote from the Dalai Lama, and a post on the law of positivism (whatever that is).

And that’s just for #yoga.  The second most searched #hashtag is #yogapants (and of the 9 top posts for that term only 5 appear to be wearing yoga pants), followed by #yogachallenge .

I don’t know.  Am I being too jaded, too cynical?  Is this the burnout speaking?  Maybe.  And I know that there are a lot of genuine, authentic teachers and inspired students out there.  These are the people that I look up to, that I love to work with, that I constantly refer to my friends.  So, it’s not all doom and gloom (or spandex and fairy dust?), and yoga, as a decentralized system of individual self-development, will persist, regardless of the plastic pantomime of the media monkeys and their junket junkies.

I am just trying to make sense of it all.

You know, my father passed away three years ago.  He was a computer programmer by trade, a genealogist by hobby, an archivist and memorialist by preference. He kept every paperback book he ever read, noting max alain yoga in red ink on the front cover his name, followed by the dates he read the book.  After he passed, I found a book called Yoga for Perfect Health by Alain (nom de plume of Max Alain Schwendimann, about whom I could find nothing else on great Google), written in 1961.  Alain seems to have been a student of Swami Sivananda. My father read it in February 1965.  I’ve been reading it for the past few weeks, and I’ve been imagining what he was thinking when he read it.  He even underlined certain phrases, such as “Much of the success in Yoga training depends upon this condition of affective (emotional) indifference to results.”

The front cover states that yoga is “a system of health and hygiene of body and mind that can help give you a vigorous and happy life.”

But is that what we are teaching?  Is that how we are representing yoga in our social media crazed society nowadays?

Is doing a one-armed handstand going to “give you a vigorous and happy life?”

I

So why are we doing yoga?  If you are teaching yoga, why are you teaching?  If you are a studio owner, why are you running a yoga studio?  And is teaching yoga as a profession really that sustainable in our current marketplace?

 

 

 

Why follow the phases of the moon?

What does that mean?  Follow the phases of the moon?  Aren’t we a little too sophisticated and scientific these days for “following the moon?”  Sounds like something one of our ancestors might have done.  But there is a very good reason to follow the phases of the moon.

What do you do on Moon Days?  Nothing!  You take rest.  No asana, no pranayama, no meditation.  Just chill out.

Ashtanga is unique among other systems of yoga in that practitioners observe Moon Days.  Moon Days are days when the moon is either completely full or completely dark (also called a New Moon).  On Moon Days, Ashtangis are supposed to not practice any of the Series, for reasons I will explain later.  Typically, there are two Moon Days every month, one for the full moon and one for the new moon.  When you have two full moon in one month, which occasionally happens, then it is called a Blue Moon (hence the meaning of the phrase, “Once in a blue moon,” to indicate rare occurences).

Now, Ashtanga is also unique among other systems of yoga in that practitioners are encouraged, if not enjoined, to practice thsaturn-gode series every day, and take rest on Saturdays.

[A brief digression on Saturdays:  I know that the “tradition” has changed recently in Mysore, so now the rest day is Sundays.  I’ve been practicing for about 15 years, so it is hard for me to change that long of a pattern in my nervous system.  Also, Saturdays are associated with the planet Saturn, the god of limitation and restriction, duty and discipline.  Saturn is cold, dry, and harsh.  I like to start my practice on Sundays (the day of the Sun, giver of all life) and end my practice on Fridays (the day of Venus, the godddess of love and relationship).  It just feels better.

Plus, I have always associated Saturday with rest in general, and morning relaxation (Saturday morning cartoons, anyone?!?)]

Back to the topic:  Moon Days and Ashtanga.

So, Ashtangis typically practice six days a week.  They take Saturdays (or Sundays) off from practice.  This can be a grueling, if not unrealistic, routine for many, if not most, practitioners.  It can also deter many people from starting an Ashtanga practice.  But more on that later.

Enter the Moon Days.  With the Moon Days, you get two additional days off each month from practice (unless it so happens that the Moon day fall on a Saturday).  Some months, it might be a Wednesday; other months, like this one, it is a Friday. It helps to break up the regularity and routine of a practice, and it also teaches you, more importantly, how to detach from your practice.  As we know, Ashtangis love to practice.  And learning the series can become obsessive, almost compulsive.

What is the yogic explanation of moon days?  The idea is that the body is affected by the phases of the moon.  During a full moon, the body is more watery, the mind is more aggressive and assertive, and we may tend to be more headstrong and quick to act.  There is plenty of folklore among people about more murders, more emergencies, more ER visits occurring during a full moon than during other days.  During a New Moon, the body is drier, the mind is more lethargic and unfocused, and we may tend to be more depressed and unmotivated.  Of the two, it is generally more important to not practice on New Moon Days, as the combination of dry joints and aggressive movements may not be favorable.

Take that explanation as you like.

More importantly, though, is the concept behind the Moon Days, and this is the central thread running through this post: the idea of following cycles in our lives.  The Moon goes through visible phases every month.  Let’s say our observation of the Moon begins on a New Moon.  The moon will be completely dark.  Every day, the moon becomes more visible, sliver by sliver of light, until 14 days later, the moon is completely full.  Then the moon begins to wane once again, becoming less fuller day by day, until 14 days later, the moon is once again completely dark, hence new.

Now, we often think that our practice of Ashtanga is linear and progressive.  I start with learning Surya A and B, then the standing postures, etc, etc.  Every day, I add on one more posture, and my practice gets a little longer.  I keep making progress each day, and it will never end.

But the truth is, progress is not linear.  Life is not linear. Some days you are less energetic than others, and it feels better to do a shorter practice or to just take a walk.  You may occasionally strain a muscle or become ill with the flu, and you cannot practice all of Primary or Intermediate.  Or you are traveling across continents, and you cannot find a space to unroll your mat.  In other words, your life is constantly shifting and changing, and your body is also constantly changing.  As you grow older, your practice also changes.  If you have surgery, your body changes, hence your practice will change. If you become pregnant,  your practice will change because your body has changed.  After you give birth, your body will be different than it was before you became pregnant.guruji-book

So it is a myth that the Series will always be the same, regardless of conditions and circumstances.  And, as you can read in the book of interviews called Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of His Students, the Ashtanga Series have changed and evolved over the years.  There is no original, true Primary Series, or Intermediate, or Advanced A or B, (C, or D, for that matter).  Guruji was constantly evolving and experimenting with the Series. Read Mark Darby’s interview where he says that the Advanced Series were changed depending on your strengths.

After all, he called his center the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, with a subtle emphasis on Research.

So…I encourage you to do the following in your practice:

  1. Keep a Moon Journal:  Take a note of when the full moon and the new moon are each month.  Three days before the official Moon Day, observe how you feel, how you are reacting to others, how others are interacting with you, how your practice feels, how your body feels.  Just make a quick note each day.  Then, after 5 or 6 months, review the journal to see if you can see any patterns.  Don’t get caught up in assuming that a Full Moon will be characterized by more aggressive actions, or that a New Moon will be more depressing and down (although they might!).  Look for the subtleties.
  2. Adjust your practice according to the phases of the moon:  Just as the moon waxes from New to Full and wanes from Full to New, so experiment with the same pattern in your practice.  From the New to the Full Moon, focus on adding on new postures (if applicable), on challenging your strength and flexibility.  Focus on building your practice, on experimenting with new techniques, new subroutines, new approaches.  It is a period of accretion.  From the Full Moon to the New Moon, focus on consolidating your practice.  That is, focus on refining your alignment in postures, on smoothing out your vinyasas.  Clean up your practice from all extraneous movements.  Learn how to hold back slightly when holding a posture, so you are not pushing to 100% within the stretch.  Focus more on the breath and the shape of the posture, rather than your willful imposition of where you should be within the posture.  In other words, focus on refining your practice as you move towards the New Moon.
  3. Practice the Chandra Krama (Modvmsmoonsequence500on Sequence) once a week.  The Moon Sequence is an alternative vinyasa sequence designed by Matthew Sweeney, meant to address the same focal points of Primary Series (forward bends, twists and core strength), while also placing less strain on the shoulders, wrists and lower back. I am teaching a Moon Workshop at Washington Yoga Center in April.  Or if you are a regular Mysore student at Yoga District, we can discuss integrating Moon Sequence into your weekly practice.

So, take rest today.  Today is a New Moon.  New Moons are associated with starting new projects, planting seeds, and for reflecting upon one’s path.  Take what you have learned in this post and reflect upon your own practice.

As always, I appreciate your feedback in the comments below.  If you find this to be valuable, please share my website with your friends and fellow Ashtangis!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Roguish Musings

Greetings friends,

I’d like to start sending out a weekly exclusive email to you with discoveries and reveries I have been having regarding yoga practice and other things related to it. I will usually send it out on Thursdays or Fridays, so keep an eye on your inbox.  If  you are interested in receiving these emails, send a short note to ashtangarogue at gmail dot com, and I will add you to my list.

It will include tips on practice, reading recommendations, video suggestions, quotes, and any other sort of things I find interesting that you may also find interesting.  It will also include updates about workshops, moon days, special events, and other goodies.

I am still working on subscription-based newsletters.  I will blog once my subscription base is confirmed.

So without further ado…here’s the inaugural Roguish Musings:

What I’ve been listening to: Alan Watts: The Seminar Series, specifically his lectures on the Pursuit of Pleasure.  He makes some interesting observations about how we often take up self-improvement regimens with such grim determination, when in fact we should be dancing our way through yoga and meditation.  Highly enjoyable lectures from the self-professed “philosophical entertainer.”

An article I’ve been reading: The Evolution of Ashtanga Yoga, Part 1, by my teacher, Matthew Sweeney

A great resource for refining your practice: Watch Sri K Pattabhi Jois lead his senior students through the Primary Series.  A great resource for the fine movements of the vinyasa, and for inspiration to practice.

No coffee, no prana!: A friend recently introduced me to Cafe Bustelo, and to the Italian coffee maker pot.  It’s been my favorite way of cranking the morning prana for teaching and practicing.
 

Quote I’ve been pondering“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life.  Let us postpone nothing.  Let us balance life’s books each day….The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” -Seneca, Moral Letters, 101.7b-8a

Have a wonderful weekend. The Full Moon is Tuesday December 13th, so no early morning practice that day.  Take rest!

All my best,

Rexx

If you feel that your friends may enjoy practicing Mysore-style Ashtanga yoga, please refer them to this email and to my new website, www.rogueashtanga.com

What is Ashtanga Rogue?

What is Ashtanga Rogue?

ashtanga_rogue_logos_03Ashtanga Rogue is an evolutionary approach to traditional Ashtanga Mysore instruction and Vinyasa Krama.  Based in Washington, D.C., at the Yoga District on 14th St, NW,  Ashtanga Rogue is led by Rexx Anthony Samuell, a close student of Matthew Sweeney.  The aim of Ashtanga Rogue is to offer students one-on-one instruction in the self-practice method of Ashtanga Yoga and Vinyasa Krama.  Students benefit from individualized attention from the teacher, as well as developing self-reliance and independence within one’s own practice.  One of the greatest benefits of a self-practice system is the relationship you develop with the teacher.

When?

Classes are held in the Front Room at the 14th St location, above Taylor Gourmet.

Monday through Friday, 5:45am-8:00am

No practice on Saturdays, New Moon Days or Full Moon Days.  Moon Days will show on the Mindbody schedule as cancelled classes.

Adjustments and guidance end at 8:00am on Mondays through Fridays.  Students are encouraged to arrive early for practice to receive more individualized instruction.

How do you sign up?

Students must attend either as a Drop-in  ($11.35 plus tax) or using the Mysore Monthly Membership.  Traditionally, a student is asked to commit to a self-practice class for at least a month, so that he or she can experience the daily routine of practicing the system. After all, habits are created in 21 days, so committing to a month-long exploration of Ashtanga builds regularity, consistency, and discipline.  The longer one practices self-practice, the more natural it gets.

Your Monthly Membership for Mysore classes also permits  you to attend all other regularly scheduled classes at any Yoga District location.

What else can you do?

Like us on Facebook.  Twitter and Instagram accounts for the Rogue will arrive in January 2017.

I look forward to seeing you on the mat early Monday morning. Do Ashtanga, go Rogue.