Roguish Musings #5

Hello everyone!

Here is your weekly shot of “Roguish Musings,” a list of what I’m reading, contemplating, or practicing.

Book I’m reading:

 Mastery by Robert Greene.  I’m a big fan of his work on power, persuasion and war.  This book serves as the capstone to his quadrology.  Here’s the description: “Each one of us has within us the potential to be a Master. Learn the secrets of the field you have chosen, submit to a rigorous apprenticeship, absorb the hidden knowledge possessed by those with years of experience, surge past competitors to surpass them in brilliance, and explode established patterns from within. Study the behaviors of Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Leonardo da Vinci and the nine contemporary Masters interviewed for this book. The bestseller author of The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, and The 33 Strategies of War, Robert Greene has spent a liftime studying the laws of power. Now, he shares the secret path to greatness. With this seminal text as a guide, readers will learn how to unlock the passion within and become masters.”

What I’m practicing:

Playing the long game in my professional life.  I’m taking the eagle-eye perspective on what I want do for the next ten years.  I cannot keep teaching tons of classes each week, without some sort of larger project in my life.  This website is a part of that project:  getting some exposure of my work, engaging with students, teachers and other like-minded individuals, and sharpening my writing skills.  I’m also shifting more towards work with branding, consulting and marketing.

Something I am doing

I’m getting ready to move next week.  I’m throwing out a bunch of old papers, books, clothes, and other human detritus.  It feels remarkably amazing to just get rid of things that have accumulated. It feels like I am cresting more space in my life.  James Altucher wrote a great article on living a minimalist life.  The New York Times did an interesting critique of minimalism.  Enjoy the dialectic!  

New blog post on experimenting with your practice:

Quote I’m pondering:

“A podium and a prison is each a place, one high and the other low, but in either place your freedom of choice can be maintained if you so wish.” -Epictetus, Discourses, 2.6.25

Why you should stop taking led classes and start a morning Mysore practice 

I like to practice yoga at my own pace. I like holding some postures longer than others.  I like repeating a posture that I am struggling with (mulabandhasana, anyone?).  I like slowing my breath down.
When I take someone else’s class, I have to practice according to the teacher’s pace.  I may only get a few breaths in every posture, especially if my breathing pace is slower than the teacher’s directions.  I may have to breath faster to keep up.

In short, I end up in the passenger seat of my practice, instead of the driver’s seat.

I like being in the driver’s seat.

When I practice in a Mysore format, I like the silence, the quiet determination of each student as they work through the series.  I like the unspoken camaraderie of practicing in a group at the early hours of the morning.  When I practice in the morning, I know that I will have gotten my practice in.  I will have accomplished something that day, something for my own sanity, my own peace of mind, my own health.  No one is going to interrupt my practice with a meeting, a phone call, or a project.

This is the same reason I love writing morning journals.  It is time for myself, to get myself settled mentally and prepared for what the day will bring.  No one can predict what the day will bring.  Most of the things that happen to us are beyond our control.  

But, if I make the commitment to practice in the morning, I will have exercised my choice and my discipline.  And as retired Navy SEAL and author Jocko Wilink says, “Discipline equals freedom.”

When I practice in the morning, I’ll have taken care of my own health first so that I can take care of others.  I can be a Jedi Knight, learning how to increase kindness, mindfulness, and compassion when interacting with others.

I can learn to feel the Force when I practice in Mysore.  I get to unlearn all of the things that hold me back.

You will never progress as far in a led class as you will in self-practice.  Why?  Because you are not in control of your time, you are not in control of how much of the sequence you are doing, and despite what some teachers may say, you are never going to get any truly individualzed attention from the teacher.  I’ve taught for over 17 years.  The most progress I’ve seen in a student’s practice (and in my own) is in a self-practice format, practicing at least three to five times a week.

In self-practice, the student takes control of her own practice and makes it her own.  She’s not doing someone else’s practice, even if it is someone else’s sequence.  She’s doing her own yoga.

So I challenge you to try the morning mysore program I teach at Yoga District.  If you say you learned about it thru this blog, I will comp your first class.

Stay grounded, stay committed.  

Make progress one millimeter, one breath, at a time.

May the Force be with you.

Wednesday January 11, 2017: Full Moon

Today is a full moon.  In Ashtanga yoga, we do not practice on days when the moon is completely full or completely new. This has to do with the effects of the moon on the human body and psyche.  

The usual line of thought is that, during a full moon, we are more aggresssive,  more assertive, more headstrong, and more energized.  It is generally held that ERs, maternity wards, and insane asylums (no relation between the three!) experience greater activity than normal during a full moon.  On a personal level, as I have observed the lunar cycles syncing up with my own life for many years, I can tend to be more energized and pushy during the full moon.  I sleep more fitfully, and have strange dreams.  I also may work on harder postures in a more sustained manner (longer holds, more repetitions, or repeating karandavasana). 

Although the full moon is generally associated with a more dynamic and assertive energy, it can also be associated with a feeling of exhaustion and enervation due to hard work.  Therefore, it is equally important during this time to take rest, to relax and to remain grounded whenever we feel the headstrong urge to push forward on some project.  Can you find the dark side of the full moon?

So, in short, take rest tomorrow!  See you in practice on Thursday.

Why you should practice some Intermediate poses (even if you haven’t finished Primary Series)

Everyone who practices Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga knows that you must first learn all of Primary Series before you even begin to think of practicing any Intermediate Series.  Otherwise, you know what will happen.

Your head will pop off, your prana will leak all over the place, and your tombstone, if you even deserve one, will simply read, “She skipped ahead.” Pure and simple.  I’ve seen it happen. 😉

All kidding aside, I do want to make an important point about how Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is currently practiced, and why it needs to be a bit more flexible in its approach.

But first, some background.

I love Ashtanga.  I’ve practiced it for over 15 years, since 2002.  I started my practice in a very traditional format.  An Ashtanga teacher was leading a Mysore group out of a small dance studio in Kentucky.  My first class consisted of learning the Sun Salutations, forms A and B, and then repeating them about ten times each.  The teacher then taught me the final three postures (yoga mudra, padmasana, and utplutith) and then had me take rest.  I then spent the rest of class watching students go through the rest of practice (it was a Sunday, so I had some extra time).  I then went back each Sunday to learn the series, one posture at a time.  On the other days, I practiced what I had learned at home, because I was just out of college and still broke.  I learned the entire Primary Series in about nine months.

When I moved to DC, I continued my practice at a local Ashtanga studio.  Actually it was the only Ashtanga studio in the entire DC area for years, until more studios started opening up.  So I kept up with my practice, and started learning Intermediate Series, in the traditional format: adding on postures to the full Primary Serie until I arrived at Karandavasana and then splitting.

My progress was not linear, though.  I spent two years learning Intermediate because of a minor surgery and because of a few overuse injuries (shoulders, ribs, wrists).  Before I got to karandavasana,  my practice was very long and very tiring.  It took me about two and half hours to get through it all.  And by the end, I was exhausted.  And I had to go to university and study chemistry!

Getting past karandavasana and being able to drop all of Primary was almost religious in the feeling of relief I experienced.  Finally, I would have more energy!  So I practiced in a very traditional format for a few more years, practicing Intermediate four or five days a week, then Primary once a week.

By the time i had met Matthew Sweeney in 2012, I had been teaching myself portions of Advanced A with the help of a fellow Ashtangi.  Matthew had designed several Vinyasa sequences to the imbalances in the Ashtanga system.  You can read about his sequences here, and you can see his article on the evolution of Ashtanga as a practice here.

So when I met Matthew, he taught me the Moon Sequence, a Vinyasa sequence that emphasizes left-side first, alternative salutes, and the same thematic focus of Primary Series (forward bending, twisting, and core strength).  I loved the variety and the chance to practice something different.  After all, Ashtangis only practice Ashtanga!  Nothing else.  Especially not Bikram!

Having studied with Matthew for 5 years now and following his guidance on my personal and professional practice, I have been maintaining Primary, Intermediate, and Advanced A, in addition to the Moon and the Lion Sequences (and their variations).  And I have found that I am happier, less injured, more flexible (physically and mentally), and more ready to adapt to changes in my environment and my body.

Which brings me back to the title of this blog: why you need to practice some Intermediate, even if you haven’t completed Primary.

The thing is that most people who practice Ashtanga will only be taught Primary Series, which means they will get really good at seated forward bends, some twists, and then they will struggle with opening their hips without damaging their knees, putting their feet behind their head without cracking a collarbone, and trying to stand up from a backbend without hitting their heads.  I know: the above just makes you want to go out and practice, right?

The truth is that only practicing Primary ever, five to six days a week, is imbalanced.  It leads to overuse injuries, lower back pain, hamstring issues, and…boredom and fatigue.  A lot of teachers who have been practicing the series for years and who are now in their fifties and sixties have attested to this.  Some of the first Westerners who learned the series back in the seventies, were learning Primary in a month, Intermediate in one to two months, and if the ability and desire were there, then Advanced Series.  When they learned both Primary and Intermediate, then they would practice Primary one day, then Intermediate the next.

So what are the benefits of practicing Intermediate?  More backbends, more twists, some more accessible foot behind the head postures, and some really good arm balances (well, aside from karandavasana!).  The first eleven postures of Intermediate are simple, accessible and help to prepare for urdhva dhanurasana (and they prime the body for dropbacks so your body feels like rubber).

So which postures from Intermediate should you learn?

  1. Salabhasana A (locust pose)
  2. Dhanurasana (bow pose)
  3. Ustrasana (camel pose)

How should you practice them?  Twice each, before urdhva dhanurasana.

When should you start practicing them?  Once you start learning the floor Primary postures.

Why should you make this a regular practice to add on to your Primary?  To balance out all of the static forward bending with some static backbends.  And to save your back.

If you found this article to be of value, please share with your friends and on your social media sites.  I love feedback and discussion so please leave a comment below.

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