Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ode to Ashtanga

By 1990 or so it was clear that I wasn’t going to renew my membership in the Society of Physics Students, and against all better judgment, was instead destined to pursue dreams of being a self-supported Yoga teacher. I had been blessed with very fine teachers who modeled such a life, and I also stumbled upon a most inspiring calendar at that time

Just a couple years prior, I first encountered Ashtanga Yoga. My soon-to-be good friend, Julie Lerner, had just moved back to Minneapolis from Encinitas, California. She brought back not only a tan body, but also this most remarkable approach to Yoga. For my Iyengar-trained eyes and body, this was unlike anything I’d ever seen or felt. I’ll never forget that first day we practiced together – holding my belly firm, breathing like a freight train and moving (moving!) from pose-to-pose for what seemed like hours! Though I was drenched with sweat, and exhausted, I felt like I’d experienced heaven. After the practice I got on my bike and rode like the wind to North Country Coop, singing out loud all the while. I kept saying to myself "I feel like I’ve been shot out of a cannon!"

The Ashtanga system tends to attract an athletic and community-oriented crowd, and many of the world’s Ashtanga Yoga adepts have landed on Maui. If they don’t actually live on Maui, they’ve likely spent time on the island. From this hotbed of Ashtanga Yoga came this calendar depicting the best-of-the-best doing their practices. Before the Internet, such products were generally of local interest, though through four or five degrees of separation, one of these calendars found its way into my South Minneapolis apartment.

That calendar single-handedly kept my spirits lifted as I finished my undergraduate studies. When I had almost convinced myself that no Yoga teacher really needed a college degree, I’d look at that calendar and immediately be transported to a paradise of Yoga and Zen that somehow put me back on the straight and narrow. In no small measure, or at least as an aid to an overactive imagination, that calendar saw me through one of the most common but difficult trials of adulthood: completing the thing you’ve started, even though you’ve already decided to pursue another path.

My current trip to Maui (I’m writing this from the island) has felt like a homecoming of sorts. Once I finished my teaching responsibilities, I had a chance to visit the archives of Tom Sewell ( Tom was sort of Zelig-like in his presence in Ashtanga’s early days, and his stunning archive was the perfect complement to our stay on the flanks of Mt. Haleakala. Opening folder after folder, I saw the youthful faces of Ashtanga’s heavy-hitters; there were the smiling faces of Yogis long-since departed, the ever-joyful smile of Pattabhi Jois, and innocent smiles from those destined for yoga-greatness.

I immediately felt the inspiration that guided me through a particularly dark and dreary Minneapolis winter of almost 20 years ago – and newly refreshed by the images from this particularly joyful part of the world.

May we remember the inspiring words of Pattabhi Jois, "yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory".
~ Scott


pixie said...

I'm new to yoga, i have so much to learn. i've never done ashtanga yoga and i'm not sure i'm at a level where i can yet, but i hope to.

i wanted to say i love your blog, i've been reading a ton of yoga blogs lately, yours made me feel good, even welcome. Some have made me feel the opposite way (i'm trying to figure out why but its not come to me yet, just a feeling i walk away with).

i'm going to read the entire thing, little by little but just wanted to say thank you for writing it, i know its a lot of work. i can't wait until your next post!


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