Notes From a Workshop with David Williams by Terry Slade
I was lucky enough to be able to attend a workshop on Ashtanga Yoga with David Williams, March 18-21, 2010, at Andrew Eppler's Ashtanga Yoga Studio in Norman, Oklahoma. The workshop consisted of 5 sessions - Thursday 5:30-8pm, Friday 5:30-8pm, Saturday 10am-12noon, Saturday 4pm-7pm, and Sunday 10am-12noon. David gave a lecture in each session and we practiced together in each session. We practiced part of primary series (with some commentary) the first session, went a little farther in primary in the second session, and did full primary in the third session. We did some pranayama on Saturday afternoon, and much of second series on Sunday morning.
David was one of the first Westerners (along with Norman Allen and Nancy Gilgoff) to find Pattabhi Jois in India in the early 1970's and learn the practice from him. David became the first non-Indian to master the complete Ashtanga yoga syllabus and has enjoyed 40 years of uninterrupted daily practice (minus Saturdays and moon days). He brought Pattabhi Jois to America in the 70's and is responsible for introducing this yoga to America. In my opinion, he is pretty much the top guy on the Ashtanga scene, having been there from the beginning and keeping up with it. He is a master of the practice and a master teacher. And he definitely has top credibility in the Ashtanga world.
The title of the workshop is Ashtanga Yoga for the Rest of Your Life. David just turned 60, and is concerned with making this practice doable into old age - he says he has 40 years to go. After four decades of yoga practice David has some ideas on things that might be better done differently. And as the person mainly responsible for introducing Ashtanga yoga to the west, David decided that he had a responsibility to speak up about some things that may need correcting, such as the reputation that Ashtanga yoga has for so many people getting hurt.
He gave his opinion that no one should ever push on anyone in a yoga posture. He explained that Ashtangis are not lazy. Everyone is going as far as they can go in a posture. Only you can find the sweet spot in each posture. If someone pushes on you, then they will take you past the sweet spot and possibly tear tissue, and injury depletes prana and takes time to heal. One person at the workshop said she liked to be pushed on. David said, "Then why don't you do it yourself?" Someone else said, "What if people want us to push on them?" David answered, "Then they are masochists." David made it clear that he did not mean do not ever touch anyone in a yoga class. He said has no problem with helping someone get the correct position in a posture or maybe helping them balance. David also mentioned that he thinks people should get all the bodywork they can. Which might seem like it could be a contradition. I asked if an adjustment in a posture isn't kind of the same thing as bodywork. He said he wanted his adjustments on the massage table.
It was very interesting to hear his surprising and radical message. He is trying to keep people from getting hurt. He says there is nothing wrong with this yoga, it is the way it is being taught and being practiced that is hurting people.
David stresses that the breathing and the bandhas are the most important part of the physical practice. He says this is what sets Ashtanga apart from other types of asana practice. He also says that yoga practice is not about a Tuesday and Thursday class, but about daily practice and lifestyle. The goal of yoga is peace of mind and we want to carry the feeling we get from yoga practice into our whole life. He recommends at least do the minimum practice every day - 3 salutation A's, 3 salutation B's and 3 finishing postures (bound lotus, sit in lotus for 25 breaths, bastrika breath, then rest in savasana).
When we practiced the full primary series on the third session (which
is detailed a bit more in notes below), he explained that this was exactly
the way he learned it in Mysore in the 1970's, with a few exceptions:
1. he leaves out chakrasana (backward somersault)
2. he leaves out setu bandasana (last posture in primary)
3. he leaves out the shoulder stand series
4. he leaves out headstand
These 4 modifications are to keep people from hurting their necks.
5. in the vinyasas between postures in primary series, he holds upward dog (or actually cobra with knees on floor) for 5 breaths. This is to provide some backbending to counter the emphasis on forward bending in primary series.
He practiced along with us in each session and did not do any adjustments (or maybe just a few minor ones).
A few key statements:
If it hurts you are doing it wrong.
If it feels good, you are doing it right.
To keep doing yoga, you must make it enjoyable.
Stretching feels good.
Yoga is the science of stretching.
The goal of yoga is peace of mind.
To inhale more, exhale more.
Yoga in misalignment is torture.
A baby has 24 vertebrae, an old person has "a backbone".
An inflexible person has no disadvantage in yoga.
A flexible person has no advantage in yoga.
We should be making endorphines and serotonin instead of adrenaline.
Overall this workshop was totally interesting, useful, informative and inspirational. I highly recommend it to anyone seriously interested in Ashtanga yoga or any type of yoga asana practice.
I took detailed notes, but didn't quite get it all down. I'll present most of the notes I took here. I am leaving out quite a bit of his interesting stories (probably more than half of the lecture sections), as he is working on a book, so it will be better to let him tell his stories there.
OK then, here are my notes.....
These are notes that I took in the workshop or made shortly afterwards.
I might not have quite gotten everything or have it exactly verbatim.
But that's what I tried for. Mainly left in first tense (David is talking).
David gave a lot of pointers in the postures as we were practicing, and I wasn't writing notes at that time, so a lot of that is missing here. Consider as just some rough notes.....
KPJ = Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009, source teacher of Ashtanga yoga)
Thursday March 18 5:30pm-8pm
(packed full - over 30 people)
This session started with a lecture, about an hour long, followed by a brief break, followed by abbreviated primary series. This lecture included the story of how he came to yoga and wound up finding Pattabhi Jois in India. (Most of that is left out here).
I am here to share what I have learned in
40 years of uninterrupted daily yoga practice.
I will speak in plain English.
Yoga is a way to get naturally high.
Prana is vitality, energy, immunity, lifeforce.
The biggest misunderstanding about yoga is that we are doing yoga for flexibility.
The goal of yoga is peace of mind.
We cannot have peace of mind without basic wellness.
Flexibility is an inevitable effect of doing stretching exercises.
Yoga is peace of mind.
Yoga is meditation.
What is meditation?
Meditation is the space between the last thought and the next thought.
Yoga is taught by a guru.
Guru means "darkness to light."
There is a story - two people are in a dark cave. Both have candles. One's candle is lit. If he lights the other's candle, then he is also "enlightened". What do yogis teach that brings light?
Knowledge of yoga and meditation.
Most people live and die and never experience yoga.
From birth we are monitoring everything with 5 senses.
The mind is in constant agitation.
Using our brain is more tiring than physical exercise.
Life is a moving meditation.
Tai chi is obviously moving meditation.
More and more I try to make my yoga like tai chi.
And then I lie down and try to carry this equanimity through the day.
Day by day we can live better and better.
A yogi is skilled in action.
In carpentry we say "measure twice, saw once."
The idea of yoga is not a Tuesday and Thurdsay class - it is a lifestyle.
Like Gurdjieff and the Fourth Way - waking up.
Living better - not creating conflict with other people.
In 1973 I met Pattabhi Jois. He was 58, I was 23.
KPJ says you must pay one month in advance.
Class is two times every day except Saturdays and Moon days.
If you miss one class you are expelled.
KPJ knows little English - so he had me watch first.
There is room for about 6 people.
KPJ explained that he would be teaching the most ancient yoga practice, which has been passed down thousands of years directly from Shiva. Nothing has been changed for thousands of years.
Every move can be chanted in Sanskrit.
KPJ sat in front of me and explained the bandhas.
Mula bandha is to be held for the entire practice, contracting anal sphincters (and vagina if you have one).
Engaging mula bandha forces concentration.
Hardens abdomen, expands lungs, ribs expand.
Abs get loose if breathing without mula bandha.
Moving with concentration leads to meditation.
Chinlock is used in forward bending postures.
Uddiyana bandha is automatic with mula bandha.
Then KPJ had me do 10 Salutation A's, then finishing postures.
Next class - 10x A, 10x Salutation B, then finishing.
Each class after that adds postures.
KPJ says daily minimum is 3x Salutation A, 3x Salutation B, then finishing.
I have done at least this much daily for 40 years, usually at least an hour.
Within 5 years, I had learned all of the Ashtanga series, and was the only person at that time to know all of it besides KPJ.
I came back to America, went to California, and became a yoga teacher.
By 1981, I realized that I wanted to practice yoga, not teach it.
Shiva is the first yogi. A saying about Shiva - "Shiva takes care of his own".
So I asked Shiva to take care of me.
I moved to a remote part of Hawaii.
I did not teach a group class for the next 20 years.
Around 2001 people began asking for workshops.
There were no workshops when I started. These yoga mats had not even been invented.
I agreed to do some workshops. I have since travelled to 58 countries, and have given this workshop about 185 times.
I'm just sharing how I practice.
I just turned 60.
This workshop is called "Ashtanga Yoga for the Rest of Your Life"
I probably move as much oxygen in 1 hour of practice as in the other 23 hours of the day.
I want to keep doing yoga for the rest of my life - another 40 years.
If you are doing it right - it makes you feel better.
Every stretch should make you feel good.
Going beyond stretching is when it hurts.
Many people make every posture hurt.
I would like everyone to have an examination...
How can I do this the rest of my life?
When you are in a yoga posture, every posture has a sweet spot.
Each stretch has a place that it feels best.
Yoga is the science of stretching.
Real alignment changes stress to immunity, tension to vitality.
Yoga should not hurt.
Hurting depletes prana.
The tortoise wins the race.
Breathe into it.
A posture is like inflating and deflating a balloon.
We want to learn to breath better.
The way to inhale more is to exhale more.
Sweet spot - stretch, breathe, make it feel better.
If you practice like I do, you will never hurt again.
I'm not into pain, I'm into pleasure.
I will never push on you.
If someone pushes on you, they push you past your sweet spot.
Strong adjustments do not bring alignment.
If bones are misaligned, they pinch nerves and create pain.
A baby has 24 vertebrae, an old person has "a backbone".
One side is dominant.
We are working toward symmetry in musculature.
A chiropractor just pushes the bones. They always go back since the muscles are not changed.
Muscular symmetry keeps bones aligned.
To test symmetry - try brushing your teeth with both hands, try writing with both hands.
Daily practice - it is a lifestyle.
Figure out how over the years and decades to make the weak side stronger.
A great support for yoga is swimming. I probably spend as much time swimming (in the ocean) as doing yoga.
Yoga in misalignment is torture.
There are two distinct phases of yoga -
First - yoga therapy - getting well and out of pain.
Second - cheap thrills - get on the mat and make yourself feel good.
This workshop starts on Thursday since I have so much I want to share.
After a break we begin practice.
(First he talks about and demonstrates nauli kriya)
Nauli Kriya is the single most important and beneficial yoga exercise.
Over the years, I worked up to 50 rotations on each side.
I do 5 rounds - so that's 500 rotations every morning.
I do this in the bathroom, so if it works, I don't have to run to the bathroom. And without clothes, you can see better what you are doing.
Before starting we did a series of 6 warmup exercises, he calls them spine loosening exercises.
These are performed lying down on the back with arms out to sides.
These exercises progressively loosen the spine, from the bottom to the top.
David says he does these exercises before yoga and before bed.
1. Put one foot on the other and roll from side to side 5 times - reverse sides
2. Put one foot on other knee - roll from side to side - reverse sides
3. Both knees bent - roll from side to side - reverse sides
4. One leg up, one stays on floor - roll from side to side - reverse sides
5. Both legs up - roll from side to side - reverse sides
6. Cross ankles, roll forward and backwards
3x Salutation A
when bending forward, if cannot reach floor, just keep legs straight
with inhale, look up, bend legs if needed so that hands are now flat on floor to prepare for jump back
in up dog - put knees on floor
instead of rolling over on toes, put some pressure on knees and turn toes over
many people can not roll over on their toes and they will give up on this yoga over that if a teacher tries to make them do it.
keep ankles relaxed in up dog, this releases lower back
in down dog - look at navel
3x Salutation B
first move - don't split this into 2 moves
don't come to prayer during salutation B or between postures, always return to samasthiti
keeping legs straight is the only way to make them the same
Prasarita Padottanasana A
Prasarita Padottanasana B
Prasarita Padottanasana C
Prasarita Padottanasana D
OK - we have done 10 standing postures.
The way I was taught, at this point we would start on the seated postures, the Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana series would be learned after the seated postures, as these are difficult for beginners.
David demonstated that the way to keep back straight is to bend head forward (chinlock), not to look straight ahead.
out of time, we did finishing postures -
bound lotus for 10 breaths
25 ujayi breaths in lotus
bastrika breath - 10, 20, "or up to the lucky number 108"
Session 2 - Friday March 19 5:30pm-8pm
(again mat-to-mat packed - over 30 people)
This session started with a lecture (about 50 minutes), followed by a brief break, followed by abbreviated primary series, going a little farther than yesterday. (I left out a lot of this lecture).
The greatest yogi is the one who is the most able to
effectively stretch themselves and make themselves feel better.
An inflexible person has no disadvantage in yoga.
A flexible person has no advantage in yoga.
Yoga is Alchemy.
Each day we wake up stiffer than when we went to bed.
Most people get stiffer every day as they get older.
A baby has 24 vertebrae, an old person has a backbone.
Yoga is also about dispelling illusion.
The big illusion is that your body is going to become like someone else.
Due to genetics, some people are born more flexible and some people are born more inflexible.
If you start doing sane yoga, you will get 90% as flexible as you will ever be within 2 years.
The skeleton is in the position it is in due to the length of the muscles and tendons.
Most people have a strong side.
Tightness puts curvature in the spine.
If you were chopping some wood and your back seizes up your muscles go into a knot.
Muscles shorten. If they pull far enough, they pinch a nerve.
Once it is pinched, and you are determined to keep on chopping, you will sever the nerve, and then be paralysed, and then you will die unless someone takes care of you.
When nerves are pinched blood rushes in to form a cushion.
Then you will have to rest for 5 to 10 days until the swelling and soreness goes away.
This can be sped up by bodywork.
Most people, when something happens, can't take off work for 10 days, so they keep on working, they gimp through it, using the wrong muscles.
Then they start to develop weird cockeyed musculature.
Vertebrae become fused.
How do we transform from 24 vertebrae to a backbone?
The body starts fusing vertebrae groups together.
Most people, by the time they are 30, all their lumbar vertebrae are fused.
Gradually different clumps of bones become immobile.
As long as there is disease, there is no ease.
Meditation with a toothache does not work.
Meditation is what's left when everything is cleared out.
Yogis figured out, you must be well.
In your yoga practice, try to make it a moving meditation.
Yoga is sessation of the fluctuations of the mind.
When I first heard a swami say this in India, I asked him "Yoga is sessation of the fluctuations of the mind?"
He said yes that's right.
OK what do I do?.
The swami said there are 2 simple methods.
The first is the Hindu method: mantra.
Which means mind-stopping. Man = mind, Tra = stop
Such as Hare Krishna, or Om Nama Shivaya, Gandhi said Ram Ram Ram.
The maha mantra is OM.
OM is the sound of the universe, white noise.
Electricty is measured in Ohms.
The swami said to connect to the sound of the OM.
The second is the Buddhist method: mindfulness of breath.
The breath is the center of you, the eternal now, present, awake.
Like the Perfect Ten.
Most people's brains are nowhere but the present or the past.
Thinking wears you out.
Learn to function without thinking.
Once the brain learns to meditate, it loves it.
Yoga practice is teaching the mind to be in the spaces between thoughts.
In corpse pose even less is going on.
All inventions come from a quiet place.
Creativity comes from that place.
Your mind is the question maker.
Before enlightenment you chop wood and carry water.
After enlightenment you chop wood and carry water.
You still have to pay rent and take care of things.
The yogi handles this with equanimity.
If you are paying attention, you will spontaneously do what is appropriate.
Each of us has a body.
Love thyself. Know thyself.
We build up tension.
In yoga we release tension.
Stretching, breathing, building up prana.
In yoga practice every breath should be like increasing the bars on a cellphone.
The body is seeking health and wellness.
Ask how can I do this for the rest of my life.
Each day start stretching breathing, releasing more.
If it feels good you are doing it right.
If it hurts you are doing it wrong.
The first time you touch a stove, it hurts and you remember it.
If you hurt yourself doing yoga, a part of you remembers that and does not want to do yoga in the future.
To continue in yoga, you must enjoy the practice.
There are sadists and masochists and sadomasochists.
Masochists like to hurt themselves or be hurt by another.
Some people believe that hurting themselves is helping themselves.
Stretching feels good.
Yoga is the science of stretching and breathing all over.
It is like systematically powerwashing your entire body.
Patanjali's definition of asana is a firm comfortable posture.
Better feeling means more energy.
Sane yoga is trying to make each posture feel good.
If it hurts, you are going too far, and you are tearing tissue.
And then the tissue has to repair.
And injury depletes prana.
Most people never get to the subtle healing effects of yoga because they are tearing up their hamstrings every day in downward dog.
If I push I am tearing tissue.
Its OK to adjust, like to help someone balance or show them how to do the posture correctly.
But everyone is already going as far as they can go.
They do not need to be pushed farther.
Lazy people do not do Ashtanga.
A lazy person sees this yoga, they go the other way.
Every one of you is A-type.
If it feels good, it is good.
You not only shouldn't hurt, you shouldn't even be uncomfortable.
Because then you are hurting yourself some.
Question - But what about if some people want to be adjusted?
David - Then they are masochists.
Question - I like a little pushing.
David - Then why don't you do it to yourself?
If someone gets in your business, they cannot find your sweet spot.
If you are not lazy, you can find the spots that feel best only on your own.
I noticed that people were going to Mysore style classes and they would go for 6 months and they would say "I hurt all over, I never felt worse".
I wondered why this was.
So I asked "Are these teachers adjusting you in Marichyasana C and D?"
(demonstrates adjustments in C and D, pulling and pushing)
And it turned out that yes, they were being strongly adjusted in these spinal twisting postures.
The two sides are different.
The more you are adjusted the more you are out of alignment.
We all have a body - stretch it, breath it, learn how to operate it.
Flexibility is inevitable if you are doing stretching exercises.
What you want is symmetry.
Once all the muscles and ligaments are the right lengths, you are doing the postures perfectly.
We then did the 6 spinal loosening exercises, worked on stomach lifts and nauli, took a break, and then started in on an abbreviated primary practice.
This yoga is just as I was taught except for a few things.
Primary series is about forward bending.
I figured that to balance this, up dog could be held for 5 breaths.
So I started doing it.
I listened quietly. The yoga police did not show up.
So I kept on doing it.
I felt like the Christopher Columbus of Ashtanga yoga - what a great discovery.
So I started telling people about it and I found that other people around the world had also independently discovered the same thing.
So in each vinyasa we will hold up dog for 5 breaths, keeping the knees on the ground.
We then did most of primary, with some commentary on postures not covered yesterday. (no notes on that)
Keep breath the quiet, pay attention to the breath.
Try to count ten breaths without thinking.
Mentally count the number on the inhale, OM on the exhale.
This is called "Perfect Ten" and is said to be the first technique of meditation that the Buddha taught.
Session 3 - Saturday Morning 10am-12noon
much less crowded - about 20 people (it snowed in Oklahoma on the first day of spring!)
The purpose today is full uninterrupted primary series, so just some brief lecture before.
What do you do if you are sick or tired?
Sometimes someone will tell me,
"I've been sick and I haven't done yoga in a couple of weeks."
And I'll think - they haven't understood what I am teaching.
When I get sick, and I seldom do, this is what I do -
rather than lying in bed like a slug, the first thing I do, is swim out into the ocean far enough to where the water is clean and snort some ocean water to clean out the sinuses -
you can use a neti pot, but I just use the ocean.
If you have a flu and you are stiff and sore, just move slow, like tai chi
get some circulation going
I'll at least do the daily minimum - 3x,3x salutations,finishing
Then I go to bed and sleep.
When I get up I do it again.
I want to get some circulation going - I want to help the body to get cleared out as fast as possible - I don't want to be sick.
I started doing yoga as a teenager partly to prevent the effects of aging
OK - so what if you are hurt?
I once met a woman who told me "Last year, I was a quadraplegic".
She woke up under bright lights in a hospital and was told that she might be a quadraplegic for life.
She said, no that's not happening and she devoted every waking minute to increasing her abilities to move, trying to expand the areas of life force in her body. Within 6 months, she had blown the doctors minds. They couldn't understand how she had made so much progress.
What if you have a broken back?
Well you can't do most of the postures, but you can still stretch.
(demonstrates lying on back, stretching)
When you stretch you feel energy release.
So I would not just sit around.
I would do whatever I could.
Diet and Nutrition.
For some, diet is no problem.
For others, it is a big dilema.
I started thinking about diet when I started doing yoga.
I was already a vegetarian.
The best yoga textbook on diet and nutrition is Diet and Nutrition by Rudolph Ballantine.
I read Gandhi's autobiography.
He says food should be fuel.
He ate twice a day like I do - midday and end of the day.
He figured out what foods and what amounts would give him the nutrition that he needed. Like scientific experimentation.
I try to follow this idea - eat food for fuel.
Have you ever thought about this?
Most people who do not do yoga seldom have their head below their waist - they are either standing up or sitting down or lying down.
In yoga we have our heads below our waist from the beginning, in downward dog, and most of the standing postures. This stimulates the glands.
If the glands are healthy then if you need to gain weight you will gain weight, if you need to lose weight you will lose weight.
The main thing is don't overeat.
We did the 6 spine-loosening exercises, then stomach lifts, then nauli kriya, then a break.
A bit more talking before beginning practice -
Question - Did KPJ teach Nauli kriya?
David - No he did not.
I was surprised to find that no one there was doing it.
I had been practicing nauli for a while.
I asked KPJ about it.
There was some language barrier, but it was clear that he did not know what I was talking about.
So I showed it to him. He thought it was cool, but it was not something he knew about.
By that time he was no longer practicing and was not going to add anything new, and since he had not done this he did not teach it.
So I started teaching this, and certain other teachers have also taught it.
Question - But doesn't the 1938 video show Krishnamacharya doing nauli kriya?
David - Well actually it does not - it only shows him doing uddiyana bandha, but not the rolling.
Question - When did the practice of chanting before class start?
David - Well it did not come from Mysore, since everyone was starting at a different time.
Actually it started in the afternoons upstairs with KPJ in pranayama class.
It was KPJ and Nancy and Sally and I and we would chant there.
Later KPJ started doing that when he came to America and did led classes.
People commonly confuse yoga and Hinduism.
The chant is Hinduism.
I never include the chant when I teach.
Today we will OM together.
That's pretty neutral.
That's my chant - the OM.
So - I went to India and met this man, Pattabhi Jois, who told me that he was teaching me the most powerful and ancient yoga, which has been passed down directly from Shiva, and leads to all these benefits and goals of yoga.
Well, what if he was right?
The only way to know is to give it a chance.
Yoga is universal, it is for everyone.
Everyone can do it in their own way.
Let's move and breath together.
So this idea of practicing together.
We can create a kind of energy as a group that we cannot create alone.
In this room we have the fastest breather and the slowest breather.
So if you have to take fewer or more breaths, just adjust that so we are all moving together.
My ambition is to breathe one more gallon of air with each practice and to increase mula bandha with each practice.
We begin with 3 OMs.
(David practiced with us, some comments along the way, no adjustments).
Surya Namaskara A 5x
Surya Namaskara B 5x
Time Out - stand and feel the energy - this is what we are trying to increase.
(he pointed out that we had not included this posture before today)
Prasarita Padottanasana A,B,C,D
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana
(he asked us to move to wall so we could concentrate on bandhas over balancing)
Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana
Paschimottanasana A, B, C
Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana
Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana
Janu Sirsasana A
Janu Sirsasana B
(David pointed out that this is good for prostate - heel is pressing into perineum)
Janu Sirsasana C
keeps ankles flexible
the marichis are about keeping the 5 lumbar vertebrae moving seperately
Prana Break - stop and just feel the energy
Bujapidasana (or work on bakasana instead)
roll halfway around one direction, and then back the other direction
Supta Padangusthasana A
DW - I feel that this is the most powerful posture in primary series
Supta Padangusthasana B
Supta Padangusthasana C
(skipped Setu Bandasana)
Urdhva Dhanurasana 3x (called it wheel)
(skipped shoulder stand sequence)
Baddha Padmasana 10 breaths
Padmasana - 25 ujayi breaths, guided - 1, OM, 2, OM...
Bastrika breath - up to "lucky number" 108
come up to sitting
Session 4 - Saturday 4pm-7pm
Some history of yoga, then some pranayama exercises,
then some more specific history of Ashtanga.
(I left out most of this lecture).
Intense practice is counterproductive.
If could retrain my body, I would never do it the same way that I did.
The pain I feel now is from stretching tendons and ligaments.
Chemistry of yoga - you are either making adrenaline or endorphines.
Since caveman times our bodies know how to make adrenaline for protection.
All through our lives we are getting stressed and afraid.
If you are hurting you are making adrenaline.
I heard the term adrenaline junkies.
I realized that with KPJ a lot of us were adrenaline junkies.
The important thing that I got through Yogi Bhajan, the guru of Kundalini yoga, is that we should be making endorphines and serotonin.
So you can choose each time you practice - do you want to make adrenaline or endorphines.
If you are pushing too hard you are tearing yourself, making scar tissue and your body will unconsciously dread doing yoga again.
I am not still in my asanas - I am opening up in each inhale and deepening in each exhale.
I am self-adjusting myself.
I don't think about how the posture looks, I want to be straightening my spine and breathing.
Most people are hurting themselves within 15 minutes in yoga practice.
When someone is way up here and you push on them you are hurting them.
So there is this term "openings".
This guy contacted me, he was a teacher, and he wanted me to work with him.
And he says, "Well, I've been on holiday and I've been practicing and pushing pretty hard and I've had some openings."
I stopped him right there - I said, "Please don't have any openings today."
Openings is a term that yoga teachers use hoping you won't sue them.
There is nothing positive about openings.
This is tearing of tissue.
I'm going to read you my favorite yoga saying.
This is from the Katha Upanisad.
"When the five senses and the mind are still, and the reasoning intellect rests in silence, then begins the highest path."
"This calm steadiness of the senses is called Yoga. Then one should become watchful, because yoga comes and goes."
Try to be a yogi when practicing yoga.
Make it a moving meditation.
(This lecture continued into covering Patanjali's 8 limbs of yoga).
we took a break
David guided us through some basic pranayama for about 20-30 minutes
Then David had us lie down and feel the effect of the pranayama
Then he continued with the history of Ashtanga yoga, including the story of how he and other westerners found Ashtanga yoga and how it was brought out to the rest of the world. Very interesting stuff, but I'll leave this out and I'm sure it will be detailed in his book someday soon.
Session 5 - Sunday 10am-12noon
Let's start with questons.
(I failed to get the first few of these)
Question - What about the length of the breath? Sometimes it seems like you
are going a little faster.
DW - well slower is always better, but who's that chef on TV? the cajun guy, he says "spice it up", sometimes you want to spice it up, breathe a little faster, it depends on who's there. We're all pretty advanced today so I'm just picking up the pace a bit.
(I didn't notice the pace to be too quick. In our studio we aim for 4 counts or about 4 seconds in each inhale and each exhale. We might have gone a tiny bit faster than that in some of these sessions)
So I'm teaching in Hawaii and its all these women, their husbands would never go to a yoga class, they're all about playing golf or watching football games. So sometimes a woman will show up and she has dragged her husband into yoga class. This is her dream come true, her husband has come to yoga class. So what am I going to do, make him feel like he can't do anything? I am going to leave out even more than I usually do, I am going to make this doable for him. I play towards the most fragile person in the class. Especially if everyone else in the class already knows what to do. Plus there are teachers and future teachers in the class and I want to give them a clue. You gotta make it fun.
Question - Why do you leave out shoulderstand and headstand?
DW - Most people's necks are out a bit.
And I don't want anyone to hurt their necks.
In Ashtanga, headstand is done with the head off the floor, and this puts a lot of strain on the neck and shoulder muscles.
All you need is one cervical vertebra out and your whole neck will start to develop into a weird screwed up pattern.
Unless I have done bodywork on someone and I know their body, I do not teach headstand.
I have always done handstands.
I get all the benefits of the inversions, plus I am strengthening myself and not hurting my neck.
At one point KPJ would have us doing 30-minute headstands and after 4 months of that I just hated it.
So I started leaving it out.
And shoulderstand is the same thing to some degree.
I used to do shoulderstands in workshops, but now I leave those out too. You can learn shoulderstand from anyone, you don't need to learn it from me.
Question - You have talked about the history of Ashtanga, what about the future? DW - Every 2 years there is an "Ashtanga Yoga Mela" at Kripalu in the summer. That happens this August. And that will be the biggest source of discussion for questions on this. (he indicated that things will probably change a bit now that KPJ has passed on).
After 40 years I decided I had to speak up, or more people will get hurt. I reached a point that I didn't have to teach anymore, I could just retire. But I had released this virus on America. So I had some responsibility to speak up. Ashtanga has the worst reputation of any kind of yoga for people getting hurt. Its not the yoga, it is how it is being done.
Question - What about the level of vinyasa?
DW - the primary series we practiced yesterday was exactly as I was taught in Mysore, except for leaving out backwards somersault, setu bandasana, shoulderstand and headstand, and holding upward dog for 5 breaths.
(we did vinyasas between each posture but not between sides)
Later, when KPJ went on world tours and the classes were larger, people would practice together, and he wanted people to focus on learning the basics, so that was when he would have them do full vinyasas to standing and vinyasas between sides.
The full vinyasas build strength.
When there is a time constraint, you can decide between more vinyasas or more postures.
Question - ujayi breathing
DW - As ujayi breathing gets better it gets quieter.
Ujayi means victorious breath. It is very powerful breathing.
The amount of sound a person makes in ujayi is determined by how cleared out their sinuses are.
Come to the Ashtanga Yoga Mela if you can. David and Danny and I will be teaching together. (Danny Paradise, David Swenson)
If you have any questions, you can email me through my website.
And I have a lot there to read. I want to particularly point out the links on the articles page for The Chemistry of Yoga and Tat Wale Baba. I met Tat Wale Baba when he was 79, he looked like he was 35. He agreed to teach me. I had to leave as my visa had expired and when I went back to find him I found that he had been murdered.
(The Chemistry of Yoga is an excerpt from a book called
Yoga - The Secret, by Danny Living. Amazon)
(The link on David's site for Tat Wale Baba is to a site which houses an online book about him that can be read there for free - www.yogiphotos.com)
Salutations - 5xA,5xB
DW said this is one of the most difficult postures. He had us roll up our mats to put under our heels. And to make this really doable, put arm in between legs when twisting.
you will get a stretch from this you have not gotten from anything else.
you should feel it in your forearms.
do this one against wall
Eka Pada Sirsasana A,B,C
we stopped there and did finishing -
Urdva Dhanurasana 3x
Forward Bend 20 breaths
Lotus 25 breaths
Bastrika up to 108
And that was the end of the workshop.
For details on future workshops, or more of David's ideas, check out his website: www.ashtangayogi.com
Back to Slade's Yoga Page
This page revised 04/11/10. First posted to the web 04/04/10.