The Evolution of Our Practice

The Evolution of Our Practice
Anytime we examine the process of evolution it is important to have a clear memory of the past. If we can distinctly recall our history and also take an assessment of where we are now, then it is possible to examine what has occurred and notice if and how we have progressed.

At some point, in the realm of yoga practice, we have the opportunity to reflect on how our practice has evolved. Regardless of how long we have been practicing this theory can hold true. The reality is that one would need to have at least two practice sessions complete to be able to observe the progression of the practice. We can notice how our perception has shifted from one repetition to the next. This ability seems to become enhanced the longer we are involved in and with a practice.
Do you remember the first time you encountered yoga? It is important to try to recall the feelings we had regarding our first experience. It is really interesting to try to recollect the reason why we decided to try practicing yoga in the first place. There are multiple reasons why we might find interest in trying yoga. Perhaps it is to try a new form of exercise, lose some weight, increase our flexibility and strength, or even to delve deeper into our understanding of spirituality and self inquiry. Regardless of the reason, if we can first become clear about the “why”, we can begin to see how we have grown since that time.

Do you feel like you have progressed since your first encounter with yoga? I feel progression is a lot easier to measure once you establish your self in a practice for a long duration. Exactly how long? That will depend on each person. I remember the first time I tried yoga it was in the form of Mantra yoga and it required chanting words using japan mala(108 beads strung together to serve as a tool to keep focussed on the mantra recitation). I quickly found that it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be but I did notice some positive effects very soon thereafter. I did not stick with it though for any continuation so it is challenging to say how effective it could of been had I made a daily ritual of it. I mention this because progression seems to rely heavily on endurance with dedication to one form of yoga for an extended span of time.
If we were to come to the realization that we do not feel like we have progressed this would probably be due to two factors. One, are we still practicing? The second being, do we have faith the practice will take us to our goal? If the answer to the first question is no, then I think it is probably obvious as to why we don’t see any transformation. If the answer is yes and we still do not feel like there is an unfolding of development then the big question becomes, do we believe in the method of practice to begin with? I say this is the “big question” because believing in what you are doing is one of the golden keys to success. If from the core of your being you feel that your method of practice is sound and true, then a favorable outcome is bound to occur. Faith constitutes a cornerstone in the path to progress.

I found myself reflecting on these questions today as we are coming to the close of our Third Series Teacher Training with Tim Miller. I feel like these two weeks have been an incredible opportunity for growth and development. When I first started practicing asana yoga I undoubtedly was attracted to the challenge of the posture practice. I was enthralled with trying to deepen my poses purely in the realm of the physical. To be very honest I am excited about this aspect of the practice more than ever before. Exposing myself to this group of practitioners has inspired me beyond measure. As I probe the question a bit more deeply though I can’t help but feel that my understanding of yoga and its purpose is what is truly evolving. Is it because of the asana I am feeling so much indebtedness? Perhaps it is because Tim has opened me up to a multitude of complimentary practices (asana, pranayama, bhakti, kirtan and mantra) that I am feeling such a deep sense of gratitude? Regardless, I feel that my whole focus has radically shifted from a place of desiring progress through the physical to a place of thankfulness for the transpersonal. That is an appreciation with states or areas of consciousness beyond the limits of personal identity. In some miraculous way I feel that I have been able to shed a few of my inhibitions and the moral support of the gathering of these folks has given me a renewed sense of accomplishment. Thank you for this as I am deeply beholden.

Yoga from the Heart

Today there was a grand sense of accomplishment in the shala amongst the participants. We completed our investigation of the Third Series poses.
Today we examined:
Dikasana A&B (some books call it Dighasana but Tim mentioned Guruji always said Dikasanana. Plus a dika is a bird which seems befitting of this pose.)

Trivikramasana (3 Steps Pose which is a reference to the god Trivikrama which is an incarnation of Vishnu)

In 1982 Tim did his first yoga demonstration in India in front of 300 Indians. There were several demonstrations from the men, and then the women. A husband and wife couple practiced the whole Second Series in front of them. Tim was chosen to demonstrate the entire Third Series alone with Guruji counting it in Sanskrit at breakneck speed. Tim said he was in his prime at this time. Guruji claimed that when Tim demonstrated Trivikramasana that the crowd gasped. Guruji said that he had done it so well that the crowd thought the god Trivikrama had embodied him in that moment to enable him to perform it so flawlessly. Tim said that was a long time ago so he hopes that now Trivikrama will come through for us when we practice it. I thought that was really cool.
Natarajasana (King of the Dance Pose)

The picture of this Nataraja(Dancing Shiva) is of a murti, or representation of the divine, that Tim got on a trip to Mysore.

He told us this story about how when in Mysore you practice and the remaining time you have free to yourself. Tim enjoyed shopping and would look for interesting murtis to buy. He had established relationships with some of the local art dealers so that when he would return to India they would come to his door to show him their wares. They would always say, “This one is very special price, very good price for you.” This particular one he found at Lalita Hall which was the old Maharaja’s summer palace. There was a store called Saraswati’s Handicrafts and he went in to visit and see what Saraswati had available. When he saw this Nataraj he said he was interested in buying it. Saraswati replied, “That piece is very rare, not for sale. Not for sale.” Tim continued to persist. Again she said, “This piece is to rare, I am sorry not for sale” in her sweet Indian accent. She then called the boss man and it turns out, “It is for sale, but this one very expensive.” So after bargaining with her he was able to acquire it and he took it to Guruji to see what he thought. He showed Guruji and he asked, “how much you pay?” He told him and Guruji just shook his head as if to say, “you sucker.” Big laughs around the room after this story. A student then chimed in that the last time he was in Mysore some of the vendors will say to the yoga students, “Tim Miller buys his murti’s here.” I thought this was so classic.
Raja Kapotasana (King Pigeon Pose)


Eka Pad Raja Kapotasana (One Legged King Pigeon Pose)

Tim writes a blog called Tuesday’s with Timji. You can check it out and follow him by clicking the link:

This Tuesday he wrote,

“The full moon on Saturday August 29th at 11:35am PDT will be at 12 degrees Aquarius in the nakshatra known as Shatabhisha—“the Hundred Physicians”.  On the same day, the first ever Third Series Training will come to a conclusion at the Ashtanga Yoga Center.  Since August 17th I’ve had the pleasure of hosting 40 advanced students of Ashtanga Yoga from all over the world.  It’s quite a dedicated group of practitioners—highly motivated and very hard working—an ashtanga teacher’s dream, really.  The Mysore classes have been huge and very sweaty.  With so many people practicing third and fourth series, the studio almost has a circus like atmosphere—sometimes I catch the local students gawking at some visiting phenom displaying a combination of strength, flexibility, and agility.  It’s certainly the most advanced group of students I’ve ever had gathered together at one time.  Best of all, these people all seem to have some real depth and appreciation of what yoga is really all about.  It seems fitting that the course will end on the full moon in Shatabhisha, a sign associated with healing and expansion of consciousness.  I was born with my Sun in Shatabhisha so I have some familiarity with these themes and have been exploring them through yoga for nearly 40 years.  My sincere hope is that something of real value is being transmitted during this course.  The enthusiasm of the students is contagious—it almost makes me feel like starting to practice the third series again.”
I include this to help explain the general vibe in the space. It is so incredible in there. As we approach our last 3 days here with Tim I think we are all wishing that it wouldn’t come to an end.
Here are some pics from the end of the day surf session. The water was so warm and inviting which is very rare in my opinion in Southern California. There were some fun small waves and I was able to grab a few pics to help convey the stoke.


Tragic or Magic~You Choose

Today is Tuesday, August 25th, 2015. We are in the second week of a Third Series Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training with Tim Miller. Here is a brief recap of today’s events.    6:00am Pranayama ~ Seriously challenging! At the Bhastrika, Surya Bhedana and Chandra Bhedana segment the breath holds were clocking in around 45 seconds. I figured this out because I could hear the second hand ticking away. I started to wonder why I was having so much challenge today. I stated to count the ticks as the clock went around and realized, yes, Tim seems to be pushing the edge a bit further out.

7:00am Led Primary Assist ~ I had the opportunity to help assist in the Led Primary class that Tim taught this morning. I really enjoyed working with the students from the training and I am learning so much by watching the assists the other trainees are using. 
8:30am Hanuman Chalisa ~ Today we had Tim on Harmonium and guest musicians on, drums, guitar, acoustic bass and I played the ukulele. The choir was enormous and it was absolutely amazing. At the end Tim said, “We should have recorded this one. That was epic!” It truly was so much fun and a complete inspiration.
9:00am Mysore Practice ~ I felt really good today. The energy in the room kicked up a notch and it felt like the students were pushing the limits a bit. I had this feeling like we were all encouraging each other to put more effort into our focus and that Tim was orchestrating something quite wonderful. I feel like I am working harder than ever but in a relaxed way. Hard to explain. It just feels comfortable in the room.

12:00pm to 5:00pm Teacher Training ~ I am so sore right now I can hardly lift my arms up. Every muscle is worked to the nth degree. We covered the poses, Viparita Dandasana, Eka Pada Viparita Dandasana, Viparita Salabhasana, Ganda Bherundasana, Hanumanasana, and Supta Trivikramasana. If trying to read those words feels like a foreign experience, all I can say is doing them out of the sequence of the mysore practice is like an exotic escapade. It is an adventure in to the far reaches inner terrain. I am trying to be funny because I feel giddy right now from working my body and mind so intensely. You get so sore that you forget that you can hardly move and you just keep moving. It actually feels quite liberating. It is a very sweet soreness. We got to sing another Hanuman Chalisa after the break. This somehow neutralizes the intensity of the experience.
6:00pm Sunset Surf Session ~ This is not a part of the curriculum but I decided to add it in. It is the best way for me to absorb all of the info and experiences of the day. When I got to the beach it looked smaller than yesterday. I went out and had so much fun catching some baby waves. The swell began to build though and the sun set on the horizon and it was magic.
Today Tim read a quote from the book called Hanuman by Vanamali which said, “We cannot choose our life but we can choose how we live it.” Everything about this quote speaks to me of truth. It leaves the door wide open for us to decide how we would like to view our present reality. We can make excuses and blame others or we can take responsibility and rise to the challenge. This quote encourages us to accept the past and to choose how we would like to interpret the reality of this moment. The beauty is that is a choice that is up to us.


Living on the Edge of a Circle

Yesterday was Sunday and we had practice in the morning and the rest of the day free to roam. I went and practiced Tim’s Second Series led class at 8:00am. There were just over fifty of us in the room going all the way through Second together. It truly was a remarkable class. Tim practiced it with us which made it extra special. It is really like a combination of a led class and a Mysore stye class. Tim will announce the name of the pose and then we all just move through the vinyasas together and arrive in the state of the pose. We would hold the pose until he said five which obviously indicated the end of the five breath count and then we moved through the next vinyasa and continued like this throughout the series. So there was no sanskrit counting and there were very little words spoken. Just a few good natured jokes were thrown in classic Tim style. We also did a few “research” poses which means we would do a few preparations for the more challenging poses. These were kept to a minimum however to maintain the continuity of the series. When questioned as to how much “researching” is allowable, his response is that it needs to be kept to a minimum and the the pose you end up using as your asana needs to be as close to the pose you are actually trying to achieve. Moral of the story, don’t stay to long on the “scenic route.” What really struck me as fantastic about this class was that there was a group of us tightly packed in to the room and the vibe was just so light hearted and serious at the same time. There is such an incredible focus in the practice yet each of us seemed so happy to be there that the camaraderie felt palpable.  
When class was finished I came home and cleaned up. Tamara’s other grandma lives up in Laguna Hills so I drove up to see her. The traffic was horrendous on the I-5 heading north which was a good reminder for me as to the reality of driving on Southern California freeways. I picked up some flowers and went and saw Oma. We were able to have lunch at one of her favorite restaurants and after that we snuck into See’s Candies but we’ll keep that part a secret. After getting Oma home safely I drove a bit further north to visit Tamara’s Aunt in Costa Mesa. It was so great to catch up with her family and have some time to sit with them and relax.

Today is Monday and we are back into Teacher Training mode. This morning I arrived at the shala for 6:00am Pranayama. I have to say that the pranayama routine is something else. It is hard to describe how challenging it is to keep up with “Big Tim.” I swear his lung capacity must be about 3 times the size of mine. He can inhale for such a long time that I find I am trying to narrow my epiglottis to the smallest pin sized hole to insure it will take a long time to suck in a lung full of air. The trick is that if you breath in to fast your lungs are full and now holding it even longer then the time that Tim is. So part of my mental coaching component is that I need to be inhaling for as long as he does. What is so much even more unbelievably challenging is to then exhale really slowly the air out which always seems faster than Tim’s. At this point you are so out of breath and then you have to hold the breath again with no air inside and wait for the next inhale. By this time when I suck that next breath in it sounds like someone just released a balloon that noisily flaps across the room. I have already figured out how to cheat but Tim just said “no cheating.” All I can say is I just try the best I can, squeeze the heck out of some Moola Bandha let the sweat come up to the edge of my skin and fall over the edge.

Immediately following we unrolled our mats and began our Mysore practice. There are two ninety minute Mysore classes on Monday so the room had a little extra space. Still a good forty of us were making our way through our routine. The energy in the room felt a bit more settled today that it did last Monday. I think last Monday it was our first day and we were all so unbelievably pumped about it that it was just amazing. One week later and there seemed to be a little less wind in our sails. I am speaking from my own point of view yet when I asked others it seemed they all agreed. This felt really positive because it had an aura of us sinking in. I feel like I am more comfortable. I have gotten to know a lot of the trainees and for lack of a better analogy, “the dust is settling.” I got some great adjustments today. Tim approved me adding a new posture today at the end of my routine which is always fun for me. I also asked for some assistance in Viparita Chakrasana which typically in English is called ‘tick-tocks.’ You go up into a handstand and slowly drop your feet over your head and land them on the floor and then immediately push as hard as you can with your legs and lift them back over your head and return into a handstand then land the feet again on the floor. I haven’t had assistance in this in I can’t tell you how long. Of course a few jokes were made about my ability(actually lack of) in this and I am so glad to have Tim’s assistance again. One of my most favorite poses is Vrschikasana which is Scorpion pose. This is done after the the whole tick-tock and handstand drop over routine. It is performed by going up into handstand and progressively a deep back bend and touching your toes to your head while you balance on your hands. Tim had to give a strong adjustment for me to get me toes to touch my head and right when he did I got the best crack in my back and it felt amazing. I swear that right after that my energy increased. Tim said, “ohh, back getting stiff.” That made me think about the realty of how much things change in 10 plus years. All the more reason to get my butt back in Tim’s shala. It felt so good though to have my toes touch even though a little more pushing was necessary. Kind of like resetting a clock.

After class we had some time to refresh and I found this killer juice bar close by and settled on a liquid breakfast. There are so many amazing healthy food options here in Encinitas and Southern California in general. One thing that I am so happy about is that Florida is starting to catch up, at least in the Juno Beach area, with the west coast. In my opinion though, Cali is King in this department.
Teacher Training was pretty stellar today. We covered some unimaginable postures in our session. We started off with Astavakrasana A and continued in order through Astavakrasana B, Purna Matsyendrasana, Viranchyasana A and Viranchyasana B. I feel I could write a novel about each of these yet the one that sticks out most clearly in my mind is Purna Matsyendrasana which means Full or Complete Lord of the Fishes Pose. It is by far the deepest knee flexion pose I have tried and also the most serious twist on top of that. I was working with a partner and dialing it in a bit and making some progress. Tim came over and adjusted me in it and, oh my heavens. He got me way deeper than I have ever gotten it that before. It is such an edgy pose. The knee element is off the charts and the twist is so intense. In about three seconds I had sweat just pouring out of me. He adjusted both sides but what was really phenomenal was the feeling I had after it. My hips and knees felt so good and I got the best energy rush up through my torso. I like this one so much now. I was so apprehensive of it but I think I have made a new friend. Also, because I had some assistance I was able to make it through Viranchyasana A. There are three parts to this one. The main essence is that you put one foot in half lotus and then put the other leg behind the head and try to balance sitting upright. I love this pose as well. It makes me think that the designer of this pose must of thought, “how could I combine the most challenging elements of strength and flexibility and put it into one package?’ The originator did a great job of succeeding at this. The next pose though, Viranchyasana B, is another story all together. It makes Janusirsasana C seem like a walk in the park. I have had to work so hard to get my Janu C somewhat comfortable. This pose definitely takes me out of my comfort zone. I took it real easy because I am determined to leave this training with all my limbs attached and in working order.
Another highlight of todays session was singing some songs to Shiva and story time with Tim. Tim read a passage from the Mahabharata and I just kicked back and enjoyed the tale. I love the Indian stories so much. Tim called the Mahabharata the first and original Game of Thrones. They are such fantastical tales that weave in deep spiritual concepts. The stories are so rich in metaphor and colorful in their rendition of human and celestial drama. It was the perfect compliment to the challenge of our asana investigation.
Tim threw out a couple of statements today that I really enjoyed. Someone brought up the fact that sometimes the practice brings them to tears. Tim told us Guruji would say, “Why crying? That’s a $25 dollar fine.” In good humor of course. Tim responded with, “There is no crying in Ashtanga yoga, actually, there is lots of crying in Ashtanga yoga.” This made me smile. The gist I feel is be strong and let emotion move through you at the same time. Another favorite was in relation to a comment he made that the Third Series is an “edgy series.” He asked if we ever heard the saying, “If you are not on the edge you are taking up to much space.” I had heard him say that before, but now I think I get what he means.

To top it all off I ended the day with a surf down at San Elijo State Beach. The waves were small but as the wind dropped off the water became as slick as oil. The sunset would catch the angles of refraction on the water which created a mosaic of color and beauty. I found myself just laying on my board and becoming mesmerized by the tranquility of it all. There is something about just waiting for a wave and floating on the surface and looking out into the great open ocean that puts me into a meditative state. It got me thinking about how our ancestors at one time thought that if we sailed to the horizon we would drop over the edge of the Earth. Low and behold, and quite luckily they did not. Instead of going over the edge, they brought us to where we are now, full circle.