We Get By With a Little Help From Our Friends

Day 10 – No Shave Yoga Event – #yogabeardsunite – We Get By With a Little Help From Our Friends  
The vibe in the shala was incredible today. The pranayama circle actually grew in size since last week. The sustained focus required to move through the routine definitely enhances awareness and is a great way to prepare for an asana practice. I think I also am still feeling the positive effects of practicing with David Miliotis here this last weekend. One way or another everybody decided to come to the studio today which made for an amazing, busy and sweaty practice session. I was so excited when Greg Nardi showed up for one more practice here before his journey to Mysore, India next week. When he finished his routine he asked me if I needed his help which totally made my day. What a treat to have him teach here unexpectedly! I think the students were stoked as well to get some great attention and adjustments from him. We were able to wrap it all up at the end with the group chanting and singing the Hanuman Chalisa. Sometimes during the summer things slow down and I will sing it on Tuesdays with just one or two other students in the room. Today brought me tremendous inspiration to have the support and enthusiasm from such a positive group.

Today is Day 10 of our No Shave Yoga Event. We are a third of the way through the month and we are also a third of the way toward achieving our fundraising goal as a team this month. Thank you to everyone who has donated thus far. With your help we are moving closer to achieving our goal to raise funds for those who are in need and help raise awareness of the positive benefits yoga can have within the community. Please help us achieve our goal by donating to our team page at https://www.no-shave.org/team/yogabeardsunite. When you post on social media please tag us to show your support and share your story to help us in our endeavor. Together we can make a difference! @adampolhemusyoga @brianmilleryoga @davidmiliotis @gregnardi @juankgalan @nativeyoga @willduprey

Day 7 – No Shave Yoga Event – Yoga with David Miliotis

Yoga with David Miliotis

This weekend Native Yoga is hosting Ashtanga Yogi, David Miliotis, for a series of workshops and practice sessions. David is originally from coastal Los Angeles and he now resides in Orange County, California. He flew here for a return visit to Native Yoga Center and we feel really lucky to have him here.
I originally met David in Mysore, India practicing at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Center in 2004. I was set up next to him one morning and I was so inspired by his practice that I immediately afterward introduced myself to him. I learned then that he was living in Santa Barbara and that he was teaching Mysore practice there. I remember thinking that he seemed really down to earth and I appreciated the time he took to speak with me. 

Fast forward 10 years and a friend in South Florida reintroduced us and we invited him to come and teach here at Native last year. It was such a treat to have his perspective and skill at our studio that we are honored to have him return this weekend. 
During last nights class he took us through the Primary Series in a really fun and engaging manner. One thing that is obvious when practicing with David is that he has cultivated an impeccable connection with breath, bandha and drishti. He has the ability to verbally communicate the elements of internal anatomy in a practical fashion which produces a deep sense of connection between the breath and the perception of the mind. He also has a great ability to connect with the students and give pointers for all levels to help the engagement process. I really enjoyed the practice immensely.

Today we return for a session at 12-3pm titled Setting the Foundation: Breathing, Bandhas & the Niyamas and tomorrow, Sunday at 12-3pm for a workshop called Ascending the Mountain: Backbends from Primary into Intermediate.
David is a member of our team #yogabeardsunite and we are working together to raise money for https://www.no-shave.org/team/yogabeardsunite during the month of November. Get inspiration from David by checking out website at http://www.ashtangayogaorangecounty.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AshtangaYogaOC/?fref=ts. 

Full Moon on the Rise

Full Moon on the Rise  
Today is Friday and our second to last day here at the Third Series Teacher Training with Tim Miller. I arrived at the studio for the 6:00am Pranayama routine. I didn’t miss a session in the entire two weeks. This has been one of my favorite parts of this two week immersion with Timji. Yesterday Tim asked if it was getting any easier for us? I did feel a slight bit of lightness in today’s practice. Like anything, you just have to do this everyday to feel comfortable with it. I am really looking forward to practicing more at my own pace to be able to develop my relationship with it. The pranayama is truly an incredible form of concentration and meditation. The intricacy of the coordination required combined with the delicacy of relaxing the mental and physical agitation that arises is priceless. What a gem of an experience.

I stored up my Primary series practice for today and I am so glad that I did. I remember a good friend of mine, Tim Feldmann (“Little Tim”), telling me how challenging working all the way through Intermediate and adding a portion of Advanced into the morning routine can be to maintain on a daily basis. You know how someone can give you clue that you know one day you will probably know what they mean but you can’t quite fathom yet? I think I now understand what he was saying. This is some intense work. You wake up feeling every single fiber of your being and then have to find the courage to repeat it all over again. Yet what an inspirational process. So when Friday came around today, and it was time to do Primary, I felt like I had been the greatest gift. When you feel all “beat up” the Primary series is like a soothing bath or a nice gentle walk through the park. Well, I still sweat like there was no tomorrow and speaking of which tomorrow is a full moon. I think Tim might have planned this perfectly to coordinate with the full moon rising just as we are closing this session. It couldn’t be a better conjunction of planets and stars and…some rest.

After class I snuck down to the beach for a surf. The water was so glassy and there were about a million people in the water. The sets were coming through about once every 20 minutes with about 2 waves per set. So if you do the math that gives you about a one and one thousandth chance of catching a wave. Non the less the weather was so beautiful and the water felt like a recharging salt bath set to the best temperature. I also had the chance to have breakfast at Swami’s cafe right across from Swami’s beach and Paramahansa Yogananda’s Hermitage. I LOVE Encinitas! Outside of Juno there is no other place I would like to live. Clearly everyone else feels the same way which makes for some crowded conditions.

This afternoon’s Teacher Training session was so great. We finished our investigation of the poses of the finishing series and concluded with Uthplitihi right at exactly 5pm. Tim orchestrated this masterfully. It was timed so perfectly. He also read from the Srimad Bhagavatam which is a hefty text from the genre of Indian literature called the Puranas. It is an ancient scripture that espouses the path of Bhakti Yoga which is the path of devotion. I took notes while he spoke to keep myself alert and I enjoyed the stories that he shared from it. We sang a Hanuman Chalisa to put the the theory to practice and Tim made joke that we were going to have to sing a Chalisa tomorrow without looking at the words as a test. I have a feeling we are going to pass with flying colors.

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: http://timmiller.typepad.com

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.

Mystery versus Mastery

Mystery versus Mastery  
A couple of really great questions were asked during the training today. One of them was, “Is it possible to master a yoga pose?” The question arises because we are striving to achieve a certain form with our bodies that is often measured against someone else’s ability. There are certain criteria points that are looked for to ascertain if one is able to progress to the next stage or posture in the Ashtanga sequences. 

Take for example the pose Eka Pada Bakasana. This is one of the most challenging of the arm balance poses in the 3rd series to enter into “correctly.” You balance on your hands while resting one knee in the same side armpit and simultaneously lift the opposite leg high above behind creating a counterbalance effect that requires significant strength but more importantly alert proprioceptive awareness. What makes it really challenging is the entry into the pose is from a tripod headstand. So one element of the question regarding this pose is how high does that back leg knee to go in order to be considered a “complete pose?” The evolution of the question turned to “Is it possible to create a perfect pose?” 

Tim’s response was, “Perfectionism is a curse.” He also said, “Mastery is a pretty highfalutin thing!” Plenty of giggles were heard after that comment. He continued by stating, “I think it is more about mystery, not mastery.” This was the perfect statement for me to hear today. I really love this. The definition of mystery is something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain. As opposed to mastery which is control or superiority over someone or something. Naturally mastery might seem more appealing because it implies that we are in control and the nature of the mind is to desire permanence in all of our endeavors. Whereas mystery leaves the door open for interpretation which encourages self inquiry to determine ones own experience of what perfect is. This potentially could be a crux in the development of our own yoga practice. I believe that it is positive to have an ideal to strive for initially to encourage us to move beyond our own habit patterns. In the end though it is necessary for us to really probe mystery and or even to surrender to it.

Another question that I enjoyed was, “Is there a connection between physical posture alignment and ‘getting our head straight?’” Tim’s response to this was, “I hope so!” There was laughter all around to that one. He also said, “Typically the personality of the person comes through in the way that they practice.” This might seem obvious but I still found it quite profound. This is where having a teacher can be so beneficial because if the teacher can see this and offer “adjustments” to help transform the practitioners imbalance, one can truly “realign” both physically and mentally. 

Tim had mentioned a book by Chogyam Trungpa called “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.” In it he mentioned how the author describes that there is this phenomenon when we begin to achieve spiritual wisdom that we feel quite enlightened and liberated. Yet because our old habits run deep we then start to build our own samskaras, or “habit patterns,” into our practice and then often become deceived that we have truly evolved. What once seemed like freedom actually becomes a cage. So what is the answer then? Tim’s reply was, “Don’t be a perfectionist!” This is definitely something to think about.