ASHTANGA YOGA 101
The Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga, also referred to as First Series, or Yoga Chikitsa (meaning yoga therapy), is available to any person interested in experimenting with the transformation inherent in a daily practice of self-observation within the framework of a brilliantly conceived physical therapy. “Daily” in Ashtanga yoga parlance means every day except Saturday, new moon and full moon; this translates roughly to five days one week, six days the next.
It is a 90-minute meditation practice of moving through a specific series of yoga poses in a prescribed manner while holding prescribed points of physical, mental and visual attention, and synchronizing breath with movement. Sustained consistent practice imparts patience, heightens awareness, and optimizes the innate healing capacity of the body. This fundamental practice is designed to strengthen, align and detoxify the body.
The practice is so engaging and beneficial that it becomes joyful work. In my own life previously I never had the discipline to stick to any exercise plan for more than a few months; but this daily yoga practice has been with me since my introduction to it in 2001.
To me this practice is the gold standard of what an individual can do for himself in order to become his own best healer.
It is not that practicing yoga gives a person any academic medical knowledge. But by taking substantial time each day to observe exclusively the present state of one’s mind and body, heightened sensitivity and intuitive awareness are developed. And because one works with an unchanging yet comprehensive template of sequential moving, bending, balancing and lifting, synchronized with conscious, regulated breathing, this fixed nature of the continuous practice becomes a mirror against which to observe with a sense of calm detachment the ever-changing circumstances of one’s mind and body (and life).
It is a practice of caring for oneself, as opposed to caring about oneself: active caring for one’s own holistic health, which reveals a healthier, more open and more naturally inclined state of being; as one’s personal ability increases, so does the ability and inclination to help others.
Practicing this yoga generates a spontaneous sense of gratitude; we become happy “for no reason.”
The main Ashtanga Yoga teacher in the world was Patthabi Jois, of Mysore, India. He taught until months before his death in 2009 at the age of 93. Jois learned this system of yoga practice from his teacher, Sri T. Krishnamacharya, who taught and practiced until just before his death at age 101 in 1989. I never had the privilege of meeting these men, but I have learned Ashtanga Yoga from many people who have spent years of their lives studying in Mysore, India with Patthabi Jois. For more information about Ashtanga Yoga, I recommend Lino Miele’s Astanga Yoga (1996), David Swenson’s Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual (1999), and Richard Freeman’s Yoga Matrix 6-CD set (2003), as well as the video presentations and websites of these teachers.
Also, the following three sites contain a wealth of information, including links to the websites of the world’s most famous Ashtanga Yoga teachers: Ashtanga.com; Dr. Ronald Steiner's AshtangaYoga.info; and Terry Slade's Ashtanga Yoga Links.
Valerie Jeremijenko, my first Ashtanga Yoga teacher, inspired me in 2001 to take to heart the instructions of the living guru of Ashtanga Yoga, Patthabi Jois: “Practice and all is coming,” and, “Ashtanga Yoga is 99% practice, 1% theory.” The idea behind these simple, essential instructions is that only through sustained daily practice over many years (or decades) can one truly understand and experience the magic of this yoga – yoga practice is an ancient ongoing experiment of direct perception. Valerie now resides in Doha, Qatar, where she is Assistant Dean of VCU-Qatar, and also owns a yoga studio. www.yamayogastudios.com
Tim Miller is the first American ever to become Certified to teach the practice by Patthabi Jois (there are only about 20 such Certified teachers in the world). I have been fortunate to attend several of Tim Miller’s workshops, whose mantra regarding the practice is, “The practice itself, done consistently and accurately, is the real teacher.” Tim Miller is in Encinitas, CA. www.ashtangayogacenter.com
The first yoga workshop I attended was in 2002 in NYC with world-renowned Certified teacher Lino Miele from Rome. When Lino came to Richmond in the spring of 2010 for a workshop at Ashtanga Yoga Richmond, he came to the city jail with me to inspire the inmates to “swallow the pill of practice.” I hope to spend more time studying under Lino Miele in the future, in India or Italy, where he conducts retreats and workshops. www.linomiele.com
David Williams is the first American ever to study Ashtanga Yoga with Patthabi Jois in Mysore, India. I have been to two of David’s workshops. David has been practicing daily for 40 years and his basic philosophy of making the practice pleasant (which makes the discipline of dailiness a little easier), not doing anything that hurts, and practicing daily even when the practice might be only ten minutes long, has resounded with me from the moment I came to know of him in 2001. David is from North Carolina but has lived in Hawaii for decades. I have yet to beat him in chess, nor have I given up. www.ashtangayogi.com
Richard Freeman, also Certified by Patthabi Jois, is a master of yoga practice and philosophy, located in Boulder, CO. I have been to one of his workshops, and have listened many times to his excellent overview of yoga philosophy in the 6-CD set, Yoga Matrix (2003), published by Sounds True. I hope to spend extended time studying under Richard in the future. www.yogaworkshop.com
I have also been privileged to attend workshops with the following excellent teachers, all of whom have spent substantial time in Mysore, India studying with Pattahbi Jois, and have been Authorized or Certified by him to teach the practice (there only about 200 Authorized teachers in the world):
Michael Gannon, David Garrigues, John Campbell, Govinda Kai, Steve Dwelley, Kino MacGregor, Tim Feldman, Olaf Kalfas, Kevin Kimple, Petri Raisanen.