Monday, March 5, 2012

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: A Community of Practice

 Nothing like an earthquake to bring you back home after a weekend away. 'Wake up' said the 4.3 roller this morning at 5:30, epi-centered in El Cerrito (which is about 15 miles up the road) and bringing me out of my yoga-induced reverie. I flew back from the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence in San Diego last night after a truly lovely three-and-a-half days of practice and community. The Confluence, the first of its nature, brought together five of the first Western students of Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois, for both classes and in-depth discussions of Ashtanga Yoga's history and application. These luminary teachers— Eddie Stern, Tim Miller, Nancy Gilgoff, David Swenson and Richard Freeman — have been instrumental in both bringing Ashtanga Yoga to the States, and continue to foster its growth through dedicated teaching. They were met by several hundred dedicated practitioners, many teachers themselves, and the result was a beautiful reunion and celebration of the powerful practice of Ashtanga Yoga as originally taught by Jois.
I'd signed up for the Confluence when it was first announced, many months ago (and not long before it sold out; evidently there were hundreds of people on a wait list). This was prior to my trip to India, so by the time the San Diego trip rolled around last week, it was almost hard for me to think about spending more time with hundreds of yogis. But it turned out be perfectly timed.
 The trick of vacation — and travel of a nature that places you in India for a couple of months of specific study — is softening the return.  How to integrate the information gathered on the subcontinent and apply it to one's everyday life? My past month has been filled with that question. Who better to turn to than this panel of teachers who made it to India at a time when it wasn't so easy, then figured out how to keep their practices going and build their Western lives upon its foundations, while staying true to Jois's teachings for more than 30 years?
The panel discussions were as priceless as was the opportunity to practice Mysore in a room with these teachers offering instruction at the same time. From stories of practicing with Guruji in the old shala with only two other students, to interpreting the eight limbs of yoga, to tailoring a daily traditional practice to one's unique circumstances, the panel discussions were full of these teacher's wisdom, humility, practicality and knowledge born of experience. No one claimed to be 'right' or enlightened (Swenson opined that he could say 'practice turned the lights up'), nor did they cast judgement on how people may or may not be teaching the practice today.
Jois clearly defined a specific practice based on Patanjali's very specific yoga sutras. These senior teachers offered very clear, encouraging and inspiring examples of the power of being committed to, and in integrity with, this specific lineage of yoga practice — while staying very human. Nancy reiterated how Jois clearly specified that this was a 6-day a week practice...that wasn't saying you couldn't shift those six days, and adjust the length and time of practice as needed to maintain that for your life, which goes a long way to sustaining practice over the long run. You know, do YOUR practice.
The added bonus of this Confluence, of course, was the dynamic community of Ashtangis who showed up to participate. Between classes and discussions, I so enjoyed reconnecting with people from all over the country who I've practiced yoga with over the years. The lovely setting of Catamaran Resort, which is located between Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean, allowed beach walks between it all. Yes.


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