The One Percent

29 June, 2006

I have been delving into my recently arrived copy of Gregor Maehle’s book. It’s extremely thorough – he spends eight pages on Surya Namaskar A alone. Ever been to one of those workshops where the intructor walks you through an asana contantly stopping to explain every nuance and detail? You know what I mean? – ‘A line should pass through that heel to this second toe and here’s why’ kinda thing. Well that’s what this book is like. A lot of thought has gone into it; And beyond the poses he anticipates and answers the typical sort of general questions an intermediate ashtangi might still harbour. Such as full versus half vinyasa – which is the more appropriate and for whom, and when?

I’ve also gotten a deeper appreciation for how the asanas tie together from Gregor. And some of you are probably going ‘well duh’ – Of course I always knew this as a yoga truism, but he explains the mechanics behind this truism – precisely why, physiologically speaking, certain asanas are prerequisites for others (the book’s full of pictures of muscle groups, joints etc.). Hence I now have a real understanding of why it is that teachers hold back certain asanas until proficiency is achieved in others. Really, it’s to keep you from hurting yourself.

The immediate tangible impact on my practice though is that it has changed the way I look at Surya Namaskar. In hindsight I’ve treated it too much like a ‘warm-up’ to be gotten through quickly before the serious business. It’s much more than that – and here again, you’re going ‘well duh’ – but I always thought I was being serious in my Sun Salutations. After a careful reading of Gregor’s section on them (which ironically he starts by introducing them as ‘warm-up’ exercises), I’ve realized that I wasn’t as diligent as I needed to be. The Suryas are so complex – there is so much to pay attention to and I’ve begun to do that. the affect that has had on my whole practice is awesome (and I don’t mean awesome in way my six year-old does) – it’s as though that extra energy and focus I generate now in those first 5-10 minutes ripples through the rest of my practice.

One other benefit I’ve gotten is the advice to continuously pay attention to the ‘pairs of opposites’; for example, in my desire to progress in my asanas, I’ve focused too much on flexibility – pushing myself to ‘make the stretch’. But the truth is that flexibility is only one half of a pair of opposites – the other being strength (yeah yeah I know…’well duh’). I now understand that I need to balance flexibility with strength in order to get the most from my practice in the present…which in turn will drive my progress automatically. I am beginning to understand that there is a ‘tardis‘ of depth inside the deceptively simple idea of ‘the middle path’ that pervades Yoga.

While there are no asanas beyond Yoga Chikitsa presented in this book, you don’t really need that to be provided here – I’ve got them in my Miele and Swenson books and they can be gotten off the web for that matter. The real gem in this book is that it uses the Primary Series to teach the correct approach to one’s physical practice – which can then be applied to all the poses that lie beyond.

It’s a fine book – one well worth having in my opinion and one out of which I’ve taken so much with as yet only a cursory look.

In ending, I should add that I’m not being paid for this enthusiastic review 😉

Death By Football

16 June, 2006

When it comes to televison, I never recovered from the 14 months I spent in India between in 1982/1983. Even people who had TVs didn’t watch much…because there just wasn’t that much on. (I know…there still isn’t, but back then this amounted to a quantitative, rather than qualitative assessment of the matter). I think in that year I watched maybe 6 hours of television and I’ve never really needed it since. Moreover, television would have died for me altogether were it not for Football.

Practically, the only thing I ever watch on TV is Football. Needless to say, I’m watching a lot right now. Thankfully we’re getting the BBC feed in Canada – otherwise I’d be stuck listening to the complete muppets on ESPN…and watching baseball scores scroll along the bottom. Bollocks to ESPN. If I want to watch rubbish, I’ll go outside and stare at my composter.


I can’t see myself going to India this year (for Yogic purposes anyway). Surprisingly neither money nor career turn out to be the impediments: I’m really missing the girls…and I can’t imagine taking off to India for 2 or 3 months this year and being away from them for a second long stretch. How ironic that you feel so intensely your identity as a father and husband when you’re not having to be either. How am I ever going to go to India without them?

Let’s accentuate the positives; I go to sleep at 9 if I want…and sometimes do. And finding the time to practice or study is never a problem. I’d give it up now to have them back – but I’ll have to wait another month.

On the mat I almost bound Mari D today. It’s now just a matter of days…I’ve seen this before. I know the feeling… And this time it will be without the intervention of Tina Pizzimenti who so effortlessly adjusted me into it last November. No. This time, I’ll have it on my own. A pose others so easily get has been a long time coming for me.

But in the broader sense, I am rather taken by my progress (rather than dejected by any lack thereof). Here’s what I mean; Patanjali talks about a yogi being seduced by his ‘supernatural’ powers as he progresses. Mr. Iyengar’s take on this is that…

The essence of what he is saying is this: when we strive mightily for a goal on our path, gratifying rewards and results incidentally come in our way. We can easily become so enamoured of what we have accidentally acquired that we mistake it for the goal itself

After just over a year of daily practice, I see what he means as look at myself in the morning. I’m stronger, leaner and lighter than in years…perhaps even ever. The material side effects of this spiritually and intellectually uplifting practice are undeniable. I am undoubtedly ‘enamoured of what I have accidentally acquired’.

Practicing Non-Practicing

3 June, 2006

Today I forced myself not to practice. Delving into my Iyengar last night I was reminded that Aparigraha (non-attachment or non-covetousness) applies as much to concepts, ideas, habits and practices as much as to material objects. And so I made my physical practice the subject of an exercise in my non-physical practice of yama. Today would have made seven straight days and that is probably a bit over the top.

It was difficult to take the holiday and the only way I could force myself to do it was to actually roll out the mat, and spend my time reading David Swenson’s book seated in Siddhasana on it. I haven’t really opened it in a while and it was a worthwhile exercise to go back through it and review and check my method. I’m indebted to this book which above any other resource has been key to developing my practice. I practice at home and not entirely by choice – the closest authorised teacher is at least an hour’s drive into the city and that’s just too far; I realise that there is something special about practicing at a shala. I’ve experienced it in the workshops that I’ve attended. There’s an energy and enthusiasm that’s infectious. It envelops, pushes and encourages you. This is why I want to go to Mysore – to tap into that day after day, month after month. I reckon it would take my practice (physical and otherwise) to another level. Anyway, I digress. As a home-practioner, the David Swenson’s book and DVD have been my primary resource of instruction. But I begin to feel that I’m outgrowing it.

There’s a bit of a vibe lately among the Ashtanga bloggers about Gregor Maele’s book. Having seen some of it, I’d say it’s justified – it looks a wonderful resource and I learned plenty just from the free excerpt on Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana. I think it’ll be a must have for me.

WARNING – IMMINENT AND DRAMATIC CHANGE OF SUBJECT WITH ABSOLUTELY NO SEGUE. With the Football season done and the World Cup still a few days away, I’m enjoying a bit of Cricket – England vs. Sri Lanka’s on the TV in front of me (I’d rather watch India vs West Indies but it’s not on offer). It looks a beautiful day in Nottinghamshire and the cricket is tense and interesting. I hope there’s a series in India when I get there. When there’s a match on it covers the country like a mesh – you can hardly escape it. In shops, resaurants and even temples monitors show the action. Anywhere you go, you’re at least within earshot of a radio and you always know what’s going on. A Cricket match is the proper way to spend a summer day – in a deckchair, July sunshine, with a cup of tea or a pint of stout watching and hearing leather on willow.