I have been extremely busy each day writing my Primary Series book. Some days I am in bliss, honing in on the ideas I've been cultivating the past 20 years and articulating them exactly the way I want, and other days I feel like I'm on the torture bed but all in all I am extremely motivated to release the book. Yesterday Joy suggested that I spend my 50's writing the Primary, my 60's writing the Second and my 70's writing the Advanced A and B series. What do you all think? Should I aspire to write 3 books?
Next week I leave for London to teach a Primary Series in-depth study from the 16th-21st of October and then off to Berlin the weekend of October 28th for a workshop. Joy and I are looking forward to the trip. Lastly, I want to mention that the 10 day Teacher's Intensive in Phoenix still has spaces available. I will not be teaching another intensive like this until 2020 so if you're interested then come to Phoenix. You can find out more information from either contacting me or Elizabeth Crozier at Ashtanga Yoga School of Tempe.
That is all. I hope to see you either this fall at one of my workshops or perhaps this February in Kovalam for my month long Mysore intensive.
JOY: So you are a very intense Ashtangi. You’ve been practicing for 25 years, on average you practice 2.5 hours a day, and as much as possible you try to have at the minimum a 30 min-1 hour afternoon practice. How have you been able to keep up this type of rigor for 25 years?
DAVID: Part of what I do with the time is I focus on certain groups of asanas and I change my focus from day to day as I desire or according to my mind and/or body needs.
JOY: I need more of an explanation on that because it could sound like you don’t do the Ashtanga series that is written in the Yoga Mala. What do you mean?
DAVID: I still follow the basic Ashtanga template but on certain days I expand certain sections in order to go more in-depth into specific areas.
JOY: Can you give me an example of a specific day?
DAVID: Let’s say on Monday I do the Primary Series in the way that I did 20 years ago, exactly the prescribed way that it is set in Yoga Mala, but then on Tuesday I want to work on backbends more intensely so I will expand my backbend section in Second series. I will stay longer in the postures. Instead of doing only 5 to 8 breaths I do 50 or more. I work with dynamic breathing and also attempt to extract the meditation aspect out of the positions. I might stay in Ustrasana (Camel Posture) for a few minutes. Sometimes I’ll stay for a few minutes and then do a vinyasa and repeat the process. And thus I stay longer and I also use more repetitions. I might even use a wall.
JOY: Sometimes its hard for me to go outside of the Ashtanga structure, even allow myself to stay in a posture for longer then the average 5-8 count, what motivates you to explore, and expand this already brilliant structure?
DAVID: Partially it comes from the brilliance of the system. The Ashtanga system lends itself to this type of in depth exploration. There’s a second reason too, part of what continues to motivate me in practice is the battle to stop movement, both physical and mental. I remain fascinated by the statement of purpose put forth in the Yoga Sutras that says a state of yoga (union) happens when you cause the activities of your mind to come to a standstill (yoga citta vrtti nirodha). I find this purpose to be the leading theme of practice and the greatest battle. When I turn my attention inward I usually find varying degrees of restlessness. My attention is difficult to focus and this translates into physical bodily movement and also mental movement; my thoughts keep fluctuating from one thing to the next never really settling on one thing.
JOY: How do you work on stopping this movement in your practice?
DAVID: With the practice there are two means of working to stop movement.
1) I consciously move in order to stop the movement.
2) I directly attempt to stop the movement.
I use both means.
JOY: Can you give me an example of the first way?
DAVID: The first way has many applications but I will give you the most obvious one. For example, I stop for a brief moment in the vinyasa positions. So when I do the trini position I dynamically transition into the asana and then stop in the full expression of the position for a second or two. For a brief moment I become still. And then I transition in to Chaturanga Dandasana and stop for a moment when I am in the full expression of cetwari, and then I do the same for upward dog, etc. I intentionally create a gap of stillness between each position.
JOY: Then the second way to stop movement?
DAVID: I stay longer in the postures. By doing longer stays in the postures I attempt to become still and yet dynamic enough to remain awake and poised. Using these two means helps me to turn my practice into an ongoing meditation practice and I think this fathomless exploration of consciousness is a big key in allowing me to remain intense and invested in practice.
JOY: And how do you use repetition? I know that Guruji spoke of doing a posture up to 3 times.
DAVID: Yes, and this is a fantastic method for a young practitioner to grab onto who is struggling with a posture and who needs to move in order for their mind to remain focused. Often doing a posture once may not provide practitioners with enough work to create a positive difference in his/her posture. This is presumably why Guruji recommended smaller units of repetition such as repeating one posture 3 (or more) times. Rather than having to choose between taking 5 breaths and moving on or breaking the rhythm of the work by staying in the posture for a longer duration, you can repeat the same posture a few times. You can even do a vinyasa between repetitions if you like. I like the 3x approach because sometimes you see practitioners who use this mini method to excess, become obsessed, and do a posture 10 or more times and this provides a balance. Repeating a posture 3 times can be an amazing way to develop your postures and learn to use your practice as a meditative and motivational tool.
Sometimes I use repetition in slightly different ways as well. For example, instead of doing 3 backbends at the end of practice I do 20 or 30 minutes worth of backbends! And I may repeat the basic back bending posture (Urdhva Dhanurasana) but this is very challenging. Thus I may bring in other backbends that are conducive to staying and repeating such as the back bends that come from doing inversion variations (Viparita Dandasana, Setu Bandhasana in Sarvangasana) and then I’ll alternate between Viparita Dandasana and Urdhva Dhanurasana So I expand upon the basic Ashtanga practice template, which is, at the end of your practice you head into your backbending routine. As you advance, get older, more skilled, you can really delve intensely and thoroughly into the backbends at the end of your practice and before inversion work.
What are you thinking about it? I can see your brain ticking away.
JOY: I know that the yoga sutras talk about enthusiasm being essential to the practice but that seems harder for some of us then others, like me.
DAVID: Its true. I love Ashtanga and I love its place within the lineage of Hatha Yoga. My love of the subject causes me to remain enthusiastic and curious. I continue to want to research the postures because I have a hunger to explore the states of awareness that become available to me when I am practicing. The time that I spend in a yoga posture is a time of communion where I feel awake and in tune with everything. There is an aspect of this that is just for me and I consciously allow myself to have this experience just for me. I feel that part of why we each have been given this gift of consciousness from the Intelligent Source is that each of us is meant to have a personal knowledge or experience of that Source. Thus there is value and a necessity to carve out the time and space to cultivate this relationship. At some point along the way I realized this point and I felt I had been let in on a special magical secret. Its taken a long time but I've realized that it is ok to go deep into enjoyment in this life especially soulful and/or spiritual enjoyment.
For me, exploring asanas and pranayama is the way to have such experiences of communion. I cannot imagine another way of going about establishing this connection. I feel that this act of communion is like an essential daily re-charge, it gives me energy to do my work. I feel blessed that my job is to be a guide and to teach others to have their own experience of the Source. Thus my enthusiasm for practice stems from renewing my connection to the Source each day and it is of tremendous help that this renewal also feeds into my work of sharing yoga.
JOY: Anything else?
DAVID: Lastly, there is perhaps a less noble reason why I continue to practice. To be perfectly honest I am given to indigestion, back and body pain, stiffness, depression, anger, laziness and a host of other daily, chronic maladies. Often I wake up and I feel out of balance physically and mentally, sometimes I even feel terrible. I literally need to practice for 3 hours just to right my little ship (body/mind complex). If I don’t practice these things get worse. And so I go into battle to win my health. I accept the challenges of practice each day knowing that I am a better person for the next 22 hours. The reality is that the positive effects of practice are dastardly temporary. Thus there is a physical, practical, and preventative aspect to it all. I practice every day because I am afraid of sickness and death. I have read that nearly every disease can be at least partly traced to poor digestion. Good digestion starts with a good diet but also the techniques of hatha yoga are purposely designed to strengthen and to improve your health through positively influencing your digestive system. Thus I remain devoted to practice in order to stay healthy naturally because the mere thought of a hospital sends me into a panic. I use the postures, breathing and energetic locks to manually awaken my digestive system. This idea of awakening and cleansing transfers to all the other body systems as well.
Photos by Lindley Battle