Finding a Teacher

Peg Mulqueen in Laguvajrasana
Colored pencil on paper


Angela Jamison from Ann Arbor, Michigan wrote a post that you might read if you’ve ever wondered about how your perception of your body affects your practice.  Don’t just read it once though, it takes a few flyovers to figure out what she’s talking about.

Which begs the question, have I really figured out what she’s talking about?  Not many people can successfully write about the energetic transformations inherent in the practice of Ashtanga yoga, but she does so with precision and courage.

Sometimes I think she’s a little angry.  That’s cool, I don’t mind my teachers occasionally pulling an outraged Jesus in the Temple with the moneylenders kind of maneuver.  David Garrigues can be like that too.

It took a long time to find a teacher.  There were teachers along the way, of course.  But I kept reading about Mysore, India and the traditional style  of teaching Ashtanga.  A few experiences with it kindled a hunger in me that wouldn’t leave.  I suppose some people have affairs in middle age, but I found yoga instead.  New Year’s Eve weekend doing a 2nd series workshop with DG almost 2 years ago now was a key turning point.

Backing up, I learned Ashtanga from Sue Pentland in a led class format.  She learned from David Swenson first and later from Kino MacGregor.  I found a wonderful teacher in New Hampshire, Robert Moses, and I still think he has the best Marichyasana C assist ever.  That man can just twist you around- I had no idea I could twist that far.  Robert learned Ashtanga from Norman Allen and I think from Eddie Stern, and I would have stayed with him but he’s far away on these New Hamphsire backroads and his schedule is limited.  If you are ever in the Peterborough, NH area you should look him up.

Then we, my practice partner and I, for by now I had a yoga buddy, found Randy Aromando.  She found him first but she’s nice and she shared.  So we drove to Belmont for the first time last January.

For the first time I understand what other ashtanga bloggers before me have written about, or not written about, this topic.  It’s not that Randy ever says “Though shalt not write about thy practice,” but I now have a disinclination to write about the details of such a relationship, other than with very broad strokes.

I will say this though.  I practiced first for a long time with him before he gave me any second series poses.  This was a good thing, because although I had begun 2nd on my own, with some successes and failures, I had not “cooked” first series enough yet to really be able to absorb second.  So I waited, sometimes patiently and sometimes not so patiently, for what seemed like a long time.  I didn’t ask either, but people were practiing second around me and I knew that sooner or later, if I waited (and worked hard), it would come.

Then there came this place of not caring so much.  First series itself is amazing.   The exploration and learning available in the primary series is infinite as far as I can tell.  I see now that I’ve only scratched the surface.  There is this breathy place I’ve found in the standing series, in which the breath initiates the movement and each inhale lasts the full entry into the pose and everything just flows… If you had told me ten years ago that I would find immeasurable joy in practicing the same sequence of poses over and over again, I would not have believed.  It is a practice, a moving meditation, and you can spend decades refining your sun salutations.

One day you hear the words “Jump through, pasasana.”  And you’re pretty sure they’re meant for someone else except that your teacher is standing right next to you.  And that there is the problem with 2nd, you no sooner get through the mari D hurdle, and there it is, Ganesh’s noose just waiting for you to put your head through the loop.  Sigh.  It’s a good thing that my teacher is patient.



Sensory Overload and a Harsh Taskmaster

Peg Mulqueen
Alhambra Ustrasana

Monotype, 1/1 Santoro

Model is Peg Mulqueen– you should check out her blog too!

My latest project is painting the interior of our house.  I should practice now but I’m drinking a warm cup of coffee and writing, so I’ll practice later.  I’ll be more flexible by mid-day and it will force me to take a break from painting the dining room, which is coming along but it’s a project that you just can’t really make go quickly.  Painting home interiors is about slow, steady progress.  I often approach it like I do a painting I’m working on.  I work for a few hours, then take a break, get something to eat or drink, and sit in the space and allow the next step reveal itself to me.  This house is currently my work of art.

If there’s one lesson that I seem to be absorbing lately it’s the lesson of don’t know.  When I acknowledge that I don’t know something, it opens up space for learning.  For example, in the mornings I struggle with anxiety.  Taking a shower helps, something about the hot water and steam soothes an overactive mind.   My mind rapidly spins out nets of thought while I endeavor to notice without identifying with them.  The next step is to turn my awareness to the spaces between the thoughts, and to inhabit those spaces a little bit, to notice the quality and timbre of no thought for the briefest of instants.  Then everything starts to settle, breathing slows, and I don’t feel so anxious anymore. 

This opens the door for a new thought:  that I am more or less constantly over-stimulated.  By mid-morning on a typical day I’ve gotten up early, written in my journal, practiced yoga and/or walked with my dog, gotten 3 children up and off to school which is quite a task let me tell you, returned home to clean up the detritus of the morning meal, and ingested breakfast along with a cup or two of strong coffee.  My mind whirls, a choppy blender full of tasks and projects.  It’s much easier on a day when I go to work for someone else, then the tasks are clear and the boss relatively easy to please.  But I am a harsh taskmaster and my to-do list for a day usually holds a week’s worth of tasks.  Impossible. 

So I’m overstimulated and for a break in the afternoon I sit down at this laptop computer and look at facebook and read my favorite blogs.  If I examine that habit there are these great nuggets of information that I find, it’s true, but after a while I’m just surfing from one wave to the next, not even reading complete articles but skimming the surface of a wide variety of things.  There’s no depth.  Finally I leave off this fruitless enterprise and lie on the floor and hug my legs to my chest. 

Ahhh.  There it is, what I really needed.  A brief pause, a reduction of sensory input. 

It’s easier to notice in others than in myself.   I’ve always been quick thinking and frustrated with people who can’t keep up.  Once in a while you meet someone who has the self-possession of a mountain and makes you question the value of a mind that leaps from one topic to the next in rapid fire succession. There is Catherine E, a fabulous artist with a strong, clear presence.  Talking to her made me feel  uncouth, as if I were sitting in the presence of the divine and all I could think about was my next manicure.  I have a friend like that, J, and while I rattle on and on about a million tiny things, she often says the one perfect thing that cuts through the static, revealing the knot in the wood. These women and others I admire exude a quietly profound wisdom that unravels pride in speed.  As if the hare has finally noticed that the tortoise embodies something of value, something heretofore barely noticed and poorly understood. 

This hare is working on heeding the lessons of the tortoise.  And while I’m at it, to come up with a realistic to-do list and remind myself that I’m doing a good job.  It’s amazing how much that helps.

She who loves herbal tea


This is a gelatin print I made using a photograph that Peg Mulqueen was kind enough to send me.  It is part of a series of prints and multi-media pieces I’m making using the backbends of the 2nd series of Ashtanga Yoga.  Peg is an amazing yogi, a fearless leader in her local Ashtanga community in Washington D.C., and an excellent writer as well with a funny and searingly honest blog that you should read if you don’t already.

It was a good practice week.  I’m able to work with 2nd series more, although it seems quite a stretch to think that I’ll ever be able to hop around like a crocodile, much less bind up that noose posture thing someone meanly put right at the beginning of the series.  But it is feeling more fluid, and I’m learning how to handle the emotional energy it seems to generate.  I have a friend to work with, and we practice together at her house once a week, which is wonderful.  We practiced last week and although I had to cut my practice short to get my daughter to an early rehearsal, I had this moment of extreme gratitude for this practice as it is right now, this place and these people to practice with.  Perfect.

Here is a story that helped me, perhaps it will help you.  In the past, I thought of myself as a person very attached to her coffee.  Addicted.  Not just one cup.  Not just any coffee, but freshly ground dark roasted beans   lovingly bathed in scalding water in my French press.  I have a friend who was the same, the kind of guy who would bite your head off if you got between him and his morning coffee.  Recently he came over and I made him a cup.  

Oh sure, I’ll have a cup.  Usually I just drink tea.

Really?  But you were always such a coffee person.

Oh no, sometimes I don’t have coffee at all.  I’ve been drinking this herbal tea that is nice…

And it’s stunning, because it’s as if the fellow imbiber of a daily cuppa no longer exists, he doesn’t even seem to recall that he was just like me.

He changed his mind.

Oh, he changed his mind!  And that is what you have to do, change your mind, and as a result, change the language you use to describe yourself.  If you’re sitting there not drinking a cup of coffee, and still thinking that you are hopelessly attached to that cup you’re not having, then it’s not going to take long for the smell of your husband’s coffee to overwhelm your senses.

So I have become she who loves herbal tea.  I am changing my mind and the language I use with myself.  I have long known that I’ve been overdoing the coffee and it’s not doing me any favors.  It is a primary suspect for morning anxiety.  As some of us age we become more sensitive to caffeine, and I am one of those.  Can’t drink it after noon or I might not sleep at night.  It makes me wonder how many people take anti-anxiety medication, when cutting their caffeine intake might make everything manageable without medication.  

Lest you think I’m some sort of saint, I still have morning cup, but only one, before my practice.  When I start to moon over that second cup, I remind myself that I am she who loves herbal tea, and put on a pot of water, place a teabag in a cup.  Ginger tea with a spot of honey while driving the kids to school is actually quite nice.  

Yogi tea with leaf