This weekend I attended a workshop with David Williams, who is the only person to have been taught the complete ashtanga yoga series from Sri Pattabhi Jois, as it was taught to him from Krishnamacharya, and so on backwards for 5000 years (or so). Check out David's website - he is an intense guy while at the same time full of a kind of hippie spirit that I find very appealing. And just for some jaw-dropping fun, look at his slide show of the advanced series.
Here is a picture of David teaching that I took off his website...I didn't take any pictures this weekend.
Now that he is approaching his 60th year, he is traveling the world sharing his knowledge and teaching ashtanga so that everyone who wants to can do it and can do it with injury until death comes and takes them. If you are familiar with ashtanga then you know that it is famous for being physically challenging and for instructors who make harsh adjustments to get students into positions. Not surprisingly, many people end up injured and stop practicing yoga altogether. David's whole point is that this is not necessary and, in fact, counterproductive. He teaches the primary and secondary series with lots of modifications and options that truly does makes it accessible to anyone who wants to take the time to learn it.
His other big point is that yoga is meditation. It was so exciting to be in a class where that was the primary goal for the practice. His criticism of most yoga classes as being exercises based on yoga is so right on. I have been hesitant to teach from this point of view (that yoga is meditation) because of a fear that people would not like it or some other thing because I was offering up something too strange and different from what everyone else is offering. This weekend gave me a boost of confidence to do what I really think is correct and teach from the point of view that I really believe in.
On Saturday morning, David led us through the entire primary series without stopping (after two evenings of talking and leading us with many stops and starts through it to explain it in detail). His promise that we would feel better than when we started was fulfilled, but it was the clarity of mind that was so exhilarating. I felt a lot like I did right after finishing a three-day sesshin: everything looked crystal clear, unclouded by thoughts to make it otherwise.
It got me thinking about how Zen could mesh with yoga, wondering if they can and, if so, how. Until this weekend, I hadn't found anyone who is really talking about it in those terms.
Cushion or mat? Do we really have to choose?