Winter Practice

Several years ago I had the privilege of practicing with Chuck Miller, at Purple Valley in Goa, India. I remember him saying that a yogi should be able to break a sweat while standing in Samasthitih on a cold mountaintop. I’ve been reflecting on this concept recently, as we head into the winter season here in the Pacific Northwest. When temperatures drop and we rely more on space heaters than the sun for warming our bodies, we can change the focus of our Ashtanga practice to be appropriate to the circumstances. We should strive to develop stability and strength, emphasizing the dynamic aspects of the practice rather than focusing on flexibility. As we cultivate bandha, Ujjayi breath, pratyahara, and dynamic vinyasa, we stoke the internal fires and produce a purifying heat from within. By adhering to a steady rhythm of daily practice over time, we develop the tapas to “cook” away the obstacles to practice.

The winter season can also serve as a metaphor for the seasons of each individual life. As we grow older, perhaps some so-called advanced asanas that require extreme flexibility become less accessible. We learn to let go of external forms with grace, and continue to practice with ever-deepening levels of internal understanding and concentration. This natural stage of life and practice is as important as any other. It is crucial to keep working on strength and alignment at this time, as well as on the more subtle aspects of asana. Additionally, we may feel drawn to expand our practices to include more pranayama, seated meditation, chanting, and study.

In the heat of India, or the summer time, or even in a hot room, the body opens up with ease, and flexibility increases. If we don’t have the benefit of such a climate, we can turn to the practice itself to ignite and stoke the internal fires. With a powerful Ujjayi breath, we offer oxygen and prana to the divine Agni within. Using Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha, we seal up the pelvic floor and redirect prana that would sink and escape (apana) back up to feed into the fire. The more dynamic movements of the vinyasa, such as jumping or lifting the body, serve to heat the body directly, as circulation is stimulated. Static, strength-building positions like chaturanga, standing postures, or almost any asana done properly (including Samasthitih) work to warm up the muscles.

In the cold of winter, our bodies may not be as pliable as they are in the tropics. Mobility may be gained, but slow and steady wins the race. It is important not to push too aggressively into extreme ranges of motion. Deep backbends and binds that are possible in the summer may become out of reach. Aim for your best-aligned and most complete expression of each pose, and try not to be too attached to the outcome!

Perhaps of greatest importance is the kind of slow, metaphysical heat that we cultivate via the tapas of consistent practice (abhyasa) during this dark period. These are the glowing coals and embers buried deep that keep the fires smoldering. We remain dedicated to our practice and offer the fruits of the practice back into the fire of the practice.


Drills for Eka Pada Sirsasana

I recently had the privilege of practicing with Laruga Glaser for 2 weeks. What an inspiration! I attended all of her afternoon workshops on the Intermediate Series, and took copious notes.

One workshop focused on leg-behind-the-head postures from Intermediate, both Eka Pada and Dwi Pada Sirsasana. The good news is, Laruga swears that with enough practice and preparation via drills like the ones I demonstrate in this video, pretty much EVERYONE can find the hip opening needed for these challenging postures.  She didn’t say anything to the effect that some people will never be able to get their leg behind their neck due to physiological differences in the hip joint and angle/length of the neck of the femur….rather, according to her, with time and patience and drills like these, we can all not only do these postures, but maybe even come to enjoy them!

I hope you like the video! And let me know how it goes…

Hip Openers, Beginner to Advanced


Here’s a quick but logical progression from the very basic hip-opening posture called Agni Stambasana (or as my teacher John Scott somewhat jokingly calls it, Agony Stambasana), through to the more advanced Eka Pada Sirsasana. Please please don’t try to put your foot behind your head unless you’ve been taught how to do so by a qualified teacher, hopefully mid-practice, in the context of an ongoing Ashtanga practice. Just use these cues to work where it’s comfortable and beneficial for you. I hope some of the tips on Eka Pada can come in handy when you’re nice and warm and approaching the posture in the sequence of your daily  practice.

And here’s the progression to Eka Pada Sirsasana:

Beginning the 4th Series


I’ve been in India for 2 full months now, and things are fine. Since arriving this season at Purple Valley, I’ve had the great good fortune to practice with John Scott, Sharmila Desai, Dena Kingsberg, Ty Landrum, and now Mark Robberds, all of whom I’ve practiced with many times before, over the course of the past 9 years since I started coming here.

Ashtanga at PV is amazing for so many reasons. The teachers of course, but also the beautiful dedicated shala, the ease of getting there (it’s just a short walk through a moonlit garden) and the simplicity of life at the retreat that supports a vigorous asana schedule. Thus, after fully 5 years of working on the complete 3rd series, I’ve begun (under the guidance of Ty and Mark so far) adding on the first 3 postures of the 4th series. I remember asking Petri once how many people he thought there were in the world practicing all of fourth and being shocked at his reply of “Probably about 200.” There’s a reason it’s such a small number!

I have no hopes or real desire to ever get to the end of the series. I don’t ever want to do that one pose where you stand on your head and walk around your own body! Never say never, but it would require some major effort, as well as some physiological changes that I’m not sure could or should ever happen. Meanwhile, although I assumed it would be no big deal, adding on these 3 postures (Mula Bandhasana, Nahushasana, Vrschikasana) has been kind of huge for me.  I’ve only even tried them a few times over the course of a week or so, and already I feel tectonic shifts happening in my body, psyche, and life off the mat. The changes are all for the better, but I feel these deep, subterranean currents rearranging pretty much everything now.

For one, I feel compelled to take the practice and myself more seriously. That may sound absurd to those people who see me and think I’m already outrageously disciplined; I can tell you, I have not been. But now I am becoming more focused and determined. As I approach my 45th Birthday next week, it is clearer than ever that it’s time to get serious not just about practice but about other aspects of my life which are connected to it. Proper diet (more protein, less sugar, hitting those macros like it’s my religion), hydration, and rest not least, but also teaching, training, and career advancements in those domains. It all weaves together. Now it is time to thrive, and to soar!

I’ll be blogging more about what’s in the works with me, including about my upcoming series of instructional videos, as well as progress and thoughts on training, diet. and physique. I’ve got a lot to say about the inner dimensions of Yoga as well, and the more esoteric aspects, so please subscribe if these things interest you.

Namaste from Goa, India!