Monday, September 30, 2013

Someone Has Cast Bread upon the Waters, and Look How It Has Helped!

Ruth Tracey, 23, had been a long-time shoplifter. On her last night in jail she gave me a remarkable letter (reproduced below) that shows how timely it was for her to receive instruction and encouragement in the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga. 

Enthusiastic and grateful for being introduced to a happy way of life that actively discourages pretentiousness and promotes integrity, Ruth has been practicing daily since her September 5th release, and has memorized the full Primary Series.

Ruth Reviewing David Swenson's Practice Manual

Thank you to the anonymous donor, to The Community Foundation and to my inspiring friend, the scholar and yoga master Eddie Stern, for your meaningful support of my efforts.  I’m very fortunate to be able to offer people their own specific daily practice of moving meditation synchronized with conscious, controlled breathing -- a practice of love, respect, gratitude, patience, and profound physical healing.

With the inception of the non-competitive, anonymously funded grant last September, I added two classes per week for the ladies of the Richmond City Jail, to the two men's classes I was already teaching. This joint effort between the donor, TCF, Eddie Stern and the Broome Street Temple board, has been helping me reach twice as many inmates with the same daily practice that has been enormously beneficial to me since I began learning it in 2001 -- and I am deeply grateful that the six-month, $12,500 grant supporting my teaching has been renewed for a third period.

Ruth "preparing" to practice in the home of my good friend Walter Coppedge

In jail, Ruth Tracey exuded an air of graceful, understated good humor -- never loud, and always the most attentive student.  Everyone liked her, even though she never joined in the choir of resistance and disruption that is occasionally offered by the ladies.  Influenced by Ruth's simple example, one of the most immaturely resistant young girls in the class has become -- in Ruth's absence--  one of the new class lynchpins.  

I was surprised and moved when I read Ruth's letter, because it's unusual to see such thoughtful and engaging writing from a young inmate who has no formal education beyond high school.  She hasn't attended university, but writes like a 23-year old with an English degree.  In the last 25 days we’ve practiced together three times, and I’ve watched her through the practice once. I am thankful that the grant directly funds my thoroughly enjoyable teaching, and also that it indirectly makes it feasible for me to spend extra time, expense and effort staying connected to some of the better students who leave jail and still want to practice but have neither the money nor the confidence to head straight to a yoga studio.   Absent the awesome support of this grant, I would likely have missed the opportunity to meet such a special person as Ruth at a critical time in her life. 

Sometimes I have excellent students in jail who upon release promptly resume the lifestyle that brought them to jail in the first place.  Over the last month, I have seen that Ruth is different.  She's been honest and reliable, has donated items she had obtained through theft to charity, and has begun making restitution, sending weekly sums anonymously to the stores where she had stolen books.  She has a healthy spiritual thirst and is currently reading Edwin Bryant’s translation of the Yoga Sutras.

Virabhadrasana A

In August, I received an unrequested, non-competitive $5,000 grant from Eddie Stern's Broome Street Temple, funded by the Libby and Lloyd Ann Charitable Fund of The Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia. This money was awarded in connection with the successful state of the Richmond City Jail yoga program, as an incentive to expand my efforts.  Thank you very much, Libby and Lloyd Ann -- whoever you are!  This is proving to be critical seed money in initiating my dream of opening a practice space downtown where I will invite the approximately 700 folks I've taught over the last five and a half years in jail, to come back to class and resume their practices -- and encourage them to bring their families, friends, and neighbors to come practice with them at low cost.  The main focus of the new space will be conveying the Primary Series in a way that anyone who desires can learn and practice it independently or in community with others -- regardless of his or her fitness level, destructive habits or station in life. My hope is that over time the space will become a cultural melting pot that is also patronized by MCV students and faculty, Sheriff Department employees, college students, and whomever else wants to come.  Ruth Tracey has offered to help me with whatever chores she can in connection with my endeavor, and I look forward to seeing her grow.  I believe she is embarking on a very bright future of being a healing presence in the world.

Virabhadrasana B

My Yoga testimony -- Ruth Tracey   Thursday, 9/5/2013
To see Ruth's handwritten letter, click here for part one, and click here for part two.

I remember myself as a child between 4-6 years old always playing on the floor, putting myself in full lotus lifting myself off the ground swinging back and forth like an old country porch swing, attempting to walk around on my hands.  Back then I had no knowledge of yoga, its uses or benefits.  I was just a kid exploring my body’s flexibility, trying to make myself and my family laugh to escape the pressures of early childhood trauma.  As I grew older and learned how to read, I took refuge in books, immersing myself in their stories so I wouldn’t have to face my reality, reading all day, and if it was a good book, all night, becoming a real introvert.  The days of experimenting with the limits of my body’s flexibility were over.

By the time I was 17 I became interested in yoga again.  By then I was already a criminal, though I hadn’t been caught yet.  I feel ashamed, yet oddly get a sense of freedom admitting that I stole books -- among other things my parents couldn’t or wouldn’t buy me --books on various religions and spiritual systems, languages, yoga and philosophy.  Paradoxical, yes, very.  I was excited about yoga, but my interest in it was very superficial -- focusing solely on the positions, completely underestimating the importance of or downright ignoring the breathwork and meditation aspects of the practice.  Then it became something I only did when I was bored-- hardly a healthy practice.  So it’s no surprise that I eventually stopped practicing altogether.

Utthita Parsvakonasana B

Through the years that followed my interest in yoga waxed and waned, but I started doing a deeper reading on the subject.  I was at a time in life where I was believing in all these philosophies, but practicing very few -- living life as a hypocrite.  When I read that one of the 8 limbs [includes] non-stealing, I stopped “practicing” again feeling guilty because I was still addicted to stealing.

After my last run in with the law, I finally made the conscious decision to change my life and start acting on what I said I believed, to start making things right the best I could both for the sake of my future and for the world around me.  I knew I could accomplish great things, but not if I kept wasting my life and potential trying to cheat the energetic economy.

Over the course of the last four months, I made it my personal mission to start taking the steps towards becoming a healthy, whole being -- and seeing it through to fruition.  I dutied myself to becoming diligent in prayer, which has helped me really believe I have received forgiveness, helped me forgive myself and feel set free from all the guilt and unexpressed emotions I had stored inside the recesses of my soul.  When I was transferred to Richmond City Jail and was made aware that yoga classes were being offered, I jumped at the opportunity.  This was the first time ever practicing under the guidance of a teacher instead of just trying to teach myself from a book.  Rob is an excellent teacher.  Being in his presence you feel a light, airy energy emanating from him and it is obvious that he is deeply seated in peace.  It’s inspiring, making you want to cultivate that level of tranquility within yourself.  He makes practicing yoga possible for anyone regardless of their level of flexibility, and gives personalized attention to advancing the practice of everyone in the class, gently pushing you to reach new thresholds you never knew you were capable of achieving.

Marichyasana D

Yoga and meditation have improved the quality of my life in multiple ways.  Most importantly, I am learning to breathe during challenging circumstances, constructively assess my thoughts and emotions so as to use logic in handling real world situations.  Making time and space in my life to practice daily, mustering the drive to do it even when I’m not feeling up to it is teaching me self-discipline.  As a result of dedicating myself to daily practice I have noticed an improvement in my digestion -- both of food and the events in my life, helping me to understand and accept them better.  As my balance increases, so I am able to find my balance on the high beam of life mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Yoga has helped me to become more patient, knowing that if I keep putting forth a daily effort my abilities will increase and I will be in a better state to accept what life has to offer me.  Meditation has helped me to face the root causes of my emotional dis ease and realize that I was stealing material things trying to fill an emotional void, that it takes effort and dedication to self to heal emotional scars -- amassing material things will never make you feel “good enough” -- whether it is acquired by legitimate means or not -- if you don’t understand (and work to fix) the reasons for your feelings of inadequacy.  I have started to become more mentally flexible, more tolerant, better able to “see” people’s energy and strengthen my own energy field so as to repel negativity from taking root and overgrowing in my mind.


My experience has shown me that yoga is an extremely useful (I’d even go so far as to say necessary) tool in helping people in the jail/prison systems, mental institutions, those on the outskirts of society -- everyone really -- to become more whole beings, better mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends, citizens.  It is especially useful in correctional institutions since the vast majority of the residents are products of an invisible negatively charged magnet a certain demographic calls the only life they’ve ever known.  A perpetuation of feelings of despair, hopelessness, helplessness, pain, anger, resentment, and a whole host of negative attitudes about life passed from generation to generation creating their realities, keeping them moving in a downward spiral unable to evolve.  Here the accessibility to yoga classes are most needed to help people learn how to connect to that stable center within themselves and make the necessary adjustments in viewpoints, outlook and character to completely change into better people for themselves and those around them.


I truly believe everything happens for a reason.  Though the events in my life have been undesirable, it has ultimately been for the elevation of my soul, so I give thanks.  Yoga and meditation played a big role in my coming to that acknowledgement.  If everyone looked at life this way -- especially some of the most troubled -- we will have made a huge first step towards the enhancement of our collective future.  As I get ready to walk through the doors of freedom tomorrow morning, I feel much more prepared to face the world a new woman, take life by the horns, fulfill my (unlimited) potential, be more grateful for life and listen to the guide I’ve had within my whole life but always ignored.  Thanks God.  And thanks Rob for inspiring me to make my practice a daily ritual.  The work you do is greatly appreciated and immeasurably important. Peace. 

Departing After a Happy Practice

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ellen Williams Kympton, 68: Practicing with Gratitude, Living Gracefully with Cancer

Recently Oxford University published a study showing that even a little bit of yoga over a short period is beneficial to inmates.

 We found that the group that did the yoga course showed an improvement in positive mood, a decrease in stress and greater accuracy in a computer test of impulsivity and attention,” say Dr Amy Bilderbeck and Dr Miguel Farias, who led the study at the Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry at Oxford University. “The suggestion is that yoga is helpful for these prisoners.”

I say a little bit of yoga over a short period because the participants took only one 90-minute class per week for 10 weeks.  

What is obvious to any yoga practitioner is beginning to be formally recognized in Western academia and medicine.

But what isn't understood by the medical community is this essential truth: the benefits of sustained long-term daily yoga practice are profound in contrast to the limited experience offered by one weekly class over a ten-week period. 

For people who take it up as a long-term lifestyle choice of daily mind-body meditation, the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga is an extraordinary method of holistic healing.  (Those who consider the practice primarily a “workout” generally quit within a year or two.)  This practice has ancient roots, and is carefully designed to be a fundamental method of strengthening, aligning and detoxifying the body; performed equanimously as a meditation practice, it encourages harmony between mind and body.

When I met Ellen Williams Kympton, she had been exposed to yoga in various gym settings, but had never experienced the splendor of learning and practicing a specific yoga method.  She was 63, and having recently undergone a hysterectomy, was looking for a way to regain her full potential.  Ellen was serious about her commitment and ready to move beyond knowing yoga as a periodic alternative workout. 

During our first meeting her spiritual inclinations were evident: she had enjoyed a career as a lay pastoral assistant in a large church, and on her living room table was a book compiling wisdom sayings of Ramana Maharshi -- whose ashram in Southern India she had visited.

Ellen began with just a 10-minute daily practice.  Within a couple of months, after four or five lessons, she had memorized the first 30 minutes of the Primary Series, and soon began taking Mysore classes at Ashtanga Yoga Richmond.  

It is scientifically accepted in the West that depression and emotional stress weaken the immune system -- states into which people are thrust when receiving a diagnosis of terminal illness.  

But by the time my dear friend, Ellen, was blindsided with a diagnosis of stage IV breast cancer, she was fortunate to have already been establishing for six months this yoga method of stress reduction and mood enhancement.  Her yoga practice had become a treasured resource that would prove invaluable in the emotional reckoning with the diagnosis, and as a vital method of detoxification and holistic maintenance while undergoing treatment.

Because the Primary Series is a precise, thorough and meditative practice of fundamental healing and self-examination, it works on inmates the same way it works on an older person with an illness. It is a universal practice suitable for any human being who wants to engage it.  

Correct yoga practice entails a sense of gratitude for the direct experience of living, and a deep appreciation of the (often surprising) potential for healing.  We should practice with a patient acceptance of our current state (which is the foundation of future states) while remaining open to the possibility of positive change.  Anxiety breeds anxiety, and calm produces calm.  We know our bodies are ultimately dying, and meanwhile we engage lovingly a practice that increases awareness of the miraculous mind-body connection, so long as the connection exists.

I teach (now mainly "assist") a 57-year old blind woman, who has been practicing for five years.  She does all of Primary on her own.  These days when I arrive at her house she is about half-way through her practice.  Sometimes we have hardly a word, while I adjust her throughout the next hour.  

I assist a 35-year old man who has MS, who also has been practicing for five years.  We use the easily modifiable format of Primary Series.  (I can’t do it all perfectly, either.)  He is beautiful to watch, and his breathing is steady, sonorous and happy.  Never using the practice as a tool to generate depression about his situation, he uses it as a template to examine and challenge his assumptions, and to nourish a sense of gratitude for what he can do on any given day.  Regardless of the vicissitudes of his condition, he knows he is much better off -- and better informed -- with a regular yoga practice.   

What amazing opportunities yoga affords the teacher!  For the last year I have been teaching a 50-year old deaf man.

I teach a 78-year old woman who has experienced major revitalization during two years of daily practice.  Her 40-minute (and growing) practice has dramatically changed her body, increased her overall wellbeing, and enlightened her sense of humor with moments of childlike bliss.  

People who know only a little about Ashtanga Yoga (including many who might say they've tried it) often characterize it as fast yoga, athletic yoga, yoga for the young and healthy, or a practice that is too strict with no room for innovation.   When you hear someone speak about Ashtanga Yoga in that way, be assured they know virtually nothing about it, and let a red flag go up -- because it will be a person who assumes authority about that of which his knowledge is slight.  

If all of the people I’ve successfully taught privately had together been introduced to yoga in a group “led class," where the series is being called out by the teacher, they would likely have shared the above misconceptions of the practice.  Even if it were a beginner oriented “level one” class, and even if I were the teacher, I would not be able to convey the practice effectively to such a disparate group.  The typical person over 40, or a person with any health problems (even just a tender back), needs individual assistance in learning to approach the practice gradually, carefully and respectfully.  

I will always remember Tim Miller saying, "The first ten years is pre-yoga." At the time, I had been practicing about four years, and I liked this idea. Now I've been practicing about twelve years, and the exploration remains just as fresh; knowing that I will never master constant change, I'm free to practice without heedless ambition; there is nothing to pretend, and everything to tend.

Since its inception in fall 2008, I have taught the Practice portion and arranged visiting speakers for the Virginia Commonwealth University's Medical College of Virginia elective,  Yoga Immersion and Medicine .   On four different occasions, Ellen Williams has generously visited the class to practice with the students and tell her story, which she has abbreviated here:

I met Robbie Norris just over 5 years ago. It was 6 weeks after I had a hysterectomy and I was ready to resume normal activity which had included gym weight work, aerobics and gym yoga. It seemed a good idea to begin with yoga but I wanted to reintroduce myself to it with a good teacher who specialized in yoga and a more challenging practice than I had been used to. After reading a flyer describing Robbie’s one-to-one approach, I felt this was the suitable way to begin.

Robbie introduced me to Ashtanga yoga and I began to practice daily and to slowly learn the first series with his help. I also began to attend early morning Mysore self practice. It was a wonderful combination and with perseverance I began to gain more strength and stamina and ability.

How fortunate this was as 6 months later I was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer to the liver. I had surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation. In all, I have had 4 different rounds of chemotherapy and a second radiation treatment over the past four years. I am very fortunate and grateful to be here today, managing the disease well both physically and emotionally. And,  of course, I have good doctors and nurses to thank for this too.

Though I was in good health when diagnosed, Ashtanga yoga has helped me maintain and increase my muscle strength, balance and flexibility. I am sure it has aided my immune system, my elimination functions, lymphatic drainage and blood oxygenation. All of these are important while having chemotherapy and trying to keep the body free of toxins. It has definitely helped to calm my nervous system in dealing with the cancer and the treatments. My heart muscles have remained strong though one of the continuing treatments I take can damage the heart muscle.

Yoga helps the mind as well as the body. I find Ashtanga yoga which I can do anywhere, anytime to be very meditative. The more one knows the poses the more one can practice them without thinking. This engenders more peace of mind and equanimity as well as more self-awareness and spaciousness in mind and body. Even during my rounds of treatment,  I tried to do some part of the practice every day, even if only 15 minutes. I continue to try to do some yoga every day, from 15 minutes to an hour or more. Some practices I do alone and some in a studio and some poses have had to be modified.  

For me yoga is also a spiritual practice of opening and surrendering to what is. As I am present to the flow of body movement and breath, there is a sense of well being, an acceptance of reality and healing even if there is no real cure.

I offer a quote which rings true to me, “Whether you are sick or weak, young, old or even very old you can succeed in yoga if you practice diligently.” 

Thank you, Ellen!  It's such a pleasure to know you and you've been an inspiration to me since the day we met.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Kristen Lamb Poised to Continue Practice after Jail

Kristen Lamb, who is to be released soon from the city jail, is a beautiful 32-year old; for the last 10 months she has been in prison for what most readers of a yoga blog would consider a trivial offense.  Meanwhile Kristen has an 11-year old daughter at home in North Carolina who has missed and needed her mother.  

What crime has Kristen serving time, at a cost of $25,000 a year to the public trust? According to what she told me, she was caught buying $10 worth of crack at an upscale Richmond hotel; shockingly, this drug was offered by a bellman-turned-informant. Immediately after the transaction, several officers surrounded her as if they were making a major bust.  Because this crime was a probation violation related to an earlier North Carolina conviction of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, it caused immense suffering to Kristen and her family, and has cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

Something is wrong with a culture that wastes time and treasure punishing rather than helping people who have problems. Kristen is a young mother trying to make ends meet -- but with a history of problems related to drug addiction.  Never charged with a violent crime, not even theft, she has been convicted of possessing only small amounts of drugs -- and one high speed chase attempting to elude police. Surely our resources could be better used. 

Possibly there are further incriminating facts of which I am unaware.  As a yoga teacher, my conversations are necessarily brief; there’s no time and the classroom is not the proper venue to discuss detailed history.  Most inmates are in jail for possession, or for small crimes related to drug addiction.  Most people smoke crack for one of two reasons.  A tiny percentage are pursuing adventurous -- maybe even spiritual--sensations, as humankind has done since earliest times.  But most purchasers are ensnared from an addiction that is similar to the larger population's addiction to any number of damaging legal substances or experiences -- including the vast amount of legal drugs purveyed by the pharmaceutical industry throughout our culture, which includes the penal system.   No doubt the penal system is a significant profit center for Big Pharma.

Jailing a crackhead for making a $10 purchase makes about as much sense as putting an obese food addict in jail for buying a McDonald's quarter pounder.

I am lucky to have met Chaplain Alonzo Pruitt five years ago.  Alonzo was open to my offer to bring yoga into the jail, and was able to act immediately with Sheriff Woody as his boss:  Sheriff Woody treats his "residents" with dignity, and makes it possible for many individuals and organizations to help those sent to him by courts and politicians.

During five years, less than one percent of the inmates I've met have appeared to me as potentially dangerous.  Mainly they are just people who need love, and help discovering their potential.  

Most inmates arrive at their first class heedless of the simple logic of cause and effect, and with no recognition of mind-body awareness.  Both these deficiencies are remedied by a fundamental daily yoga practice.  So many broken bodies which yoga could dramatically heal.  Currently yoga is available to all the female inmates; but on the more populous male side, only those who are on one of the two Program Tiers may participate, which means they must have exhibited some inclination to want to help themselves.  The larger General Population I would greatly enjoy teaching -- a possibility that the new jail opening next year will offer.

It's a real joy to share this transformational self-help.  Kristen Lamb will be exiting the jail having learned a fundamental daily yoga practice that has the potential to change the arc of her life.  Kristen has shown exemplary dedication, attending twice-weekly classes for five months, missing only one or two -- and practicing almost every day in her cell what she learned in class.  Below are three letters she has given me during his time.

"My Love Letter to Yoga," by Kristen Lamb
February 19, 2013

Surrender your mind and your spirit to the dedication of this meditational practice, and you will find yourself in the presence of Peace and tranquility, just as I did.  Nothing feels better than the withdrawing of oneself from their stressful environment & entering a place of unity, communing with the soul and spirit just as they are -- where life's heartbeat reawakens the senses.  The experience I've had has been nothing short of a much welcomed journey into the perfection of the moment.  Yoga has helped me to develop a pattern of wellness & focus that has maintained itself between my weekly sessions.  The practice of yoga has won my heart & I recommend others to participate in this Very Unique & challenging experience.


February 28, 2013

"My Inmate Yoga Experience," by Kristen Marie Lamb

Robbie's yoga class @ Richmond City Jail has been such a wonderful blessing to myself as well as to the other inmates here.  Having been a resident here for the last 6 months, I had experienced an extensive amount of muscle deterioration from the lack of movement and the absence of regular, daily emotional & mental stimulation.

Robbie's class has provided me with not just physical exercise as well as a tremendous increase in body agility, but also is responsible for a greatly needed "SHIFT" in my mental state.  After each class (which is on Monday & then on Thursday) I am completely refreshed, focused & balanced.  My posture has improved tremendously & I experience a heightened sense of well-being that results from the purification of the yoga exercise itself.  Because of yoga, I have developed a sense of inner peace that would otherwise have never been a part of my 'time' here at Richmond City Jail.  My weekly dedication to the practice of yoga has inspired me to focus on self-care, from the types of food I put in my body, to the way in which I handle everyday interactions with other inmates (as well as officers).  

As someone who is going to be housed here for another 3 1/2 months before going back home to North Carolina, I can most assuredly say that I am immensely grateful to Robbie for dedicating his time & energy to teach us the virtues of this wonderful practice.  It is something I am looking forward to continuing even after my release.

Letter from Kristen Lamb
June 10, 2013

I have been at Richmond City Jail since August 2012, but have been an active participant in the weekly yoga class since January 2013.  I have a release coming up in June & can say with confidence that yoga has altered the way I completed my time here.  I'll be leaving Richmond in optimum physical health, with the fundamentals of a practice that has radically changed my body and given me peace of mind.  Because of Robbie's classes, in addition to my daily yoga practice, I have reduced the amount of medication I use for anxiety & depression.  I have less stress in my life and am less likely to "act out" in anger or frustration.

After 6 months of continuous yoga at RCJ, I can't imagine a day going by that I don't indulge myself in this beautiful practice where mind, body & spirit are in harmony with one another.  As a faithful participant, I encourage others to experience the benefits that yoga provides for those who are willing to try something new.

Kristen Lamb

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ty Landrum's New Paper, "Asana as Yoga"

About six years ago I met Ty Landrum at a Tim Miller workshop at Jennifer Elliott’s “Barn” in Charlottesville.  Ty had been practicing yoga for only a year or so, but already his practice was remarkably strong, fluid, precise and imbued with a beautiful meditative quality.  Subsequently, we became acquainted in a friendly way, seeing each other at workshops in Charlottesville and Richmond.  Ty has been encouraging of my work with inmates, and became interested in visiting the Richmond City Jail yoga class, but it hasn't happened yet due to conflicting commitments.  He's had a full schedule: teaching yoga in Charlottesville; maintaining a steadfast commitment to daily practice; attending lots of workshops that often entail travel; and, completing his Ph.D. in Philosophy at UVA in 2011, his research focusing on human worth, individuality, love, and virtue.

Ty seems to have a body almost perfectly designed for the Ashtanga Yoga practice -- but that means virtually nothing in terms of mastering these these practices.  No matter one’s physical gifts, no person could possibly achieve the level of proficiency Ty has now mastered, in just seven years of practice -- without applying incredible, deliberate, consistent daily effort -- and encountering continuous obstacles along the way.  Ty uses a great word in his paper to describe the level of care and attention required for the aspirant in yoga -- assisduous: marked by careful unremitting or persistent application. 

And just as remarkable as Ty’s prowess on the mat, is the genuine warmth and humility that emanates from this young man.  

Last month I googled Ty, and was surprised to find out that he had moved to Boulder, CO, and is teaching at the Yoga Workshop. Then I found and read his excellent new paper -- and I was very pleased:  for Ty, for my own luck in being acquainted with him, and for the legions of Ashtanga Yoga practitioners in the world today -- as well as for the yoga world at large: because I see an emerging young yoga master with a very keen mind, a clear voice and a benevolent heart, and I’m grateful that he is establishing himself.

Ty attended Richard Freeman’s month-long Teachers’ Intensive in the summer of 2012.  Richard Freeman is among a handful of the most senior and highly regarded yoga teachers in the Krishnamacharya lineage, and his 6-CD set, The Yoga Matrix, I have listened to many times and offered to students as gifts: it is a perfect gift for anyone interested in learning about the historical context and philosophical foundation of yoga practice. 

Ty was so taken with Boulder and his experience during the month-long intensive with Richard and his wife, Mary Taylor, that he decided to stay.  And they obviously were impressed with Ty, because it has to be rare for a student to attend the Teacher’s Intensive and begin teaching at the renowned Yoga Workshop almost immediately thereafter.

Maybe also it didn’t hurt the equation that Ty “unexpectedly met his wife” while in Boulder!  Congratulations to Ty and Shayan Santicola Landrum -- may your yoga be a boon to your union!

Now, the main reason I am making this post is that Ty Landrum has written one of the best treatments I’ve seen on the history and philosophy of Ashtanga Yoga practice, the surface of which I’ve been scratching -- albeit daily -- for 12 years.  This 20-page paper, “Asana as Yoga,” is as thorough a rendering of the subject as its brevity allows.  It is concise, accessible to anyone interested in the subject, and the prose is mellifluous.  This is not to say it is an easy subject:  it's always a difficult task to describe those aspects of yoga that are beyond the constructs of words and thought -- but Ty has done a stellar job.

The difficulty for me, when reading any description of the principles of Purusha and Prakriti, is the writer’s inevitable personalization of Purusha.  Prakriti is easier to understand: it is all manifested nature, including our bodies, minds, thoughts and feelings, and the whole universe external to our bodies.  But Purusha is more difficult to explain. Ty points out that the Sanskrit word “purusha” literally means “person,” but that in the context of Samkhya philosophy it refers to “the absolute emptiness of awareness that holds all other principles in its fold, thus the pure formless awareness that pervades all things without being confined to any of them.”  It is “unbounded by time and space ... changeless, formless ... beyond suffering, eternal and sublime ... the one unconditioned reality ... that illumines the entire cosmos.”

While writers attempting to describe Purusha always acknowledge the need for metaphor, I have difficulty when Purusha is also described as the Seer, whose sight is impaired by the obstruction of Prakriti, and who is in some way deluded by identification with Prakriti, until relief from this delusion is provided by Shaktipat or assiduous practice.  This propensity to be deluded implies to me an entity that is less than “infinitely perfect unbounded consciousness that illumines the entire cosmos.” 

I would argue that Purusha just “is,” and that since it is never trapped or contained, it can't be deluded or have its sight occluded, or even be an active Seer; and that all delusion is the purview solely of unawakened Prakriti -- that it is the Prakriti that mis-identifies with Prakriti, until it is awakened to its true nature of being infused with timeless Purusha. 

I’m sure Ty can help me understand this better ... and I hope readers of this blog will read his paper.

Whenever I read or hear descriptions of Purusha, I am reminded of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Christian/Neoplatonist theologian and philosopher of the late 5th and early 6th century, to whose brief “Mystical Theology” I return periodically, as a profound example of the beauty, poetry and semantics involved in attempting to evoke a sense of God or The Absolute.

Ty tells me he is planning to write a book on the Yamas and Niyamas, which will be a welcome addition to my bookshelf.