April '08 Workshop

David Williams in New York
By Elise Espat, edited by David Williams

"You are enlightened until you think that you aren't."-David Williams

Last night I attended the first night of David Williams' workshop entitled, "Ashtanga Yoga for the rest of your life" at Yoga Sutra NYC.

As people scrambled for floor space and David climbed up on to the makeshift stage/altar/podium, he overheard someone in the crowd mentioning chakrasana.

"Did I hear ‘chakrasana’?" As he shifts the pillow behind him, he says with a smile (just loud enough for everyone to hear) that he wouldn't be teaching chakrasana or setubandhasana this weekend because he "doesn't want to take the chance of even one person getting injured".

Is David changing the series? Sound the alarm! Confused and surprised eyes bulge and dart around the room. He explains that when he was taught these asanas, he was personally and individually watched by Guruji (imagine!) who having seen him practice for some time, thought these would be safe. (As many of us have seen in classes, many people do these moves wrong and occasionally badly injure their necks.) He then adds that he felt that it would be irresponsible for him to have a group of 60 people of all ages and all conditions, most of whom he has never seen practice before, try this. This is what the workshop is all about--doing yoga for the rest of your life. He jokes, "I'm 58 years old and hoping to live to 108...We are all just one injury away from ending our yoga." So, David asks, if yoga helps us live happy, long lives, then why would we want to get injured if that will prevent and discourage us from practicing yoga?

I was surprised by how open, candid, direct, specific, and humorous David was. In his opening talk, he encourages us to ask him everything and anything and that for the weekend, he wants to give us all the information he possibly can. When I first heard he would be in town, I was a bit nervous, expecting an austere sadhu-type disciplinarian. I think back to this as I sit listening to this warm man with long hair and a Hawaiian flower shirt joyfully saying “Aloha!” with a smile. Very different from the "conservative Ashtangi" stereotype, he has been a daily practitioner of Ashtanga yoga and has stayed true to Guruji's original teachings since day one. "When people say I'm disciplined [to have been practicing every day for decades], I think about how as a kid you are disciplined when you are bad. I practice because I am fascinated."

According to David, there is a 24-hour expiration on the benefits of yoga, meaning that you have to do it everyday. In this lifetime journey of yoga, you’ll in be in one of two states, either “yoga therapy” or “cheap thrills”. Therefore, even if you are sick, you should make an effort to move, even just a little, that, and swim in the ocean. (Does the East River count I wonder…) So instead of doing one long practice, you should do a few small ones. The same goes for dealing with injuries, it is also important to keep moving, unless of course, something brings pain.

This brings us to pain and the popular yoga catchphrase, “openings”. "I hope you don't have any more openings!" David exclaims. He tells us the many stories from students who have suffered from “openings", and makes it very clear that we should not be confused. “Openings” are injuries and are to be avoided. David explains that there is no benefit in hurting yourself and that "if it hurts you are doing it wrong." Logically, "hurting yourself more won't make you hurt less." You see, the point he is trying to get across is that nothing decreases prana more than injury.

The purpose of yoga is to increase prana, which is the energy, vitality, and immunity. It is the fountain of youth. Yoga is about increasing prana (immunities to dis-ease) and feeling good. "I want everything to increase my prana." He notes that contrary to what many would believe, "the form of a pose does not increase prana, only correct breathing, mulhabandha and one pointed concentration do…Ankle grabbing doesn't lead to enlightenment…Yoga is consciousness, awareness, and sensitivity, not just putting your leg behind your head."

Check out David's website, http://www.ashtangayogi.com/. Here you’ll find David’s biography, information on Ashtanga and practice, his teaching schedule, etc. But you will also find articles, a Q & A forum (which David personally moderates), and pictures of David practicing the entire system of Ashtanga yoga as taught to him by Guruji back in the seventies.

Elise is the co-founder and editor of Livingmysore.com. She is currently practicing and living in New York and keeps the blog

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