6:30am. After morning yoga practice at 4:30am, this is my view walking home and gazing east from my balcony. This is a first draft; presented to you unedited, barely re-read…as a stream of my thoughts…and my first post from India!
This morning’s hazy scrim
raises slower than usual.
Stage hand’s missed his cue again,
but the director decides she likes it anyway.
Add it to the show!
Cue soft purple light stage left and right,
and turn on the smoky, trash-burnt smell of the fog machine.
Cue crowing roosters…howling chants:
prayers echoing hollow from between homes,
as center stage fades to a rosy glow.
What corner of the sky
my audience’s eye sees
is only a small part of the story.
Past coconut trees,
Unfold more stages,
directors and lights.
Actors still sleeping, already singing,
audiences seated, stories unfurling.
Cue soft yellow lights.
Cue sunrise: a fire orange spotlight through the banyan trees’ boughs.
On November 9, the day after I wrote this stage-and-sunrise-inspired poem in India, an accidental explosion killed one technician and injured over a dozen more cast and crew members in the Parisian production 1789, in which my partner Michael was an original cast member. I lived in Paris last year while he performed in and created original body-percussion numbers for the show. So from India, with a heavy heart, I dedicate this poem to the family of the victim, to the injured, to the cast, crew, creative team and fans.
I’m inspired every day, which is a wonderful thing to be able to say. But even amidst the inspiration, it’s easy to get caught up in the mentality of New York life…the excuses of inaction roll off the tongue easily: I’m too busy. I’m so tired. I’m broke. There’s not enough time.
Where is that magic moment when inspiration becomes action?
For me, sometimes it takes just a little extra-ordinary moment to push inspiration towards motivation and finally action. This month was certainly packed full of those little something extra moments. I was able to take a few workshops that seemed perfectly timed to motivate some positive action before my third trip to India.
Early in the month I enrolled in an anatomy workshop at my home studio, Land Yoga. Noah McKenna was in the US (visiting from Mysore, Inida, where he lives) and we were lucky to have him give a short weekend workshop on how anatomy and asana yoga blend together and inform each other. I’ve taken anatomy before, but I was really inspired by the way he blended yogic philosophy and practice with practical anatomy ideas. Asana in the Human Form, as his classes were collectively called, took us through the body: symmetry, posture, the skeleton, muscles, connective tissue and the nervous system (to name a few places we explored), and constantly connected back to the ways that asanas fit into the broader experience of what yoga is. I left the weekend with a refreshed sense of some fundamental ideas on anatomy, but more importantly, with a serious inspiration to continue to treat my personal physical yoga practice with a deep awareness.
Two weeks later, right on the heels of the anatomy workshop, I made a trek from NYC out to Montclair New Jersey for a weekend workshop with Kino MacGreggor at Ashtanga Yoga Montclair. A lovely friend I met in Mysore, Deb Williams, organized the workshop, and it was a nice chance to reconnect with her and see her shala (which, sidenote, reminds me so much of the first shala, Urban Ashtanga, in Orlando Florida where I learned the practice). The fall leaves were beginning to show autumn color in the quiet town, and it was a definite pace-change from the constant busy rumble of the city. Kino was…well…just like her YouTube videos, which is to say: positive, informative and extremely well spoken. She was also tough. In addition to Led Full Primary Series and Mysore style classes, we spend time on headstands, Intermediate Series and twists. The Intermediate session was wonderful, because it was a chance to work on some of the postures I’ve most recently started to tackle. But I most enjoyed the headstanding workshop. Closing postures, where sirsasana is practiced in Ashtanga, are often a time I personally find myself rushing. In the class we prepared and took an extended hold in the posture, over three minutes, which is the minimum time the Hatha Yoga Pradipika recommends you stay in the pose to reap benefits. A simple encouragement like that inspired me to start making more time in my day for closing postures, and I’ve been holding headstand longer since. And it feels amazing.
So as the month comes to a close and I look ahead to November, with some more subtle awareness in my practice and more time spent upside-down, I can say that I’m finally ready to start thinking about trekking across the globe this Sunday to study for five weeks in Mysore.
Journeying to India each year has become sort of a second new year for me, a time to take a look at my personal resolutions and motivate the inspiration I experience throughout the year into action. Staying in Mysore is like one long extraordinary moment of inspiration that can really impact my actions for the rest of the year.
So my intention for this journey is just this: to allow the simple experience to inspire and motivate me, and take action to more fully live my wonderful life.
I can’t wait to share some of my experiences with you! This year in addition to studying asana with Sharat at the KPJAYI Shala and continuing my chanting and Sanskrit classes with Lakshmish, I’ll hopefully be taking some more anatomy with Noah, and beginning studying the Yoga Sutras with a highly recommended teacher.
Stay tuned for weekly blog updates here on my site and daily photos on both Instagram (@danaelyseyoga) and on Facebook (on my page Dana Tarasavage Yoga & Pilates).
A special thank you to my amazing student Paula, without whom this trip really would not have been possible!
I’m just returning to New York from San Francisco where for the past two weeks I’ve been running the first Yogi in Residence yoga class program at the Hotel California. It’s been an amazing and inspiring experience exploring a new city and teaching a new batch of yoga students from all over the world!
I flew in on a Saturday evening and took a cab to the hotel. Although I’d been warned about San Francisco’s unusual summer weather, the foggy, cool city surprised me! I bundled up and met my yoga student from New York, Paula. She was there to share a late dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, which happens to be one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the country, Millennium. Besides being vegetarian, which automatically gets a restaurant points in my book, Millennium has an absolutely delicious, creative menu. I had sweet corn cake, eggplant bruchetta, pistachio-stuffed dates and a glass of wine from their extensive organic selection. Needless to say I slept well that night!
I woke up the next morning in a cozy yellow Hotel California room. After breakfast I went up to the mezzanine level to see my yoga room! The hotel is a beautiful, older building with mahogany details, gilded mirrors and leather club chairs. My yoga room was to be one of the two open rooms on the mezzanine level. The first is a cheery yellow with windows along one wall and an open doorway and then second is red with golden mirrors and a smaller window. After a little experimenting, we decided to use the red room, which was a bit more private with a very warm, strong energy.
Classes started that morning and ran every day for the next two weeks. I welcomed yoga students into the warm, red, mirrored room who ranged from hotel employees to guests, locals to backpackers, college students and expats visiting San Francisco from around the world.
Most of my time was spent on the beginner’s level class, teaching foundations for a focused, meditative asana practice.
One night before class I was in the studio room getting ready when an Indian woman popped her head in to chat. She was visiting from Mumbi and was so happy to see yoga classes offered at her hotel! It really warmed my heart when she told me that even after severe flight delays, jetlag and trying to figure out a strange country, seeing yoga made her feel as if she were right at home. It’s little moments like this that make me long for another visit to India…
About halfway through the two weeks, we headed over to the local Grant Ave lululemon where I’d been invited to do a demonstration in their window to help promote classes. I got set up in some of their new fall gear, hopped on a mat and flowed through an Ashtanga demonstration. I always love doing lululemon demos. The store employees are just some of the most positive, enthusiastic people I’ve ever met! I know I can walk into any store and get a smile.
The most exciting thing for me as my time as yogi in residence was to be in such a yoga-friendly hotel, and how quickly a positive community can start to build. This world is full of lovely, inspiring, warm people if you open your life to them.
Check it out and share the love! Harlem Gal gave me the nicest shout out on her site! She’s a devoted yoga practitioner and featured my Yoga Journal photo on her fantastic Harlem local blog. My friends and I are always reading her blog to find out what’s happening in the neighborhood. Between new restaurant openings, arts, and events, it’s really the go-to place for all things Harlem!
“If you haven’t met or taken one of Tarasavage’s classes at Land Yoga in Harlem, you’re missing out. I have personally taken her class many times and enjoy it very much! Dana Elyse Tarasavage is at Harlem’s Land Yoga Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and Saturday morning.”
I’m very excited to share the August Issue of Yoga Journal magazine with you, which features one of my favorite yoga shots by the incomparable, Christine Hewitt of Yogic Photos. Check me out on page 22 of the issue, which is full of traveling yogi pictures!
Summer has officially arrived: Happy Summer Solstice! To celebrate here’s my summer reading list. I’m daydreaming of laying out on a beach, catching some sun, listening to the ocean and delving into one of these great books…
A gift from my teacher Lara for my birthday back in February, I’ve been enjoying slowing reading this fantastic book for the past few months. Michael Singer uses yogic philosophy to allow us to imagine, practice and experience a mind free from metal chatter, and a self focused solely on openness. Though the subject is deep, his writing is accessible and open to all.
Sharath Jois, director of the KPJAYI and grandson of Pattabhi Jois, has released his first book. It’s a practical, no frills explanation of the Ashtanga Yoga method including the eight limbs, primary series asanas and vinyasas, and even a few supplemental postures and breathing techniques. I use this book almost every week (along with Yoga Mala) to consult about vinyasas, breaths or just to feel close to my teacher in India. It’s a must have!
This book is more of a detailed practice manual than a sit down read, but in it Certified Ashtanga Yoga teacher and YouTube CelebriYogi Kino MacGreggor, gives her heart and soul. It is an amazing resource for teachers or students without access to a qualified teacher. She offers lovely insight, clear information, and a passionate voice.
This is simply one of my favorite books. Ever. Released in 2010, I’ve read it cover to cover three times…and it’s over 400 pages long. When I began practicing Ashtanga Yoga seriously in May 2009 my teachers told me all about Guruji. I felt secretly excited and blessed at the possibility that he might be my guru too! Sadly, he passed away a few short days later and ever since then I’ve felt a small longing for this teacher I never met. Reading Guruji has given me the sensation of meeting him, and I highly recommend taking the journey through the eyes of all those interviewed in this fantastic book.
I still haven’t started this one yet, a new title from one of my favorite authors, Khaled Hosseini. I absolutely loved the poetic sadness and glimmers of joy of his classics, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. This man was made to write books, and reading his stories is an honor and a pleasure. Can’t wait to see what this book has in store!
Balancing poses are some of my favorites to practice and teach, partly because watching the process and the progress is so enjoyable. We’re used to standing on two feet, but take one away and we often feel like we’re tumbling out of control.
One of the ways I think of balance is with the idea of a tree. Trees are firmly planted into the earth with roots that dig deep underneath what we can see. From that base the trunk, limbs and leaves can flower easily. Even thought a tree is planted in one place, the entire structure is actually built to move. Whether it’s a spring breeze or a hurricane, trees must move with the wind and weather.
When we’re balancing in even the simplest versions of one leg standing postures, we too must be firmly rooted yet open to small fluctuations in movement. Anticipating and gently responding to these minor shifts is what allows the illusion of motionlessness in our balancing posture.
I think most people find themselves falling because they expect total stillness. Falling down and losing center is part of the process, as a small sapling might droop at first, but perk up at the sign of sunlight, so might we stumble (hey, lets be honest, I fall quite often!)
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of helping out Land Yoga student, Porter in one of his artistic endeavors. Porter is a dedicated morning Mysore practitioner and a photographer. He spends a lot of time around some awesome artwork, but found himself using an iPhone for most of his photography! In order to create some sort of balance with this super 21st Century tool, he took a class at the Center for Alternative Photography on an old 19th Century technique called wet plate shooting.
These images are created on an actual metal plate instead of on film, and require an almost ten second exposure time!
We spent a lovely Wednesday evening shooting some yoga postures. Finding the right balance of light, exposure time, and color is tricky to say the least. Black yoga pants look invisible against a blue backdrop, patterns we saw clearly in the studio were invisible in the photos, and because this process creates mirror images, the final product is always a bit different than we imagine.
The most striking and exciting image for me is our first take of Utthita Hasta Padangustasana. Initially it looks like a bit of a flop. The plate hadn’t been completely coated in the pre-picture process, resulting in a little drip of black over my face. It seems I might have moved a bit too much because my body is a little blurry.
But then I realized that the image is really a gem. It so clearly shows the rooting and movement balance I often think about, that might have been invisible in the instant exposure time of a modern camera.
At the base of the image you clearly see my foot, rooted deep and firm into the floor. But, as your eyes move up the picture my body becomes less clearly defined…as I said, a bit blurry. I’m allowing the rooting down to allow for movement up top. I’m creating a base and letting that do the work, and the rest just grow upwards. It’s not a still static thing, but a moving, breathing pose!
Because yoga and art are both really just mirrors into our daily existence I started thinking about how to find the same grounding and balance in everyday life. Enjoy and (try to) anticipate the small gentle movements, the imperfections and chances to test grounding and opportunities to pull back towards center. Lay good foundations, and if you fall over, just plant yourself again!
The original version of this article was written in August 2012 and appears on yogamodern.com.
Is it really important to travel to India to study Yoga?
I’m sitting on the rooftop of my apartment, watching an orange sunset through the coconut trees. A cool monsoon breeze rustles the leaves as scooter horns honk in the distance. And I can just make out a cow as she meanders her way up my street.
Yup, I’m in India.
I’m in Mysore, to be exact. Mysore is a city in the south Indian state of Karnataka, located about 90 miles from the tech hub of Bangalore. It was the home of Sir K Pattabhi Jois (Guruji), the world-renowned teacher of Ashtagna Yoga. Today Guruji’s grandson Sharath and daughter Saraswati continue his legacy as they teach traditional yoga at the Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Intitute (KPJAYI).
This is my second trip to Mysore to study. I made my first journey less than a year ago, and plan to come back again. I’ve left jobs, an apartment, friends, family, yoga students and the comforts of home (washing machine, anyone?) to come dip my toes into tradition.
Someone asked me what the difference is in practicing here as opposed to practicing at home. After all, the asana portion of Ashtanga Yoga is practiced in a memorized, self-led style and includes the same postures every time.
Why make the journey to Mysore? What makes it special?
For any discipline worth pursuing, there is a root. Japan gives us Karate. France, Ballet and classical cooking. Capoeria is uniquely Brazlian, though its dance roots are distinctly African. Nashville is the headquarters of country music. And India gives us the beautiful practice of yoga, and that’s one of the things that makes it so special to me.
A few years after I began practicing yoga, I realized I wanted to learn from the source. I felt terribly unsatisfied with the way yoga was presented in the United States. The English names for poses sounded empty to me, and learning from teachers that treated it only as a way to stay fit felt belittling (it is, by the way, a great way to stay fit).
I wanted to understand the culture from which yoga comes.
I wanted to see India, to feel its pulse and to understand how this very Indian practice truly translates to me.
Here, actually in Mysore, I’m at the pinpoint of something universal. The practice room is full to the brim with yoga students from every corner of the globe. It’s hot and sweaty. It’s intimidating and at the same time so incredibly inviting.
Although it’s almost too crowded these days, I feel a sense of space among the masses. Most importantly, traveling here becomes a sort of pilgrimage. I’m able to devote time to really practicepracticing yoga, just as Guruji did here for his entire life.
I believe that anyone practicing yoga should have some knowledge of or exposure to the Indian culture and circumstances in which the discipline evolved.
But not everyone is interested in coming to India to study, and I think that’s perfectly fine! I simply felt the need to come. I also feel that just because a teacher or a student has come to India does not mean they are a good teacher or a better yogi.
In fact, there’s a whole myriad of things that go into being an effective teacher…
But I want to be a teacher who has seen India.
Last Sunday in the weekly group conference with Sharath (our teacher) a student asked how often we should come to India. He asked her why she had returned to study after almost two years. She answered honestly that she “felt the need to come back.”
He smiled and told us that was our answer. Come study here “whenever you feel that you need to come.”
Have you traveled to India to study yoga? Would you?
Do you think it’s important for a yoga practitioner?