Haṭha Yoga Sadhana: The Subtle Dance

At the heart of both Buddhist and Hindu visions of liberation are practices that prepare the body, heart, and mind for powerful and fundamental shifts in perspective. These practices, called “yoga” in both lineages, support us to investigate and eventually understand our place in the world and our relationship with changing experience, including gain and loss, pleasure and pain, birth and death. These practices are physical, emotional, intellectual, and energetic, and work to both heal the deep traumas of attachment and developmental distress we call “psychological,” and the subtle traumas of existential despair and ignorance of our role in the world we call “spiritual.”

Because physical movement with the goal of cultivating energy is one of the most dynamic and creative forms of liberation practice, I call it “The Subtle Dance.” It can be both blissful and uncomfortable, deeply easeful and deeply challenging. Because the process builds on the basic skills of embodied mindfulness and safety in movement, this series has a prerequisite of 2 years of yoga practice (or comparable movement discipline) and some exposure to mindfulness or meditation practices.

We will explore:
— intuitive āsana, learning to follow the path of subtle impulse
— prānāyāma and bandha, the heart of Classical Haṭha Yoga
— movement inquiry, transforming postures into meditative process
— mindfulness of nervous system states & working with energy

Haṭha Yoga Sadhana: The Subtle Dance

6 Tuesdays, Nov 7 – Dec 12, 2017
Namaste Yoga + Wellness, Berkeley

$120 / $95 if enrolled by Oct 24
Registration link TBA

As I develop this way of working, I will offer both “beginner” and “experienced” classes, but for now I am only offering this style of practice for students with 2 years of experience in yoga or meditation. If you’re interested in versions of this approach for beginners, contact me for individual sessions or join my mailing list to hear about a beginner class series, tentatively planned for mid to late 2018.

Individual Yoga Sessions

Individual yoga sessions with me can include work on:

  •  postures and movement (āsana) in relation to energy and the nervous system
  • breath cultivation (prānāyāma, bandha, and mudrā)
  • trauma symptoms and nervous system resilience (see Organic Intelligence)
  • study of texts and core teachings from the Buddhist and Hindu yoga traditions
  • spiritual and existential inquiry

More info on individual sessions here.

Background on the practice

Haṭha Yoga as I use the term refers to a body of practices descended from Śaiva and Buddhist breath and energy work developed between the 10th and 18th centuries in the Himalayan region of what is now India and Tibet. The texts that have survived from this period describe powerful practices of energy cultivation that leads to states of bliss, clarity, and inner power, and support a tantric path of both Subtle Power (siddhi) and Liberation (mokṣa) from the round of birth and death (saṁsāra). The most prominent modern forms of these practices are the prānāyāma, bandha, and mudrā taught in the lineage of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya of Mysore (1888-1989), teacher of B.K.S. Iyengar and Śri K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of the Ashtanga Yoga system. I began my yoga study in 1996 doing Ashtanga at It’s Yoga in San Francisco, but learned the Haṭha practices later, studying with teachers from various lineages.

As the flowing postural style of Aṣtānga gained popularity, teachers began to create their own sequences of postures, improvising and choreographing new practice sequences from the vocabulary of poses (āsana) formalized by Iyengar and Jois. The new style, called Vinyasa from a term used by Krishnamacharya for movement pathways in and out of poses, became the most prominent style of public class in SF where I was practicing, and my own primary style as well. I taught Vinyasa classes for many years, bringing in aspects of the postmodern dance technique I was also studying. My classes focused on cultivating embodied presence through graceful, non-effortful movement, continuous breath focus, and mindfulness of the body in both movement and stillness.

I loved the vinyasa class format, but came to feel that because it emphasizes unison movement and externally-directed sequences, it lacked the subtlety and flexibility necessary to invite each yogi to work at the growing edge of their practice. This shift in my own sense of the utility of the form, along with participation in growing conversations about the biomechanics and psychological, religious, and cultural implications of Modern Postural Yoga, led to my abandoning the mainstream yoga class format.

I no longer teach drop-in āsana classes, but offer a personalized approach to the physical component of yoga in the “Haṭha Yoga Sadhana” class series format, and work with practitioners individually to refine their practice. I find that working in this way allows practitioners to address more directly the issues that arise as their path unfolds, and integrate physical work with their broader spiritual or inner growth path.