Monday, March 26, 2007


This is a big week for yoga in Miami, at least for those of us who practice Ashtanga. Ashtanga yoga was developed by a man named Sri Pattabhi Jois, shown here. Known as "Guruji" by Ashtanga practitioners, Jois developed the practice based on ancient traditions, refining it into several series of asanas, or poses. Guruji is now 90 years old and had planned to visit Islamorada, in the Florida Keys for the next two weeks. It was to be his only appearance in the US this year (yogis normally have to travel to Mysore, India to study with him), teaching two weeks of workshops and celebrating the opening of a new yoga center. Unfortunately, Guruji became sick last week and had to cancel the classes.

That left a lot of displaced yogis from all over the country, who had come to Florida and now had nowhere to practice. Many of them have been going to the center where I practice, the Miami Life Center on 6th Street in Miami Beach. Kino MacGregor and Tim Feldman, the Center's creators, have been teaching packed studios full of limber Ashtangis, all their Warriors and Scorpions practically colliding in the tight space.

I actually really enjoy the crowded classes, though, especially with so many very skillful practitioners and great teachers in Kino and Tim. Just like in an orchestra, it can be incredibly inspiring being surrounded by other people performing at a very high level, challenging and overcoming their limits. Even when I can't quite fold myself into all those pretzel-like configurations, someone else nearby probably will, which kind of gives me a vicarious thrill.

I think there's a lot in common between yoga and music - and it hasn't escaped my attention that some of the most respected double bassists and teachers also practice serious yoga. Peter Lloyd and Paul Ellison are the two I know best, though I'm sure there are many others. In fact my very first yoga teacher was Deborah Dunham, a fantastic bassist who taught an introductory class at the New England Conservatory.

So there must be some kind of synergy between yoga and bass, even if I made up the pose 'contrabasana'. Yoga does have many forward-folding poses, in which you're challenged to extend and lengthen the spine, rather than collapsing - a challenge we all experience when playing the bass as well. And many of the pitfalls of bass playing - distorted alignment, imbalanced shoulders and hips, shallow and forced breathing, etc. - are addressed and corrected in yoga.

Tim Feldman, one of the yoga teachers at Miami Life Center, told me the other day, "I'm a great believer in the power of Ashtanga yoga to restructure the body," and it seemed like a very fitting description of the practice. We're all trying to restructure our bodies and minds, to make them more efficient, flexible, sensitive, and better attuned to the demands of life and music. So I'm a great believer too, and I especially recommend the Ashtanga practice - you can read more about Guruji and Ashtanga at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute's website.

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