Going Yinward

by Alana Kessler


It was 2010. I was in Nicaragua with my friend, Janine, celebrating my 30th birthday. Being a yoga practitioner for over a decade, and relatively new Ashtangi of a little over a year, I was diligent about my early morning practice. The routine was this: We would get coffee delivered to the door, drink it leisurely on the balcony, watch the waves, and then practice.

I remember breaking my drishti and watching Janine with curiosity. While I was jumping back and jumping through, she was holding postures for minutes at a time in what appeared to be mini-naps. I judged it. It was a challenge to wrap my mind around this being a practice that supports the seriousness and attention that I identified my practice with.

Cut to five years later: I found myself in San Francisco eyeball deep in a 10-day Yin Yoga Intensive and Buddhist psychology training with Sarah Powers, and loving every second of it.  How did I end up here, you ask? You see, somewhere along the way the yang element of Ashtanga Yoga opened me up to a deeper layer of interest. I began to listen to meditation teachers’ talks while doing my Mysore practice at home. I got quieter. I took notice of when I was pushing too hard. I asked myself if my motivations and actions were aligned with my higher intention. Did I even know what that was?

What happened was magical. I refined my attention to attune to deep physical and emotional injuries and unmet needs that were asking for some tenderness. I knew I needed something complementary to my current practice. Something slower, a practice where I could explore, engage, and enliven both the nature of my physical body but also my heart.  

Years of “doing” had left me somewhat spiritually and physically exhausted, and Yin Yoga was the perfect medicine to restore and renew my resources. The long-held postures allowed a certain freedom to ask questions and wait for answers. They provided a composition through which I applied my breath and awareness in a new way and experienced the unfolding and uncovering of deeply held injuries of the body and the spirit. I began to heal them. I found a new world within the stillness that was so energizing it propelled me into new levels of creativity, courage, and compassion. My Ashtanga practice got stronger and softer at the same time, as did my approach to life in general.

So here I am now, eight years later, and I am so grateful for the circumstances that illuminated my path towards this practice. To share it with this community is a privilege, and I am honored by the opportunity.  

With love,


the wisdom series, part 2: an interview with lisa schrempp


What does your practice look like?

My practice of asana is generally a bit shorter than I fantasize about. I am on my mat by 4:45 a.m. and start teaching at 6 a.m. I still love the Ashtanga practice as given to me by the Jois family. I tend to split up Second Series so I have the time to fit in some of Third Series.

My practice includes my teaching, and for that I need to have a good amount of energy! The short time I am on the mat is appropriate for my work as a teacher. I do try to practice yoga all day long—I feel that is where and how I need it to fulfill my hopes of continuing realizations. Most days I practice formal pranayama and meditation later in the day.


How has your practice changed since you began?

I tend to practice a lot slower. I really enjoy going slow and deepening into the asanas to find more awareness and more freedom. This often means longer than the traditional five breaths that are given to most poses. I want to feel the pose manifesting inside of my body versus laying a pose onto the body or having my body perform a pose.


How has your teaching changed?

My teaching is constantly changing according to who is in front of me! My prayer is to help others heal through the practice. There are so many ages of students as well as varying interests that bring them to the mat. I usually start with more physical assists and migrate toward verbal suggestions of how they can find more awareness in their bodies and in the architecture of the asana. Over twenty-eight years of teaching Yoga I have investigated techniques to help students but I feel my intuition is the best guide. Sometimes my intuition may say, “Leave them alone for the time being,” and I think that is one of the more challenging feelings for me to follow.


How are you inspired in your practice at this point in your life?

I draw my inspiration from the ancient texts on Yoga, and I am really interested in Somatic healing. I usually read from one or two books every morning on some aspect of Yoga. This reading, prayers before leaving for the studio where I practice, and then the actual teaching—it is rare that I don’t find inspiration in these routines. There are a lot of challenges I see in my world and I try to use all of it—the good, bad, and ugly—as a voice pulling me to connect to something that is pure and timeless and part of myself. The students inspire me. I especially love teaching beginners in this method. I find their innocence, courage, and dedication to a regular early morning practice truly beautiful.


Who is/are your teacher/teachers?

My main teacher is Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Though he left his body in 2009, I hear his teachings daily and they too are a great source of inspiration. I have been blessed to study with many great teachers of wisdom, and at times they return to urge me to go deeper into awareness. At this time I travel to study with R. Sharath Jois and Manouso Manos. I find that interesting because they are as different as night and day in their techniques and systems. I believe them both to be highly trained, and I feel they both understand how to teach me on a more personal level. They see where I am stuck and point the way in and through.


How do you teach younger yogis?

I want them to tap into something in themselves which they can rely on, which is not their youth or their skill at performing the poses. Social media has made Yoga asanas two-dimensional, and that is very harmful for a young mind. The asanas are cosmic maps for exploring our journey to the Self, but this can be destroyed by attempting to look like a photo of someone else posing for a pretty picture. It’s important to let them find their own discipline, dedication, and enthusiasm for the practice, and not try to feed them my meal of commitment.


How does the aging process inform your thinking about/approach to practicing yoga?

Ah, this has been an incredible process which is a great destroyer of my ego! Aging has taught me lots about how I am in misalignment—that goes not only for my postures in yoga but really my personality and my beliefs.

When I was in my twenties, thirties, and forties, I spent a lot of my time in extension of the spine. The arching of my spine was natural, it was comfortable and ultimately the pain I finally ended up with in my forties from chronic extension has been one of my secret teachers. I call it a secret because I really had to endure lots of pain and lots of struggle to learn the correct use of my spine in postures, and this is an ever-continuing process. I have had brilliant teachers but it was me that had to go through the pain and chart a course for my way out. This has been very eye-opening because it is easy to live in suffering and, of course, it is very uncomfortable. The moving away from suffering is so much harder than staying in it. It requires me to move away from attachment and stubborn ways of looking not only at the pose but at all of life in general. My studies and teachers have pointed the way, but I have to be brave enough and curious about seeing something new and unknown, or else I am stuck in the suffering. I owe it to my teachers who have demonstrated their joy, compassion, and skill in making me believe and have faith in a higher vision. I have healed from three debilitating chronic pains and those have taught me the most about suffering and the possibility of ending suffering.


How does the aging process inform your thinking about/approach to teaching yoga?

I offer my students a way to look at their practice which is sustainable and regenerating. Many people like to be told how to get the pose. I feel there is no getting in. Inhabiting a space within the geometry of the asana elicits openness and loss of tension. Patience and friendliness is what I always aim to uphold. Of course, there are as many ways of teaching as there are students. I hope to offer exactly what the student can hear at the place the student is at. I often mistake where they are at and what they need to get them free, and this keeps me awake and continuing my education. One of the most important practices I want to convey is a friendly attitude toward one’s body and the journey in. I am teaching a cooperation between body and mind, a union of friendship and kindness that is able to cross stormy seas because of that kind bond.


Why do you think it’s important to have some kind of practice?

I am a great lover of formal practice. It brings discipline. It helps us measure freedom from attachment. There is a great menu of things to be attached to and in this life I have found pleasure in most of them. The aftermath often leaves me feeling shallow or not exactly happy. The discipline to yoga practice never leaves me with a toxic build-up. In fact, I always feel cleaner and more complete from the practices of yoga. When I first started a formal practice in my twenties, it was difficult to get to a 10 a.m. class, it seemed so early! Now formal disciplined practice has illuminated the path that is always available. Formal practice has actually led me to a place where I maintain my practice to some degree all the time, consistently checking in. Questions arise: “What am I doing with my time?” What am I doing with my mind?” I am rereading S. Radhakrishnan’s introduction to the Upanishads and he says, “To evade discipline is to empty life of its significance.”


Ayurveda is a big part of your work. Please describe how this is integrated into your life and practice.

I met my teacher Dr. Vasant Lad after practicing Yoga for almost a decade. He was teaching at a medical center in NYC and at that time I was teaching and practicing both Ashtanga and Jivamukti. When I heard him speak I thought, “That’s it, I found a faster route to freedom.” I frequently find myself mentally plotting my escape from suffering through the practices of Yoga. I felt a bit like if I was a good thief I could attain enlightenment faster and cheat unnecessary pain. This is exactly how I felt when I listened to Dr. Lad speak to an audience of mostly medical doctors that afternoon. Yoga and Ayurveda are Vedic sisters and the power of their wisdom together can propel the practitioner toward their goals more efficiently. This was my initial feeling, which led me to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to study with Dr. Lad for the next three years. The traditional disciplined self-care of Ayurveda is a preventative plan for health. Many of the practices of Ayurveda are simple, healing, and even fun to incorporate. I have learned more about myself and also learned the places where I stubbornly hold on to patterns which prevent my radiant health. I think many of us have levels and sub-levels that prevent our basic goodness from being ever-present to ourselves and our world. It is a work in progress. The added benefit of the knowledge and use of Ayurveda has benefited me and my clients/students who are also interested in practicing. It does take more time in one’s day and more discipline to engage in the practices, so the practitioner needs to be ready for that!


What are the other modalities and disciplines that you integrate into your thinking and teaching? How do you deal with the stressors?

The most valuable way to deal with stress for me is to practice. The practice means study, devotion, and gratitude that I have teachers in my life. At times a deep faith arises that I too can loosen the ties of samsara. When I feel a sense of failure my most important ally is compassion. I feel that recognizing the sense of failure or dejection of some sort is a fantastic wake-up. My work is turning that into compassion for self and others. Of course it seems logical that with enough suffering and living in a realm where the spiritual teachings/teachers are available to me, the whole planet will awaken.


How do you deal with injuries?

Modify! There are traditional times when we don’t practice asana. There are specific illnesses when we should not be moving our internal winds around. Other than those times I stand by the motto, through hard times and good times, in sickness and health. I have been healed in so many ways at so many times by this Ashtanga Yoga practice, and those experiences have gifted me with faith. I really can’t think of one teacher who ever said to me, just take some time off, your injury will heal. When I have modified poses or the way I am practicing in general I have learned something new. Most people have heard that my teacher, the great Sri K Pattabhi Jois, used to call injuries “openings.” I don’t think this means everything is all right! When we are having lots of bodily pain the ability to see through the storm and keep calm and move into it with curiosity gives one courage and possibly wisdom to understand the body from a new wider perspective.


How does one maintain energy after teaching for many years, or teaching frequently?

This is an area where the Ayurvedic practices have helped me sustain and revive. The daily oil bath in Ayurveda called abhyanga has been so important in my routine. Yes, I rub medicated oil into my body every day and take a hot shower or bath after. There is a protocol one needs to follow to get the proper benefits. Abhyanga offers loads of benefits, but removing fatigue and bodily pains is probably the number one benefit that I can count on.

I believe if I am coming from the correct place towards my students this keeps me from getting exhausted. I am constantly working on relationship with the students so that there is clarity, a commitment to set aside egos and maintain a feeling of camaraderie and joy of discovery. The practice belongs to everyone who puts faith and energy into it. One thing that has gotten me in a funk with students is when I help too much. The practice is theirs and it is important for me to step back and let the students be responsible for their own freedom. Devotion to and excitement about my own practices and learning has to be maintained. This is the easier part of the program for me. My own freedom, joy, and happiness is connected to my own practice and that is my responsibility. It is not connected to how many students I have.


What are you reading?

My dominant Dosha in the Ayurveda paradigm is Vata, which is the energy of movement. This shows up strongly is my reading protocol. I have about ten books on my reading table right now. Touching Enlightenment by Reginald Ray,  Smile at Fear by Chogyam Trungpa, The Complete Tales of Nikolai Gogol, Hospice Nursing: An Intimate Guide by Margaret Crawford, BSN. I always have a copy of Swami Chinmayananda’s Bhagavad Gita. And I’ve recently started to re-read the principal Upanishads by S. Radhakrishnan.


What inspires your practice and teaching that isn’t explicitly yoga-related?

My negative response to life. Whenever I feel that I have been short changed in some way and feeling low, I stop and observe and question my understanding of life in general. I feel that this malfunction of the spirit is a very juicy time to get reacquainted with how I see myself and the world. It is the most valuable and difficult time to dig deeper. Generally, if I can practice patience, I come out on the other side of the experience with a small but perceptibly keener and softer gaze.

radical radiance, part 1

a series by Maria Margolies

Autumn is a beautiful time of year, characterized by vibrant colors, blue skies, and crisp air. According to Ayurverda, it’s also Vata season. Other qualities of Vata are windy, erratic, and dry. Although these can be wonderful qualities that shape the landscape dramatically, they can bring challenges and imbalances for our inner and outer bodies. Our skin especially has a tendency to become dry, dull, and crocodile-like. In order to maintain balance and transition into the new season with radiance, it is important to adapt our daily rituals accordingly. 

Continue reading

Lisa Schrempp’s Kitchari Recipe

Summer is changing into Fall, and Ayurveda suggests that we should change, too. This 5,000-year-old science of health and healing makes lifestyle and dietary recommendations according to the season. Each season has particular qualities, and the way these qualities are combined and balanced define that season’s dosha. There are three doshas: vata (air, movement), pitta (fire, heat, transformation), and kapha (structure, density, cohesion). It is recommended that we eat foods that have the opposite qualities of the dominant seasonal dosha.

Continue reading

summer, fall, and in between: an ayurvedic perspective from maria rubinate

The first few chilly days at the end of summer inspire a renewed look at daily routine . To encourage and promote general well-being, Ayurveda suggests instituting seasonal modifications that both reduce excess dosha from the previous season and balance the incoming season’s predominant qualities. August and September in New York is essentially a pitta/vata-season yielding gradually to vata-predominant fall. While many of the essential routines for summer continue, such as sun protection, midday activity modification, and reduction of pita aggravating foods, knowledge of the effects of pitta overload can help in negotiating the seasonal change. Continue reading

eddie stern on karma, dharma, and social action

this back-to-school feeling has got us thinking about eddie stern’s spring 2017 lecture on karma, dharma, and social action (and monads, dyads, triads, and tetrads!).

“Remember: Keep your spiritual goals in your mind and heart; offer all actions to the Lord, or the unknown; don’t be concerned about gaining a particular result from your actions; be free from possessiveness; be calm.”

thank you, eddie, for preparing such a brilliant and mind-bending presentation for us. we can’t wait to have you back!


ashtanga yoga as it was (the long and short of it) by nancy gilgoff, written by aharona shackman

The following is the way in which Guruji taught me, Nancy Gilgoff, the Primary and Intermediate series of Ashtanga Yoga during my first trip to Mysore, in 1973.  David Williams and I stayed for four months that trip and had two classes per day (excluding Saturdays and Moon days). 

In the first class, I was taught to do five Surya Namaskara A, plus the three finishing postures – Yoga Mudrasana, Padmasana, and Tolasana.  The second class, later that day, was five Surya Namaskara A and five Surya Namaskara B, plus the three finishing.  In the next class, Guruji told me to only do three each of Surya Namaskara A and B, and to keep it that way in my practice, and he then began adding on at least two postures per class, always with the three finishing at the end.

Guruji taught me the standing postures through Parsvottanasana, but with no Parivritta Trikonasana or Parivritta Parsvakonasana.  After Parsvottanasana he had me jump through to Dandasana. Continue reading

thank you, tim miller!


We are very happy and grateful to have hosted Tim Miller this past weekend. We learned so much from his 35+ years of work as a devoted practitioner and teacher of Ashtanga Yoga. See below for some of our favorite workshop takeaways.  Continue reading

david swenson teaching at the shala, june 8-june 10!

David Swenson is a wonderfully warm, skilled teacher and practitioner of Ashtanga Yoga. We can’t wait to study with him next month.


What do you hope people take with them into their daily practice? What does the yoga community need to do to take the practice of yoga to the next level?

Hopefully people will leave with a renewed energy and inspiration. Ashtanga is a lifelong journey, and one will move through many phases of relationship with the practice. By spending time with people that have been doing this for decades, they should come away with tools to keep them moving forward in their own practice.

The next level really means the weaving of the practice into other areas of life off of the mat. The next level does not mean more flexibility or strength but rather a deeper understanding of the realms of yoga that cannot be seen. The subtle aspects and their applications are the real next level. This can be achieved through the development and fostering of patience, awareness of our actions and interactions in daily life, and the willingness to make changes in our life to suit the most current needs of our situation. Weaving yoga into everyday experience is the goal. When we can blur the lines between practice and daily life we are moving in the right direction!

Yoga International, February 2014

Who Gets Us Where We Are Going

by ashley dorr


The following has been adapted from one of Ashley Dorr’s dharma talks. Ashley gave this talk before she left for her annual trip to the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India. Ashley will return from Mysore at the end of this month. 


In preparation for my trip to India, I’ve been making a checklist of things I need to do: get my visa (check), buy toiletries (check), clean my apartment (check), exchange dollars to rupees (check), chocolate for the plane (check!!). All these things I need to get me where I’m going.

At the same time, I’ve had another list running through my mind, a list of all the people who have helped me to get where I’m going. The obvious ones: My boyfriend, who is watching my dog. The girl who is subletting my apartment. All my teachers and friends at the Shala. My students, who inspire me to gain more knowledge. Barbara and Kristin, who first inspired me with their own stories of India, and who introduced me to the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. The teachers I first started practicing yoga with.

The more I thought about it, the more the list grew, until it came to include the less obvious people. I’m thinking about the woman who exchanged my rupees, and the guy in the visa office who really helped me out during my 6-hour wait to process the paperwork.

There are a lot of people who help us get to where we are going. Strangers, even. I thought about this during the blizzard when I saw people I didn’t know shoveling sidewalks, and when I took the subway and noticed the subway workers and thanked them for being there. I would never normally thank them for being there, but they are always there.

There are a lot of people helping us all along our journeys. Maybe we only think of them during a big trip or a blizzard, but we can think of them everyday. When we do that, we realize how connected we are to the larger world. How there is yoga happening all around us all the time.

Sharon Salzberg puts it really beautifully when she talks about lovingkindess meditation, that just bringing awareness to the way others help us is an act of lovingkindness and gratitude: “Today doesn’t exist apart from the network of relationships and influences that brought us to this moment in our lives. How many people were involved in some way in your decision to meditate? How many people loved you or prodded you? Told you about their own meditation practice? Challenged you so that you decided to look for more inner calm and understanding? What about even those who hurt you, who brought you to an edge of some kind so that you thought, ‘I’ve really got to find another way’ or ‘I’ve  got to look for another level of happiness’? They may be a part of why you’re reading these words. We are each swept into the here and now by a confluence of events, causes, and conditions. A larger community brought you to this moment. And you can make your sense of that human community even larger.”


12531134_580304752121836_684573332_n A traditional rangoli by Ashley Dorr