When I lived in Florida, an awesome girl I worked with at Whole Foods turned me on to David Swenson. She used to rave about him and get this kind of scary, hippie-worshipful/yoga-koolaid look in her eyes when she talked about him. I got my hands on a copy of his “Short Forms” DVD, but I didn’t really get it. I was also pissed off because the “short forms” were really, really freaking hard for me. Short Forms, my fat Cuban ass! Every moment is stretching on into an endless eternity of stiff torment, David Swenson! I wrote him off as yet another yoga loincloth dude, as was my wont at the time, but boy am I discovering the error of my ways ten years later.
I eagerly awaited my copy of Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual from Amazon, because Barnes & Noble doesn’t carry it and there are pretty much no indie book stores in Las Vegas unless you want to go to the Deseret Mormon bookstore on Sahara. Somehow I doubt that they have a bangin’ selection of yoga books in stock.
Although there are many excellent things about this book, first and foremost I would like to give a shout out to the spiral binding. Well played, David Swenson! I don’t have to break the binding of the book by weighing it down with one of my many forbidden yoga props. A more subtle feature, but one I appreciated as a huge fan of acronyms (thanks, Whole Foods Market! I mean, WFM) is the little AYP logo at the top of the book.
Are You Practicing? This is a really good question. Some days I feel like I am not practicing but I’m just showing up. A lot of times my body feels like a heinous marriage of stiff soldering wire and a sleepy mountain of rocks. Throw in some random, sticky, seizing pains from various injuries and a mind that swings from the chandeliers like a D-List celebutante whacked on cocaine and we have a recipe for disaster, my friends. Or, if I am feeling more spiritual that day, a fertile soil for growth and change. Like a lotus. Har har har! No, my heart is NOT being cracked open or any of that other horrible yoga writing nonsense I see all over the internet. I feel like a very strict Zen master is beating me with a freaking stick and also whispering in my ear that I should immediately go eat drive through french fries most days.
But, I digress: back to Mr. Swenson’s book. Another favorite point is that he provides several modifications for each asana if you are stiff or injured or a beginner. The pictures and writing are clear and unadorned, and the book is very well organized:
- Most of the writing happend in the 13 page section called “The Basics”, followed by a one page description of the Primary Series, “Yoga Chikitsa”.
- “The Foundation” is the section that’s all about Sun Salutations; breaks down A and B with helpful modifications.
- “The Standing Sequence” is exactly what you think it is.
- “The Primary Series” is followed by “The Intermediate Series”
- “The Finishing Sequence” and then a one page “Savasana” with an excellent T.S. Eliot quotation.
- Handy charts called “The Full Flow” with both Primary and Intermediate series.
- A section with his “Short Forms”: 15 minute, 30 minute, and 45 minute series for either beginners or people who are pressed for time and need an alternate, shorter practice occasionally.
I found a particular quotation in “The Basics” section to be very helpful, especially on one of my more difficult practice days this week:
“Each practice session is a journey. Endeavor to move with awareness and enjoy the experience. Allow it to unfold as a flower opens. There is no benefit in hurrying. Yoga grows with time. Some days are easy and the mind is calm and the physical body is light and responsive. Other days you may find that the mind is running wild and the body feels like wet cement. We must breathe deeply and remain detached. Asanas are not the goal. They are a vehicle to access a deeper internal awareness. Create a practice that best suits your personal needs so that it is something that you look forward to. Yoga is a place of refuge and a soothing balm for the stresses of modern life…I have never had a practice that I regretted. Not once have I finished a routine and thought, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t done that.” But there have been days when I didn’t practice and later wished I had. Keep it fun. Take just a few minutes and spend it with yoga. The rest of your day will be better….do as much or as little as feels correct…it is always better to do a little than none at all. “ (p. 7)