Last weekend I had the honor of spending four days practicing ashtanga with David Williams. We hosted him at Y2 for a four-day workshop focused on “Ashtanga Yoga for the Rest of Your Life.”
If you’re wondering what Ashtanga yoga is, read this.
We can all thank David Williams for being a pioneer of yoga in the United States. He brought ashtanga yoga from India to the U.S. back in 1971. He’s 66 years old today and has practiced ashtanga yoga daily for over 40 years. He has taught so many of today’s well-known yoga teachers including Bryan Kest, Tim Miller, David Swensen, Danny Paradise, Jonny Kest and many more. Ashtanga yoga is the backbone of what has now become power yoga.
I subbed out all of my classes and rescheduled all commitments to spend time with David. I practiced with him three years ago in Asheville and knew I wanted to full weekend experience with him. I was completely immersed in all of David’s stories and teachings. Ashtanga hasn’t felt so good to my body in a very long time.
The weekend started on Thursday night. David gave an opening lecture full of his very rich and entertaining stories of discovering yoga, hitchhiking around Europe and ending up in India in search of someone to teach him yoga. After the lecture we practiced a modified led primary series.
On Friday evening David answered questions and then led us through a modified primary series again. I loved all of his interruptions throughout practice to share insights and anecdotes. We met again on Saturday morning and practiced full primary series taught exactly how David learned it from Pattabhi Jois in India.
I loved our Saturday afternoon session. David reviewed the history of yoga, the eight limbs, the history of ashtanga and shared more of his personal stories. David also took us through ashtanga yoga pranayama as taught to him by Pattabhi Jois. It’s 24 minutes of breathing exercises.
We finished up on Sunday with a modified led second series and ashtanga pranayama. After four days with David, I felt completely reconnected to my practice.
Here’s what I love about David.
Bandhas first, deep breathing second, how the posture looks…a distant third. David says that over time with repetition, the posture will come as long as you’re engaging bandhas and breathing.
What matters most is that it feels good, you’re present and you’re breathing. David says, “If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong.” He explained to us that when you are in pain your body is releasing adrenaline. Adrenaline increases cortisol, which creates stress. When exercise feels good, your body releases endorphins and you feel bliss. Yoga should be a way to get naturally high!
At one point in time, David Williams was the only person in the world practicing fourth series ashtanga yoga (it’s an extremely advanced practice). These days, he mostly practices primary and his practice is very relaxed. He makes you feel totally at ease and makes ashtanga yoga not only available to everyone but seemingly possible for the rest of your life!
One of my teachers asked David if it was all worth it. The years of exploring, learning, practicing…and he replied. “Yeah, I’m a pretty blissed out guy.” David has lived in Hawaii for the last 40 years, practicing yoga and teaching people who seek him out to come and learn from him. He didn’t start teaching workshops until the internet yoga teacher phenomenon of the 2000’s and he now travels all over the world with his Ashtanga Yoga for the Rest of Your Life Workshop.
In the midst of a practice that feels so full of ego so often, David is a grounding force of what it’s all about. Feeling good. I have avoided my ashtanga practice for the better part of 2 years and I’m ready to resurrect it.
If you ever have the chance to practice with David, I can’t recommend it enough. I am so grateful for all of my teachers and for this practice.
Photos courtesy of Wanda Koch Photography.