January 5, 2010

An interview with Tias Little of Prajna Yoga.

Tias Little & Prajna Yoga: A Harmonious Connection of the Mind & Body On The Mat. ~ Nancy Alder

Caveats first: I am a yoga workshop junkie.

I love learning new styles with new teachers and am constantly craving ways to enhance my personal yoga practice. Several months ago I enrolled in a gem of a workshop…and in the three hours I spent with the yogi leading it, Tias Little of Prajna Yoga, my approach to yoga changed.

I was re-united with Iyengar principles of alignment, Ashtanga principles of strength and focus and introduced to a union between yogic philosophy and Buddhist meditation that struck a chord.

Tias Little started Prajna Yoga because he felt there was not a style of yoga that satisfactorily combined the rich tapestry of physical (asana), spiritual (yogic philosophy) and meditative (Buddhadharma). He strives to teach yoga from a connection of the mind-body rather than a more exclusively physical experience. In other words, Prajna Yoga is not where you go to get the Madonna biceps…but rather the physical, mental and spiritual strength to live a fuller life. His yoga teacher trainings include studies in Sanskrit, poetry, chanting, yogic philosophy, Buddhadharma and asana; providing students a way to stay healthy and work with the mind.

Tias approaches the physical asanas from an extensive background, including many years studying both Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga. His current approach tends to be less of the Ashtanga Vinyasa style and more alignment focused in the style of B.K.S. Iyengar. Utilizing his training in bodywork, cranio-sacral therapy and massage in combination with the alignment principles of Iyengar, Tias guides his students into safe yet deep expressions of the poses. He tends to cultivate sensitivity in the body by having longer holdings and moving through sequences at a slower pace. He says this method helps to cultivate “prajna” or insight and allows for both fewer injuries and a way for yogis to have a more meditative journey on their mats. Even during the asana-based part of his workshops he discusses an approach to yoga that is akin to a moving meditation, reminding students that it is not merely physical but also the emotional, mental and spiritual parts of this interdisciplinary path we should nurture.

One of the magical aspects of Tias Little’s style of yogic teaching that is that he melds his Buddhist studies in with the yogic philosophy and asanas in a seamless way. He earned a Master’s degree in Eastern Philosophy from St. John’s College in 1998 and has studied in both the Zen and Vipassana traditions. Currently he is a student of Tsoknyi Rinpoche‘s in the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Tias brings his Buddhist scholarship to his teaching, guiding students how to sit and be aware of the “subtlety of the pranic field” through mediation. Tias feels the marriage of the penetrating insights from the mindfulness practices of the Buddhist tradition and the physical discipline of Hatha yoga is one of the most potent combinations. He sits for one hour of meditation daily in his personal practice, yet is very sensitive to the challenges this practice presents for many students. His down to earth approach to teaching meditation makes the students feel like they can accomplish quieting their mind slowly and one is left truly aware of the benefits of this practice. While Tias acknowledges that meditation might not be the best approach for the emotionally distraught, he suggests that for most people seated meditation has immense benefits through calming the autonomic nervous system and centering the mind.

I initially signed up for Tias’s workshop not because I knew about his approach but rather because he was so gracious in offering to let me contact him for another article. I went to the workshop more out of curiosity and to say “hello and thanks.” I walked out after the three hours thinking that I might have just taken the first class with someone who could ultimately be my teacher. I loved the slow movement and long holdings. We did intense stretching but I felt no pain because of the strong focus on proper alignment and anatomy. Tias was kind, approachable and never condescending. He showed a strong respect for the history of yoga and the same could be said for his discussions of Buddhism.

Yet, what made this class special was how gracefully he melded the two approaches so the yogis/yoginis in the room never even questioned that they (Buddhism and yoga) were not normally taught together. Tias regards the Buddha as a yogi-one who had the stature of spine and steadiness of attention to see clearly into the life force that animates us all. Through Prajna, the teachings of the Buddha dharma on impermanence, non-clinging, selflessness and enlightened mind are woven into the physical discipline of Hatha yoga. It is a terrific style for someone who wishes to take his or her practice to a deeper level and to add a more meditative approach. Yogis looking to rock out to sequences at a face pace should probably look elsewhere for their guidance. But if you are hoping to add meditation to your practice, to cultivate a love of learning about yogic and Buddhist philosophy and to gain from the asana practice a depth of insight and understanding about yourself and your body, Tias Little is a superb guide.

A Tias Little Contest:

In honor of Tias’s appearance January 13, 2010 on the CANCELED Walk the Talk show with Waylon Lewis—a giveaway:

Enter to win a copy of Tias and Surya Little’s book Thread of Breath, a beautiful and thoughtful exposure to asanas demonstrated by the Littles. You can enter by submitting a question for Tias Little about Prajna Yoga and his approach in the comments. The winning question will be submitted to the Walk the Talk show as a potential query for Tias Little during his appearance. The winner will be announced that evening so be sure to attend the show if you are in Boulder or watch the live stream on the internet to see if you have won.

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