June 5, 2012

Carrying the Torch of Ashtanga Yoga: Tim Miller.

Dhyana Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga School of Philadelphia brought Senior Ashtanga teacher Tim Miller to Philadelphia spring 2012

I recently spent an inspiring weekend assisting Tim Miller at his workshop here in Philadelphia.

I am thankful to have had the chance to absorb his teachings, to benefit from his wisdom and experience. I received many lasting impressions that will fuel my practice and teaching.

One thing I absorbed was how Tim conveys a quality of soulfulness in his communication, a soulfulness that is transmitted in his groundedness, humor and respect for—and tolerance of—people’s differing levels of commitment to the stages of yoga.

Tim’s ambling, slow movement around the mysore room, his gray hair, steady voice and long time experience all help call to mind the archetype of the wise old man—the battle worn, benevolent father, who has been through the fire and darkness and emerged into the light on the other side.

He comes to you vulnerable but unshakeable, with a winking, biting, at times slightly faltering delivery that is perfectly accented by a variety of playful smiles and wild, ironic, slightly mocking and searching facial expressions. This variety of gestures are used at opportune moments to drive home significant points or to cause you to reexamine something you might have thought you had already figured out.

Tim Miller and David Garrigues at Dhyana Yoga

I would describe his presence as widely embracing and powerfully connected to the lineage.

During the hours and years he has spent inside yoga rooms he has become steeped in the tradition and he has achieved a demeanor that is reassuringly supportive in ways that recall Guruji’s presence.

When with Tim you feel you are firmly anchored in a safe harbor and that, with his teachings in mind, you will feel more firmly protected when you journey into unpredictable, changing seas of rigorous, daily practice. You feel that in the important matters of yoga, he knows the direction we all need to be steering our selves. You feel relieved to have a guide who has helped thousands of people walk along the hilly, winding yogic road to the gates of self-study.

Tim’s seat within the lineage is that of a heavyweight (not literally, Tim!)—like the meaning of the word Guru, weighty, stable, Tim is able to support, embrace and carry the formidable weight of the shakti, spiritual, healing energy that is generated by serious students of ashtanga in any given session.

Tim Miller adjusting John Vitarelli of Dhyana Yoga

Tim shares Guruji’s love of the yoga sutras and other sacred texts, and is fond of indian myths and teaching stories.

He even tells some of the same stories Guruji used to tell and in that way he is not only passing on the lineage through teaching the sequences of asanas but also through retelling Guruji’s stories, that might otherwise be lost. These stories provide important imagery and context for the practice, they help convey the purpose, paradox and humor of practice. They also disarm you, keep you on track and are ever aiming for the proper fruits of your efforts.

One key image can be found in the story from the Upanishads that Tim told about the two birds in the mango tree—one is the looking bird and the other the eating bird. The eating bird continually eats the mangos and no matter how many he eats, he’s never satisfied. The looking bird only watches, he doesn’t get caught up in the addictive, compulsive, unbridled appetites that are at the root of suffering.

Guruji loved this story and told it frequently, and so does Tim perhaps because it provides an effective visual image for distinguishing Self from not-self. The overall set of images vividly portrays the difference between the great or true Self, Purusa (looking bird), as opposed the small or apparent self, Prakriti (eating bird).

David Garrigues and Tim Miller in the Mysore room

The weekend reaffirmed for me that given his very human perspective, his love and devotion to yoga and his experience, Tim—the person and teacher—is one of the most important channels for students to receive Guruji’s healing teachings in as direct and pure a line as possible.

Tim said to me that he is happy to carry the torch. So seek him out and enjoy!

Watch a video of Tim and David adjusting in the Mysore room together.

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Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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