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MIAMI LIFE: Interview with Ron Reid and Marla Meenakshi Joy

- How long have you been practicing yoga?

Ron: I've been practicing yoga since the mid seventies.

Marla: I went to India to study meditation and yoga philosophy with a Guru when I was 19, and spent a good part of 15 years there. Yoga for me was the inner limbs back then, with a little bit of asana. Hatha yoga (asana’s) became a more prevalent in my life when I settled back into the West in 1991…and I began more with Shivananda yoga before Ashtanga Yoga in 1995.

- How did you come into yoga?

Ron: As someone who has always had an inclination towards things of a physical nature, philosophy and the spiritual realm, yoga was a perfect fit. As a traveling musician at the time, I needed something both portable and personal. I like to joke about the fact that as my yoga practice grew longer and deeper, my music gigs became more and more of an inconvenience!

Marla: Travelling around Europe when I was 16 with lots of questions led me to a meeting with a man who studied with my teacher in India. He gave me my teacher’s (Swami Shyam) transliteration of the Bhagavad Gita and I knew I had to go to India to meet him!

- You run one of the longest standing yoga shalas in canada. what benefits do you see in yourselves as wells your students from practicing yoga? do you see any problems or negative effects from practicing yoga?

Ron: One of the things that we see is that with yoga's popularity, especially asana practice, that there is little or no connection to yoga as a philosophical practice. Missing this larger context means, that as a culture based in the west, we will tend to bring in certain cultural preferences like competition or submission to authority which really, in my opinion, have no place in the yoga room. Otherwise, for many, asana will be the foundation upon which they build a practice, developing key qualities of discipline, self -control and a healthy respect for guidance from a sincere teacher or higher consciousness.

Marla: The outer limbs of yoga, the yama’s and niyama’s as well as asana are a great start to the journey inwards. If people begin on the mat and stay on the mat with a positive experience, I have witnessed that over time they begin to look inward more and delve into the inner limbs more as a natural progression. Yoga leads to moksha, liberation….and this I see as the truest summit to the mountain that we all climb in the yoga process.

- How do you view daily asana practice in regards to pursuing a yogic path?

Ron: Daily practice helps us to build a self-perpetuating momentum that can then carry us and guide us as we grow and evolve.

Marla: Answered above

- Is doing asana daily enough to understand and live yoga? if not, what else do you see as essential for the yoga aspirant?

Marla: It is a very good start and foundation for sure! Studying yoga philosophy and also practicing meditation and pranayama (the inner limbs as prescribed by Patanjali muni) help to bring that “yoking” of our individual self and supreme self together and translate it into our daily lives. Good company and a sattwic diet are also very important components as well I feel.

- What is the most important aspects when taking on yogic practice in your view?

Marla: That the practice is positive on all levels for the students…based on their constitution, lifestyle, and is balanced with a postivie re-inforcement from the teacher and community around. That it is primarily a practice of “ahimsa” non-harming, and that there is the right amount of effort and edge to the practice but is pain-free.

- Do you find that reading yogic philosophy, such as the yoga sutras, helps asana practice? or do you find it beneficial in others ways?

Marla: Answered above

- You will guest miami in april 2014 (at miami life center) and we in the community are looking much forward to learning from your detailed knowledge. your program includes classes on how to work the shoulders as well as the hips in asana practice. do you find they are particular important areas for the novice and/or seasoned practitioner?

Ron: Generally speaking certain areas of the body fall into a high risk or high maintenance category. These are most often the joints. Most westerners tend to be tight in the hips, which often leads to knee issues. Shoulders play a vital role in opening the upper back which takes pressure off of the lower back in backbends and twists.

- You also offer classes in what it means to do asana practice and what the classic obstacles are. would you tell about that please?

Marla: As with any challenging practice, we run up against issues that arise that sometimes can be discouraging and throw us off the path for a time, or in some cases, can lead a person to give up the practice entirely! Being aware of what Patanjali, the author of the yoga sutra’s describes as “the klesha’s” or obstacles that arise on the path, and some tools to help us when these challenges blossom, can be very helpful to shed some light and keep us forging ahead at these times. More will be explained during the workshop!!!

- Along with a traditional mysore style class, you offer a class which looks like a lot of fun... the 'ashtanga remix' class. would you tell us about this class and how it developed?

Ron: The Ashtanga Remix name actually came from a journalist in England who used it to describe a class that we also call Yoga Jam. This class started as a once a week class which allowed for a slightly less linear approach to the Ashtanga practice to evolve. It allows for different approaches to challenging postures as well as breaking up the patterns that develop both physically and mentally from a set practice. It also allows us to add a sense of humor where appropriate.

- Both of you have practiced extensively in the tradition of ashtanga yoga and it seems you have chosen to pursue a slightly differing path, a somewhat specialized and personal method. would you tell us about how you draw upon the ashtanga yoga method/pattabhi jois and how/where you differ from the ashtanga krama?

Marla: Over the years and working in our own bodies and also many different bodies and tendencies towards injuries has led us to explore and discover methods and techniques of intelligent body alignment in the asana’s. A teacher of mine, quite early on said once “ think of this practice as a 50 or 60 year practice”…meaning, for life! In this way, the priority of our movement forward in the practice changes slightly. How can I continue to practice Ashtanga vinyasa for the rest of my life? How can I enjoy every day a vigorous practice that is pain-free and gives me energy rather than takes energy away? These all become interesting questions when looking at a life-long asana practice.

- Pattabhi jois' suggests a rather strict path towards yoga, specified to 6 set sequences of asana which the practitioner is requested to follow strictly? do you find benefits to such an approach? what would they be? where do you find problems with this path?

Ron: I think the "strictness" of the Ashtanga method is sometimes over played. For example the six sequences you have described were once four. One through three remaining mostly intact. Having practiced the original four. Advanced A and Advanced B as they were originally called were almost double the length of the current three and four and were reformed to create a five and a six so that the series could be of roughly the same length. In the earlier days with less students, Guruji was more inclined to alter someone's practice to tailor it more to individual needs. For example he once gave a friend of mine a practice of the first half of first and the first half of second because he was having back issues and the backbends helped to strengthen his back. This was not the only time he did this. I think after a while the sheer force of numbers  made this attention to individual needs more and more difficult and eventually impossible to sustain.

Marla: Benefits are certainly many if practiced with intelligence and discrimination. Taking into an account a persons ayurvedic constitution, physical tendencies and pre-dispositions, and also the body as it ages! A steady and consistent practice with discipline (tapas) is great for that reason. Excellent for a vata body type and also a kapha type. Pitta constitutions have to be a bit careful, since it is already a firey disposition and a solar practice, some things need balancing. This is where some knowledge of ayurveda and dosha’s become very helpful.

- I assume you find increased benefits to allow for a more personal path than what pattabhi jois' suggests. is it possible to compare the benefits of this path with your personal path?

Ron: As with learning any skill, following a strict regime in the early stages of practice can build stamina as well as help to develop discipline and focus. In the later stages it can help to face challenges that might be otherwise avoided. It can also lead to frustration, injury and a potential for some to give up practice entirely. I think yoga was always designed for individuals to find their own unique path to its ultimate goal of liberation. This was always intended by Krishnamacharya who was Pattabhi Jois's guru. It is equally important that we not be fooled by our own individual tendencies causing us to fall short of our mark as is clearly indicated by Pattanjali in the Yoga Sutras.
It's a fine line!
I think the beauty of any discipline whether it be music, art, science or yoga is that there comes a point where the body of knowledge takes on a life of its own and becomes self generating, self guiding and self perpetuating. This is where the idea of a "living tradition" has meaning. Again it's a fine between true growth, evolution and self indulgence.

- Do you have a teacher, a guru, a person who's teachings you follow these days? Where do you find your inspiration to life, learning and happiness?

Marla: All paths evolve, that is the beauty of tradition, and that is what a “live tradition” is. Krishnamacharya taught in this way…the practice was for each individual and their individual needs. And those needs change as we change.

We have a guru and our path is enriched by many blessings, and we continue with a meditation, pranayama and mantra japa practice as well as an asana practice daily, which thoroughly inspires and nourishes us! Thank you for your questions, and we look forward to meeting everyone in your community.

With love and blessings,

Meenakshi and Ron



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