I am a fervent believer in supporting what I what to see more of in the world. If you follow the Ashtanga Yoga Project on Face Book, you know that I share more articles from other writers then I do from my own blog. That seems kind of backwards, right? I did not start blogging because I wanted fame or fortune. I started blogging because I wanted the world to know that Ashtanga Yoga was more then pretty people doing handstand. Ashtanga is a way of being. It is 8 principles that bring sanity to the craziness we call life.
Everyone is worthy of this peace. Anyone can have it. When other Ashtangis demonstrate the power of living Ashtanga through words, I share their work.
Ashtanga Dispatch is one of the blogs and publications that I support. Ashtanga Dispatch is the child of Peg Mulqueen. Her literary voice is simple, clear and to the point. Peg completely understands the challenges of the modern day householder Yogi and is not afraid to speak about her own struggles on the path of Yoga.
I first met Peg at a workshop in Charlotte where I quickly nicknamed her, in my mind, “the backbend whisperer”. My Upward Bow had been the same for about 5 years. I didn’t feel anything when I did it. I thought that was because I was awesome in backbends. I thought I had “arrived”. Nope. It was because I didn’t know that it could be different. I didn’t know that my front body was asleep. Peg told us that backbends were supposed to “wake us up” and that is exactly what she did. She inspired me to change my whole approach to teaching backbends and the results have been amazing.
Peg recently launched the third edition of the Ashtanga Dispatch. It features interviews with Sharath and Saraswathi Jois and articles from Ashtanga Yoga Project, Gretchen Suarez and many more. There is a beautiful photo spread from Peg’s daughter, Meghan Powell and an amazing third series cheat sheet featuring Olivia Hsu. John Scott’s memories of practicing with Guruji touched me the most.
After reading the issue, I sent some questions to Peg to pick her brain about the third edition and the experience of being an Ashtanga blogger.
AYP: What is the purpose of the Ashtanga Dispatch Magazine?
PM: Oh man, good question! The first magazine was really just for fun. Meghan was doing a class in graphic design in her senior year and said, “Mom! We should do an Ashtanga Dispatch magazine!” Now, what mother would say no to her daughter wanting to work with her on something? Haha! Not this one!
Only I had no freaking idea how much work it would be – and I’m being serious about that. We focused on the beginning foundation, hoping to make the magazine helpful to new students. But I really had no idea what I was doing or where this was going. I was more shocked than I started receiving messages from ALL OVER THE WORLD thanking us for what was really a very primitive endeavor to support students who were curious or maybe didn’t have a community or teacher.
Like having a baby, enough time passed that I forgot how hard labor was and only could see the goodness, and so we decided to make another. And then another. The purpose is and always has been to support students in the method and create a meaningful connection to others and to the practice of yoga.
AYP: There has been a lot of controversy regarding the commercialism of many popular Yoga magazines. What makes the Ashtanga Dispatch different?
PM: Ashtanga Dispatch is not sponsored, we do not accept advertisers for the magazine or the podcast. I made this decision early on and it’s the first thing people comment on within the magazine – where are all the yoga ads? I think it makes them more meaningful and timeless. More like a journal and less like a magazine, you know?
AYP: How do you decide on a focus for each issue and who to interview?
PM: It’s people who I find interesting, whose work and teachings I’ve found meaningful. Much of it happens by chance. Except I don’t believe in chance – more like synchronicity. Like Meghan ends up surfing next to Christine Hoar all day, only doesn’t know who she is and introduces the two of us. This was during a difficult transition in my life and she stepped in just at the right time. That podcast and our relationship was more than just luck. Taylor Hunt wrote me a handwritten note of encouragement and gratitude, and sent it in the mail. His sincerity and tremendous heart really touched me at a time I was feeling a bit cynical. (And yes, I get down too!) And I could really keep going on, you know. David Keil has long been a good friend and mentor – I’ve always looked to him for guidance and support. But Eddie Stern I didn’t know at all. I read a beautiful essay he wrote about Guruji and reached out on a whim to see if I could reprint in the first magazine. I didn’t really expect him to answer or say yes – but he did.
Of course, you are in this third magazine because I asked you to write. YOU interest me. I have loved watching your path unfold. Like with most, I don’t think I gave you real parameters for the copy because I didn’t really have anything specific I was looking for. I wish I were more planned, but also I don’t. It’s a gut I go on and it’s people I enjoy connecting with and others with. So yeah, it’s not all that organized. Anyway, anytime I DO try and plan or organize, I just eff it up.
AYP: Your daughter, Meghan Powell, is the photographer for the magazine. How does working with relatives effect the dynamic of creativity?
PM: Hmmm, you may have to ask her. I consider her the real creative half. The only time we really disagreed was when I wanted to increase the font – mostly because I hadn’t yet succumbed to reading glasses.
But this last one, we both took some real risks creatively. Meghan shared a photo essay that is quite personal and not one she originally planned for the magazine. Yet when she shared it with me, it all just fit. We also changed printers and went with one that cost more but we wanted a more natural feel and look. We are both really happy and proud of this latest production. I love working with my daughter. She inspires me. We really do genuinely enjoy and respect each other’s talents. It just works.
AYP: The Ashtanga Dispatch is both a blog and a magazine. How does the thought process for articles differ with each medium? How does the audience shift?
PM: Oh Lord! Sometimes I go back and see what I wrote five or ten years ago and I just cringe. In fact, I was writing before there WERE blogs – for the newspaper. I still have those clippings. And in one of them from 2000, I referred to yoga as like a McDonald’s drive through – in one stop, you get it all. I found it when I was moving to Montana and I was just thanking my lucky starts that one’s not out there on the inter-webs, forever!
Of course, we all deserve to have our own process. I feel like mine’s just out there for anyone to sift through – but I figure, what resonates with various people mostly depends on where they are in that process. I have some who have been wth me from the beginning and that’s kind of fun. But more and more, my voice seems to resonate most with women, and mothers in particular. Again, it makes sense. But I don’t actually write for others and I hope that doesn’t come off selfish. I write for me. When I share it, it’s for others, but everything I write comes from me and it’s for me. It’s often my way of processing what I’m experiencing.
Lately, I’ve posted less. I have a lot I’m processing right now and it’s hard for me to be find words for it all. I write a lot in my journal, though. It’s like this weird gestation going on in those pages. Something is growing, but I’m just not sure what. Until then, I’m happy to just post when the more coherent mood strikes and concentrate on the podcast.
AYP: Social media and writing has many rewards. However, there are some negative aspects. Has your writing ever been misunderstood or taken out of context? How did you deal with it? What did you learn?
PM: I can be a bit snarky at times. And I’ve had people call me out on it. I’m human. I get frustrated and sometimes, I let that snark out in a post. It’s so easy to do, like a knee-jerk reaction. And sometimes, it’s been in my more passionate moments that my best writing happens – and other times, I’m just being a dick. I’m getting better at sharing strong ideas knowing there’s fire there but not shying away from that heat – while on the other hand, recognizing when I’m just the one doing the burning. I am really good at apologizing and meaning it. I’ve had plenty of experience doing just that.
AYP: How do you deal with social media trolls?
PM: I can thank Kino for this one. She looked me dead in the eye one day and told me it takes discipline not to get distracted. She told me to get more disciplined. Let me tell you, she was direct and she meant it. And she wasn’t the first teacher to tell me I could use a little more discipline. It’s taken practice for me, like everything, to not let the naysayers distract me.
AYP: Do you feel that women undergo a different type of scrutiny on social media and print then men?
PM: Without a doubt, yes. Of course, think about what social media is. It’s a collection of images and words that reflect our culture – but also judged collectively within that same reflection. Like two mirrors looking at each other. That scrutiny isn’t just happening on IG or FB either and we both know that, right? This is a whole other conversation and one we should ALL continue. But for now, I’ll leave it at this – Hell yeah.
AYP: What is your advice for people who feel inspired to write but are afraid of what people will think of them or of putting themselves out there?
PM: It takes practice. Like everything else, right? Sure, the more you open yourself up, the more open you are to judgment and criticism. But that’s such a small (albeit painful) part of sharing yourself. It’s impossible to love without opening ourselves and so if what we do, we do from love – then we aren’t just sharing our writing, we are sharing our love. Just remember, you don’t have to have courage to do this. Or faith, even. You just have to be willing – to love.
AYP: It still seems to me that looks and/or pretty poses are pre requisites for getting attention for projects, workshops, teachings and writing in the Yoga world. There are people, who are popular, who don’t do fancy poses and are not young and thin but they are still known for how they look. For instance, they are the face for “curvy” Yogis or they are the face for older Yogis. The average practitioner is well….average in poses and appearance. Not fat. Not skinny. Not old and not young. Solid practice but not necessarily beautiful to look at. Some of these people have something to say! I know prolific teachers out there who have changed my life but their message is lost in the current world of the physical outliers that get the attention. Will we ever move away from this paradigm? If so, what are keys to doing it?
PM: It’s all a cycle. Sometimes we have to go extreme in one direction to even see the value on the other side. My friend Jen started the hashtag #RealPeopleOfAshtanga for precisely this reason. But also, you’re out there keeping it real too. I hope I am as well. We ARE the keys in creating the shifts and even though it’s hard to see, I believe the wheel has already begun to turn. But again, we also have to reflect that our culture has to collectively value what’s REAL and not just in the yoga world, right? What you’re describing isn’t unique to the yoga world. Just walk into any school!
But then again, maybe those outliers had to become apparent first. Because they certainly weren’t for a long time. Yoga’s popularity is thanks to those who made it attractive to the masses. The outliers then came and made the yoga more inclusive for the groups of people who felt the least welcome. This is all good! So don’t lose sight of the purpose both served. What you’re hoping for is that we find our way back to the midline. I think that’s definitely a place we are moving.
AYP: In the third addition of the Ashtanga Dispatch Magazine, you interviewed Sharath Jois. How scary was that? LOL Or maybe it wasn’t. If you interview him again, is there anything you would do different?
PM: He was wonderful and open and is incredibly easy to talk to. Actually, to start I think he might have been more nervous. You see, I didn’t actually prepare any questions because I really just wanted him to be himself. I don’t just love him as a teacher, but also as a person. HE keeps things real, and speaks from not only a wealth of knowledge and experience, but from the heart – from love. Once we got started, it all just flowed. I wouldn’t do anything different except maybe have better recording equipment!!
AYP: You also interviewed Sharath’s mother, Saraswati. Was there a difference between their energy and approach to Ashtanga? What importance does the masculine and feminine, if any, play in the instruction of Ashtanga?
PM: Wow, that’s a great question! Honestly, they BOTH spoke from pure love. Two different generations, of course. As a woman, Saraswathi really had to struggle to be able to teach. She really did have to break a few glass ceilings and thank goodness for that! You can feel that fiery passion come through in her interview. Sharath holds the lineage – and the masses. He brings a very steady devotion, and honestly – your question about the average person as opposed to the outliers? As a woman, Saraswathi was an outlier. Women did not teach yoga in India, but thanks in part to her, they do now. And I think Sharath does in fact, emphasize this practice as a true householder’s practice and a part of the average person’s life. Of course, these are just my observations.
As you can tell by most of my answers, we need all sides. Both energies. It’s so important. There is strength in softness and softness in strength. We need both the masculine and the feminine, the yin and the yang, the night and the day. I teach with both Taylor Hunt and David Keil – and next year, with Scott Johnson too. So much fun for me because they are all brilliant teachers – but students seem to truly enjoy the balance of our energy as well.
AYP: In each addition of the Ashtanga Dispatch, you feature a different Ashtanga sequence. Why? What are you going to do when you run out of sequences? LOL. Is there anyone who can even illustrate all of 5th and Sixth?
PM: Actually, I’m in the process of developing my own style of yoga and will premier this in the next magazine. It will likely incorporate a slack line and a surf board and be totally rad. Oops … that was my snark. You may want to edit, sorry.
I don’t know if there will be another magazine. Or if there is, what it will look like. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see, right?
AYP: This addition features an article “Pilates for Ashtanga” by Jen Rene. There is some controversy in the Ashtanga community regarding supplementary practices. I believe Mark Robberds alludes to this in the article, “The Story of Us.” What are your thoughts?
PM: I have learned that there are two sides to everything. My new mantra is, “Can I hold two conflicting ideas in my head at the same time?” Sometimes more is too much. And maybe that’s especially true at different times in our learning and life – like in the beginning for sure. But then there are times, other practices or exercises can support us, and not just physically. Besides, sometimes we don’t find out that too much is too much until we do too much. In the third magazine, I intentionally offered opposing ideas at times. I wanted the reader to question. I question! We should always be asking these questions of ourselves, because what works for a time may not work later. Do what makes sense for you.
AYP: In the intro to the article, “Finding the right teacher”, you say that we need to find a teacher “who will hold our best interests at heart”. How do we tell the difference between our best interests, our teacher’s interests and our ego’s interests?
PM: We don’t always know in our heads, intuition is a much more trustworthy source. So many times, we felt what was true but our minds talk us out of it. We have to become more connected to that inner place of knowing – and that’s why we practice yoga to begin with, right? Even so, it’s what they call the dark teacher that teaches us the most. We learn far more from our mistakes than we do from our successes.
AYP: Aimee Echo wrote a great article with helpful tips for visiting Mysore for the first time. Mysore has amazing book stores. Did you purchase any books when you went to Mysore? If so, please share. What book store do you feel is a must for writers and book lovers to check out in Mysore?
PM: The Bhagavad Gita is the best book to read. I didn’t actually purchase any books there. But the Green House has a great assortment!
AYP: When can we expect the next edition of Ashtanga Dispatch Magazine?PM: There isn’t one in the works. I think this one was our last. But who knows. Never say never.
AYP: How do we order the Third edition or previous editions?
PM: You can visit ashtangadispatch.com
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.