Anthony has the most extraordinary yoga story I've ever heard, and perhaps one of the first teacher stories to be fully documented, online.
That had never happened before.
WHAT WE TALKED ABOUT
- The embarrassment factor of starting a yoga practice after 40
- How he had let himself go and
- How he lost 50 pounds and regain health
- How he used anything as props (furniture)
- His desire to get the strong poses "done" in the beginning
- Here is Anthony in Marichasana D so you can see the photo when he talks about it (forgive the quality I took it from a screenshot of a video of his)
- I ask him: Did you ever get injured in yoga?
- The impossible poses: here is Anthony in Karandavasana, you can see a video of this "impossible pose" as he calls it and how TERRIFIED he was of this one
- How he got into retaining the breath during asanas as per Krishnamacharya
- Why he thinks Ashanta is a good place to start for someone getting into yoga
WHY ANTHONY IS UNIQUE
The internet has made it possible for us to witness the making of a yoga teacher, and Anthony has the most fascinating story, take for example how it all began:
He started practicing at the age of 43/44, while being 210 pounds, with knee problems, kidney stones and a horrible diet.
But it was not because of his health that he got into yoga. NO.
He actually believed he was pretty healthy, you know, average?
But then his house was broken into and all his saxophones were stolen.
That is what upset him. And then he was upset at being so upset.
So he remembered the practice of meditation, and he wanted to take it back again because he needed more peace.
That is when he noticed that many meditators used yoga as a complimentary activity, and so he went to the library, and, very embarrassed, borrowed a yoga book, just to check it out.
That was early 2007.
As soon as he got into yoga (which was "brutal" as he says), he started sharing his findings and documenting his progress on a blog.
You have likely seen it Grimmly2007.blogspot.com Heck! Everyone has seen it! He is known as "Grimmly"
The whole thing is online, if you go back to the archives you will find him completely obsessed with the jump backs and jump troughs throughout the first year of his practice, and then progressing into future obsessions.
He took a lot of heat from the "yoga police" (yes there is one of those) who did not approve (if you can believe it!) of him practicing at home with books, and progressing as he saw fit.
The nerve, right?
The internet turned against him with rage many times, because, as we all know, it is fun to hate someone online.
Anthony also took it upon himself to translate one text from Krishnamacharya (the grand-father of yoga) which was not available.
The Yogasanagalu from 1945 is something we know, or at least I know about thanks to him.
He also has brilliant insights that challenge people reading his blog constantly. That is one sure thing you can find with him, a different way to look at things, a constant questioning, a search for truth.
Whenever people attacked Anthony he has always been very polite in responses. He does not shy away and welcomes conversations, although sometimes he (like me) wishes people would just not read his blog if they are to dislike him so much. It makes sense, and yet...
His blog became so popular that recently studios from around Europe, Rusia and the USA have began to invite him to come over.
"I don't teach", he says. "I never wanted to teach or imagine I would be a yoga teacher".
He is very humble, yes, but at the same time he realizes he was able to progress fast in asana, and his practice went deep, and so he feels the responsibility to pass it along.
I, for one, am grateful.
I have learned A LOT from Anthony.
I think that thought is the mark of a teacher, not someone who set out to do it, but rather, it happened because he simply happens to know quite a lot about the tradition, lineage, different ways of practice, and so he can share with others.
I was surprised to his response of my usual question: "What is one thing that took you a long time to understand" towards the end of the podcast.
I am always surprised by that one, but Anthony has a way of taking it to the next level.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Hello and welcome to the yoga podcast. I'm very excited today here to have Anthony Grim Hall, because he is the most unique yoga teacher I have ever encountered. He has 2.5 million visitors to his blog and he has been obsessed with every aspect of the practice of yoga. He changed his life radically in 2007 because . . . Anthony, what was your profession before 2007?
Anthony Hall: Before 2007?
Claudia Azula Altucher: Yeah.
Anthony: Oh, I was an instrument repairer.
Claudia Azula Altucher: An instrument repairer.
Anthony Hall: Yeah.
Claudia Azula Altucher: He developed his own practice completely from home by himself most of the time, and now he travels around the world teaching yoga, because people invite him to those studios. So he's been in Russia, and he's been in Spain, and he's likely to be coming to the United States later this year in 2015. He later trained with Srivatsa Ramaswami who is in the student of Krishanacharya for 35 plus years and with Manju Jois who is the son of Pattabhi Jois. He has written two books. One is called Vinyasa Yoga Home Practice Book in 2012 and the other one, Krishnamacharya's 'Original' Ashtanga Yoga. Practice Manual in 2014. Anthony, welcome to the show. I'm so glad to have you here.
Anthony Hall: Yeah, it's good to see you, Claudia.
Claudia Azula Altucher: So its 8 p.m. there in Japan where you are. What did you do today?
Anthony Hall: Today, not much. I'm getting over a cold actually so I've just been taking it easy.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Okay, so no practice?
Anthony Hall: Yeah, I've practiced. Yeah, of course.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Oh, that's good to know. I was taking there for a moment, I wasn't sure. It seems unbelievable to me to be talking to you, because we've never talked on the phone even though our blogs have been paralleled. You started a little bit earlier than me and we've been on the journey of practicing together. And your book is in my blog, my book is in your blog. We've been together in so many levels as we went through, but you have a very specific origin story and I wanted to talk about that about how you came into yoga. You talked about a defining moment that happened to you in 2007 where your house was broken into.
Anthony Hall: Yeah.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Can you tell us?
Anthony Hall: Okay, it doesn't sound such a big deal anymore. I think the first ten times I told it, probably it sounded so dramatic to me but not so much anymore. Basically we were burgled or robbed. The house was robbed. I had seven vintage saxophones stolen. I was an instrument repairer. I got it with someone who worked with vintage saxophones. So I had seven saxophones stolen. And basically I was angry about the saxophones stolen and then I was angry about being angry.
Claudia Azula Altucher: I like how you say that, because the anger on top of the anger is the second arrow. You were really upset.
Anthony Hall: Yeah, I used to do a little bit of Zen before a long time ago. So I thought I’ll just do some meditation and I think I started with some Vipassana mindfulness through some podcast session. And then sitting was uncomfortable, so I thought, “Well, maybe I’ll do a little bit of yoga just to make it a bit more comfortable sitting.” So I went to the library and the books were just dreadful covers. And in those days, you had to take the book to the actual librarian and sort of say, “I’d like a book please.” Most of the books I really didn't want to take up to the librarian. The least offensive were a couple of books. It just happened to be Ashtanga. So that didn’t look so bad. So I took them home and then I basically started practicing at home on a towel in my underwear basically. And I practiced just those, building off from there. Eventually I started getting some tapes, DVDs, but, yeah, that was basically.
Claudia Azula Altucher: You were overweight at that time you mentioned.
Anthony Hall: Yeah, yeah, quite a bit. Did I lose about 20 kilos or something. I guess I was about 94-kilo and I got down to about… I tend to sit around about 77 afterwards. So I lost around about. . .
Claudia Azula Altucher: I looked that up. In pounds, it translates to something like going from 210 pounds to about 160 pounds. So it's a significant amount of weight that you lost through the exercise.
Anthony Hall: Yeah, it's probably a bit more dramatic than that, because Ashtanga builds quite a bit of muscles as well. It’s quite a powerful practice. . .
Claudia Azula Altucher: Yeah.
Anthony Hall: So you’re putting a bit of muscle, as well, which is kind of heavy. If you’re actually fat, I guess I lost quite a bit.
Claudia Azula Altucher: And you said that you would use furniture or books as blocks when you couldn't reach for things. You started transforming things that were in your life into yoga tools without. . .
Anthony Hall: Yeah, I didn’t have any blocks or straps or anything. So I was just using belts and a couple of piles of books and things like that. I remember buying my first mat. It was quite a big deal going into a shop and buying a yoga mat, but it was the right thing to do.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Do you still have it?
Anthony Hall: No, no, I don’t actually. Well, I don't have anything now, because I just moved back. I don’t have anything. I sold everything but I had it for a long time.
Claudia Azula Altucher: What I found interesting when you were talking about this is that you said that you loved the first sun salutation, but the second one exhausted you. I get this picture that you were out of shape, feeling unhealthy. You also said you were feeling bloated at that time.
Anthony Hall: Yeah, pretty much. I think I wrote about how it was… I think later it became disturbing to me how I hadn’t realized the condition I got into. I think that’s quite interesting. I thought I was okay. In Japan, I was teaching English. I had some fancy suits. I thought I looked okay. And it was gradual. You were putting on weight gradually, gradually, gradually. I must be the only person getting more unhealthy in Japan. Yeah, it was kind of gradual. So I didn’t really realize in a way that I put on so much weight, that I was in such bad condition. I had a couple of things happen and then I had my gallbladder removed. I got some kidney problems. Different things but I still didn’t really take it that seriously and I think a lot of people think they’re okay. They think, “I can lose a couple of pounds, but I’m probably not that bad,” but actually I was probably not in good shape at all.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Yeah, and you were 44 at this time when you got that book in the library.
Anthony Hall: Yeah, something like that – 43, 44.
Claudia Azula Altucher: And I think that's what I see in a lot of people, hitting middle-age, and thinking it’s the norm to have all those extra pounds, and then to be unhealthy like taking it for granted that that's just how life is. But I think the way you transformed your life is proof that there is another way.
Anthony Hall: Yeah, you see it walking around. We see it all the time now walking around, because we’ve seen people our age. We see they can probably do with some exercise or they could do with some eating a little better. And it’s like they’ll probably figure they’ll get around to doing it some time. It takes time to turn it around. The longer you leave it, the longer it takes.
Claudia Azula Altucher: And I think also, very interesting, you actually wrote this originally, I believe, in a response to an article that the New York Times magazine had published saying that yoga can wreck your body. I think this is the first time that you got prompted to write this story and you said, “Hey, New York Times, my body was pretty much wrecked before yoga.”
Anthony Hall: Emotional, isn’t it?
Claudia Azula Altucher: What?
Anthony Hall: I got quite emotional about that.
Claudia Azula Altucher: I don’t blame you. I think many of us who take yoga without pushing or trying to make you work instead of having an idea of how you should look like, it definitely helps. I think you’re a good portrait for it but what I find more interesting is that you said that in that article that you had problems with your knees and being bloated, but also the anger seemed to have eased in your life, that you don’t feel so angry.
Anthony Hall: Yeah. I mean, I wasn't crazy angry. I mean, I don't think I was that bad but like any book is it usual to start shouting at your computer and shaking your fist up the computer screen or when it doesn't do when you wanted to do something.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right.
Anthony Hall: I noticed that I just didn't seem to getting as angry on computer anymore, which is a small thing perhaps but that's one of those . . . I think a lot of people probably get angry with the technology.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Yes.
Anthony Hall: To me, that was kind of a sign that perhaps I was less stressed than more chilled out.
Claudia Azula Altucher: If you were to. . . knowing what you know today, if you were to recommend someone who's curious and hears your story, gets inspired and wants to start yoga, what would be your first point or suggestion?
Anthon Hall: It depends. I mean, to me, I started with Ashtanga and Ashtanga worked for me. Perhaps there was something about. . . Ashtanga is very good for building discipline. That suited me quite well. Also, I used to practice Aikido before when I was playing the saxophone. I was just going to practice by the river every morning. That kind of practicing everyday seemed to work for me. It was quite physically challenging and that worked as well. I think that my temperament actually even worked quite well. I don't think if I pick up particular books, it might not work for me. I might get half after few months back.
If I could study anatomy for yoga it would be with David Keil. To put things in context, he attended a workshop with John Scott, as a student back in the early 2000s, and was chosen to return to Scott's workshops as a teacher of anatomy, for all subsequent teacher trainings, which he continues to do today, year after year.
David Keil has a gift, he can make anatomy interesting and specific to yoga. Anyone who has watched his DVDs knows that he keeps the boring stuff to a minimun, and gets to what is really important from the point of view of the poses.
He also has some very unconventional ways to motivate you, he'll say something like: "What? You have been practicing this posture for 8 years and nothing? Don't you think it might be time to change your approach?
And he is right. Maybe it is time to change approach in things that are not working for us. Anatomy helps, enormously.
After reading David's most recent book my practice was completely transformed. I would step on the mat and have constant realizations, I'd go: "Oh... THAT is how you do triangle pose"! or "Ahhh, THAT is what he means".
And just like that, I kid not, by reading a book, on anatomy, practice became like a playground again.
Unbelievable as it was, listen to him and you'll get the reason. The guy is full of energy and passion for deepening the practice right off the bat, from the beginning, from the asana.
What We Covered on the Yoga Podcast Episode 1:
Books / Authors that David Recommends:
Healing Back Pain: The Mind Body Connection By John Sarno
Mind Over Back Pain by John Sarno
7 Setps to A Pain Free Life: How To Rapidly Relieve Back and Neck Pain by Robin McKenzie
Yoga Mala by Sri K Pattabhi Jois
Books and DVDs by David Keil: