What is Rocket Yoga?

larry schultz epk

Rocket Yoga was developed by Larry Schultz in San Francisco. There is a great video that shows how Larry found yoga. I know I’m going to mess up the details, but here goes. Larry was at dinner and he saw a man and woman on a beach somewhere doing strange movements that looked like martial arts. He saw them another time and finally walked over and asked what he was doing. The man answered him saying “Yoga”. Larry asked, what kind of yoga? “Ashtanga Yoga!” he replied. Larry said that it was “be-YOU-tiful!” I think he asked the man’s age and he said like 63. Then he asked how old the lady was and she was in her 20’s. So Larry said “I’ve got to get me some of that Ashtanga Yoga!”

Larry proceeded to learn more about Ashtanga Yoga. Eventually, he practiced with the founder, Patthabi Jois. He learned and practiced for a while in the style that is learned in Mysore, India. As you begin Ashtanga, the teacher will teach you sun salutations A & B. When you learn those and are ready, you are given the next pose in the Primary Series. Each pose builds on the next and, slowly, you learn the entire series. Some people may never get out of the Primary Series, which is quite alright for most people. But not for Larry. When someone showed him the splits (hanamunasana), he wondered why he wasn’t taught that before. There are side planks, chin stands, pigeon pose, and lots of other fun poses that he never does in the Primary Series. So Larry, with his playful and inquisitive demeanor, began to experiment with the other poses in Ashtanga. There are 6 series all together, so there are a lot of poses to choose from.

It turns out the Yoga phenomenon was growing as it was brought into Western culture. Post 1960’s and 70’s with free spirits and flower children and all, big Rock bands started to hire their own Yoga teachers to travel with them abroad. It just happens that Larry was introduced to The Grateful Dead. Larry asked the band members, when do you want to do yoga? “When?” they asked. They didn’t have a real concept of time. So Larry would wait by the phone until they would call and he would teach them yoga. As time passed, Larry began to develop sequences that were based on joints of the body instead of the traditional Ashtanga sequences. Rocket 1 focuses on the legs and hips. Rocket 2 focuses on shoulders and upper body. Rocket 3 is Happy Hour that includes everything. He used the band members as his test patients as he refined the sequences over time. He asked the Grateful Dead, what should we call this? Bob Weir replied “Rocket Yoga because it gets you there faster.” And so it began. He met Patthabi Jois later in life and Guruji called him “The Bad Man of Ashtanga” because he taught people to jump ahead in the series.

Larry eventually started teaching others his sequences. He opened a studio in San Francisco where they called him “The Mayor of Folsom Street”. His sequences were exhausting and challenging. He had so many quips and -isms that he repeated. He told students “You are stronger than you think”. He sought to encourage a playful atmosphere that made the practice fun and allowed room for growth. He didn’t stop someone if they couldn’t do something. He would say “Just try”. And since the roots of Rocket came through Rock & Roll, he played music during his practice, which is verboten in Ashtanga circles. Larry eventually made his way to Nauliland, but his practice lives on. My teacher, Amber Gean,  continues to spread the love of Rocket and I try my best to do the same.

I teach the philosophy and intent of Larry’s practice so his legacy lives on. Larry always said “if you do the same things the same way, you’ll always get the same results”. So I continue to find different ways to change focus, intensity, pace, and emphasis on the body. I incorporate different pranayama practices and imagery. Patthabi Jois emphasized “99% practice, 1% theory”. Through my teaching, I’d like the theory to strongly support every aspect of Rocket practice. I want people’s minds to change. I want to remove the ceiling that holds back their abilities. Instead of perfecting a pose right away, why not find a way to make them feel successful? Why not encourage them to learn how to fall? Then they will never be afraid to try. Miracles can happen when you let people try.

You are all stronger than you think! Just try.


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