10,000 Vinyasas

Tag: Ashtanga

Mysore With Manju

by on Oct.19, 2011, under Uncategorized, Yoga, Yoga practice, Yoga Teachers

“Left goes first”

This was the only thing Manju said to me in my first Mysore practice.  He was talking about binding in bada padmasana; I guess I had been doing it wrong for quite some time, mostly since my padmasana is currently reversed due to knee pain and also probably because I can do it easier that way and no one had corrected me.  I had arrived in the beautiful beach town of Encinitas of the day before, and I was at the end of my first practice. It was so exciting to practice at the Jois Yoga Center and I had had no idea what to expect, so I arrived about 15 minutes early that first day.  I was surprised to find just two people practicing, with a woman (Amy?) helping them. Mysore style.  They were obviously close to finishing, and Manju had not yet appeared.  At the appointed time, 7:00 a.m., I began my Primary Series practice.

Manju appears

Of course, I abandoned my dristhi temporarily when Manju entered the practice room a couple of minutes later.  I was surprised to discover that he was quite short and slight; for some reason, I assumed, probably from pictures, that he was larger and bulkier.  I continued Suryanamascara; Manju fiddled with the CD player and put on a selection of Indian chanting, which played throughout the days of practice that I was there.

 

The Practice

I have been practicing Primary Series for quite some time; I’m familiar with the sequence and have a self-practice several times a week, if not every day.  Recently, I began working through the first several poses of Intermediate Series in my weekly Mysore practice.  The first day in Encinitas, I was a bit intimidated and didn’t know what to expect, so I limited myself to just Primary Series, although I went as slow and controlled as possible, leaving out dropbacks into backbend as well.  The second day, I did the full practice including my Intermediate Series poses as well as dropbacks.  I currently find this regimen completely exhausting, so I alternated days of lengthier practice with ones of just Primary Series. This worked out well in Encinitas.

Adjustments

The first time Manju adjusted me was in Trikonasana; he slightly opened my hip with a subtle adjustment.  The other two standing poses I received assistance with was Parshvottanasana, in which he pushed me further down towards my leg (this is not a common adjustment, in my experience), and Prasarita Podottanasana C, in which he pulled my hands closer to the mat (which is quite common).  Overall, the most adjustments I got were in the seated poses Triagmukha Eka Pada Paschimottanasana, Ardha Badha Padma Paschimottanasana, Janusirsana A, Marichyasana A, B (not D or C), and of course, Paschimottanasana.  This is very unusual, in my experience; few teachers consistently adjust students in these poses.  Manju’s adjustments also demonstrated to me how much deeper I could go with a bit of help; this, of course, was exactly what I was hoping for when I journeyed to Encinitas: an intensification of my practice. Oh, and  Manju also pulled my chest up in Bhekasana and put my hands to my feet (for the first time!) in Kapotasana. I felt somewhat more “official” after these Intermediate Series adjustments. Other adjustments occurred in Supta Kurmasana(placed feet behind head), Baddha Konasana A (pushed down), and Ubhaya Padagustasana and Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana (both of which I frankly stink at, and really need some support to fully express the poses).  The only other instruction I got from Manju was to bring my feet closer in Adho Mukha Svanasana, which I have gotten before from Nancy Gilgoff (and is in direct contradiction to Tim Miller’s instruction to me to lengthen my stance here).

What Wasn’t There

What I found even more interesting than Manju’s adjustments were the poses he didn’t adjust.  He adjusted nobody in Uttitha Hasta Padagustasana, which I found completely surprising, since many people, not just me, find it difficult and need more help.  I have noted already the few standing poses Manju adjusted me in, and in looking around, I noticed that those were the only ones he helped many others with as well.  Another surprise:  he did not push anyone deeper in Adho Mukha Svanasana, which is perhaps the most common Ashtanga adjustment ever.   He did help a number of people (but not me) in dropbacks, using a cloth he kept wrapped around his waist to pull students up.  Adjustments can be strenuous for a teacher, and I wondered if Manju’s age had anything to do with the absence of certain adjustments.

The End

I was completely satisfied with my trip to Encinitas and my study with Manju Jois. The practice was solid and satisfying; I noticed small but visible improvements and more awareness and concentration in my practice than I have ever felt before.  If anything, the trip deepened my love and fascination for Ashtanga yoga, and before the trip was even halfway through, I caught myself thinking about when I could return.  

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A Daily Practice (?)

by on May.18, 2009, under Yoga

Is it time for me to consider a daily yoga practice? Almost every teacher I respect believes in practicing yoga daily, and I’ve been practicing myself enough to realize the benefits of more practice. The key for me, I think, lies in Mike Matthews’ suggestion that one doesn’t have to start with the full Ashtanga primary series every day–just doing Suryra Namascarya is sufficient. Since it may not always be possible for me to make a full practice session, because of scheduling, I really think I should attempt to develop the habit, and now may be the right time.

More yoga notes: attended an excellent workshop this weekend, taught by Andrew Eppler. As always, his low-key style created an atmosphere where one could feel encouraged to try to exceed one’s previous capabilities. It’s also inspiring to connect with other serious practitioners. I got some good hints on rehabilitating my knee this weekend.

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The Knee Injury, and Its Aftermath

by on May.15, 2009, under Yoga

I hurt my knee last week; I don’t know how. I suspect it had to do with the many yoga practices and classes I taught, but there is no one event that I’m aware of. At any rate, my left knee has serious pain when I fold it into the direction of lotus. “Comfortable cross-legged position” is a misnomer. Not trying to be depressed here, but its becoming clear that it will not heal quickly. I also am most aware of how much of my Ashtanga practice depends on lotus and rotating that left foot inwards. I was planning to attend most of an Astanga workshop this weekend, but I will certainly have to modify things in order to participate. I’m actually thinking this will be of some benefit to my teaching, since I will have to experience my classes and personal practice with less mobility.

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The Yoga Wheel: Two Teachers

by on Apr.23, 2009, under Yoga

Tonight, I had the opportunity to sub for my first yoga teacher. It was an incredibly satisfying experience, more so because it made me completely appreciate how much I’ve progressed in the last 2 1/2 years, and also, because, of course, it just seemed so symmetrical, like I had returned to the beginning. I was first encouraged to try yoga through the recommendation of someone in a cardio class I was attending (and still attend), and this teacher’s gentle, low-key approach was the ideal way for me to start, given that I had very little ability in yoga. As I’ve said before, yoga has a way of making you quite aware of your shortcomings, and I did have many. At first, I was satisfied to complete one yoga class per week, but after a few months, I began trying other classes, and making more progress. After my first power yoga class, I remember thinking that I could really become strong if I kept going once a week…how little did I know. I actually “outgrew” that class later on, and in my search for more intensity, came upon Ashtanga, which to me was the most fearsome and forbidding style I could practice. I was lucky, I think, to connect with a teacher who presented the style in a very non-threatening and accessible manner; as we know, not all teachers are suited for conveying this style to beginners. Of course, the benefits of practicing Ashtanga are now clearer to me: it makes you very strong, very flexible, and you begin to glimpse the power and the serenity of yoga. It inspires you to continue to practice and learn. I am so grateful to my teachers of yoga; I’m sure this sounds maudlin and ordinary but it is not. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that yoga has multiple levels, mentally, physically, and even perhaps spiritually, and these are revealed through time and effort. Once again, namaste!

Ps. I should also mention that one of my peak experiences in yoga has been when I persuaded my first yoga teacher to attend my Ashtanga teacher’s class. A strange quirk in space and time allowed the two to be facing each other, with me observing closely on the side…it was, well, interesting.

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Teaching Ashtanga

by on Apr.16, 2009, under Yoga

As you may know, I’ve been practicing Ashtanga yoga once a week for over a year now. My first teaching experience at the local gym got listed on the schedule as Ashtanga, for some reason (I haven’t inquired why), and it caused me to reflect on the difficulty of introducing this style to beginners. An ancient style of yoga, Ashtanga was originally developed, in my understanding, for teenagers, and this is probably true, since it is a physically demanding, aggressive style that requires quite a bit of flexibility and strength. Hence, the difficulty of introducing it to adults who are new to yoga, and indeed, may not be in the best physical condition to begin with. In the first series (primary series), there are multiple poses and multiple variations of poses, particularly seated forward bends and twists, along with standing balance poses of ferocious difficulty, headstands, backbends and binds, interspersed with vinyasas requiring jumping into seated and jumping back into chaturanga. Some poses require full lotus to fully attain, and really can’t be modified to include a beginner’s more limited range. The other day, I asked my Ashtanga teacher how to teach beginners in the style. His response was that there were, in fact, two different schools of thought. The traditional way was to start at the beginning of primary series, and stop when a pose could not be achieved, work on that one until mastery, and then proceed to the next one. The second approach was to work out a modified set of poses from the primary series and build up strength until more poses could be added. In my opinion, the first method is actually more suited for a traditional yoga environment (a studio or ashram) where, by self-selection, you have a group of highly motivated students who are not going to be discouraged by the repetition and difficulty at the beginning. In teaching at a gym, in contrast, students are not as motivated, overall, to keep trying to attain proficiency in a style which may appear forbiddingly difficult at first. It’s this reasoning which led me to adopt the second approach in teaching my first class. I had seen firsthand the unsuitability of trying to force a fast paced aggressive style on a beginning mixed level class, and I thought I could design a routine which would incorporate the spirit of the primary series while allowing someone who had little or no experience with yoga to be successful. So far, I’ve gotten good feedback on this approach, so I suppose I would call it a qualified success in the environment I’m teaching in.

More yoga notes: I bit off more than I could chew this week, by agreeing to sub for someone the day after I had a trial setting. 99% of the time these settings don’t go anywhere, but this time I ended up having to start the trial and had to get a sub for the class I had agreed to teach. It was quite stressful to deal with both of these situations at the same time, but I did find another sub at the last minute. I’m eager to get more teaching experience now that I have a more demanding power yoga class to teach–the expectations are a little higher. Been hearing better things about the bad yoga teacher, so maybe all the feedback she’s gotten has caused her to change…perhaps I was too quick to judge.
Update (4/18/2009) Was able, for the first time, to achieve PINCHA MAYURASANA (headstand with forearms to floor) at the wall, just for a few seconds, but still…progress. In the mail today also was a check for teaching my first two yoga classes–an entire $46.00. Of course, the money is really kind of irrelevant; I’m doing this for love of yoga, not money.

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