10,000 Vinyasas

Tag: Primary Series

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.


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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Sweatiest. Practice. Ever. (Progress in Practice)

by on Jul.30, 2011, under Yoga, Yoga practice

Ok, not really, probably. I’ve done a few really sweaty practices before, and I don’t have the memory to rate them, but today’s was pretty, as Lisa said, “tropical.” On the other hand, I had a small breakthrough this week when I was able, for the first time, to get my feet into supta padmasana without the use of my hands. And then I did it again, today, in practice. Yay! These tiny advances really do give you encouragement, even though you realize that the achievement isn’t the point. Still, I think sometimes that even a little encouragement like this goes a long way. At this morning’s practice, I was next to a woman who had never done Primary Series, and I think it gave me a little bit of extra energy imagining her first experience, remembering what mine was like. Unfortunately, it’s a “two steps forward, one step back” thing, because I also tweaked my good knee pretty hard, again, frustratingly, apparently without trying. Oh well.

Further reflection on Uttitha Hasta Padangustasana: I think I posted this entry in part to become more comfortable with my unease and frustration with the pose, and thus make some of the negative energy dissipate. I hope that makes sense.

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Teaching The Primary Series

by on Jul.13, 2011, under teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

As mentioned, this week I was called upon to teach Primary Series twice for the very first time in my teaching career. As is true with my entire teaching experience, I found it difficult and rewarding. I have previously posted on the difference between counting the breaths and using descriptive words in teaching Ashtanga, and this week offered an opportunity to explore that. My first class was rather, well, like my first teaching experience: nervous and excited, but with some confidence that I could translate the knowledge I had to my students. After all, I have been teaching a modified version of Primary Series for quite some time, so I only had to add the rest of the series. Of course, I was somewhat awkward in my verbiage with these “new” poses, but everything seemed to work out well–I only forgot a couple. My second try was better. Ten people showed up, some of whom were obviously inexperienced, but they all stayed until the end. I also tried to add in the traditional elements of the led Primary that I have been taking recently, even chanting the opening and closing mantras, even though that is not often done at the gym (for fear of offending those who think we are trying to convert them to the “religion” of yoga). Of course, my counting is far from perfect and I need more experience in counting in Sanskrit beyond Suryanamascara A and B, but overall, it was great fun. I was quite impressed with the students who were new or had limited abilities continuing the class until the end, remembering clearly how ferociously difficult I found the Primary Series when I first encountered it. At any rate, I will be looking for more opportunities to teach Primary in the future. As always, I must express my gratitude to my many teachers who have given of themselves and conveyed their knowledge and skill to my great benefit.

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