I spent this week on-and-off watching Anne Nuotio’s ashtanga yoga dvd. What a revelation!
First off, it’s long. There is a beginners sequence (surys minus chatarunga, standing up to ardha baddha, shortened finishing, no lotus), Primary, Intermediate, and Advanced A, plus a 30 min interview, I dunno, I’m going to say maybe five hours of stuff. Holy cow, that’s a lot of material on one dvd! Thus the price, I suppose, but I’m so glad she chose to put them all on one and here’s why: inevitably, one experiences all the sequences as a single thing, her yoga practice, instead of four things that only slightly relate to one another. Which is true—her yoga practice (which this dvd is, Anne’s Yoga Practice, more about that in a minute) is one thing to her, though she may do different series on different days. And seeing one yogini breeze through what she has spent years perfecting, and struggle bravely with that which is new and difficult—THAT becomes central to the experience of seeing them all. And let me tell you, as a newcomer to this practice, watching all of them, one after another, was SO COOL. More about that in a minute, too.
Okay, second thing: this is not a practice video, nor a teaching video (although I suppose you could turn off the commentary and practice to it as a kind of silent, visual touchstone, but still, that would not be it’s primary design function). Anne does do a voice-over commentary, along with another gal named Pia (I’m not sure who she is, a friend, maybe? a student?), but the commentary is not How To Do whatever is on the screen. It is not to teach you to do the poses. In fact, individual poses are rarely named, and some of the asana are not actually discussed at all. This alone makes it profoundly different from any other ashtanga video out there. So what do they spend five hours talking about? What it feels like to do ashtanga yoga. That is, instead of the external practice—how to make the body shapes, how to get into the poses—this dvd is about the internal practice. Not a performance, but more of a documentary film of one woman’s intense yoga practice.
Third thing: the commentary is at times revealing, lucid, interesting, and at times it drifts a bit, or possibly suffers from translation. It’s exactly like the commentary on a televised golf tournament where people in semi-hushed tones are discussing the technical minutia of Tiger Woods swing or club choice or whatever (I know nothing about golf), while he performs magic on the green. I mean, for anyone not into golf, that stuff makes your eyes roll back into your head, right? I was riveted to Anne and Pia talking about the minutia of the practice, but I think my husband would rather jump off the balcony, just for something to do. But whether they are lighting up my brain with insights, or drifting through a boring bit, the commentary is only part of the equation. The other part is watching her do her stuff. That never failed to interest me.
Fourth: the number one thing spoken about is the bandhas. Breath is second, but if you want to hear about the inner workings of bandhas, this is the most I’ve gotten about them from any source I’ve run across (except maybe that book on Mula Bandha, which I haven’t read yet). But seriously, to hear Anne tell it, I think she could sit off to the side of the mat and read a magazine while the bandhas do all the work. And then they would go do the dishes and clean up the yurt. The bandhas are the how and why of all these crazy-ass poses she pulls off. I need me some of these bandha thingies! For heaven’s sake, do they sell them at amazon?
Fifth, and this is a big one. Okay, she does Primary, and it looks like she’s spreading butter on toast. It’s all easy, graceful, effortless, floaty, delightful. There is something very personal about watching her do her practice that I really appreciate. Like she’s really doing this, it’s not a show. This is yoga happening. Then she gets to Intermediate, and she’s still pulling miracles off, but we see her slip a bit here or there. She’s sweating. She talks about some poses having been very difficult for her to learn. The pace is faster, her breathing stronger. Then she starts Advanced A. At the time of filming, she tells us, she had only recently ‘completed’ this series. I’m not sure what this means, maybe she had been given all of it by Jois? Or maybe she had been ‘okayed’ on it? I don’t know. But now we see her struggle. I mean, these poses are ridiculous, the pretzaliest fucked up poses you’ve ever imagined, all probably while balancing upside down on her hands, and you can see it’s work. She slips out of some of them. She can’t do one or two and moves on. She falls over. You can see her get tired. She sweats through her shirt. It’s AWESOME.
I mean, she’s struggling with Advanced A the way I struggle with Primary. Although the poses are different, the quality of the work feels very much the same. Which is a compelling demonstration of the fact that yoga isn’t Doing the Poses Right. It isn’t asana perfection. I’m doing the same work, at my physical level, that she is doing at hers. Of course there are differences in inner ability (concentration, meditative absorption perhaps, and of course those bandhas), but that feeling of it not ‘counting’ until I can ‘really do the poses’ was blasted away by watching Anne fall out of some impossible arm balance, as well as any embarrassment I might have had at my flailing and struggling. It’s honorable and worthy work. Including the parts where I fall over. Just like Anne.
What a gift! What a marvelous thing to let the world in on her real, sweaty, practice!
Anne, I’m so glad you made this dvd! Thank you!
One more note. The dvd is very beautiful to watch. I mean the ways the shots are framed, the light, the location. She is practicing in some gorgeous shala in Finland that has these sunlight shapes splashed on the unpainted wooden walls, and whomever did the filming did a marvelous job of making the shots lovely. High production value. Lots of iconic image moments. Very pretty. And there are sheep outside. How cool is that?
I have gotten a tremendous amount from all my yoga dvds, all of which are external, teaching dvds. Swenson, John Scott, Kino, Melanie Fawer, Sharath, each has delivered on its promise to teach me more about how to do this practice. But what a revelation to go this route, this inner route, about what it feels like to do this stuff, rather than how to do correctly. Like the flip side of a coin, or maybe the dark side of the moon, rarely seen except by astronauts.
To sum up, not for a casual yoga person, not for someone looking to practice with it, not for someone looking to be taught how to do the poses.
But if you’re serious about your ashtanga, I’d say this dvd is Highly Recommended. It’s pricey, no question, but look, If she’s made three separate dvds, one for each series, you’d pay the same amount or more, so just go ahead and pony up. Totally worth the money.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes I scribbled down as I watched.
“If a foot turns outward [when it shouldn’t, for example, in UD], it starts in the hip, and that will be because of a weak mula bhanda. If you want a strong mula, you can’t stretch your body too far, or you can’t help letting mula go.”
“You might think you have to be stronger, but then you find you don’t have to be stronger, you just need to direct the strength you have.”
“Make the body happy. Don’t fight with it. Give it space. Don’t punish it. [Make your practice] that part of the day when the body is doing something it wants.”