It’s Tuesday now and we’re recovering from the oddness of me being gone so much. But it was well worth the effort. I feel like I have had a firm and joyous rudder adjustment in my yoga practice.
Saturday morning, I missed. Sob! But in the afternoon, David talked yoga, the history as it is generally known—a bit dry for me, stuff I’ve heard before—and then his own history of learning it, and bringing it (and Jois and Manju) to the States. Those stories were terrific! He mentioned that he is working on a book, an auto-biography, and I hope it gets published. I will snap up a copy in a heartbeat, and you should, too, if you have any interest in ashtanga yoga. His stories are a bit jaw dropping, all the places he’s been and his throw-caution-to-the-winds style of travel. What a lot of adventures, he’s had, and I know we just scratched the surface with this talk.
We also did the ashtanga pranayama routine, David leading, with the warning that, while asana can damage your body if you push, pranayama can damage your nerves and mental well-being if you push. As in, drive you crazy. So don’t push. David didn’t say this but scuttlebutt in the class was if you want to hear the whole ashtanga pranayama routine, a few tweaks different from David’s version, get Derek Ireland’s pranayama CD from ashtanga.com’s store. Turns out I already have it—they sent it to me on accident once when I was ordering something else and rather than have me send it back they said, oh, just keep it. Thanks ashtanga.com people!
Sunday we did Intermediate up to yoganidrasana. It was gentle and enjoyable. Imagine that, the scary Intermediate as gentle and enjoyable. When David was taught, he went twice a day, plus a pranayama session. The only ‘block’ to learning Intermediate—or any of the series—was the student’s stamina. If you could do more without taking a rest, you got the poses as fast as you could memorize them. There were no ‘gateways’ such as having to bind in Mari D to move on in first, or being able to come up from back-bend to start Intermediate. David says these things were added for simple crowd-control: there was room for eight mats back then and if someone stayed a couple hours doing their practice, that was one of eight spots out of circulation for quite a while. Making everyone have to bind at Mari D before moving on meant lots of people had a twenty minute practice. A lot more people could move through the 8 spots that way!
In the same vein, David’s version of primary has no vinyasa between sides and between certain poses such as paschimottanasa and purvottanasana. Doing half vinyasa between sides and coming to standing between poses, as well as led classes, was introduced when Jois came to America. It’s so interesting to me to hear how it all came about. And my twig-like wrists sure appreciate dropping some of those vinyasas, let me tell you.
A theme that came through in the whole workshop, beyond what I already mentioned in the day 1 & 2 post, was the importance of symmetry. Being painfree comes from being balanced. To that end, don’t go as far as you can on your easy side—hold back on the easy side to the level of your tight/weak side. Otherwise the strong/dominate side does all the work and the weak/tight side stays weak and tight.
Another theme: tease your body into wanting more from a pose. Don’t go as far as you can, go until it feels wonderful, then stay there, and your body will want more, will be teased into opening up. The alternative, pushing further into a pose, leads to the cells dreading the next yoga session. Dread kills motivation and that makes it highly unlikely you’ll stay in the yoga game for the rest of your life. David called teasing your body into opening in this way, “the Sly Man’s Yoga.” “You’ll be amazed at how open you are at the end of your practice. And you don’t get hurt.”
Which is David’s biggest theme: daily yoga for the rest of your life is the goal. So don’t hurt yourself. “Make your practice a moving meditation. 51% yoga, 49% tai chi.”
A couple more tiny notes. Throat lock on all forward bends, driste is therefore not going to be your toes. Also, in the history of yoga, no one ever learned more than one system of yoga up until the West cracked the whole thing open. You went and lived with your guru for ten years and it was all secret and doled out bit by bit and no one knew what anyone else was doing. David didn’t say this but that energy of secrecy and being hidden seems to still be at work in the current ashtanga teaching model, maybe not in an on-purpose sort of way, but in a lingering template kind of way…? David certainly doesn’t roll that way. “I’m not holding anything back for the next workshop!”
To that end, if you go to David’s website (which I recommend) you’ll find a slide show of the entire Ashtanga syllabus, as it was taught to him, in photos of himself (he’s thirty-two in those pics). That’s right, the entire thing. When David was learning there was Primary, Intermediate, and Advanced A and B. Advanced A and B were later broken into what is now known as third, fourth, fifth and sixth series. But David’s site, and his teaching, is formatted as he was taught, so the second half of his Advanced B, there on his site, is sixth series. The mysterious sixth! David Swenson’s Advanced A and B dvd is the same (and David Williams is on it.) He mentioned, too, that several of his students are working on a wall poster that has the whole thing on it, maybe available later this summer. I’d check his site for news of that in a few months.
So, in summary, if you get a chance, go to this workshop, do not miss it. Meet an amazing yogi, get inspired to do ashtanga yoga for the rest of your life without injury, hear some terrific stories, and, as David puts it, “See how much fun you can have in one lifetime!”