First things first: I survived! I wasn’t sure a few moments in there, but yes, I pulled through, and even had a good time. Go me!
Okay, second, let me tell you about the groovy shala where the workshop was held. The Durham Ashtanga Yoga Club is a donation-based yoga studio (that’s right, you choose the fee) that embodies funky-cool and I mean that in the best possible way.
Ashtanga Yoga Club’s lovely front door
From the impromptu and eclectic shrines everywhere, to the stacks of yoga books, also everywhere, to the lumpy, creaking wood floors, to the Star Trek light-switch plate, or the mi casa su casa feel of the place, or the funny cat picture by the toilet (kitty caught in the act of unrolling all the paper, with the addition of a kitty-third-eye bindi, haha) or the Ganesha tiled in over the sink…this is not a swank, pristine Studio but more of an art installation that you do yoga in. The place, originally a residential duplex on a shady street in Old Durham, is full of found objects interestingly arrayed and yoga in-jokes, plus a friendly get-it-done attitude. I totally dug it. The humanness, the humor, the personality—and also the sincerity of the owners and co-creators, Suzanne and Nikos, who live in part of the duplex downstairs. Even as they joke and have fun, you can tell they are really serious about their yoga.
So, to do said yoga you carefully make your way up a narrow, circular staircase to get to the practice room itself, found in the attic of this funky old cottage, a room full of gables, corners, slanted ceilings, and skylights.
Turns out you can just fit twenty-five mats in there if you use a shoe-horn, with no more than a hands-width between mats, all of them laid out going this way and that, fitting together like a giant manduka jig-saw puzzle. I don’t think they usually have this many people crowded in, but there was a big a turn out for David Garrigues, as big as the place could hold, and then some. Ashtanga is thin on the ground in North Carolina. When someone of David’s caliber comes to town, people come from all over to partake. I know I did, driving almost an hour each way to get there, and some other folk came from Asheville, maybe five hours away. And I think there may have been a couple from Arizona?
But wait, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the two hilarious chihauhaus, Antonio and Little Man, who pad through the shala checking everything and everyone out out, that is, when they aren’t tucked around each other in their little crate, alternately watching the scene and snoring loudly. After one intense session I was lying there on my mat, eyes closed in corpse, one of the last people in the room, collapsed and wrung out, when I feel a delicate little tap tap on my cheek. I open my eyes to find Little Man looking at me from an inch away with his big dark eyes, clearly saying, “Excuse me, but it’s time for you to go.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
On to the workshop itself! Let me say, when David Garrigues comes to do a workshop, he teaches his ass off. David covers a Mysore room (of twenty-five in this case) like a dynamo, everybody getting many adjustments, sometimes set-ups with props, or spotting for crazy ashtanga moves, from light touches to in-depth analysis of what’s going on to full-on wrastling. The man must have covered the room ten times an hour. I don’t know what is typical, but he certainly wasn’t hanging back, resting or whatever. Yet, even while he’s working hard, I found his manner always friendly, funny, and personable, while his passion for yoga burns through, his insistence that I could do more, and more, both an inspiration and a kind of friendly torment. “There is a huge challenge in the asana—we [teacher/student] battle a little,” he said to the group at one point.* “You think you are doing your best, and yet…I’m still here.” Everyone laughs. There is a lot of person looking out of David Garrigues’s eyes, if that makes sense.
Remember, all this description comes from someone who, after two and half years of daily home practice, has never been to a Mysore class. My only other ashtanga class has been the David Williams workshop I took a year ago which did not have a Mysore-style component. So, back up: my first impression, walking into the steaming yoga room packed with people doing their at 6AM practice?
But I roll my mat out in one of the few spots left, glance around nervously, and I’m off!
Sidebar: the yurt rarely gets over 60 degrees in the winter, and I often practice in sweaters. Even in the summer I hardly ever sweat. But ten minutes in this room, maybe a couple of Sury Bs, and I was DRIPPING. Me. Sweating like the proverbial race horse! I sweated through my clothes, it was running off my face in freaking rivulets, I am not exaggerating, it was disgusting. But everyone was doing it, it was no big deal, we were all just stewing in our juices in a shala in Durham. I actually thought I might be sick that first day, halfway through standing poses, the heat and the sweat and how much I was shaking…but I didn’t, it passed, and I realized, when it happened again on the second day, that it only lasts a couple of minutes and then I feel much better. By the fourth day, I just zoomed on through it, no problem. I guess I acclimated.
Anyway. Once I got through that bit, it was pretty amazing to ride the energy of all these people busting their butts (sometimes literally, as straight leg jump-throughs were strongly preferred by David—and I bounce very well, in case you were curious) to do this yoga practice thing, working really hard, intent, focused. Even though I was working so hard, shaking, etc, I did not run out of steam or want to quit, which was interesting. Something about being sandwiched in with all the good intent in that room, it bore me along when I was struggling. I wonder if I helped anyone else along, too, taking my turn like geese in the V flying south?
You’d think it would be totally weird or gross or whatever to have people on top of you while you do your practice, but oddly, 95% of the time, it wasn’t. I just got into my own thing, riding the wave of the room indirectly, not by watching it or being engaged with it, just surfing along. The practice is hard. There isn’t much room for caring about anything else when you’re really into it. And then David comes by with an adjustment….
I noticed a huge variety of ability amongst the various folk who had driven in. I’d guess a good third of them were doing Intermediate, although on one day I found myself sandwiched in between a fellow brand-new to it all, learning Surys and the first few standing poses, while on my other side was a bendy beauty doing anatomically improbable Advanced A poses. Another class had this blond god doing tick-tocks beside me, six feet of nearly naked muscle flipping around like a rubberband, while I did my little paschimottanasana, peeking out from under my arm to watch.
Because sometimes driste just has to be sacrificed to the greater good.
What a scene it all was!
And hey, speaking of, did you catch that, yep, I did my first straight-leg jumpthrough! (It was laughable, but I got my feet through, multiple times, I really did.) In fact, in just five freaking days I did my first straight-leg jump through, my first full bind in ardha baddha padmottanasana, did a full wrist bind and forward bend in Mari B, did wrist binds on my seated forward bends (all of these binds not from him making the bind, but from him adjusting my body which suddenly left all this slack in my arms and the binds were doable) AND I actually did this one in the backbending session….
I would have thought this was TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE for me
…but yes, I really did it, although no, it didn’t look nearly this good when I did. (Yes, I could still walk afterwards.) Weird, huh? David has this superpower, apparently, of just taking my body and putting it into a shape I had no idea it could bend into. It’s like origami. At one point he came over—very gently, I must add, it doesn’t feel forceful or scary—and, from my bent-legged kurmasana, whipped my legs around into some kind of supta kurmasana, no shit. I made these hilarious squawking sounds when he did it, sort of hoots of surprise. He’s all business, we’ll just bend this leg here, put this foot there…
And I’m not saying my feet were behind my head exactly, because, honestly, I have no idea what my body was doing at that point, but there was pressure behind my head (my feet!?) and I was MUCH more deeply into the pose than I have ever been in before. Actually, I was sort of stuck in it, as in, for a minute I couldn’t figure out how to get out. He’s up somewhere saying something profound about something (and I have this image of the Big Game Hunter posing for a picture with his foot on the bound carcass, which would be me) to the assembly and I’m tied in a freaking knot at his feet, waving a hand weakly from somewhere underneath myself, kind of , “um, excuse, me? I, um, I can’t move…?”
(I did get out. I’m fine. No yoginis were harmed in the making of this blog post.)
David also got me into a full, if dorky looking, parivrtta parsvakonasana, and I had a flash of stories I’ve heard of Guruji when he did it: I was doing my usual variation with hands in namaste instead of to the floor and extended out and he comes along saying, “No, put your hands—” gesturing, and I started, “I don’t think—” and he stopped me, and I think this was the first day so I hadn’t yet figured out that it was better to just go with him, so anyway, he stopped me with his voice, just a friendly voice, but it had this quality that said there was to be no argument. He said. “You try. This is a good try.”
Doesn’t that sound like Guruji? Anyway, I thought of him at that moment.
And then I did it. The pose I mean. It was a good try.
So from a home ashtangi’s perspective, yeah, a really good teacher can take you farther, safer, faster, there is no question in my mind about that after this last five days. I would not have thought I’d be doing any of these poses I’m mentioning for a year or more at least, and some maybe never. And yet, none of the positions he folded me into hurt, even when I would have sworn I couldn’t have done them, believed absolutely that my body couldn’t do it.
I guess fear holds me back.
(On the other hand, I think I’m okay with this because without David’s (or other advanced teacher’s) knowledge of alignment and asana, maybe I would try to go farther and hurt myself. A home ashtangi needs to be a bit more conservative, I think. And home ashtangi still I am.)
But back to the workshop. What else did we do? We went over the nine positions of Sury A in great detail. That was fun. We did backbends while strapped up with a block between our legs and pressed against a wall (“these props are not here to torture you!” Answering groans from the class…) We filmed one of David’s Asana Kitchen’s on Utkatasana. Oh, at one point discussion had segued into pashasana and David started talking about the use of inconspicuous props under the heels, as in, “No one need ever know!” He starts hunting for the perfect small towel to fold up under someone’s heels, “this one is the wrong color, it should blend with the mat,” (more laughter) and Suzanne says, “like this?” We all turn around and she is demonstrating pashasana in a pair of red high heels. “Yes!” says David. “There is no reason asana can’t be stylish!”
David played the harmonium and we did some chanting—yes, I chanted, out loud, and it wasn’t a string of swear words, or I don’t think it was, but it was in Sanskrit so I can’t be sure. We did several sections from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra prior to discussion of them, which I thought was interesting, to hear the sutras as they would have been memorized and chanted for a thousand years (and we’re still chanting and talking about them so many hundred years later!).
I loved the talk about what’s The Point of all this hard work, which I had been wondering myself while driving home the day before, trembling and wet with stinky sweat. Short answer: it’s samadhi, or meditation, or concentrated absorption with the infinite, one of those, all of the above. Basically, if you do your practice right, you should get Limbs 3-6 baked right into your asana practice, so learn the vinyasa counts, stay focused in every transition move, treat it all like an elaborate, dynamic ritual. The Point is not to stop all thought, not to end the vritti, but rather to end the unconscious, harmful vritti. From the mystic poet, Lalla, read by David, “You wear your fingers down copying sacred texts, but still the rage inside you has no way to leave.” I loved that. Stop dodging that rage inside! Be present, even when it hurts! (Anyway, that’s what I got out of that session.)
Was there more? Probably, I can’t remember, its all an overheated, sweaty blur. On the whole the event was incredibly challenging, and incredibly useful, and I’m interested to see how it changes my home practice. (Although I’m taking tomorrow off for a much deserved rest day).
Bottom-line: if you get a chance to go to one of David’s workshops, I highly recommend you jump at the chance. Run don’t walk.
So. Thank you SO MUCH to David for coming to Durham to this small shala in the middle of nowhere and giving so generously to twenty-five ashtangis who find themselves living so far from any of the advanced teachers. I’m sure David can and does teach in much bigger venues, but Suzanne asked him to come to Durham and he said Yes. I think that’s incredibly cool.
On my last morning, this morning, I arrived already tired, sad it was the last one, relieved it was the last one, the whole nine yards. Suzanne overheard me muttering to myself, “I can do this, I can do this….” and she laughed and said, “you know, it’s okay to go up there and do a half primary. You don’t have to go for a gold medal.” One eyebrow lifts. “A silver or bronze will do.”
[Insert clumsily photoshopped image of me on the Olympic winner’s dais, HERE. I’ve got the bronze medal, and I’m proud as all get out. The six-foot blond god can have the gold. He totally deserves it.]
THANK YOU, DAVID!
*All quotes are paraphrases from memory. All mistakes are my own and are happily corrected if you were there and can set me straight.