The panel discussion…with Eddie snapping pics right back at me…
Our first full day at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence was spectacular. I’m so pleased that we are here! The Catamaran Resort is quite nice with vibrant and lush grounds full of the tropical plants I’ve been seeing in the wholesale warehouse at flower school. Last night we found some tasty vegetarian Mexican food to chow on after a long day of yoga. Lentil, avocado and cheese burrito – yes please!
Yesterday we began with a led Primary Series instructed by Dena Kingsberg. She is so lovely and the practice was beautiful and full of insight. I can’t say more than that, but I will share one quote, “Before the grace, there’s grunt – you have to put in the work.” A-mazing teacher.
Mid-day there was a panel discussion with all the teachers sharing their stories and experiences of their respective time with Guruji. There was a whole lot of laughter and even a few tears. It was amazing to hear how each of these senior teachers met Guruji and what it was like to practice in Mysore with only like 5 other people. Crazy.
Each teacher spoke about Guruji’s immense passion for teaching, his ferocity, his loving compassion for the students and his excitement for teaching these wild young Westerners who were so psyched on learning this intense and totally foreign practice. One theme that came out clearly in the different stories was the absolute faith they placed in Guruji – how sometimes he would rip them apart until they simply couldn’t walk, and yet they returned the next day, knowing that Guruji would put them back together again. That utter devotion and trust – so essential in this kind of a practice.
One of my favorite stories from the panel came from Eddie Stern (his sense of humor just slays me! so brilliant). Basically it involved Eddie dealing with some severe back pain but still being pushed by Guruji in a challenging Advanced Series backbend. Eddie reached his tipping point, snapped, jumped off his mat, screamed “F****CK!!!!” and then ran out of the shala into the street. He stormed down into the center of Lakshmipuram until he stopped and realized that he was standing there sweating and fuming in only a purple speedo. It was time to return to the shala stat! I was literally crying with laughter when Eddie told this story.
Later that afternoon I attended Nancy Gilgoff’s workshop “How I Was Taught.” She shared with us a bit of her personal history and explained to us the way she was taught the series by Guruji when she first went to Mysore in 1973. After that, she led us through this specific practice, starting with 3 Sun As and 3 Bs, through standing poses (minus the twists and the two balancing poses) into the seated series (with many less vinyasas and less navasanas too), all the way through the first few poses of Intermediate series before a very few backbends. It was quite fascinating to practice this way, with a strong focus on rounding the back to encourage a deep uddiyana bandha and inward-looking attitude. It felt really different from the length and dynamism I’m constantly working on with my teacher David G. Nancy came to the practice in a very weak and fragile state and so Guruji adjusted the practice to suit her needs with a very therapeutic and nurturing method.
A couple of interesting tidbits from Nancy -
- Guruji originally taught Sun Salutations with the arms lifting in front of the body, not out to the side like many practitioners do today. That style actually came from Richard Freeman. That way can often be hard on the rotator cuff, so if you have any shoulder pain at all, it is best to always lift the arms at a slight angle in front of the body.
- If you practice janu sirsasana A, B, and C with the body set up correctly, your bandhas will automatically be activated. These poses can actually teach you the bandhas.
- Nancy was taught Intermediate poses almost immediately despite her weak condition. She still moves her students quickly into these poses as she believes they help balance out the body, especially since she teaches Primary Series with less vinyasas (therefore less updog). The first poses of Intermediate are very strengthening and healing for the back. She encourages teenage practitioners to do these poses rather than all of Primary which can be too painful on growing bodies.
- Guruji taught that you must always place the right foot first in padmasana in order to maintain the correct energy flow in the body and keep the spleen and liver healthy. The energy in the body flows from the right foot and up the spine in a clockwise manner (another reason we always roll clockwise in garba pindasana – babies in utero move clockwise). Nancy says that she has been practicing this way for decades and her body feels very balanced and her organs are strong. When she noticed statues of the Buddha sitting with his left foot in first, she asked some Tibetan lamas she knew why he was pictured this way. They explained to her that as students they were instructed to sit right foot in first, but were told that when the Buddha achieved an enlightened state, his energy flow switched directions and that is why he then sat in this different manner.
Just a few nibbles…so much more to tell you about, but no time!
It’s been another full and enriching day – feeling very blessed to be here.
Off to a kirtan now!