Monday, October 29, 2012

Damn Fine Asana

I spent the weekend in Dallas at the Dallas Iyengar yoga Center. One of my all-time favorite asana teachers, John Schumaker was there teaching for the weekend. John is funny, smart, clear, articulate, kind, inspiring and with the perfect amount of ass-kicking intensity that makes me work very hard and leaves me very sore. It was a perfect weekend workshop, in my opinion. The asana was hard, but not impossible.  John's teaching tone was demanding, yet compassionate. The classroom atmosphere was fun, yet focused.  The alignment lessons  were precise and multi -layered.  I learned plenty of  new refinements and there was enough of the big, broad strokes that the new details were accessible, meaningful and applicable. I could go on but it was just fantastic in every way and just what I needed for my own practice and inner work. 

Probably at least once or twice in each class John gave a pep talk or a deeper teaching from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali or from his personal experience. But mostly he taught 4 damn, fine asana classes. I might even dare to say that they were pristine asana classes. What I mean is that he simply and masterfully, from a lifetime of study, practice and teaching  taught 40 of us  "how to do the poses better."  What stood out for me was that there was no overlay of anything else onto the asana practice other than the unapologetic and  honest presentation of the  beautiful, challenging, engaging, humbling and empowering work required to practice  intermediate/advanced postures over the course of a lifetime. That's what I mean by pristine.  John let  asana speak for itself and in that same elegant and understated way, his professional, compassionate and warm demeanor communicated volumes as well. 

So, I know that themes are all the rage these days and "yoga for this" and "yoga for that" is the organizing strategy these days in terms of workshops, programs and so on. Shit, I just wrote a bunch of descriptions just like that for some upcoming programs that I am offering. Any teacher coming out of the world of Anusara has been well-trained to provide commentary alongside asana and any student from that community has been trained to expect it as well.  And all that has its place. And my guess is, based on  a lot of feedback I have received lately that many people would have found the kind of weekend I am describing to be a bit austere. Just so we are clear,  it is really no big deal to me that other people want a much bigger commentary during a weekend workshop than what I am describing and I am not taking issue with "yoga for this and for that" programming.  I am sharing my experience as a student and a practitioner right now. For me, last weekend,  the absence of that dialogue was  what was refreshing after several months of emotionally-laden yoga workshops, trainings and conversations. As a student, so full of my own ponderings, stresses and current challenges, it was  in the absence of embellishment and added meaning that I found a spaciousness to look at myself, my life, my current challenges, upsets as well as my progress and vision. It was fantastic. Truly fantastic. Like a breath of fresh air. Truly. (Did I say it was wonderful?)

I have long had a problem with the idea that yoga practice- be it asana, pranayama, meditation, mantra--is supposed to be anything- even inspiring. (Yes, I think it is a dark age and as yoga teachers we are uniquely placed to share the light of inspiration and to train ourselves and one another to function as a kind of beacon in that darkness and on another day I will write a VERY inspiring blog entry about this opportunity we have as yoga teachers. For the record, I am very into this.) And yet, to me the practice is not always inspiring. Practice is also frustrating, humbling, disappointing and full of loss, gain and the dynamic interplay between the two. Or maybe more accurately stated, the practice is always  simply what it is and I am the one who is inspired, frustrated, humbled, disappointed, and riding the currents of loss and gain with whatever meaning I am assigning to my experience on any given day. 

I think practice is more like a screen upon which we get to see ourselves. Every day I sit down to meditate is a bit different. In the opening few breaths of pranayama I always have the sense of, "Well, who do we have here today?" I suppose in the early days of our  practice  we need to borrow a lot of energy from the teacher so the positivity and perspectives  the teacher has can help us gain a certain momentum and direction into our own heart and mind. I think  in this way the themes and commentary can open a certain door. But over time, I think we need to learn to carry ourselves more and more. We need to become more  responsible for managing our own minds and sourcing the connection to our own inspiration by making use of what the practices we are doing are showing us. And once we are carrying ourselves, the themes and the commentary can (not always, but can and for me often do) start to feel like an imposition. What was once inspiring, meaningful and useful  can start to feel like dust on the screen and can even interfere with seeing myself as I am in the moment because I am so busy seeing so much of the person giving the "lesson." 

Like so many things, for me it is not an all or nothing thing. As a teacher, there is also a difference between the kind of class I teach and the kind I like to take. There are similarities and differences between who I am as a teacher and who I am as a student and they are in conversation with one another, for sure. I suppose that is another entry for another time. 

At any rate, the weekend was pristine and John modeled to me what it means to be a damn, fine asana teacher and how profoundly inspiring that actually is.  It came at a great time because I have been thining A LOT about that very question and he didn't talk once about teaching he just showed through his example what a wonderful thing it is to go to a great weekend workshop. 

Below are rough outlines of the sequences he taught. (thanks, Anne.) Think long,hard-working holds. Not included is Saturday afternoon's class which was pranayama and inversions. 

Friday Night:
Supta Tadasana
Supta Padangusthasana- 1st stage (check Light on Yoga for pictures of the three stages he gives)
Supta Padangusthasana - 3rd stage
Supta  padangusthasana -2nd stage  
Uppavistha Konasana
Baddha Konasana 
Janu sirsasana
Ardha Baddha Pada padma pascimottasana 
Supine lotus with no hands 
Urdhva  padmasana in sirsanana
Urdhva padmasanan in  sarvangasana
seated meditation

Saturday Morning:
janu sirsasana
uppa vista konasana
upright sitting prep parsva uppa vista konasana
parivritta janu sirsasana -2X
ardha matsyendrasana 2
adho mukha svasasana
urdhva mukha svasasana
several times from Adho mukha through chataranga
ustrasana- 3X
chatush padasana-2X
urdhva dnaurasana-10X
dwi pada viparita dandasana-5X
supta virasana,  if  can stay flat on floor, then  push up to  Kapotasana,  or  just stay in SV
kapotasana- 3X
adho mukha svasasana
adho mukha vajrasana
Parsva vajrasana
parsva adho mukha vajrasana
seated meditation

Sunday Morning:
Childs Pose
Down Dog
Sirsasana- 15 minutes
Parsva sirsasana
Eka Pada Sirsasana
Parsva Eka pada sirsasana
childs pose with chin on floor
Baddha Konasana and go forward
Maricyasana I 
Malasana II
Bakasan from sirsasana II
Parsva bakasana
From sirsasana II
Urdhva kukatasana (or repeat bakasana) from Sirsasana II
Dwi Pada koundinyasana 
Pinca mayurasana
Urdhva Mukha svanasana
Adho mukha svanasana
Chatush padasana
Urdva Dhanurasana 7X
Sarvangasana- 15 minutes
Seated meditation


Mary S said...

I love it when John S says "more and more". Not just take your thighs back but take them back more and more.

Mary S said...

Thanks to Anne for writing the sequence!