So my first workshop..
What a strange thing this is, to practice yoga in public. No doubt many of you don't see it that way, you go to your shala or gym and perhaps it seems the most natural thing in the world, for me it still seems quite bizarre. I tend to seek the most isolated spot for my practice, strange then to unroll my mat to the hum of voices in a cavernous hall rather than a small, private, personal space. As it happened the strangeness soon passed, and there was just the mat, it appears you take the quite solitude with you. People talk of the energy in the room, I wasn't aware of it, just my own.... after the first couple of Sury's it doesn't perhaps matter where you and that's no doubt as it should be.
Nice walk across Regents Park to get to the hall. I didn't know much about the building, whether there were changing rooms showers, lockers etc. I went for the Manduka prolite (the santorini blue one) and a Mysore rug, change of clothes, Richard's book, Mirror of yoga, for the 40 minute train journey all chucked in a rucksack,
Tiresome lugging all that around London.
|It's a big place, huge, high ceilings.|
So I go in and there around twenty or thirty in there already sitting on mats, strolling this way and that. I laid mine out in the next place in line, around the third row slightly to the left of the 'stage'. Just about where that ray of light is shining in the far right of the picture above.
So now what? What I really wanted to do was stand up and do my 10 Minute Vinyasa Krama warm-up routine. I felt the same every day but it always a little, ostentatious, out of place (how absurd, a yoga workshop for heavens sake) so I ended up doing what everyone else was doing, those who weren't chatting to their neighbours, a few discrete stretches while the room slowly filled.
Put my mat down around the same spot the next couple of days but was running a little late the fourth day and ended up in the furthest left corner of the hall, liked it there so grabbed the spot for the final day too. Is it telling at all where you place your mat, in Ramaswami's TT course I was pretty much in the frount row for the full five weeks.
Room make up, 90 had been the maximum i think they said around 80 had registered must have worked out around 90% woman, saw maybe five to eight guys scattered around the room.
Richard was exactly as I expected, familiar, comfortable but then I've practiced with his DVD's off and on for years, listened to most of his recorded studio talk and had recently practiced along with his online pranayama course.
I even have the Richard Freeman Yoga Doll from Mattel
OK I lied about the doll.
Beware the quiet ones.
So I had my expectations for the course, I'd watched the backbending session on the Confluence via Youtube, had even transcribed most of it. I expected to be sitting around, listening and watching demonstrations much of the time, even kept my t-shirt on the first day ...but not the next.
Gentle Richard, gently spoken Richard is ...tough. Those sessions were three hours long and we were rarely out of posture. If you think that in that first session we only did part of standing, a little of seated and the final three postures, then do the math, three hours divided by a handful of postures you get an idea of how long we stayed in each one.
These were the postures on the first day
ekam to dve
ekam to trini
surya namaskara A
utthita tri konasana
parivritta tri konasana
parivrtta tri konasana
utthita parsva konasana
parivrtta parsva konasana
prasarita padottanasana ABCD
utthita parsvottanasana variation (arms wrapped around leg to bring kidney around)
Jumpback, two dogs, jump through (between postures not sides)
janu sirsasana A
ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana
marichiyasana A B C D
And so the week went on like that, long long stays in postures as Richard would include yet one more metaphor and then another eight for good luck. And Richard talks slowly, and you know it's a complicated metaphor that's going to take a while to come to conclusion, and you know too that the other side of the asana will be kept just as long, no shortcuts...besides 'it's the easy side'. And you know it's all wonderful stuff, allowing the postures to come alive, to open up and invite you into their secrets with each new metaphor and allusion but Richard for Pete's sake I'm dying here get on with it, the NEXT posture PLEASE.
I loved every minute of it.
Want to end this overview so I can post it and give you something of the flavour. But here's just a taste from the first day,just raising and lowering the arms, ekam to dve.
'- we're gonna start very simply
- this type of practice is actually training for pranayama
- inhaling to ekam, exhaling back to samasthiti
- remember this, before you inhale, exhale
- begin on the exhale
- exhale all the way until the exhale tones the PC muscle on the pelvic floor
- at the very on of the exhale when the breath stops the pc muscle tones a little bit
- the centre of the pc muscle called the mula, that's where the pattern of the exhale contracts into a seed
- so exhale all the way to the seed point
- and then your ready to inhale
- inhaling tone the legs
- spread the lower back
- drop the head back behind your arms
- in the gap reach way up
- and exhaling come back to samasthithihi
- growing taller through the crown of your head
- and then, again inhaling tone the legs all around
- let the heels sink down
- the lower back stretched (straight?)
- reach up and then exhaling, release the palate so you grow taller
- inhaling, spread the skin of the lower back like wings
- spin the edges of those wings ( when the hands/arms turn upwards/outwards)
- and exhaling release the palate as if you were saying ahhh to yourself
-inhaling, lift the quadriceps and tops of the hamstrings,
- (to) pull down on the sitting bones
- go way up and then swim down to samasthithihi
- let me deposit some fuel in the back of your mind
- so, when we're exhaling we're meditating on the residue of the inhale
- so when we're exhaling we're keeping the heart open
- this is what happens at the top of your inhale
- so (and) your exhale by releasing the soft palate, where the uvula is
- you keep the mid line open, from the middle of the heart, through the head
- and so during the exhale, your drawing taller
- and your really meditating on what is the essence of the inhale,
- and the mid line from the heart unto the crown
- and then conversely, whenever your inhaling
- your meditating on the essential pattern of the exhale
- under your belly, your drawing the mind up like a thread
- up through the middle of the pelvic floor
- and turning it a little bit back
- and this creates what we call uddiyanamulabandha
- and so it's all good.'
This would be the approach though all of the postures, talking you in and through and around them, bringing out the structural rotations, exploring and following and extending the breath, seeking out the bandhas, nodding towards prana and apana. have you seen that movie, Fantastic Voyage, where the ship is shrunk and goes inside a body, it came to mind in one of the postures as if I was in a ship traveling through the gross and subtle body.
Everyday we began with the standing sequence which must have taken up at least the first hour, perhaps longer. There was a moment on the third day I think when I thought, God not standing again, aren't we going to do something new. I think I smiled to myself immediately after thinking it. This is Ashtanga, we repeat and re enforce and re investigate the postures, then let them be for a while to do their thing, shifting our focus elsewhere, a different posture perhaps or deeper within the same posture, more focus on the bandhas in the posture rather than it's structure, the breath, exploring the idea of prana and apana perhaps, only to come back and look again and yet again.
On the course Richard would explore all these aspects and in every posture and it was at times too much, I found myself looking forward to when the course would be over and I could allow all this information to work it's way into my practice and just focus on the sound of the breath. And yet you knew too it was a privilege and didn't want o miss a thing so would try to concentrate on every instruction, every suggestion, clicking through the gears.
I was struck by how generous Richard was here, three hours each morning and then another two or three on the Gita after lunch ( I wasn't booked on to the Gita sessions, sorry - however if anybody reading this took that session and feels like doing a guest post, let me know)
Something that has struck me recently is Krishnamacharya's investigations of postures, exploring the possibilities of the breath within Asana, Richard reminded me of that.
A couple of criticisms though. One of the sessions was titled arm balances, if you'd come expecting lots of arm balances, fancy floaty postures you would have been disappointed, only one, bakasana, instead Richard focused on the arms and shoulder girdle, which to be honest is the secret of arm balances anyway but more on that when I write up day three.
Oh and the pranayama session didn't really work out as well as it might have, kind of lost structure along the way, perhaps we ran out of time. For me that was OK as I'd done his on line course and still had all the videos to review,there was still lots of good stuff there but if it was your first time coming to pranayama it might have been confusing and a little off putting. More on that later too.
But those are just minor quibbles, overall it was an wonderful experience. I mentioned to Claudia that Richard teaches how I practice. What I meant by that was that he teaches how I seek to practice at home. That freedom we have in a home practice to experiment, to explore. I wonder what the Mysore self practice is like in the Yoga Workshop in Boulder Colorado, Richard's Shala. Is there more freedom there I wonder to explore your practice, to introduce variations, to practice more slowly, ever more slowly ( at one point on the course Richard mentioned that his goal was to have the slowest primary ever, five months...and that would be just the first Sury- something like that, I'll look for the actual quote). I've always felt that self practice should be self practice but the question was always how do you make that work in a shala environment. So Richard's workshop has given me material to explore ever further in my home practice, to approach that exploration with better direction perhaps, more discipline and with a greater degree of subtlety.
Another reason I feel Richard teaches how I practice is that when practicing Ashtanga Richard's way any distinction between Ashtanga and Vinyasa krama blurs, the breath is equally as long, a full exhale, a full inhale, there's also a degree of flexibility, it's the best of both worlds.
M. asked me if it was any different from practicing with Richard's DVDs. Yes and No. in some ways it felt exactly the same, many of the same metaphors, similar explanations and ideas and yet with more time to work them out, work through them. He could keep you twenty, thirty minutes in a posture, or so it seemed, eking out all of it's goodness.
Can you imagine what a month in Boulder must be like, tempting thought.
So a little more detail on each of the days to come as I write up the notes and if you have any requests, any aspect you'd like me to focus on let me know in the comments.