Wasn't really ready to write about this but several have asked so here goes.
John was greeting everyone at the door.
Several of asked him which was the front and which the back, this led into a theme for the first half hour or so of the workshop where he talked about locating oneself in space and in time. He identified east then the moon in relation to the sun and the earth. In Sitting he had us think of the sit bones as sinking into the earth, the heart is the moon and the head the sun, aligning them, head over the heart. This then fed into talk of sun and moon channels, ha and tha, (hatha, get it) ida, pingala, sushumna and finally chakras, he said that Guruji in his Saturday philosophy sessions/class would describe chakra as knots rather than pretty coloured flowers and the different asana worked on those knots untangling them to allow our energy to flow.
This last idea reminded me of some of my speculation regarding Krishnamacharya and kumbhaka in asana, was the idea to of employing kumbhaka in particular asana intended to work on specific chakra he does suggest as much regarding kumbhaka and chakra in Yoga Makaranda.
All this talk of locating ourselves led into the the idea of the count, the vinyasa count, how by learning the count we know where we are at any given time, what comes before and what comes after. John likes to talk of it as Pattabhi Jois did as mantra, mala beads, each asana a different mala with a different number of beads on it. Also, the count, for John, seems to represent liberation (he was wearing Kia's Mysore paris, Freedom T-shirt, very cool) or at least independence, the teachers role in providing us with the count is to free us of our dependence on the teacher, to make us independent but then also dependable in turn in that we can now pass on the count to others. He said this weekend was effectively a teacher training, he teaches us the count we go off and teach it to somebody else.
One thing sure to make a philosophy graduate cringe is reference to Jonathan Livingston Seagull, no doubt because so many of us perhaps read it in our youth, a guilty secret. Before I had a full cringe on though I found myself nodding and smiling, not for the first time that day.
At the end of the book Jonathan's 'disciple' Fletcher is lecturing young seagulls about life the universe and everything and notices them all a little lost, he pauses and then says, "Lets begin with level flight...".
John said, that was Guruji, let's begin with level flight, exam, inhale....
He talked about the different series, how Primary was chikitsa, structure, but that it could also be nadi shodana, nerve cleansing ( the name of the intermediate series) and that it could also be Sthira, grace
( Advanced series). This was very appealing to me as I've suggested here that we fixate so much on Advanced series ( I know, I did too), 3rd being the new 2nd, when it's actually our approach to the series we have that can determine whether it is primary, intermediate or advanced. He also said that no asana holds any more weight than another, all are of equal value, another idea I've expressed here.... this practice, it's intuitive, it all follows if you allow it to do so and don't get in the way.
There was much in John's presentation that I felt confirmed my own intuitions regarding the practice over the years, just as I had felt with Richard Freeman and Manju Jois, or perhaps these intuitions are little bits and pieces that I had picked up from hearing about different senior teachers and woven together over the years, or perhaps it's just an intuitive practice. Still, there was also so much more besides that John communicated that had an effect I can't quite put my finger on.
I don't tend to write 'Guruji' here on this blog, I never studied with him, it just never felt right to do so, it felt disrespectful for some reason, an over familiarity towards somebody I'd never had a relationship with. I tend to use Jois just as I do Krishnamacharya, occasionally Pattabhi Jois. Something about this workshop though and the way John would talk about him.... it was as if he was very present in John's teaching, curiously Guruji feels much more appropriate to me now, something unexpected but quite pleasant, more than once I found myself grinning like a Cheshire cat when John would relate Guruji stories.
My favourite Guruji story was at the end of the workshop when we got to headstand. John said that Guruji had only given it to him in the last week or so of his first three months in Mysore and that he taught it with the head off the floor, kind of on the forearms/wrists rather than between them. He said that Guruji demonstrated it for him..... he was 78 at the time.
The workshop was full, about fifty of us. Actually it was kind of divided into two workshops. John talked for half an hour at the beginning of the first one and then we did a breathing exercise, counting up to twelve in Sanskrit, he would have us raise our hand slowly on the inhale, lower on the exhale, reminded me of the video of Guruji with Richard Freeman. This was followed by the standing series focusing on the count, calling it out together.
The second workshop we went through most of the Primary series, skipping a few postures at the end to jump to finishing on account of time. Again we focused on the count, he would have us call it out at times along with him, encourage us to whisper it the rest of the time. He stressed that we could pause the count to take as many breaths as needed to get into the asana. In the posture he would have us count the number at the end of the exhalation in the space between the exhalation and next inhalation, he said it was a little like pranayama. I liked that bit of course as I've written about those mini, automatic kumbhakas. He also talked about the length of the breath being six seconds, mentioned certain six syllable mantras one could use to measure it, Om Na-ma- shi-va-ya or om ma-ni pad-me hum for example.
Throughout John would rush around the room like a madman, adjusting, assisting... no, it was more like focusing our attention, in urdhva mukha shvanasana for example he stood over me, I was expecting him to take my shoulders back further but he whispered to press up against his hands which brings about the taking the armpits to the navel idea that I've read him focus on ( he probably spends time on that on the sunday workshop).
At the end of the practice in the second or third urdhva dhanurasa he came over to me again, I was fairly deep I guess, I thought he was going to take me in deeper as Norman Sjoman had done but he just put his hands under my back lifted me slightly moved my knees in a little with his and that was that. On reflection I think he was just checking I would do because afterwards he mentioned a demonstration and came over to drop me back.
Remember I'm a home Ashtangi, I've only been dropped back a couple of times on Manju's workshop, still a very strange idea to me but there was John in front of me and it was like, "Oh OK, drop backs".
John does something strange that I didn't really understand, he has you do a kind of mini, shorter ardha mukha shvanasana before and after the drop back, I was a bit confused what he was after here, for a moment I thought he was going to flip me over but of course thinking about it now that would have been the wrong direction. Anyway, drop backs were fine. I do them on my own of course and am quite happy with them at the moment, the arms outstretched version but there is still a little trepidation. With somebody supporting, you can just let go and go with it, there's that surrender that so many of you go on about I guess, an intimacy. I was in John's hands and just went with it. Quite interesting this trust thing, it's almost like those business bonding tricks where you drop back and your colleague catches you, almost but more so.
|Outstretched arm version|
Wish I'd had a friend the to take a picture, be curious to see how deep it was with john supporting me.
Oh and then there was utpluthi, I haven't done it for a year or two ( am with Manju on this, why do utpluthi when you've relaxed yourself and are about to settle into some pranayama and/or chanting) ) and even then, since vinyasa krama I would only do about five breaths there, John had us do twenty-five and somehow I managed to stay up there the whole time, no idea how because I was already exhausted ( you wouldn't believe what he had us doing in kurmasana).
And then right at the end he had us lay down for savasana, told us to get a blanket if we had one, I didn't so just laid down all hot and sweaty. A few minutes in John came over and covered me with a soft, warm, blanket. He'd put us through the most gruelling of practices but then here was this moment of tenderness and I couldn't help but feel that Guruji was present in his teaching and no doubt in his practice (he said he can still hear him counting), felt comfortable thinking that and writing it here now.
Laying there in savasana I had the most intense feeling of... happiness and this is another word I very rarely use. I have no idea what to say when somebody asks me if I'm happy, if something makes me happy (it's a running joke at work, they put songs with the word happy in just to bug me). I put it down to my social autism but really I've had little use for the word. I've always argued against philosophers who suggested it's what we all seek, for me it's neither here nor there. I'm more comfortable with content, satisfied, no doub I am happy, I certainly don't want to be unhappy but happy? It always seemed a pleasant byproduct, I can take it or leave it. I don't think I've ever consciously sought it, expected it and certainly not considered it my 'right'. Laying there though I was aware that I felt blissfully happy, so much so that I had to hold back from giggling to myself, felt a bit embarrassed about it actually.
At the end of the workshop I went up to John to thank him and to tell him I couldn't make the second day but that I hoped to catch the second day of his Oxford workshop instead. He told me I had a nice practice and asked who my teacher was, I just said Ramaswami but that confused him I think especially in the context of Ashtanga so I also said I'd spent some time with Manju. I could have said, "You John, I learnt from your book and DVD".
And that was that, I left with the feeling that I'd finally 'got it', Ashtanga. After almost exactly seven years and a morning and afternoon with John Scott. So much of what John presented fitted in with my own intuitions about practice but there was much more beside. Perhaps it was just that the connection felt strong, from John to Guruji to Krishnamacharya, in a way that it does with Ramaswami and Krishnamacharya (John said that Krishnamacharya's test of Guruji was his knowledge of where he was in the count, although I'd heard his test was to cure somebody).
Manju is Manju, he talks about his father a lot, he's very present but it's different somehow, I just see Manju. Perhaps because he was taught by his father at such a young age, I think of them more as father and son... but with John, in his teaching, I could somehow feel echoes of that relationship, as if I was John and he was guruji experiencing something of how John perhaps felt to be taught by Guruji, he seems to channel it somehow.... does that make any kind of sense, you see why I didn't want to write about this yet.
So I headed down to the sea, long walk from Preston Park, I wanted to take a last look at Brighton Pier, memory lane, and of course I ended up going past the glorious, beautiful monstrosity that is Brighton pavilion. Sitting there on a patch of grass in front of that wonderful folly I had the feeling that it was time to go to Mysore, pay ones respects and to hell with how I feel about the crowds. It might not be this year, but hopefully before to long.
There was so much more of course
See the John Scott Yoga App (there's a new update I hear) and in particular the in app purchase 'Windows on practice', its a full fifteen page transcription of one of John's Workshops at Stillpoint Yoga London last year,
I was asked if this will affect how I approach my own practice.
I'm already strongly focussed on the Vinyasa count so this has confirmed that even more, it's something I've been exploring in Ashtanga recently in relation to the count Krishnamachrya gives in Yoga Makaranda. For me, at the moment, it's all about the count.
I mentioned my inhalations and exhalations tend to be around six seconds in Ashtanga, nice to hear John mention that number, in certain postures I'll still slow it down even further in line with my Vinyasa krama practice but that too is also in line with Guruji's interviews and Krishnamacharya's yoga Makaranda.
Kumbhaka is perhaps a sticking point, I'm quite committed to continue exploring it further. John seems to identify the mini automatic pause between the inhalation and exhalation but I'm not sure he would extend it to two, four six seconds or more as Krishnamacharya does.
Vinyasa Krama. It's well know that both Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois had a vast tool box of asana that they could call on when necessary, both would use them to help in healing and in helping their students achieve posture i.e. preparatory postures. Vinyasa Krama is a great way of maintaining that tool chest. It's also for me the perfect evening practice, a short subroutine or two before settling down into pranayama and meditation practice.