Saturday, August 29, 2009

Days 4&5: Mysore Workshop with David Keil

Since time seems to have gotten away from me, I'm combining some thoughts that have surfaced since my last 2 practices in David's workshop. The results of the last 5 days of practice are now settling into my body and my thoughts have shifted to the energetic aspects of this yoga practice. I remain fascinated by the ways in which this yoga practice brings physical practices together (breath, bandha, driste) to produce something larger than its composite parts (energy). Additionally, when a group of practitioners come together to practice, another whole layer of energy is produced. The various practitioners in the group support one another energetically as the whole group moves and breathes their way through the practice sequence. Although those statements still sound a bit "New Agey" to my ears, they describe my experience, none the less. I am extremely grateful to everyone who came out to be a part of the practice groups this week and hope they too took away some part of the group energy and will be inspired to continue their practice.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Day 3: Mysore Workshop with David Keil

After another great practice this morning, I'm most aware of how practice has shifted over time. What felt initially like a physical practice now feels much more like a mental practice. Certainly it still shows itself physically, but the hardest work is in my mind, not my body. This is all the more apparent when my teacher adds a new pose to my sequence. The practice becomes mental; approaching something new with the attitude that "with time and practice anything is possible". Over and over again in yoga asana practice I meet new poses or challenges within poses and have to make a mental choice about how to work with them. I can decide before trying or after a feeble attempt that they are too "hard". Sometimes, I take that easier road. I can also decide to leave the possibility open that the pose will happen even if I don't see how it will happen yet. This has been the more rewarding work. I have great hopes that, like the poses themselves, this work too will get easier with time and practice.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Day 2: Mysore Workshop with David Keil

Another great day of practice today. Once or twice a year, I take a week off of work and focus on yoga practice. For me, this is the only kind of vacation that I return from really feeling rested! I go to sleep early, eat well, and really pour all my energy into daily asana practice. Regular daily practice outside of "yoga vacations" ebbs and flows with all the responsibilities of being a "householder" i.e. having a job, family, and stuff that takes energy besides yoga practice. Sometimes practice just gets whatever energy is leftover after a long day. These few days a year when I put yoga practice first are a rare treat and I am so grateful for them when they come along.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Day 1: Mysore Workshop

A couple times a year, I am fortunate enough to spend 5 days practicing Mysore style Ashtanga yoga with my teacher. The night before the first class is like Christmas Eve for me. I'm always so looking forward to practice the next morning that I toss and turn and finally fall off to a restless sleep. Last night was no different. After a restless short night, practice was heaven. There is nothing more soothing, yet also energizing, than quietly moving through practice to the sound of ujjai breath. Some breathe slower. Some breathe faster. Everyone is moving with their own breath and doing ther own work, but we are doing it together.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Part 3: Why Mysore Style?

"Mysore practice is like being the driver in a car on a trip to somewhere new for the first time. Led practice is more like being the passenger in that car. You may be able to find your way back to the destination a second time having been either the driver or the passenger, but chances are good that you were paying more attention if you were doing the driving."

-paraphrased from Beryl Bender Birch (unfortunately, I didn't write down her exact quote in class)

Okay, last and final post on practice styles, for awhile anyway. Next week will include a daily post on the each of the 5 days of the Mysore workshop with David I guess this still isn't the last word exactly...

so a few more ramblings about practice styles...

-When you memorize a sequence of poses to practice, then you can practice anywhere! Nothing is holding you back.

-Muscle memory of what is next in the sequence removes the need to "think". I have found more space to keep awareness on what I'm feeling in practice when I don't have to think about it. Since in my day job I'm a biologist, I already spend quite a bit of time "in my head" analyzing things. It's been very liberating to have some small bit of time each day where I work less analytically and more intuitively.

-I cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time. I'm just not a talented multitasker. So, if I'm listening to a teacher guide the class, then I'm not listening to my breath. Same thing happens to me visually. If I'm watching a demonstration by the teacher then I'm not keep my eyes steady on the gazing point for the pose. Only when the outside stimulus is minimal am I able to shift the focus from the external to the internal world. I am hopeful that this skill to will build in the same way that the physical practice grows over time. I would love to see that day when I can keep steady concentration no matter what's happening! Until then, I have lots of practice to do and in my own practice I need to minimize the external stimulus to learn the skill of paying attention....which means mostly Mysore practice for me.

-I have become far more aware of the pace and strength of my breath when I'm initiating the pace. There is more room then for the normal daily variations in pace and strength.

-A different kind of relationship has developed with the teachers that have worked with me in a Mysore class. I have been less apt to take suggestions as criticism when they are offered one on one with very specific intent. A greater level of trust has developed which has given me more confidence to "dig a little deeper" in practice.

There is often a tendency to place something we are familiar with, say aerobics class, around something unfamiliar, say yoga, and make it fit. I've found the greatest benefits from yoga when I stopped trying to force it into an "aerobics class" format and worked at it more like I learned to play the piano as a kid. The same analogy would work with sports if you're not a music person. To learn any new skill, you begin with the fundamentals, not with the flamboyant. In piano, you begin with scales not Bach. In order to someday play well, there is lots of daily practice. It is finally when you can stop thinking about the small details like what notes come next, that you can express larger themes of the music intuitively.
That is really my best explanation of Mysore style Ashtanga yoga practice.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Part 2 of Why Practice Mysore Style?

If you ask the question, "Why do you do yoga practice in the Mysore style?", you will likely get a different answer from everyone that you ask. My own answer comes from my own practice. part 2 of this series describes some of my experience in both Led and Mysore style Ashtanga yoga classes.

My first Ashtanga class was a Led style class. The instructor stood at the front of the room and described/demonstrated the poses. The class followed along with everyone attempting the same poses together. Although I had been attending yoga classes in other styles for a couple years, this was my first Ashtanga class. After the first hour of class, I was really starting to wonder if I would make it through the rest of the class! It was too much for my body all at once.

A few months later, I moved to a different city and tried a Mysore style class. I had an entirely different expereince. Moving at my own pace with no verbal or visual guide was both intimidating and liberating. On the one hand, I wasn't sure if I was doing poses "right". On the other hand it was much easier to really focus in on what was happening in my body without either rushing to keep up or waiting for others to catch up.

My first Mysore class was 7 years ago and my bias in my personal practice has been for Mysore style classes ever since. It was the aspects of learning to practice in the Mysore style that really made it possible for me to develop a steady, consistent, and daily home practice when no classes or teachers were available. It was that daily practice that really began to provide all the benefits that are attributed to yoga.

Now, years later in my practice, I've found that there are of course, benefits to both ways of and final installment on Ashtanga yoga practice styles: Benefits of Led and Mysore styles of Ashtanga yoga practice

Stay tuned...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Part 1 of Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga Practice

Apparently, I have a lot to say about this as I sat down to write a post about why Ashtangis practice in the Mysore style and I filled 5 pages! in anticapation of the upcoming Mysore style practice workshop, this weeks blog posts will be a series of posts on Mysore style practice.

So first the basics...Part 1: What is Mysore style practice anyway?

Mysore is a city in south India. It's the city where Sri K Pattabhi Jois taught his style of yoga (called Ashtanga) until his death this past spring. The way in which classes were taught by Pattabhi Jois in his shala was different from the way most yoga classes are currently taught in the west. Students newly arriving at his class would learn only a few fundamental poses on the first day, maybe just Sun salutation A. They would then memorize the order of those poses and learn the correct way to breath in them (vinyasa). When those poses were steady, a new pose would be added. This process would continue over weeks and months and years. Students would slowly learn new, more challenging poses only as their body was ready for them. Classes were composed of any student who wanted to learn this method of yoga. Consequently, advanced, intermediate, and beginning students all practiced together. Students moved through their sequence of poses without constant verbal and visual cues from a teacher, instead moving at the pace of their own breath. Pattabhi Jois would move among the students assisting each in th places where they needed help. As this style of practice emigrated to the west, it was referred to as "Mysore style" after the way Ashtanga yoga practice was done in Mysore, India with Pattabhi Jois.

So here ends part 1...same bat time same bat station for part 2!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Upcoming Mysore Workshop with David Keil

I'm so looking forward to the upcoming workshop with David Keil! Five days of mysore practice with one of the best teachers and I don't even have to leave town for this one!
I know I'm really looking forward to this because I actually had a dream that I was at the workshop last night. In my dream I got 2 new poses to work on and I have to say, in my first dream attempt at the new poses, they were pretty wobbly!
If you are in the Gainesville, Florida area and are interested in the workshop, there are still some spaces left in the 7am or 9am sessions.
For more info go to Ashtanga-Yoga-Gainesville.
For more info about David and his fantastic workshops go to:
See you there!

Monday, August 3, 2009

"I can't go back to yesterday - because I was a different person then." ---Lewis Carroll

I've mentioned before that one of the mistakes that I make from time to time in home practice is trying to do too much. If I did a pose one day, then I should be able to do it the same way the next day, right? Well, no actually.

I'm a slow learner when it comes to this sort of thing. It has taken some time to pry the fingers of ego off of daily yoga practice. It has been easy to want to acheive. On the other hand, it has been very rewarding and humbling to play each daily practice as it comes. That too starts to play with perspectice in life outside of yoga practice. Starting each daily yoga practice without an agenda has been a practice in itself.