Wednesday, September 12, 2012

All About Ashtanga: Day One, Surya Namaskar


"I may not be there yet,
but I'm closer than I was yesterday."
-Author Unknown

It's a good thing that I checked my phone one last time, before I started doing something else, because I suddenly realized that my first Mysore practice at Jois studio in Encinitas wasn't starting at 10.45am — it was starting at 10am! I had 16 minutes to arrive at my final destination and jetted out the door, urgently asking the Universe to please not let me be late, as this class not only meant the beginning of an inward journey I've been curious to take for awhile, but it's also part writing assignment and I was on a job! Luckily, my Audi zipped through the freeway lanes and plopped me in a prime parking spot directly across from the entrance of the studio. 

I arrived with a couple of minutes to spare, yet the sign at the front door told me to go to the back. I did as I'm told, only to find the back door locked. Fast forward to my running back to where I started in a frenzy, opening the door to the front of the studio and whizzing past the woman at the front desk while saying, "I'm supposed to meet with David for Mysore!"

Flustered, I found the familiar face of the teacher I was scheduled to meet. He calmly smiled as he handed me a waiver form, and I made my way to the back corner, where three other students were already in the middle of their practice. David came over to me, sat down, and asked if I'd practiced before.

"This is my first time with a real Ashtanga class," I informed him. 

"Do you do yoga?" he asked, a simple and gentle question. 

"Yes, I'm a yoga teacher," I responded, still feeling like a newbie when it comes to being considered a good teacher.

"Do you know breathing?" and immediately went into Ujjayi, loud, victorious breath. I nodded and began to deepen my inhalations and exhalations. "That's most important."

"Do you know Surya Namaskar?" he looked at me, a slight grin on his face. I felt this was a trick question, and if I said 'no,' I would surely fail the first test of becoming a true yogi.

"Yes," I laughed, nervously.

"Well, let's see," he said, and I immediately got up. 

With his gentle instruction, I flowed through my Sun Salutation as I would normally do. David offered quiet pointers along the way, "Look at your thumbs — look" and "Pull in the belly," "Don't tilt back," "Place your hands all the way down in line with your toes," with explanations as to why, "This will strengthen your legs,""Too much arching strains the back," and so on.

"Now continue," he said, as he walked away from me. I did as I was told and before long, I was breaking into a full sweat.

Earlier the previous week, I interviewed Andrew Hillam, the Yoga Director at Jois. He explained the Ashtanga practice to me in a way that I have not considered, one which dispelled a lot of myths I held — even as a teacher. I thought Ashtanga was for those "really hardcore people," who could do the craziest things with their bodies. I partly thought it was an elitist type of practice, that looked down upon other styles. But what it truly is, is beautiful.

"We try to do everything here like you would experience at Mysore in India. The practice you have here, with the teachers, should be exactly as you would have over there. We pay homage to our Guru every morning, and light a candle. We practice the rituals. We believe the teacher should interfere as little as possible with the student's practice, so that they can go within. Many say they come in here and appreciate the sense of calm, the quiet," Hillam explained. "We don't believe that you should think about nothing, but that you should get your mind to focus on one particular thing. I have witnessed incredible journeys within the students — it's truly transformational."

As I continued to flow through my Surya Namaskar A, with David coming back now and again to check on me, I remembered that Andrew made it a point to say that in the traditional style of teaching Ashtanga, you don't move onto the next pose until the teacher feels you are ready.

With sweat dripping down the side of my forehead as I stood in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) after a number of repetitions, David asked if that was the most Sun Salutations I've ever done.

"Actually, I've done 108 during my teacher training," I told him. He looked pleasantly surprised. "Well, let's move onto Surya Namaskar B, yes?" I nodded and followed his lead.

In the corners of my view, I could see students who were moving through extremely advanced postures with ease. From handstand into backbend and then back into a handstand, I wondered if I would ever advance to that point. I'd always been curious about Mysore (and initially thought it was such an odd name to give to a style of practice that perhaps truly meant it would make your body achy after doing it)  and now here I was, invited to try it out firsthand. I desperately wanted the type of strength that I've admired for so long, yet at the same time, scared to pursue it. It almost seemed so intense that it was unattainable, and in that belief, I did not try. Now things were different. I had been asking the Universe for a teacher for quite some time, someone who could show me how to deepen my practice in the way that I offer to my clients when working in privates with them, and here was this amazing opportunity, just not in the way I expected.

Not normally a fan of regimented sequences, the way that David worked with me lent something new to the practice. It was a subtle connection between student and teacher in a way that let the student feel safe to explore, guided on where to go, yet the journey was completely up to the individual creating space on the mat. 

I wasn't quite sure where to end, so I just kept going. I made mental notes to bring a towel and plenty of water with me the next time, excited about the commitment I've made to aim for a 6-day-a-week practice, at the same time every day if possible, for a month.

At the end of it, David came to show me how to move into seated postures. I felt that I was *this close* to being able to jump through from High Plank to a cross-legged Sukhasana (Easy Pose), but realized that there was still a bit of transformation that was going to happen if I could look as graceful as David did in demonstrating.

That's the thing about Ashtanga. Most every teacher I've met who has a practice rooted in Ashtanga that then flowed into Vinyasa (which came from Ashtanga, as Hillam noted), makes the tough stuff look so incredibly graceful. There's a stillness in the movement, a lightness in the strength, so that peace reigns supreme in whatever the pose may be. 

At a time of transition in my life, I'm looking forward to the changes to come, both internally and externally. It's not without a dose of bittersweet, a learning of how to let go of attachment, and an opening to this or something greater.

1 comment:


  1. The plan weight and accent was about killing me, but again I was brash to do yoga which has magically helped me adapt my fretfulness and administer aggregate with a air-conditioned mind. Yoga which dates aback absolutely a lot of years has accepted to be a extenuative adroitness for alive women.Surya Namaskar is the mother of the Yoga.

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