Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Guided primary series with Nancy Gilgoff

It’s hard to believe the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence was only last weekend. If I didn’t have a full-time job, if I didn’t teach yoga four times a week, and if I wasn’t trying to plan a wedding, I probably would have written twice as many blog posts during and after the Confluence. :-) But I’m thankful for the time and inspiration I have had for the posts I have managed to do — a big thank you to everyone for reading, commenting and sharing, both here and on Facebook.

I have a couple more posts to go, however, before I say I’ve filed all that I want to file from the gathering.

On the last day of the Confluence, I took the guided primary series with Nancy Gilgoff. I loved the balance of taking the led primary from Richard Freeman on the first day of classes and then seeing Nancy’s approach on the last day. They couldn’t have been more different in their approach to beginners.

You could tell from Richard’s class that he has a background in Iyengar and philosophy. His approach, which I really appreciated, was to set the scene, so speak. Offer up intensely vivid imagery (such as golden dragon tails and cobra hoodies). Get deep into poses. But at the very end of classes, he said, “So . . . don’t try to remember any of this.” He told the room full of students that if we continue to practice, all of this stuff will find us. If we don’t, it will run away from us. Richard seems to simply want to plant the seeds of these ideas into our body and our consciousness.

Nancy began class by saying that when she first met Guruji, he had to put her into poses. He had to help her jump back, because she wasn’t strong enough. She is a big believer in introducing Ashtanga yoga to beginners by having them just do it. Breath? Bandhas? “The beginner can’t hear it anyway,” she told us. Nancy continued by saying that bringing up too much with beginners runs the risk of causing their minds to activate. “The less thinking, the better,” she said.

I loved what she had to say about the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga breath:

The more I practice, the more I realize the simplicity of it. This is about the breath.

(Interestingly, in a similar vein, Richard Freeman had said in his class that you could think of Ashtanga as “pranayama for restless people.”)

Nancy knew that nearly every single person in that room already had an Ashtanga practice, so she noted historical facts about the poses as we got into them. I loved it — it was like taking a guided historical tour of how the primary series sequence has changed over time.

A few notes:

  • In bhujapidasana, she teaches head on the floor the way Tim Miller does. Chin to the floor is more advanced, she said, and you shouldn’t do it if you can’t do head to the floor.
  • In kurmasana, it used to be arms straight out to the sides. Nancy wondered whether taking the arms at more of an angle was the result of less and less room to work with.
  • When it came time for urdvha dhanurasana, Nancy said that Pattabhi Jois didn’t have them do backbends there. “Think about that,” she said. She did let students who wanted the urdvha dhanurasanas to take them.
  • Nancy also put us in the pose that Tim Miller has his students do, where you lie down right after backbends. (Tim calls it tadaka mudra.) Nancy noted that it is not savasana. “Stiff body,” she said.
  • I loved how she introduced  ut plutihi: She said to bring in all the tension you can. All of it, so that you can fully let go in savasana. For this reason, Nancy believes in going straight to savasana from ut plutihi, rather than taking a vinyasa first. But she let students take the vinyasa if they wanted to.

After the class, we had a few minutes of discussion. Someone asked Nancy about alignment. “There is no formal alignment whatsoever,” she said.

In Ashtanga, Nancy noted, it’s about energetic channels: “It’s a completely different approach.”

I loved what she said next, because the idea that there’s no alignment whatsoever seemed to be a difficult one for our group as a whole to handle:

The western mind thinks in terms of external form.

 

As with each of the Confluence teachers, Nancy’s instruction left me with so much great fodder to think about — not just now, but for years to come.

(Illustration credit: Chakras, from “The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga,” by Swami Vishnudevananda, 1959, via Spratmackrel’s Flickr photostream and Creative Commons.)

In this series:

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2 thoughts on “Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Guided primary series with Nancy Gilgoff

  1. Pingback: Quick roundup of Ashtanga Yoga Confluence coverage « The Confluence Countdown

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