Through the stories that Pattabhi Jois’ students tell of his teachings, it’s clear that humor was a key part of his beloved teaching style. I think what was true of Guruji is also true of Tim Miller.
For me personally, this is most evident in the way Tim corrects my poses.
For instance, last year, I realized how far from my edge I was in virabhadrasana A when Tim came up to me and said, “What is this baby warrior?” Yep, I have an unenviably short stance in warrior A — and even then, I spend most of the five breaths wishing I were out of the pose.
I’m writing this from Columbus, Ohio — it’s my third time taking Tim Miller’s annual workshop at Yoga on High here — and today was a double header on the getting called out front. Although I am pretty sure my baby warrior has only managed to make it to toddler stage, I didn’t get called out on that pose.
But in utkatasana (chair), a pose I am always adjusted in when I take vinyasa classes, Tim called out from a few mats away: “Bends your knees, Rose!”
I shook my head, laughed a little bit, and, knowing that I couldn’t get away with it any longer, sank a few inches down. Although I’ve made my peace with chair pose, I still don’t like it, and I still hang out at high elevations even though I know you need to drill down to truly get the internal fire going. Yes, part of it’s physical. Yes, part of it’s emotional.
What I’ve noticed is that Tim’s adjustments of me during led practices often focus on deficiencies in my tapas-inducing poses — not sinking low enough in utkatasana or virabhadrasana A. It’s the stuff of internal heat and granthis (knots).
But his adjustments also speak to lifestyle issues. Once, during one of his “Asana Doctor” workshops, I asked for help with marichyasana D. We struggled with it for a while, and then Tim looked at me and said, “Well . . . maybe a kilo or two?” (Translated: Shedding some pounds will assist in binding this pose.”)
I laughed out loud because it was so funny how he put it. I know it’s hard to discern when you’re simply reading it in this post rather than being in the room, but trust me — he totally diffused the comment with humor.
And he was right — that period was what I hope will turn out to be the low point of my sustaining terrible eating habits (endless and repetitive selections of processed foods that went against what my body needed). My struggles with mari D said a lot about my body structure and the areas of density in my back and shoulders, but it also said a lot about my diet — and diet is integral to the Ashtanga method.
Anyway, I noted earlier that today was a double header. In garbha pindasana, since I didn’t have a spray bottle with me — I don’t take those to led classes — I could only get part of my arms through my legs. Let’s say about four inches past my wrists. (When I have a spray bottle to lubricate, I can get my arms through and get my hands to my head. I know that the practice is designed so that by this time in the practice, your sweat will be your lubrication. I don’t seem to sweat enough in the salient spaces to rely on sweat alone, though. Sweat pours — pours! — down my face. Backs of my knees, and that general region? Dry as a desert.)
I did my nine rolls and got to kukutasana (rooster pose), but since I barely had any clearance, my knees were nearly down to the mat. Tim came by and stopped in front of me.
He said something like, “Oh . . . why chicken with such short legs?”
I was not the only one laughing at that one.
It might sound harsh out of context, but humor is a fantastic teaching tool because it can diffuse a situation and signal to a student that the comment — as critical as it might sound — is being made without any judgement.
I believe in laughing at least once during each of my home practices — whether it’s because I fall out of a pose in a totally ridiculous way or because I mangle a pose so horribly I wonder what could have possibly led to that. Sometimes I laugh because it’s comical how much effort it took get out of bed that morning.
Now I have two more reasons to laugh in primary series, and two more spots in the practice to focus on. So hopefully by this time next year, my baby warrior would have made it to at least the tween years, and my water-free chicken legs will have seen a growth spurt.
(Photo credit: Via urbanmkr’s flicker photo stream)
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