A beginner’s mind

Last night, I took a class in the viniyoga tradition for the first time. Tonight, I taught the first session of my new three-session introductory workshop to Ashtanga yoga. Both were absolutely lovely experiences for me, and the juxtaposition of the two evenings has me thinking about the beginner’s mind.

The student side

Since discovering Ashtanga yoga a dozen years or so ago, this style of yoga has been my first and true love. It still is — I mean, every time I attend an Ashtanga workshop that allows for deeply exploring the practice from a slightly different angle than I do day to day, I feel almost giddy all over again at what a brilliantly designed method this is and how much I simply love it. But a Yoga International article by Gary Kraftsow that I read over the Thanksgiving holiday last year had me intrigued by viniyoga — in particular its potential as a healing modality — and I learned that someone here in the greater Lansing area has extensive training with Kraftsow. I normally can’t make the time of Kathy Ornish‘s class (that’s what you get for teaching so many yoga classes), but the time happens to work for the next three weeks, so I asked if I could drop in to the series. Happily, she said yes.

It takes a lot of letting go to put aside what you know (or at least what you think you know) and try to fully experience a new style of yoga. What I try to do is listen to a teacher’s instructors and bring in as little of my own experience as possible. It’s impossible to not bring in anything, of course, but I try to stay focused on the very specific instruction and take the words at face value, to the extent that’s possible. So if I’m in a class and I’m asked to feel my spinal movements in cakravakasana, I try to stay within my breath, bones, flesh and joints, focusing on feeling just the effects of the specific instructions rather than channel what years of yoga has taught me about how to breathe, move and hold.

The teaching side

When I teach introductory classes — something I am always grateful for the opportunity to do — I try to work backwards. In these instances, I channel all the amazing teachers I’ve had over the years — I’ve been very lucky that way and have had outstanding instructors — and try to distill the lessons I’ve taken from them. I then construct a set of modules — maybe it’s a set of breathing techniques — that builds, and, I hope, takes someone from square one to that insight that has done so much for me.

Are you getting through? Is it working? It can be hard to tell at first. You have to really try to read the room, stay flexible so that you can change course on a dime if it’s not, and have faith that the power of the method will ultimately radiate out and seep into the consciousness of the students who are in that room in the first place because they are open-minded enough to want to be there.

I’ve long had such deep respect for what language teachers know about what their students know — from straight-up vocabulary words to how much of the structure of the language their students have a handle on. I figure you need at least a few key things to be able to do this effectively — you need to be able to start where the student is and build from there, you need to truly love the subject you’re trying to convey, and you need the humility to carry out the task. That combination of passion and humility provides some important motivation to make second-by-second calculations on what you need to say and do next to even begin to do justice to such an impossibly brilliant system.

I’d write more, but it’s late — past midnight, which means the practice in the morning will be a bit rough (more on how the six-day-a-week practice is going in an upcoming blog post, but the short answer is, thankfully, pretty good!). In any case, I’m really looking forward to being a student again next Tuesday evening with K.O. of Good Space Yoga (located at the Center for Yoga in East Lansing), followed the next evening by the chance to share the second session of this three-week introductory workshop at Sanctuary Yoga in Okemos.

I guess it boils down to this: I’m a student in both cases, a student when I’m learning, and a student even — especially — when I’m occupying the role of an instructor.

I would love to hear your thoughts on attaining/re-attaining/maintaining (however you view it) a beginner’s mind.

(Graphic credit: The Quote Series: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few (Shunryu Suzuki) via VeRoNiK@ GR‘s Flickr.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Demystifying Ashtanga Yoga

This week, I’m excited to be starting a three-session workshop at Sanctuary Yoga. The workshop — which costs $30 and runs 5:15-6:15 p.m. for three consecutive Wednesdays — is designed for anyone who has been curious about Ashtanga yoga but has been either too intimidated or simply too busy to try it. Here’s the description:

This three-week introductory course provides a multilevel introduction to Ashtanga yoga. Each session will include a physical practice — designed to give you a taste of both the challenge and radiance of Ashtanga — and time to discuss historical roots and cultural growth. We’ll cover sun salutations, standing poses, key seated poses and transitions. Each student will leave with resources for continuing a personal yoga practice based on compassion for the body and mind.

Read more or register for Demystifying Ashtanga Yoga. If you have questions about the course, drop me a line at ashtangayogarose [at] gmail.com.

At the conclusion of that workshop, I’ll start teaching a weekly class at Sanctuary Yoga. That class, which begins Feb. 7, will run 7:30-8:45 p.m., and will be a led half primary series class.

A sanctuary for the body-mind-spirit connection

Sanctuary Yoga, located in Okemos just off Okemos Road (across from Ace Hardware and Douglas J), is a relatively new and lovely addition to the greater Lansing area’s expanding landscape of yoga studios. I look around not just this area, but the state of Michigan, and it’s very cool to see the traditional Ashtanga offerings that are increasingly available.

  • In Royal Oak, Matthew Darling’s established Ashtanga Michigan continues to pass on the lineage of this practice.
  • In Ann Arbor, after a few years of what I perceived to be an Ashtanga drought, Angela Jamison has founded AY: A2 and also teaches weekly at A2 Yoga. In a short amount of time — less than two years — she has reinvigorated the community’s Ashtanga practitioners by sharing her knowledge, offering individual attention, bringing in visiting scholars and holding affordable retreats to help students deepen their understanding of the practice.
Beyond the realm of authorized and certified teachers, there’s a steady current too:
  • New and established studios across the Lower Peninsula also seem to be increasing offering led classes. (I haven’t seen that trend in the Upper Peninsula yet — but if I’m wrong, and you know of Ashtanga offerings in the U.P., let me know!)
  • Closer to home, Hilltop Yoga has been offering led Ashtanga classes for years.

In short, day after day (except on moon days 😉 ), week after week, teachers across the state are demystifying this practice, one adjustment or verbal cue at a time.

Beth Baldwin Mackowiak, founder of Sanctuary Yoga, very generously welcomed me to her studio, which she founded last year, and let me set out how I wanted to teach Ashtanga here. So I pitched this workshop out of a spirit of wanting to do my little part to help more people taste this life-altering practice — and decide for themselves if it’s a practice they want to pursue. If they decide that the particular style of Ashtanga yoga is not for them, I hope that the workshop at least provides a foundation to experience the breath and feel how, when connected to movement, it can produce heat, provide a lightness, and calm the mind.

Please to meet you

I think one of the beauties of Ashtanga yoga is that once you strip away the factors that seem to keep people away — the idea that’s it’s too hard, that it’s not compassionate to the body, that only athletes and Type A personalities gravitate toward it — you discover the true awe of the method. I guess I’m aiming to demystify what the superficial aspects of the practice so that people can experience the true beauty of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga.

I love teaching basics and introductory yoga classes for beginners. The Introduction to Ashtanga Yoga  I taught until last month at Hilltop Yoga was consistently one of my favorite to teach. No two classes were ever the same, and it was fulfilling to see the spark that students sometimes had with their first connection to their bodies and their internal landscapes. (I would have loved to have continued teaching that class, but I struggled to find the right time on the schedule there to attract a consistent group each week.)

Do you remember your first yoga class? I still remember mine. It was love at first breath.

>>See the rest of my teaching schedule in the greater Lansing area. 

(Graphic info: Wordle based on the description of my new workshop beginning this week. Create your own.) 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

‘Rarely do we clench just one thing.’

 

X-ray of a mouth

Clenched teeth, clenched mind?

Pattabhi Jois apparently used to say, “Clenched toes, clenched mind.” Especially in standing balancing postures such as utthita hasta padangustasana (extended hand-to-big-toe posture), the toes of our grounded foot may be clawing into our mats without us realizing it — as if digging in will help us balance. It’s quite the opposite, right? It takes strength to believe that letting go of a tightening action will be liberating. It takes strength to trust that if we let go of what we believe is anchoring us, another source of stability — a more genuine source of stability — will present itself.

In his beautiful book The Heart of Yoga, T.K.V. Desikachar tells us:

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra describes an asana as having two important qualities: sthira and sukha. Sthira is steadiness and alertness. Sukha refers to the ability to remain comfortable in a posture. Both qualities should be present to the same degree when practicing any posture. (p. 17)

Whether we’re dealing with a career or personal passions, family or friendships, there are times when nothing could be harder to achieve than this feeling of sthira sukha. What seems to happen far more frequently than the perfect balance between strength and surrender is tightening up or drilling down.

Hilltop Yoga owner Hilaire Lockwood has for years worked on helping me release the tension in my shoulders and trapezius, the muscle starting at the base of the occipital bone. Even after an adjustment, when I think I have let go, she points out how much more I have held on to, and coaxes my body and mind to let go of just a little more. (For the record, I also clench my butt in postures such as setu bandha (bridge posture).) During very stressful times, my muscles tighten so much I worry if they’ll ever loosen again. But even during less stressful times of my life, those muscles are so trained that they don’t seem to ever truly release. I’m pretty sure it will take still more years for me to relinquish the hold I have over my holds.

I was recently telling Sue Forbes, co-owner of Mindful Movement and Physical Therapy in East Lansing, about all my clenching habits. It’s not shoulders or the gluteus maximus we’re talking about here. I recounted how, at 31, I was told I had so eroded my gums through grinding my teeth that I had the gums of someone twice my age, which required surgery to graft tissue to my gums. (The surgery is about as fun as it sounds.) Sue smiled and nodded. “Rarely do we clench just one thing,” she said.

Yoga is premised on the concept that there is a natural and profound connection between the body, mind and spirit. The clenching that we habitualize — is it only physical? In yoga, we use the body to get beyond the body. We use the body as a way to still the fluctuations of the mind and to tap into what keeps our spirit going. I find it fascinating to start with the clenching I feel in my own body and work inward. Can I trace the tightening of this part of my body to a particular work project that I’m stressed about? Or maybe I can follow the tracing the other way — if I let go of a particular memory about a past relationship, what, if anything, might let go in my body?

And what about beliefs? Is that a type of clenching? The Ashtanga series present posture after posture that seem impossible when we first start to practice. But we learn, over time, that through the guidance of an experienced teacher and through consistent practice, we eventually melt into those postures when the time is right.

Maybe telling yourself, “I’ll never be able to do this posture” is just another form of clenching. If that’s the case, consistently practicing Ashtanga can be considered a counterpose of sorts — what we do to counterbalance a previous pose in order to bring the body, mind and spirit into balance.

(Photo credit: The Full Wiki)

[VIDEO] Three Questions ~~ featuring Doug Swenson

Doug Swenson workshop at Hilltop Yoga

Doug Swenson adjusts my parivrtta trikonasana (revolved triangle)

Doug Swenson spent this past weekend at Hilltop Yoga, offering workshops that touched on everything from the importance of cross-training to kriyas (internal cleaning techniques such as nauli). Doug began his study of yoga in 1969 — the year the Beatles recorded Abbey Road —  and travels the world teaching a unique blend of yoga that draws heavily from Ashtanga but weaves together different styles and influences.

The Old Town studio was packed for each of the three-hour sessions, which began with a discussion and led into a two-hour practice. The Grand River-facing windows quickly steamed up for each session, which stayed light thanks to Doug’s humor and laid-back style.

After the last workshop on Sunday, I asked Doug if he would be willing to spend a few minutes to video Three Questions, a new occasional series with yoga teachers and practitioners. Doug generously said yes.

Why is cross-training in yoga important?

How can someone begin a cross-training regiment?

How does a larger community benefit when individuals practice yoga?

Doug is constantly in motion, traveling internationally to give workshops. Check out his schedule.