Sunday, August 23, 2009


I slept through my alarm clock this morning and missed the early morning meditation session at the Yoga Festival. Now isn't THAT a metaphor for my life?! ;-)

(I'm still giggling about it...)

I did make it to my first session, though, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a 3-hour asana class/workshop with Teacher D from Shala South. I've always been curious about D's teaching background. Though frequently billed as an 'Astanga teacher', she'll be the first to argue that's she's not. Definitely not a 'traditional' one and Shala South is not a 'traditional' studio by any stretch of the imagination.

I've never been to Shala South's Mysore room, but apparently, it's a free-wheeling, 'anything goes' sort of place, where you can do any sequence you like and receive advice and adjustments for your practice.

It sounds *really* cool, actually.

Anyway, Teacher D talked about a bit about her history of practice (very similar to mine): She started out with Iyengar, then a vinyasa practice segueing into traditional Astanga. She lasted about a year in traditional practice before branching off into something that wasn't quite Astanga, but very similar. She talked a lot about the poses of Astanga and how many of them are simply not possible for many people.

Bells went off in my head as she spoke. I've certainly observed this in the years I've taught. It's one of the reasons that I enjoy teaching 'intro' Astanga classes in a non-traditional setting. I believe anybody can do this practice with the right attitude and modifications, but (and truly, I'm not trying to start a war here) the traditional methods don't work for all bodies. I take a very Swenson-eque approach to my teaching, with modifications and alternatives that preserve the spirit and intention of the pose, if not the full expression.

But I digress...

This is where her story got really interesting! In her own practice, Teacher D found herself focusing more and more on breathing (like me, she became weary of the fussiness of Iyengar because she just wanted to 'move and breath'). She experimented with using a metronome (sound familiar? *nudges Arturo*). She eventually started using this technique in the Mysore room where she practised (introducing other practitioners to the concept) and teaching it in her classes. She replaced the metronome with a live drummer (her son was the drummer for our workshop) and started offering two-hour classes with a deep focus on the breath.

I've been to one of these classes and they're amazing.

The workshop was about breathing - not Ujjayi per se, but how to breath diapragmatically and how to breath consistently in vinyasa practice. We discussed the anatomy and action of the diapragm. We used a hammock to create a 3-dimensional representation of the diapragm. We did a few breathing exercises including my favourite lay-on-your-belly-and-observe-the expansion-of-the-low-back (I like to teach this with partners - with a hand on the low back, or using some other feedback mechanism like a towel or block).

Then we enjoyed an oxygen-infused vinyasa practice that was completely the opposite of my last experience with Teacher D (where I sweated buckets). I was slightly warm and very lightheaded from all of that breathing! One participant commented afterward that it felt like a restorative vinyasa class.

For the next several hours, I worked for the Festival as a volunteer. I totally lucked out and got a plum assignment: working the door at the classroom where the senior Iyengar teacher was giving a restorative yoga workshop. She's famous for her restorative classes and rightly so - it looked blissful from my perspective. The classroom had a window and I took copious notes about the configurations of bolsters, blankets and straps.

Ever efficient, the Iyengar teacher's last teaching of the day was a how-to on bundling props for transport back to her studio. She put her participants to work and in less than 10 minutes, everything was ready to go. I've never seen a more speedy exit of equipment from a conference.

My next workshop was on cueing from the perspective of the Pilates tradition. An old teacher of mine was teaching it, so I wasn't terribly surprised when she didn't show up *eye roll*. I quickly scanned the other rooms and chose a session on home practice, given by a teacher from my neighbourhood who is well-versed in Eastern medicine.

It was interesting. I'm more accustomed to using anatomical relationships to generate my verbal instructions and adjustments. This cat was taking his cues off the meridian system. It was kind of awesome. It felt very ephemeral to me, but I was impressed with his depth of knowledge.

Then I went home and emptied my dog.

I made it back in time for a performance by a yoga-based dance troupe. They had amazing energy. Afterward, at the Kirtan, these ladies were still dancing! The Kirtan singer was great too. I was interested in her use of guitar as an accompaniment. There's a new goal for me: learn to play a few chants to eventually lead Kirtan. That would be fun!

Some general observations about the conference:

- It was not as 'high level' as I had hoped and I wasn't impressed with the Asana workshops. Ideally, I would have liked to see more offerings targeted directly to teachers or advanced practitioners. It would have been helpful if there was a rating system for the classes, indicating the level. But then again, all of the classes were beginner/intermediate. Even Teacher D's class was toned down.

- I tried Nia. I hate Nia. I know, I know! I should love Nia, because I love dancing, but I hated how structured and precise it was. For me, my Nia experience really highlighted all of the things I love about Journey Dance and similar approaches (and everything I hated about formal dance). I connect with the concept of 'dance as a spiritual journey' and I feel comfortable and confident in 'free dance.' In Nia, I felt awkward and ugly in my body; it reminded me of aerobics (insert bad 1980s flashbacks).

- Amma has an entire product line! With a logo! Seriously, I'd love to know who was responsible for Amma's 'rebranding'. It's brilliant! If I had a dollar for every Amma coffee mug or water bottle I spotted at this conference...(and there were *many*)

- ...I could have afforded the astonishingly overpriced food. Yes it was organic. Yes, it was authentic Indian (apparently, they used Mira Nair's caterer). And it was very, very good (as a volunteer, I ate lunch for free). But $13 for a small plate and a cup of chai? You can get a decent lunch special in this city for $6. There wasn't even naan!

- I'm tired. Really tired. And totally, completely burnt out on yoga. I don't feel inspired like I did after the Yoga Show. It wasn't a bad experience, it just wasn't great.


Michelle said...

How disappointing for you Kai. You shoulc be tired from all of that. Go have some banana pancakes.

Kaivalya said...

I had a burrito on Monday night, so I'm all good! :-)