I arrived a little bit earlier this morning because I knew my practice would be longer. The Shala 'officially' opens at 7:30, but people come earlier while Darby and Joanne are still doing their practice.
The Shala is beautiful. It's in an older building. The layout reminds me of Shala North - it's on the second story with stairs leading to the reception area and practice room (both have high ceilings, so it's very spacious). The change rooms (with showers) are located on the third floor. The space is comfortable and well decorated.
The walls are covered with photographs of the Darbys and Guruji. One series of photographs depict a very pregnant Joanne being adjusted by Guruji in various poses including Taraksvasana A, followed with a family photograph of Darby, Joanne and their baby son Shankara. On the stairwell, there's a photo of a smiling Guruji and Iyengar, embracing.
The practice room is painted one of my favorite colours, a greenish blue. There are lots of windows and the sunlight streams through in the morning. A brass Krishna, Patanjali and Ganesha sit on a window sill and there's a large, beautiful Hanuman in the the left hand corner. Guruji's photograph oversees the room from the front wall.
The room never seems very warm when I arrive but I sweat buckets while I'm there. There were usually 20+ people practising but the room could hold more; there's lots of space. As I arrived this morning, I noticed blocks and straps set aside for use and one practitioner was doing a few preparatory hip openers before practice.
I was feeling a bit nervous about my practice this morning. I had no idea how much Intermediate I would be given. Last night I reviewed the vinyasa up to Laghu Vajrasana, just to be safe.
As I moved through my Primary, Darby came over a few times to talk to me about the positioning of my head and neck. In almost every pose, I'm failing to integrate my neck with the whole of my spine.
For example, in Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog), I'm bringing my head too far back in an attempt to find a deeper back bend. Instead, Darby encouraged me to lengthen up the neck from the collarbone to the ears, draw the shoulders slightly forward and lift the upper chest forward/up to bring more bend into the thoracic spine. In every pose, he wanted me to integrate the neck.
He's a very, very patient teacher. I wasn't 'getting it' right away, so he kept offering the information in different ways (verbal cues, physical adjustment, even demo-ing) and pointing it out in different contexts. He talked to me about this alignment issue in three of the standing poses, spent a lot of time working with me in Urdhva Mukha Svanasana and also helped me apply the concept in Setu Bandhasana.
In Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, he sat next to me and asked me to do the pose my way, then he helped me find the correct alignment, then back to my way again, so I could feel the difference. In time, I could feel that my head felt 'floppy' if I was misaligned. I started noticing this sensation in other poses and correcting it myself.
Through all of this explanation, he never once raised his voice, expressed frustration or became impatient. And when I finally started to catch on, he was equally calm and accepting. I felt no pressure; I could feel my guard coming down. I felt free to explore these new directions in my practice and trust that they would become clear in time.
I found his adjustments to be strong and direct, but never forceful. If anything, these were some of the lightest and most subtle adjustments I've ever received in Mysore-style practice.
So I was feeling very supported and comfortable as I started into Intermediate series. It didn't feel like it was a 'big deal' at all (though maybe just a tad surreal).
I got the bind in Pasasana. The right is my easier side, so it was much deeper. Darby was helping me and when my heels plopped to the floor, he said "Even better!" and helped me keep them there, giving me cues and assistance with balance (root down through the heels!).
He sat next to me for the first side of Krounchasana, and demoed, cued me and lightly adjusted the pose. I was on my own for the second side but he came back for Shalabasana A & B and I repeated those poses several times. Darby showed me a way to work in the pose that protected my back.
I was pretty much on my own for Dhanurasana and Parsva Dhanaurasana. I received more detailed instruction for Ustrasana, then did Laghu Vajrasana on my own twice, waited for help.
Darby cued me verbally but didn't give a physical adjustment per se - he instructed me to come down until my head found his hand, then come up again. I did this over and over again and GEEZ!!!! It was hard!!
Darby didn't need to tell me this was my ending point. I knew! He said, "Stop there" and told me very firmly not to move beyond that pose without a teacher's help.
Joanne helped me with my backbends - just Urdhva Dhanurasana. I did it five times. I really enjoy her energy - she has a calm and gentle presence. After, Darby came over and gave me the most awesome squish in the history of squishes (and my first real squish in over two months).
I felt sad as I rolled up my mat after practice. I don't know when I'll be in a shala with teachers again. I really didn't feel like a guest in this shala - the teachers and students were so warm and welcoming, I felt very much at home. When I came over to say goodbye, Darby gave me big hug.
Montreal is quite a trek, but I would love to go back someday soon.
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