However, I do want to say a few words about being adjusted in class – primarily in an ashtanga class, but equally in any yoga class where you receive adjustments.
In ashtanga, in particular, there is a culture – or even an expectation – of strong physical adjustments. Teachers provide adjustments to help a student feel the correct alignment or to help a student go deeper into a pose.
I know there can be a ‘no pain no gain’ mentality in ashtanga but we must be kind to ourselves – there’s the yama ‘ahimsa’ meaning non-harming or non-violence.
A good adjustment doesn’t have to be forceful. A good adjustment will:
facilitate an opening in the body, allowing perhaps a little extra length to be found
create a more solid foundation in a pose.
Many adjustments can be intimate. There’s a lot of body contact. Here are some examples:
So if you’re receiving an adjustment and it doesn’t feel good or you feel it’s overstepped a boundary, you must tell the teacher. I know it can be hard to speak up but it’s your body and you know it best.
If you don’t want to receive adjustments, that’s ok. You can tell the teacher or perhaps they have some sort of consent process – Norman suggests using playing cards.
This is a biggie: A teacher also needs to know if they’ve injured you.
There’s a lot of talk in yoga about the importance of paying attention: how your feet feel on the floor in samastitihi, how the weather impacts nature, how your actions and words affect others. It also means paying attention to the darker issues facing the yoga world.
We must be aware. We can’t bury our heads in the sand. And we must be empowered practitioners, in control of our own body and practice.
Do you have anything to add? Any observations/experiences to share?
If you teach, feel free to share this with your students.
I was talking to a neighbour this week about how I’d cried on my mat that morning. “You’re so not selling yoga to me,” she replied.
I’ve just done a week of Ashtanga Mysore practice with Lucy Crawford at BAYoga in Berkhamsted. Since giving birth to Jacob almost seven months ago, I’ve managed to get to a handful of Mysore classes. My home practice has mostly involved soft bolsters and cosy blankets.
Lucy was wonderful as always. She talked a lot about coming into relationship and how to live and practice according to the yamas – the yogic principles for right living or ‘observances’.
This resonated deeply. I have a new body and I don’t recognise it. Looking after a baby takes its toll physically, let alone coming to terms with the physiological changes that happen during pregnancy and breastfeeding. My rib cage has expanded outwards in all directions, my shoulders and hips are broader. I’ve lost a lot of strength and a friend called my breastfeeding boobs “magnificent” the other day. I’m doing my pelvic floor exercises as I type this.
Lucy talked about ‘sukha’ or joy. Was I able to find joy in my practice? The first three days felt distinctly lacking. It was all an effort – sorting childcare drop-offs and pick-ups, getting to Berko for a 9am start… and then I had to do sun salutations?!
She spoke on ‘satya’, the yama relating to honesty. I feel really tired at the moment so why push it? As a result, my Monday practice was surya namaskars and standing poses followed by some yummy restorative poses. Lucy: “Right Clare, this is what we’re going to do with you. Let’s put this bolster here…”
And can we let go of the grasping – the yama ‘aparigraha’? The wanting: wanting to be ‘better’, wanting the pre-pregnancy practice. Lucy spoke about when Guruji would give her a new pose, she’d feel anything but excited (“Ugh, not another one!”). She said she’d much rather hang out in restorative poses although she knows her body needs to move. I can relate to this.
On Wednesday morning the tears came even before my first surya namaskar A. Steamy tears falling silently down my face during our breathing practice. More tears after attempting purvottanasana – feeling like I’d left my cervix on the mat as I lifted my hips up. “You’re very wobbly around that whole area,” said Lucy with loving eyes and a gentle smile. “That’s to be expected. Give it time.” The yama ‘ahimsa’ has various translations including non-violence and non-harming. Essentially it’s about being kind – to ourselves and others.
I was trying to explain the tears to my neighbour. I said about how we move and breathe in the poses. The emotions we’ve been holding in our bodies are released. It’s almost like a wringing out of all the stuff we’re carrying around. It’s cathartic. There’s no hiding on your mat. Everything comes out. It’s very positive.
My yin teacher Norman is fond of saying “shift happens”. And it certainly did for me. After Wednesday’s tears, I found my rhythm. There was a lightness, I had more energy both during and after practice and I was smiling more (sukha).
I had come into relationship with myself. I found ‘me’ again. My body is more open and I am less creaky. My thoracic no longer feels stuck. My jaw has softened. There’s a spring in my step. I feel stronger picking Jacob up and my happiness makes him happy. This body is slowly recovering.
I have so much gratitude for this practice. I bloody love yoga.
Two more yin workshops in 2017 before I go away on a little adventure:
Sat 2 Sept at BAYoga, Berkhamsted: info
Sat 9 Sept at The Studio, Mid Herts Golf Club, Wheathampstead: info
I’ll be back teaching regularly from January 2018.
With winter in the UK closing in and the early mornings becoming darker and colder, snuggling under your duvet is likely to feel increasingly appealing. But how do you stay connected to your home practice?
I’ve heard people say that the hardest step to practicing on your own at home is rolling out your mat. But once you’re standing on that mat, you’re half way there.
I’ve asked some teachers for their tips to help you stay motivated through the winter months…
One of my favourite sayings is: A little a lot is better than a lot a little. Make it accessible. You could just sit for five minutes. Go with the morning. When does the evening start? When you get in from work? After dinner? Before bed? The morning is better.
If you can’t work out how to fit it in, just get up five or ten minutes earlier. It’s not rocket science. We can be so disciplined in reading the paper, watching the latest boxset…
People forget that Rome wasn’t built in a day. It takes time. We have to be realistic about what we can do and we just have to do our best. Be less ambitious.
Get support. It’s great to have a home practice but a sense of community is important. In Buddhism it’s called ‘sangha’. The support that we require in these hard and difficult times isn’t unique to now – they were difficult in the times of Buddha too. But we need support. We need sangha.
Norman has been practicing yoga for more than 15 years and teaching since 2001. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, I’ll be interviewing him for the blog very soon – sign up on the right to make sure you don’t miss it.
Dedicate a specific time each day to practice which is realistic and manageable.
Let go of the idea that you need to do a full primary series practice. In an ideal world this is great, but with the many pressures we often put ourselves under, this is not always possible. Be happy to start with ten minutes and let the universe decide if you are able to do more.
Remember what you feel like when you finish your practice and reconnect to that feeling if you are struggling to get on your mat. Have you ever regretted getting on your mat? I know I haven’t.
Aim to get to a certain posture in your practice each time you start. This may be the sun salutations, standing, or maybe navasana. When you reach that posture, see if you feel like doing more. If not, be very happy that you have achieved your goal. Don’t forget to allow time for your relaxation at the end.
Avoid beating yourself up if, at the end of your day, you didn’t manage to get on your mat. Trust me, it doesn’t help! Look to smile inwardly as you progress through your practice, trust it, and enjoy it.
Cathy runs BAYoga Studio in Berkhamsted, Herts. Her favourite class to teach is a Mysore self practice and can’t wait to visit the place itself in India next year.
When it comes to starting a home practice or keeping one going my best advice is to find something to motivate you and let that motivation be fluid.
BKS Iyengar says that practice “waxes and wanes like the moon”. Some days I spend several hours luxuriating on my mat with my books and pen to hand. Other days it’s all I can do to stick my legs up the wall in vipariti karani. It took me about three years to be ok with that.
I’m pretty sure that since you’re reading this blog something’s motivating you, but in case you’re stuck here’s my top list:
1. I’m going to a workshop/training/retreat I better get a bit fitter
2. I’ve been on a workshop/training/retreat and I’m pumped with enthusiasm
3. No reason, I just gotta do it
4. I really don’t want to do this today but I’m going to anyway
5. I am going to nail that pose
Christina Sell would say that every second you put into practice is a deposit in the bank. If you see someone striking a perfect pose and the words “I could never do that” enter your thoughts, the truth is that for the majority of us, we’re not born like that. What you don’t see are the hours, blood, sweat and tears which went into that asana.
Adele describes herself as a yoga teacher and spiritual adventurer. She’s very excited to be currently studying towards her 500 hour qualification with Chris Chavez. This requires regular trips to Istanbul. Can’t be bad.
So keep it up people! And do you have any advice? What keeps you motivated in your home practice? You can leave your comments below.
I was having a chat not too long ago with a local yogi and we were discussing the popularity of ashtanga where we live in Harpenden, Hertfordshire. It appears to me that in terms of yoga styles taught and offered around here, ashtanga is king.
It got me thinking why that might be. And surprise, surprise, I have a theory. Now bear with me while I give out-of-towners some context.
Harpenden is about 30 minutes by train from London. The line snakes through the heart of the capital, making stops at places like City Thameslink, Farringdon and Blackfriars. These are all areas where the big city bucks are made – they span the financial district and hotspots for law firms.
And by looking at the cars in Harpenden station car park, it’s pretty fair to say that that’s where a lot of these commuters are heading. They work hard, achieve results and can afford to live in Harpenden as a result.
“So what’s this got to do with yoga?” I hear you ask. Well, I went to a led ashtanga class recently and I heard a student say that they’d only get off the sofa in the evening if they felt like they were going to build up a sweat in class. To some, it’s viewed as an alternative to going to the gym.
It’s the ‘pushing’ and ‘striving to achieve’ that can draw some people to ashtanga. I guess you do need some steely determination to get through the physically demanding asanas that comprise the Primary Series.
I’ve heard ashtanga described as a “gymnastic routine” but that undermines its beauty. When you practice ashtanga traditionally in a Mysore-style class, everyone goes at their own pace, in time with their breath. The room is quiet except for the sound of ujjayi breathing and the teacher gives you individual attention, tailored to where you are in the practice. It becomes a moving meditation.
And yin yoga really is a perfect practice for Harpenden. If we lead stressful, hectic lives, your yoga practice provides a time to slow down, to surrender and let go of ambition. If we’re constantly striving and rushing from one thing – or one pose – to another, we’ll burn out.
By spending prolonged periods in each yin pose, we let go of ambition. We come to a point of stillness – both mentally and physically – and we learn to accept our bodies. We also observe sensations that arise in our bodies, knowing full well that if we push ourselves, we aren’t half going to feel it after five minutes. There’s no hiding in yin. You’re in it and it’s for the long haul.
So if you practice ashtanga you should probably try yin yoga. It’s about achieving balance. The yin and the yang.
Of course, you might disagree with my vast sweeping generalisations of this Home Counties town. In which case, feel free to leave a comment below.
Alternatively, you could come to an upcoming workshop and take it up with me personally…
As part of my Teacher Interview series on the blog, I bring you Dr April Nunes Tucker.
April and I teach workshops together and her main practice is Ashtanga yoga. Originally from California, she’s been teaching for almost 20 years and her classes are challenging yet fun. I talk to her about the interesting journey that’s brought her to Hertfordshire.
CW: Hello April. There aren’t many people in this neck of the woods that can say they’ve spent four years living in a yoga community. How come you made that decision?
ANT: It was 1994 and at that time I’d just finished my first degree in dance. I was working as a waitress in Southern California and a lovely lady at work suggested that I go visit the Mount Madonna Center (MMC) in the mountains in Northern California.
I arrived late afternoon, walked around, had dinner and pitched my little tent surrounded by 355 acres of beautiful redwoods. I felt so fearful of the place that when the sun rose the next morning I packed up and drove away.
That week I was bothered by how I couldn’t quite put my finger on what had frightened me about the place. In an effort to face my fear, I went back.
I was only there a few minutes when a woman stopped me and asked, “would you like to meet with Babaji? He’s just had a cancellation.”
‘Babaji’ is what devotees call Baba Hari Dass. That was my first meeting with the very important man who gave me the tools to better my life through yoga.
Our meeting was surreal. He’s a silent monk who hasn’t spoken for almost 60 years but I felt as though he could read my thoughts. He asked what I did, what I planned to do, and when I told him that I wasn’t sure, he wrote on his chalkboard, “you could live here.”
It took me less than a month to pack up and move to MMC and I didn’t leave for four years.
CW: How would you describe the Mount Madonna Center?
ANT: Baba Hari Dass is the guru and he teaches classical Ashtanga yoga with an emphasis on meditation. This is different to how we practice Ashtanga vinyasa yoga in the West.
The ultimate purpose of practicing yoga is to develop concentration in order to achieve peace. The classical Ashtanga yoga system consists of eight parts:
The first of these is the ‘yamas’ – a Sanskrit word meaning ‘restraints’ – living your life in a non-violent way, being truthful, not stealing, continence and non-hoarding.
There’s also the ‘niyamas’ or observances – having a sense of purity, being satisfied with what you have, undertaking spiritual study and recognising our limited ego-self.
Doing the physical postures or ‘asanas’. These traditionally belong to the system of Hatha Yoga.
Practicing pranayama exercises – breath control.
Observing what’s going on inside, instead of outside (pratyahara)
Developing concentration (dharana)
CW: What was daily life like there?
ANT: Busy! Wake up early, attempt to meditate, walk from my tent or cabin to the kitchen (my first year there I spent in a tent – cabins were at a premium!), help cook breakfast for anywhere between 100-500 people, take a break walking through the woods or practicing asana.
On certain days, attend a class with Babaji, work the rest of the afternoon on a building site or in the garden or scrubbing toilets, eat dinner, wash dishes, sit around chatting, drink herbal tea and then go to bed.
… And then do it all again the next day. It’s based on the idea of ‘karma yoga’ – doing things selflessly.
CW: Tell me about Baba Hari Dass
ANT: Babaji is an incredible human being and a wonderful teacher. He taught me how to be less afraid, concentrate and accept myself more.
One of his well known quotes is: “Work honestly, meditate everyday, meet people without fear and play” and this is what he teaches. I feel his vow of silence allows his teachings to come through with great clarity.
He has a lovely sense of humour, is compassionate and the most remarkable person I have ever met.
CW: Did you learn lessons that you carry with you in daily life?
ANT: I carry the sadhana practice that was given to me by Babaji. It includes chanting, hand mudras, pranayama, kriyas (methods for calming the mind) and meditation. I try and get up an hour before my kids every morning in order to do the practice. Sometimes it gets cut short when they start clambering over me but the intention’s there.
CW: You taught yoga classes there. Was this your first experience of yoga? What were the classes like?
ANT: I taught asana (the physical postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques). MMC hosts very big retreats – often with around 500 people – so my first teaching experiences were a baptism of fire!
I was on a stage with a sea of people in front of me and a two other ‘demonstrators’ on smaller platforms either side of the stage doing the same asana as I taught it. Scary!
My only previous experience of ‘yoga’ was doing a little class in the staff room of the restaurant where I worked in California with my waitress buddy who followed Babaji.
CW: What were the other people like who lived there with you?
ANT: There were all sorts of different people there. Some were only staying a month just checking out the scene, others were original devotees of Hari Dass since the 1970s. The people there were as varied as people are anywhere.
I will say that I believe living in a community setting magnifies personalities. It is very good training for looking at yourself when you are irritated with others.
CW: There are lots of spiritual/yoga communities in California. Why do you think that is?
ANT: Everyone is searching everywhere. Maybe I’m being generous but California has a lot of natural beauty and people are open to alternative ways of thinking or being. So Eastern philosophies such as yoga flourish.
Also I think many people who live in California are quite privileged and can ‘afford’ to take time out to work on personal development.
CW: You now teach Ashtanga vinyasa yoga – as popularised in the West by Sri K Pattabhi Jois. What do you think is the best thing about teaching yoga?
ANT: For me, teaching a class has three parts: before, during and after. Before the class I enjoy the discipline of attempting to put the reins on my ego. I try to come into class as open and humble as possible.
During class I try to keep my ego in check – demonstrating humbly, allowing for humour and executing compassionate adjustments as much as possible. I really like that sensation of ‘being in the zone’ where I can intuitively flow through a class.
Sometimes after classes I get a real hit of emotion – love or sadness or joy. I like this because it makes me feel very alive. It’s a direct reflection of our human connection.
CW: If you weren’t teaching yoga or looking after two small children what job would you be doing?
ANT: I would probably be lecturing in a university on contemporary dance. That’s always been my field of interest – particularly human movement and the way that it connects people and communicates meaning. I have a PhD in dance and have researched movement repetition.
I like how Ashtanga vinyasa yoga and my daily sadhana practice rely on repeating certain movements and this links nicely with my specialism in dance.
When I go back to the academic world I hope to continue finding ways for dancers and dance academics to become interested in yoga through my research.
CW: How does the Ashtanga vinyasa practice challenge you?
ANT: I feel that the key to the Ashtanga practice is the repetition. To offer an image, the repetition of the practice is like an anchor – the anchor for a boat out at sea.
Imagine a boat floating on the surface of the water with a big heavy chain with an anchor at the end. The anchor’s chain goes down… down through the water until the anchor embeds itself in the sand on the bottom of the ocean floor. That deep ocean floor is like that part of self that knows it’s all ok – the part of the self that knows peace. It is the repetitive yoga practice (the anchor) that can tap into that peaceful part of the self.
The boat represents the part of ourselves that we identify with most readily – the self that’s pulled this way and that by things we desire. It’s the part of the self which is affected by the weather, the currents of the water and the part that gets angry or sad as seagulls shit on it as they fly overhead.
CW: Complete the sentence: A life without yoga would be….
CW: Thank you for your time April.
April can be found in Harpenden teaching a Sunday morning class at Roundwood School and private classes in people’s homes. She can also be found on Facebook and email. April and I teach yin/ashtanga workshops at Breathing Space in Harpenden and the next one is planned for Saturday 21 September from 3pm – 6.30pm. Visit the workshops page for more details and to book.
If you’re interested in learning more about yoga communities/ashrams, I’ve frequented some in India:
I’ve now been in Arambol for almost two weeks and I must say I’m really enjoying it. Friends at home said that I should avoid Arambol (“rat infested” was how one buddy described it but I’m yet to see the evidence). They suggested I head further south to quieter Palolem and Patnem but I came here specifically to do the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Course.
People here are friendly. It probably helps that loads of us doing the course are staying at the same place. We’re always bumping into each other – on the beach, in restaurants – and it’s nice. I’m beginning to recognise many familiar faces and a lot of the long-stayers are living at this end of the beach as it’s more relaxed than up near the cliff.
Having my breakfast in a hastily thrown together bamboo beach restaurant this morning, I bumped into Zuzu. I first met him a few days ago at a bonfire night party. He’s in his fifties, Dutch and this is his ninth winter here. He’s an interesting character. With ginger Afro hair and a beaming smile, he told me that he works in ‘musical theatre’. This means he invents crazy acts to take to music festivals. He proudly told me about his latest act in which a small carriage is made to look like a UFO. It plays Japanese electro music whilst he and a couple of friends are painted green and “dance like aliens”. His words, not mine.
He organises a carnival event on the beach every February and last year it didn’t go according to plan. Some girls were dancing topless and a photo somehow made it onto the front page of a Goan newspaper with a headline suggesting debauchery. I bet that edition sold a lot of copies. Zuzu told me how the police tried to prosecute him for organising a pornographic event. Not unsurprisingly he had to lay low for a while after that.
There’s also Radasi, a Bolton lass who I met at an ashtanga class when I first arrived. She talks about “letting the universe decide” and calls people “love” with a husky voice that perhaps can only be found in Bolton. She teaches yoga at a centre on Koh Phang An in Thailand and we know some of the same people from The Sanctuary. She’s preparing to go on a pilgrimage with her Indian guru and is a good giggle.
“Mamma Mia” it’s Leo the Iyengar teacher
Our five-day course for ‘continuing students’ started today. Whilst I was disappointed that we haven’t got Sharat, the guy that set up the centre, Italian/Argentine Leo who is one of his students, is doing a fine job. Putting us down at every opportunity, attempting to break our ego and make us more humble, it’s an authentic Iyengar experience.
Every class he’s exclaiming “Mamma Mia!” – shocked at our inability to remember a detail or stretch adequately. I’d heard that Sharat was the same. A friend of mine said that he’d once told a woman in class that she was too fat to do a pose.
I’m learning lots about alignment and that every small adjustment in the body counts. He’s making me focus on my turned-out feet and had us doing urdva dhanurasana with a belt around our thighs. That was two days ago and I’m still aching.
Urdva dhanurasana (from Yoga Journal)
My harmonium efforts
And my lessons are continuing (read a previous post about my lessons). After accidentally showing the entire family a photo of some naked bottoms from my yoga training course in Thailand, I thought I’d blown it – living up to the stereotype from the front of that Goan newspaper. But either they didn’t realise what they were seeing on my iPad before I rapidly flicked to the next picture whilst inwardly dying a thousand deaths, or they were willing to forgive me.
This is a family who approvingly said that I dress well because I cover my shoulders and I always wear knee-length trousers. And then I give them naked bottoms. Shock. Horror. And no, I am not sharing the picture on here.
I’ll share a clip of Babaji playing when the connection’s good enough to upload it.
In less than a week’s time my parents land in Kerala. I can’t wait!
Three days ago I graduated from my 500 hour teacher training with Absolute Yoga. I’m now relaxing back at the Sanctuary on Koh Phang An. I’m here with my buddy Catherine and we’re having a relaxing time before she heads back to the UK tomorrow. Mentally and physically I am spent and this is a fab place to recouperate.
I’m also spending time reflecting on the last five weeks and I feel a huge sense of both loss and gain.
I’ll start with the gains… although it’s hard to know where to start. If you’ve been reading my blog regularly, you’ll have a sense of what’s been happening but suffice to say, it’s been one hell of a journey. I have learnt so much about myself, my body, ashtanga, and yoga in general. The Mysore self practice pushed me daily. There were tears, pain (physical and emotional), laughs and Michel and Roslyn were always there for us. The guest teachers all added their own sparkle and challenges along the way too.
I don’t think my teaching will ever be the same again and my level of understanding of all things yoga has increased exponentially. Any fears I had before about the course being overly commercial evaporated on the first day.
My prior experience of teachers’ teachers has been of people who are totally committed to living a sattvic yogic lifestyle – often in ashrams. Meeting Michel and Roslyn was so refreshing as they are yogis of the highest order who have their feet firmly rooted in daily life with a love of films and coffee. Michel might even be a bigger fan of the cheese joke than me and throws in the odd expletive from time to time.
And onto the losses. I am missing the gang – my 13 fellow students/partners in crime and Michel and Roslyn. On the evening of our graduation we played a game where we each had to whisper in each other’s ear what we liked about that person. Not unsurprisingly, the fact that I cry at the drop of a hat was mentioned more than once. I had tears running down my face at the time.
Plans have been made for reunions and I know I’ve made 13 really great friends. We’ve had laughs a-plenty – songs, daft noises, little sayings, Swedish vowels (who knew there were so many!), chinchilla tails, my squid impression (it’s special) and we’ve certainly played with the (h)edges. There was even some swimming pool skinny dipping action. Read Mitch’s blog for the details.
I feel blessed to have spent five weeks with a bunch of such talented, compassionate, gorgeous and loving people. I’d go to any of their classes tomorrow.
Finally I’d like to thank Lady Jane for emailing me a link to the Absolute Yoga website. I opened it sitting at my desk on one dreary winter’s day in London town and that’swhen the dream began.
I’ve still got four months travelling around Thailand, Sri Lanka and India before returning to the dreariness. If any of it is half as good as the last five weeks I’ll be delighted.
Well I’ve survived my first week of my 500 hour teacher training. It hasn’t been easy and I’ve certainly been challenged. Here are some of the highlights/key points:
Think Clint Eastwood as he is now. But French. Mischievous blue eyes that glint when he’s being cheeky. According to Ayumu (Japanese, this is her second course with him), he’s currently being gentle with us. That’s a scary thought.
He’s a sucker for British comedy and loves Ricky Gervais and The Think of It. He quotes Fawlty Towers over breakfast and Allo Allo during class: [adopt French accent] “Leeeesen very carefoooly… I will say zis only wunce…”
As I’ve mentioned already, he seems to like prodding and slapping bottoms and probably rightly says that he’d get sued if he taught in the States. He has taught all over the world and spent years with Iyengar and Sri Pattabhi Jois. I’ve never met anyone as knowledgeable about yoga poses and he’s so humble. I think this is my favourite line of his so far: “Eeef anyone ever tries to keees ma feet, I tell dem to fack off.”
Rosalyn, his Chinese girlfriend and glamorous teaching assistant, is the bendiest person I’ve ever met. They’re a great double act.
Ashtanga We’re being trained so that by the end of the course, we’ll go away with an Ashtanga self practice comprising the primary series with the odd bit of the second series thrown in to provide balance. We’re all at different levels. Some people, like me, have hardly done any Ashtanga whilst others would scare my Dad.
I’m learning that the practice is truly beautiful. It’s so graceful. I’m also now aware of the benefits of a Mysore style class. We all do the set poses in sequence at our own pace. Michel and Rosalyn walk around the room giving adjustments and reminding us of the next posture when we forget.
I’ve learnt so much already and much is contradictory to Sivananda and other styles of yoga. As Michel says, we’ll do what he says for the next five weeks and then take away what we want – a lot of it makes a lot of sense though. Some of his teachings:
Mula bandha (pelvic floor to you and me): “Are you engaging your mula bandha?” If I had a Baht for every time I’ve heard that this week I’d be able to… erm… buy a banana.
Breathing into your abdomen? Forget it! How can you engage your mula bandha if you do that?!
Move the flesh away from your buttocks? That’s how you stretch your hamstrings beyond their capacity. Instead, roll the flesh away from your thighs, moving it upwards.
You think you know how to do Warrior I and II/Camel/Utkatasana/Sarvangasana/[insert name of almost any other pose]? You’re doing it wrong!!
It’s been a steep but amazing learning curve and we’ve all been put on the spot.
The S.I. sisters
Lucy and I are in the special needs corner. Lucy is from Atlanta and enjoys DJ-ing when not teaching. Michel and Rosalyn are so astute. On day one they noticed that we both had problems with upward dog as we have sacro-iliac joint problems. We were given a modified practice. For sun salutations and vinyasa sequences we replace the troublesome dog with sphinx -> childs pose -> downward dog. We miss out utthita hasta padangustasana as we work our way through the standing poses. It’s about doing the poses in a way that suits your body and accepting ourselves as we currently are.
The resort We’re very comfortable here with our air-con and our laundry service. I would probably go as far as to say that it feels a bit sterile and you could forget that you’re in Thailand. I haven’t seen one milipede.
But the pool and steam room are going down a treat after dinner most days. Chris (6ft 3in blonde haired, blue eyed Swede) has had his underwater camera out and we’ve been larking about practicing asanas in the pool. Another learning: no-one looks attractive in underwater photos.
We did this on the last day of the module with Michel. He had us all going “haaaa haaaaa heee hee” whilst clapping at each other in a slightly demented fashion. Pearl (Thai and very huggy) clamped the sides of her face with her hands to prevent laughter lines/crow’s feet. Pearl was funnier than the laughter yoga.
We’re in our Mysore class for 7am until 9.30am then we get an hour and 30 minutes for breakfast and a break. This week we’ve been spending the rest of the day with Michel but for the remainder of the course we’ll have the 11am – 1.30pm and the 3pm – 7pm sessions with different tutors. For the next five days it’s anatomy then we’ll have a day off.
Well that’s it for week one. My fellow students are all fab and bring their own thing to the table. Mitch for example is quite the linguist. He can speak Orcish and Elvish. This is a joke. Mitch, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry I started it. We’ll soon get bored of it… maybe by the final week.
I hope you’re all enjoying the Olympics. I should be at the athletics today but instead I’m here!
We’re sitting crossed-legged on cushions listening to a tone deaf Frenchman and his bendy Chinese beauty chanting what I only know as Deva Premal’s Gate chant. 14 of us are listening intently trying to work out what tune we’re meant to be following. We all look at each other, a bit perplexed, stifling giggles.
Welcome to my 500 hour teacher training. Michel Besnard is 70 years of age and has studied with both Sri Pattabhi Jois and Iyengar. He tells tales of both masters whilst introducing us to the Ashtanga primary series. He’s already had me up in front of the class in Warrior I. I attempted to be grounded and steady whilst he bent down and slapped my inner thighs. “Tense! Tense these! They’re so floppy!”
Catherine my accomplice and buddy from the Sivananda Centre in London has had her buttocks made into a spectacle in front of us all. “What are you doing with this bottom?! Everyone look! What is she doing wrong?!”
I’ve never sweated so much in a class. It’s day two. We’ve got five weeks of this. By the end, I better have thighs of steel and let’s hope Catherine’s bottom behaves.