Monday, 18 October 2010

Beginner's Mind

So the retreat has begun and I have stopped blogging...
Well there’s just so much to fit into a day! Yesterday’s schedule looked like this: half an hour breathwork/meditation to begin a slow led class as a group, breakfast, pool-time, a little swim in the sea, lunch, pedicure , afternoon workshop, dinner, chatting with fellow retreaters, bed. See? Busy busy round here, no time for blogging!!
But in the interests of keeping a record of this trip I should say how it’s going so far. Let’s put it this way – our welcome meeting on Saturday afternoon included some gentle get-you-over-jetlag yoga (including some of deepest pigeon variations I ever came across!) and when we were in savasana Clayton did a little strum on his guitar to tune it. And then Mel realised she was in HEAVEN! We then chanted lokah samastha sukhino bhavantu accompanied by his guitar and his lovely mellow singing and I knew I’d come to the right course :)
In terms of who is here, the majority of people on the course are either beginners or people who haven’t practiced mysore style or ashtanga yoga before. This makes for an interesting dynamic on my part, as I am amongst one of only 3 or 4 people (out of 17 I think) with a regular mysore practice. Having been one of the closest to beginner level on retreats in the past this is a strange and unusual concept to me (and am trying to disengage any ego at this point). But also I am the least advanced of the regular practitioners, so that feels a bit more natural!! What’s funny is that my room-mate is as huge an ashtangageek as I am and we both confessed to having a fear of being paired up with a complete beginner and having to pretend to be normal, haha!! She’s from Melbourne and is laid back and lovely and practices up to the beginning of intermediate. And her teacher was on the same training course in mysore that my teacher, my original teachers and our retreat teacher were all on. Oh and she was on the same course at Purple Valley as a good friend of mine last year. Small world eh? And then we have another massive ashtangageek from Argentina, a lovely guy who urged me to give up my job as one of the first things he said to me and has described at length the perils of wearing a certain type of boy shorts to do garbha. We had a fabulous long chat last night (the three of us) where we realised that we are all insane, but at least we’re in it together! Isn’t that actually the point of going on a yoga retreat?
 So anyway given the number of beginners my assumption was that we would be taking things very slowly to begin with, and yesterday that was the case. But I now completely understand the benefit of going back to basics – I learnt so much! I think often when you are a complete beginner there is SO much to take in that a lot of the finer detail goes over your head. Then with regular mysore practice, your teacher might pick up on some of these glitches during your practice but there will always be things that aren’t picked up on; going right back to the beginning and being taught as a complete beginner is a great opportunity to refine the practice. We began our morning with a half hour session of “breathwork and meditation”. We began with alternate nostril breathing then some other breathwork before going on to chakra meditation (no guitar!) as we chanted lam vam ram (and so on) for each chakra – all of which left me feeling very mellow and chilled. So practice began was an erratic sounding opening chant as we did it all together, and of course everyone has veeeery different versions depending on your teacher. Clayton’s is (of course) beautifully tuneful and rather lovely in a sing-song kind of way.  He then handed out posture sheets and proceeded to demonstrate surya namaskar A before asking us to try, then the same with B, repeating a few times together before moving onto padangustasana and so on. Lots of explanation, modifications and variations (with demonstrations) for complete beginners, some adjustments as he walked round and we did the postures in a slightly less flowing way than usual because of the explanations, but I loved the way that he made everything accessible to all levels. And surely that’s the mark of a good teacher? Oh AND he was assisting the person beside me in utthita hasta padangusthasana and then just held his hand out and held my leg up too so he was assisting us both at once. Good skills!
I also have to say (just to get it out of the way...) I don’t think I ever saw a 6’2 man demonstrate ashtanga before (most of the male teachers I’ve come across tend to be shorter and have a different type of physique) but he looks pretty awesome when he demonstrates. And his abs are almost a little distracting!!  What with that and lovely mellow timbre of his speech and singing voice I think maybe I have decided a new pre-requisite for a successful yoga retreat... haha, bad lady!!!
In yesterday’s afternoon class we then ran through the postures in more detail – in the morning we practiced up to Janu sirsasana A and then did full closing, in the afternoon we talked as far as the beginning of seated. And there were definitely a few things that I picked up from this first class which I was then able to take through my practice both yesterday and today. One of the major ones was from his lengthy explanation of the correct posture of chaturanga through into upward dog. On Friday when I practiced with Elonne she picked up on my legs rolling out in upward dog. I’ve been aware that I did this a little but something in the way Clayton explained this part of the vinyasa so slowly and clearly made the penny drop. Activate legs – ta-da! Oh also (this is slightly embarrassing) I think I was confusing lifting up the kneecaps/activating the legs with hyperextension. That feeling where the knees slightly roll was one I thought I had to avoid for fear of hyperextending, but now I find that’s actually what you need to do to activate the legs...and in case I didn’t explain this well I demonstrated it with my room-mate and she confirmed that my knees were NOT hyperextending when I did the pulling up thing. Ha! More fool me! But err – sometimes these things just take a while to click don’t they? We finished the class with more chanting, one in English that he said was a typical Californian hippie campfire song and then morphed into lokah samastha, and also the news that tomorrow morning (Monday) we would be doing a mysore style practice. Pretty scary news for the complete beginners I imagine but good news for me as I feel like I have missed lots of days (what with 2 days taken up with travel and the time difference and then the Saturday rest day).
But then weirdly before the mysore practice today I was feeling nervous and like I didn’t remember the sequence – part of which is to do with having new asanas and having taken a few days break I’m a bit confused as to where I actually practice up until – so I checked the sheet before I left my room, but actually when I did my last pose today (supta konasana) I had to ask Clayton afterwards what came next – and that gave me the answer that I had finished my practice!
Anyway we began the class again today with half an hour of breathwork, the same as yesterday, then we did the opening chant in call and response before kicking off with mysore practice. I had my roommate to my left and a particularly distracting beginner to my right (I tried not to be too distracted, really I did...). When the distracting one finally agreed to stop (after saying she was happy to do more 3 times when told to stop there) her savasana consisted of lying on her side with her legs up watching the room. When told she could leave when she was finished she said “no, I’m learning” and continued to watch. Okkkaaaaay.....
I noticed that at the very beginning of my practice I felt a bit like I was trying too hard and that my brain was everywhere. It’s hard sometimes I think to switch off and focus on your practice when there’s so much else going on around you, and the suryas felt like they went on forever. I don’t know if it was because I mentioned my trikonasana issues in conversation yesterday, by Clayton came and helped me with my alignment before I had even started on the posture, and I felt like I was better aligned today than ever before which was fantastic. It was ever so hot though and sweat was pouring off me (bear in mind we started at 8am, much hotter than 6.30!) and at one point I was really shaky and thought I’d never get through my whole practice. But once I got to seated it was OK, I was using a lot of the tips Clayton gave yesterday and it was all helping. Luckily nobody was around to assist in baddha konasana so my poor sore muscles have another day to recover, and apart from my mental block at the end of my practice it was all good. One last pointer was to bring my elbows closer together for headstand – which initially felt wrong but as I stayed there very strongly I realised that I was giving me greater stability in the posture. By the time I came out of savasana only two others were still in the room (my roomie and the lady who works here – the fabulous “we love our breasts” Qi gong teacher) and it was roasting hot. So what did we do but dive headlong into the breakfast extravaganza kicking off with coconut rice pudding with fresh papaya to steel ourselves for another day of sunbathing, swimming in the sea and – oh, getting sunburnt, but that’s not really recommended. Back to a slow led class to navasana tomorrow to help the beginners integrate what they learnt today, so knowing how much harder slow classes are than normal ones, I’m off to bed!


  1. tsk tsk such a bad lady ;)

    all sounds fantastic, so great that you are doing this...

    BTW my teacher is 6'7": I feel like I have a relationship with his chest and not his face!ha! (I'm 5'2")

  2. I'm glad you found time to blog in between eating, napping, and swimming!

    Sounds like you're on quite an adventure. How fun! Your Clayton crush is hilarious. (shit, I can't believe Loo's teacher is six SEVEN... whoa!!!)

    Learning to engage the legs is huge, Mel. You're going to find so much more strength in your practice once you get in the habit of doing this. I didn't use my legs for like the first 2 or more years of my practice! duh! Then I was whipped into shape and I couldn't believe what was possible.

    More retreat blogging please!

  3. Just googled Clayton.

    my my my.
    baaaaaaaaad lady.

  4. LIZ!!!! It's not a crush, just - appreciation of form. That's allowed right?? (and he wears speedos - but not in a bad way.) hahaha!!
    And I think for now my understanding of engaging the legs is mostly an intellectual one rather than something i can actually bring into my practice - but understanding comes first doesn't it? But bearing in mind what you said I will keep trying :)
    And yes wow, 6' 7 - i can't imagine!!!
    p.s. Liz not sure if you're agreeing with me after googling...but for what it's worth i was told he has groupies and from photos my reaction was "really??"...maybe it's a presence or something!!

  5. he's like one of the natives in Avatar ... except he's not blue.

  6. Sure you don't have a crush! ha ha!! He's not super star cute, but there's a virility that comes across in the photos. Maybe I'm making it up because I know he's tall and combined with the hairy chest and tan, it makes for a manly man.