Monday, 2 May 2011

MIA and total inspiration.

I know, I know...the bujapidasana bootcamp post I promised never came. And yes, I have pages of notes from my 2 weeks with tim & Kino (which when I read I think "wow! I'm so glad I wrote that down as I don't remember hearing it!"). And yes, my last post was all "woe is me I've got an in injury and feel like crap" but that feeling lasted half a day and lately I've been feeling pretty fabulous about my practice & life in general. But I have to just bash out an off-the-cuff as-it-happened post right now.
Bujapidasana bootcamp teaser...
Being a bank holiday weekend, and our teacher not really back from maternity leave, our shala was closed today, so several of my shala-mates were suggesting different options of where to practice (having a lie-in NOT being an option, especially as tomorrow is the moon day here). Although we are about to lose one of our 2 certified teachers in London and I've yet to visit the one who is leaving, I didn't feel a strong draw to go and try her out. Several reasons really; firstly I feel like I have had a LOT of different teachers lately. Tim and Kino, both fabulous, but both different to each-other, and to my normal teacher, then coming back to London we had two teachers covering C's maternity leave. The first I liked on a personal level but didn't click with the teaching at ALL, the second was returning having taught us all last summer and I lovelovelove. But with another few weeks until C returns fully we have a fabulous shalamate covering the next few weeks, and I already feel like I am entering the flip-out zone of needing to stick with people I know (the shalamate currently assists and is fabulous, so this isn't an issue). But going just for one day to visit yet another different teacher? Nah. Overkill says my brain.
Plus, I seem to have entered a new zone of practice. I don't know if this is because the lower back pain has temporarily suspended my work on dropbacks (I'm just seeing how I feel each day, but generally if I feel it in urdhva dhanurasana, then no dropping back that day), or if it's to do with having now been doing full primary for 5 months or so. But I have gone into this inward focused, deeeeep and amazing version of practice. On any given day I may become completely obsessed with my TOES. Imagine an alien (or a baby maybe) discovering toes for the first time - I notice them as I roll over them, I feel this amazing connection, I put the energy there and just trip out on it. Another day it was keeping my legs engaged and lifted in every posture, especially in upward dog and maintaining the lift in my thighs, and discovering the difference it made to jumping forward. Another day (actually, every day to an extent) it was finding the lift in mula bandha, realising that forward bends come from there and not the hamstrings at all. Point is, I feel like I am surrounded with AHA! moments and profound realisations of the connections my body is making with itself, with the mat, with my mind...and going deeper and deeper inwards, realising (most importantly) that whether or not I drop back, move on, or whatever it is matters not one bit. I have my whole life for this.

So it was with this in mind that I decided to go instead to my lovely former evening teacher R on my travelling ashtangi day - not a new teacher,I reasoned, and I love to get back to her if ever I can. Then yesterday I remembered that she was hosting a workshop which I had originally been incredibly excited about; Peter Sanson, an old-school certified teacher from New Zealand was going to be teaching 4 days of mysore practice in a very low-key venue over the long weekend. I had whooped with excitement when I heard he was coming, having heard amazing things about him from my Yoga Thailand roomie, but as the time grew closer (and my employment status being what it is - ie I still don't have a job) plus this clashing with C's planned return from maternity leave, I "sensibly" opted not to book a place. Fast forward to yesterday, and lovely friend J encouraged me to text the teacher and ask if she was teaching in the evening as usual. The reply came straight back: no, but there's space on the workshop if you want to come. So what could I say but yes please and I'll see you there?! She asked me to come at 10am, so even better, I got to sleep in, take a salt bath and do some bed-hanging before I set off across London.

So after a restful and relaxed start, I arrived, changed and walked into a very full room, hesitating as to where to lay my mat. As both Peter and R were busy I found a corner to tuck my bag in only to realise that the person I'd put it in front of was an old friend who I met in India last January! She flashed me a big smile, I blew her a kiss, and walked back to find somewhere to practice. Peter walked towards me, took my mat from me, loudly said to a guy in the front row "Swami! You move!" then sort of gave the girl to his right a little kick to get her to move over and unrolled my mat for me - the wrong way up. I was at this point more than a little daunted, I have to say. But there was my spot, right up front, so I got going. Feeling rather shaky I decided not to chant aloud (I always do, no matter what else is going on in the room) but stood with my hands in prayer so thrown that I couldn't even remember the chant. But the anxiety dissipated quickly enough. Peter commanded the room verbally, but not in a distracting way at all. No, it was in a way that made me feel that even if I received not one adjustment, a combination of his energy, the group energy, and the things he said would have led to a transformational practice. "Breathing, no straining; breathing" he said in his thick kiwi accent, tinged with the Indian lilt of one who has spent many many years in Mysore. "Swami, you wait for me", "See, it's easy, you make it so complicated, everybody does!" to the lady doing kapotasana,  "oh so good - good! He is too good, no?" with the unaffected indian twang to R and then back to walking around the room, saying seemingly to us all "breathing, breathing, don't lose the connection with the breath, no straining". Meanwhile I was working my way through my surya namaskar with a huge smile on my face, trying not to allow the thought of "why didn't I do the whole weekend? this is amazing!" to take over my thoughts.

There was something seriously magical happening in that room that it isn't going to be possible to conjure up in words.
I can't remember where I was up to in my practice when he stood in front of me and just put his hand and my back and made some sort of affirmative comment, then the same thing again a little later. I love this, it's a bit like being patted on the head (a la Tim Feldman) but it tells you that they are here, and somehow from the right teacher even that small gesture of laying on hands does something for you. I got the beginning of my first adjustment in UHP, but he asked R to come and take over as he looked after a conveyer-belt of Marichyasana bindings, funnily enough he bossed her about in a forceful way "Here! this one! Now!" but the energy certainly wasn't bossy, or strict, it was just...oh I don't know, amaaaazing. This is probably getting a little tired, me just raving about him but unable to tell you why...

Anyhoo, having been asked to come and start at 10am when the start-time was 9, while I was still on my standing asanas I realised that many people seemed to be finishing (or close to it). Then somebody left, and was asked were they not staying for the talk? And I heard "Five minutes" and started to panic. It was just before 11am and on my usual schedule I had about another hour of my practice still to run, but were we finishing up in 5 minutes? But 11.00 came and went, and people were still practicing, though as I began my seated asanas I heard Peter telling several people who I knew (or sensed) usually practiced full primary to stop and go onto backbending even though they had only got to navasana (or maybe a little further). So then I had the fear that either he was going to tell me to stop, or that I was going to run out of time, but either way that I wouldn't finish my practice and get to do backbending. But then given my new "I've got my whole life" take on practice, the answer to that of course is "so what?". It was actually kind of funny though, after adjusting two girls to my right in Mari D he told them both to do backbending, One obliged, the other went in search of the water bottle and did garbha pindasana. As she was in kukkutasana he came and stood in front of her and said "What happened? I said backbending! nice try!" but make no mistake, the spirit in which he was stopping people, and calling them out was on the basis that as he said to these two girls "You ran out of steam. Whatever energy you have left, reserve it for your backbending". Why should it be seem as a judgement on your practice if somebody says that to you? I think we all have days like that, so maybe we'd do better to listen to them sometimes instead of forging on through come what may.
Inevitably as the room thinned out, and more and more people took savasana, I started to get more attention. In Mari D I took my wrist on each side and he came to me on the second side and said "You've really got that one, beautiful. Now, boat!". I carried on through my practice. As I reached kurmasana, I took a deep position, my legs squeezing the sides of my ribcage and chin on the floor, knowing that at R's shala, everyone gets adjusted in this pose. In the past I have rushed to put myself into supta k just to show that I can; today I knew not to. But here it started to get funny, he pulled my legs in, took one arm around and then I tried to get involved. No no, he says, wiggling my leg around, I'm trying to bend your leg, you trying to straighten it - so of course what I had to do was just surrender and be adjusted. My left leg was hooked behind my neck "Oh, you love this one here" he said - which, given that I have been trying to figure out how to hook my left leg behind my neck from the floor (though everyone tells me it's barely possible) was interesting. My right leg flipped on top, he told me to take the right arm around, and then he got onto me about tension in my hands, shoulders and breath. The thing is, when you try and try to get something like the bind in supta kurmasana (even though I've been doing it now since last summer, there is still effort involved) you may not even realise there is tension there. But he wiggled my arm, made me loosen up, then told me to breathe: "No: full DEEP breaths...breathing" and I became aware that my breath was a little shallow, and very shaky. I watched it, it deepened it, I smoothed it out. "Now hands to the front," and I brought my hands forward, trying desperately not to slip on the insanely ice-rink like floor (this is not a dedicated yoga room, and every inch of the floor was a skid-pan) and then with his support, I lifted up in dwi pada (first time in - err, practically forever), then went through tittibasana, bakasana and just about jumped back into chaturanga, finishing with my head between his legs. We had a giggle and then he told me to take lotus, so without vinyasa I went into garbha p, he stood in front of me as I sprayed my arms and got into it, super-deep with my hands firmly on my chin and my ears closed with my middle fingers before he walked away and left me to it. 
In baddha konasana my head was wriggled about like a rag doll. "Too much tension! Let it go! What is this right shoulder doing? so tense here, let go, let go" (more head wiggling, right shoulder poking) - apparently the left shoulder was behaving, but the right one wasn't. I hung out there for a very long time, not really sure if I was being adjusted in A or B (it started as A and sort of became B I think) but it seems that my method of using the elbows to push the thigh down, which I think was as I was taught, was introducing too much tension on my right side. I can't remember now, but I think it was in supta k that the tension was also evident on my right side, so now he had started to notice a pattern. I was instructed to go to upavishta  next despite the fact that nobody else in the room was still practicing now, and they were starting to file in and sit ready for the talk. Maximum last-one-left-practicing-anxiety captain!

After supta padangustasana he came to me and said "do backbending now - take chakrasana" and I thought uh-oh, here we go. Chakrasana FAIL! I go through phases with including or excluding chakrasana attempts in my practice. I know the theory, and I have been helped with it by lots of different teachers, but the fact remains that on my own I just don't get it. But with Peter standing at the top of my mat I put my hands back, took my legs over, and stopped. No no no he says, you're making this too complicated - move over and I'll show you. Take hands and legs over together - haven't you seen how a child does it? And he rocked back and forth a few times to show me, hands and legs going together and knees remaining bent ("while you learn"). My turn. Somehow I managed to bash my cheek-bone with my knee at one point, but he had me do it again and again without attempting to flip, just the action of hands and legs together. Then finally he came and helped me go over, and I landed able to see how you could hop straight into chaturanga from the landing. Replicating this will of course be another matter, but I am definitely going to practice that rolling action of both hands and legs together.
Part of my reservation about going to a different teacher today (initially) was that to feel I had my moneys-worth, I would want to be dropping back, whether my back was screaming at me in pain or not. I know, I know..but sometimes these thoughts are there and we have to acknowledge them. But the lovely thing about having run out of time to finish my practice today meant that this wasn't an option. And given that by now everybody was finished, I took all of the prescribed five (FIVE!) urdhva dhanurasana with absolute focus of one on one assistance from Peter and it was completely amazing. I have often been told by my normal teacher "Heels out mel!" and last month in a vinyasa class I experienced an assisted backbend with completely parallel feet and realised what a huge difference it makes. But I haven't managed to replicate it, and clearly haven't lost the habit - but with C on maternity leave, I haven't been reminded for two months. What Peter pointed out is that by turning my left heel out, my right shoulder is having to do all of the work. Lightbulb moment! Tension in my right shoulder all through my practice, and then in my backbends it is being put under extra strain because of my wonky feet! I should point out that I didn't make this connection myself, he did - but as he moved my left foot, and took my hands wider, I went up into UD and it felt completely different. He stayed with me, moving me further over my shoulders and watching my feet in all 5 backbends, then adjusted me in paschimatomasana, telling me again to watch the tension in my right shoulder, and actually not to hold my fingers at all (my approximation of taking the wrist) but to take the sides of the feet instead, and take the elbows out wide. Again, completely different!

Baddha padmasana in Goa
I was instructed to take a shortened closing (as now it was coming up for 11.30, the planned time for the talk) without headstand, and told to take lotus but not to hurry the closing three postures. So I took baddha padmasana, then a few breaths in padmasana and utipluthi, figuring I'd rather take a slightly longer savasana. As I prepared to jump back from lotus Peter came over and asked if I'd done padmasana yet, I said I'd done it quickly as I was worried about everyone waiting. He told me to take my time, no hurry, and then - and I've never had a teacher do this with me before - he sat in front of me, softened my arms and my hands in the mudra, and then talked me through taking full deep breaths. It was such a beautiful thing; by this stage my breath can be a bot wobbly and uneven, but there's nothing like having a teacher sit and breathe with you to make you aware that it is, and to smooth it out, not to mention the fact that he was taking this time with me while everyone else was already long since finished and done. Utipluthi again he sat in front of me, told me to lift from the bandhas not the arms, and to breathe a little more quickly - I got off lightly with 10 breaths as I'd heard him tell some of the guys to take 25 or even 50, telling them that if you lift from mula bandha (well, he said "here" and I couldn't see him, so I'm assuming) that any number of breaths is possible, telling me that it was beautiful, that I'd done really well, that he was so pleased with me, and now to take rest.

And then shortly afterwards he spoke, just for a short while, and I felt still, and calm, and utterly tranquil. Everything he said made perfect sense, and was mainly focussed on breathing. Meditation not necessary when you have this practice, he said. All limbs of yoga are contained in this practice, he said. Pranayama begins when you take your first breath each day, he said. And I sat, unmoving, and listened, taking his words as my savasana, feeling the spirit of Guruji trasmitted directly through this man who studied with him so long often one to one; from arriving in Mysore as a complete beginner, to gaining an advance B teaching certificate. The added lovely surprise of connecting with an old friend meant that I took up the offer to join Peter, R and some of the others over tea and cake (well, it was only me eating cake...) and spent a wonderful few hours sitting in a nearby cafe having the chance to chat to both teachers, some of the other practitioners, and my friend. And immediately that i got home, I started thinking about what I could sell so that I can go and join Peter on one of the other dates of his European tour.

I'll end this stream of conscience post with the words Peter finished with today, which he also quoted in the Guruji book:
"There is one thing that Guruji said that really stuck with me through the years. He pointed to his heart and said, 'There is a small box sitting here. It is Atman. Turn your attention here. That is yoga.' I will never forget that." And he repeated today, "God is right here, in your heart. Concentrate here. That is yoga."

Peace out. Workshop LOVE!!


  1. Wow! He sounds AWESOME!! I like him constantly reminding about the breath, and shoulder/neck tension. I don't think ashtanga teachers prod our shoulders to relax enough! I'll remember about him...

    I'm in the same space as you re: teacher overload (even though I love them all!) and being in the phase of making exciting tiny discoveries all the time during practice. Hence why I've been only part-time at the shala and part-time going deeeeeeeeep at home :)

  2. It was weird because nobody has ever picked me up on the shoulder thing before, but I loved how he identified it, then at the end of my practice found it's root cause - it was like detective work!! He'll be back next year so it's definitely one to look out for when hopefully we've had more of a settled run-up to it! I can get all workshopped out, but 4 days of mysore beginning with chanting and ending with a long talk each day? Sounds pretty darn perfect to me. I just have to NOT kick myself that I missed out on most of it. No regrets, fate took me there today and I am so GRATEFUL!!

  3. Lovely post Mel ... Must look out for Peter Samson over here. I'd heard of him, but not for a while :)

  4. Hi, really enjoy your blog!

    Is there Ashtanga yoga in Islington?? Wow, now I really regret being a lazy person and not practising for a whole year of living there... This Peter guy sounds fabulous, I'll keep an eye out for him.

    Really looking forward to the Bhujapidasana bootcamp post, something I probably need too - being a home alone Ashtangi in a country no teacher will come to, I "do" workshops mostly vicariously through other blogs :)

  5. Susie yes you must! He is a seriously inspiring and amazing teacher...what a great experience :)

    Thank you pakistaniashtangi :) And yes there is ashtanga in islington but only on a sunday, when one of the very fabulous teachers from the super-traditional shala teaches in a church hall there (she usually teaches in the evenings in Euston). I'm not sure how much the buja post will help anyone as it's more story-telling than specific help but I will try and get it written at some point!

  6. Oh wow, awesome, love this post so much Mel.
    Thanks, for it it has really inspired me.


  7. I'm so glad it did! Hope your journey back to your mat continues to be a happy one.xx

  8. Sometimes you hit "Next Blog" and you wonder why you bother. Today though, I hit that button and came across your lovely post. I have been practicing Ashtanga for just over a year and can really feel your spirit through your blog. Thanks for the energy it takes to write it all down! We have a beautiful studio in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.