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Last week I posted a bit of an overview of Richard five day Intensive, mainly focusing on the fact that it was my very first workshop so kind of skimmed across the surface.
Time to get down to details.
I'm really not quite sure about workshop reporting etiquette, how much to share, what to repeat and how much should stay in the room or in this case cavernous hall.
I recorded all the morning sessions but for the the first three I had my ipod recording at the back of the room, last two sessions it was there on the stage so much better sound quality.
The first couple of sessions then, I'm straining to catch exactly what Richard is and isn't saying so don't consider any of this direct quotes, it's kind of the gist of what he seemed to be saying as far as I understand it.
A few parts of Day One below will be familiar from the previous overview post but they seemed to be worth repeating here.
Richard then, was exactly as I expected, familiar, comfortable but then I've practiced with his DVD's off and on for years, listened to most of his recorded studio talk and had recently practiced along with his online pranayama course.
Beware the quiet ones.
I had my expectations for the course, I'd watched the backbending session on the Confluence via Youtube, had even transcribed most of it. I expected to be sitting around, listening and watching demonstrations much of the time, even kept my t-shirt on the first day ...but not the next.
Gentle Richard, gently spoken Richard is ...tough. Those sessions were three hours long and we were rarely out of posture. If you think that in that first session we only did part of standing, a little of seated and the final three postures, then do the math, three hours divided by a handful of postures you get an idea of how long we stayed in each one.
These were the postures on the first day ( which is interesting, pedagogically in itself)
ekam to dve
ekam to trini
surya namaskara A
utthita tri konasana
parivritta tri konasana
parivrtta tri konasana
utthita parsva konasana
parivrtta parsva konasana
prasarita padottanasana ABCD
utthita parsvottanasana variation (arms wrapped around leg to bring kidney around)
Jumpback, two dogs, jump through (between postures not sides)
janu sirsasana A
ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana
marichiyasana A B C D
There were a couple of times when I thought, I'm dying here but so must everybody else and I can probably discretely drop out of posture. Unfortunately it was a roomful of Ashtangai's nobody was dropping out of posture, a lot of mental gritting of teeth and steeling of will in that room.
And so the week went on like that, long long stays in postures as Richard would include yet one more metaphor and then another eight for good luck. And Richard talks slowly, and you know it's a complicated metaphor that's going to take a while to come to conclusion, and you know too that the other side of the asana will be kept just as long, no shortcuts...besides 'it's the easy side'. And you know it's all wonderful stuff, allowing the postures to come alive, to open up and invite you into their secrets with each new metaphor and allusion but Richard for Pete's sake I'm dying here get on with it, the NEXT posture PLEASE.
I loved every minute of it.
I won't transcribe all of each and every session but it seems a nice idea to share a little of Richard's approach to teaching, here and there, as fully as I can to give more of a flavour of the course
Here's Richard talking us through nothing more than raising and lowering our arms at the very beginning of the very first day right after the opening chant.
(Nice approach to the chant by the way. First day we repeated one wrord at a time. Secon d day two words at a time, third day a phrase fourth and fifth line by line).
Ekam (arms up), dve (arms down)
'- we're gonna start very simply
- this type of practice is actually training for pranayama
- inhaling to ekam, exhaling back to samasthiti
- remember this, before you inhale, exhale
- begin on the exhale
- exhale all the way until the exhale tones the PC muscle on the pelvic floor
- at the very on of the exhale when the breath stops the pc muscle tones a little bit
- the centre of the pc muscle called the mula, that's where the pattern of the exhale contracts into a seed
- so exhale all the way to the seed point
- and then your ready to inhale
- inhaling tone the legs
- spread the lower back
- drop the head back behind your arms
- in the gap reach way up
- and exhaling come back to samasthithihi
- growing taller through the crown of your head
- and then, again inhaling tone the legs all around
- let the heels sink down
- the lower back stretched (straight?)
- reach up and then exhaling, release the palate so you grow taller
- inhaling, spread the skin of the lower back like wings
- spin the edges of those wings ( when the hands/arms turn upwards/outwards)
- and exhaling release the palate as if you were saying ahhh to yourself
-inhaling, lift the quadriceps and tops of the hamstrings,
- (to) pull down on the sitting bones
- go way up and then swim down to samasthithihi
- let me deposit some fuel in the back of your mind
- so, when we're exhaling we're meditating on the residue of the inhale
- so when we're exhaling we're keeping the heart open
- this is what happens at the top of your inhale
- so (and) your exhale by releasing the soft palate, where the uvula is
- you keep the mid line open, from the middle of the heart, through the head
- and so during the exhale, your drawing taller
- and your really meditating on what is the essence of the inhale,
- and the mid line from the heart unto the crown
- and then conversely, whenever your inhaling
- your meditating on the essential pattern of the exhale
- under your belly, your drawing the mind up like a thread
- up through the middle of the pelvic floor
- and turning it a little bit back
- and this creates what we call uddiyanamulabandha
- and so it's all good.'
This would be the approach though all of the postures, talking you in and through and around them, bringing out the structural rotations, exploring and following and extending the breath, seeking out the bandhas, nodding towards prana and apana. have you seen that movie, Fantastic Voyage, where the ship is shrunk and goes inside a body, it came to mind in one of the postures as if I was in a ship travelling through the gross and subtle body.
Everyday we began with the standing sequence which must have taken up at least the first hour, perhaps longer. There was a moment on the third day I think when I thought, God not standing again, aren't we going to do something new. I think I smiled to myself immediately after thinking it. This is Ashtanga, we repeat and re enforce and re investigate the postures, then let them be for a while to do their thing, shifting our focus elsewhere, a different posture perhaps or deeper within the same posture, more focus on the bandhas in the posture rather than it's structure, the breath, exploring the idea of prana and apana perhaps, only to come back and look again and yet again.
On the course Richard would explore all these aspects and in every posture and it was at times too much, I found myself looking forward to when the course would be over and I could allow all this information to work it's way into my practice and just focus on the sound of the breath. And yet you knew too it was a privilege and didn't want o miss a thing so would try to concentrate on every instruction, every suggestion, clicking through the gears.
I was struck by how generous Richard was here, three hours each morning and then another two or three on the Gita after lunch ( I wasn't booked on to the Gita sessions, sorry - however if anybody reading this took that session and feels like doing a guest post, let me know)
Something that has struck me recently is Krishnamacharya's investigations of postures, exploring the possibilities of the breath within Asana, Richard reminded me of that.
I mentioned to Claudia that Richard teaches how I practice. What I meant by that was that he teaches how I seek to practice at home. That freedom we have in a home practice to experiment, to explore. I wonder what the Mysore self practice is like in the Yoga Workshop in Boulder Colorado, Richard's Shala. Is there more freedom there I wonder to explore your practice, to introduce variations, to practice more slowly, ever more slowly ( at one point on the course Richard mentioned that his goal was to have the slowest primary ever, five months...and that would be just the first Sury- something like that, I'll look for the actual quote). I've always felt that self practice should be self practice but the question was always how do you make that work in a shala environment.
I've since come across this from Richard's yoga workshop, part of a FAQ that perhaps answers this question
"Mysore classes at the yoga workshop are not as traditional as some other studios, why?
At our studio Mysore classes are slightly different for a few reasons. First, we have a number of Mysore teachers (some studios have only one or maximum two teachers). We like this for two main reasons; first by alternating teachers all of our teachers have ample time to practice fully each day and this means our teachers don’t burn out or get injured themselves through an imbalanced practice.
Having multiple teachers means that students don’t always work with the same teacher every time they practice which is less traditional. However we find that this helps students become more self dependent and responsible for their own practice.
In some studios students are “given” the next posture by their teacher, and may not practice a series beyond the most recent posture they have been given. Partly due to having more than one teacher and partly because we wish to give the responsibility of the practice to each students, we are less strict with this than some studios. However we do not encourage students to practice beyond their capability of focus, strength and flexibility. We encourage students to stop when they have reached their limit in a series, but also we sometimes work with students to intelligently go beyond a challenging posture which can, in the end, help with the challenging posture that is causing a block. We never encourage students to breeze through a series or skip postures they cannot do.
Our Mysore teachers meet as a group on a regular basis in order to help us as teachers to be able to offer a coordinated approach for students. At our Mysore meetings we discuss difficulties students might be having with particular postures as well as thoughts and insights we as teachers have into how to teach certain poses. So we try to keep abreast of what each student’s needs are so that we can help the students from our own experience as well as with the group effort.
Students are encouraged to inquire with the teachers when they have questions or if they want to begin doing new and different poses".
from Yoga Workshop FAQ
So Richard's workshop has given me material to explore ever further in my home practice, to approach that exploration with better direction perhaps, more discipline and with a greater degree of subtlety.
Another reason I feel Richard teaches how I practice is that when practicing Ashtanga Richard's way any distinction between Ashtanga and Vinyasa krama blurs, the breath is equally as long, a full exhale, a full inhale, there's also a degree of flexibility, it's the best of both worlds.
M. asked me if it was any different from practicing with Richard's DVDs. Yes and No. in some ways it felt exactly the same, many of the same metaphors, similar explanations and ideas and yet with more time to work them out, work through them. He could keep you twenty, thirty minutes in a posture, or so it seemed, eking out all of it's goodness.
I was expecting a lot more philosophy a lot more sitting around listening to the ideas behind Richard's approach. As it was were were in posture almost constantly and when I searched through my recording of the session I only found a couple of lines that stood outside the asana we were practising at the time. And yet Richard was speaking constantly, instructions, suggestions, indications, observations, he combined metaphors, similes, allusion to lead us towards the same observations I imagine he is making within his own practice. You do get the impression that Richard's own practice must be continuously unfolding.
Here are a couple of ideas that Richard expressed on the first day in a few of the rare moments we weren't actually in posture.
Talking about coming out of a posture:
-the movement is integrated. getting out of a posture is half of it, so if you seem to think that you live with this as one posture and somewhere over here here there's another posture your missing out on the whole thing, there's one posture that continuously warps. So the movement in and out of a posture is part of the posture and if it isn't then your going to damage the joints. The thing is the damage is slow, might take ten, fifteen, twenty years. It's like being in an automobile accident….in slow motion'.
Marichiyasana D :
-That's the whole thing, we're playing, we're trying to create these exaggerated positions, so that we then have to really pay attention to reunite the prana and apana and in a few postures it's do or die and this is one of them.
Mari D continued :
-all this is training the abdominal wall and pelvic floor, if you find one side is near impossible, you go as far as you can and then you subtly create that dance, uddiyanamulabandha dance, working through it gradually. there's no hurry because once you can do this pose, then it's just the same as the one before.
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