Tuesday, 4 February 2014

UPDATED: Workshop notes - An Exposition of Yoga with Dr N. Sjoman

An Exposition of Yoga with Dr N. Sjoman
http://www.yogacoventry.com

This isn't the Norman Sjoman workshop blog post I want to write, it's going to take a some time before I can write that one, enough to say that it was intense, physically, intellectually and whatever form of intense full-on pranayama practice elicits.

Surface, lets skim across the surface.

There was asana practice, it wasn't Ashtanga that's for sure, there was little to no breath focus as we moved in and out of the postures, first this one, get up, then that one but inside the asana certainly a focus on breath as tool.

Norman is interested in the movement within an asana, that will require a post all of it's own.

At times it reminded me of applied Vinyasa Krama, there were certainly some kramas, related postures placed artfully. I'm sure Norman used the word krama at one point.

It was closer to Iyengar and Norman Sjoman did study with Iyengar for a number of years in the great mans house back in the 60's, before the institute was built and things changed. It's not just Ashtanga it seems that lost it's innocence somewhat (some might call it naivety ) with it's blooming popularity.

So a strong Iyengar influence then, filtered through Norman's forty years of practice and teaching.

There was some serious cranking/openings going on

Saturday night in an fb post I wrote

"I think I'm broken"

Norman adjusts like a chiropractor, there is.... extreme apprehension as you hear one yelp, groan (even scream) after the next and you know he is coming ever closer ( and this was a roomful of dancers too, there is a performing arts course at Coventry Uni, tough girls). Even when your alignment is not so bad, a "good" will be followed by Crank. I think I get relatively deep into my backbends and twists, I've been practicing a number of years now but Norman will take me in a third again.

I have been in the posture quite deeply but probably in all the wrong places.

What I have referred to as 'cranking', Norman thinks of as 'openings'.

"I think of it that way because I feel that it is an opening into one's self often over and above the comfort zone which seems to imply a recovery of one's own space" Norman Sjoman

Crank is a harsh and mechanical word and a little unfair, it doesn't reflect the skill and insight that may be present in the opening, particularly in the case of somebody with Norman's years of experience and reflection.

For me there was a question of trust, of surrender. I resisted these openings somewhat. I did try to relaxant let it happen but there was always a point where I tensed up which is probably where it becomes dangerous. I didn't so much lack trust in Norman as in myself, could I really go that deep. Shelly Goldsack, who was assisting Norman throughout,  referred to this when she said that she had been working with Norman for a number of years and had developed great trust in him and thus was more able to surrender.

I need to practice, to reawaken some of the things that came up over the weekend, I think I will understand them better as I enter the postures again this morning. I took the day off yesterday, an unofficial moon day. I ache all over, my back feels sore, tender, but only the muscles not in the sense of any damage done. Legs ache too from toe to groin and interestingly, something I'm most proud of, I can feel my obliques, I didn't know I had obliques. There were some the triangle postures where Norman was talking about an opening up of the abdomen, I think may have come from there, either that or from the pranayama.

At the end of the post I'll list the asana we practiced, it's a curious list. The second day he seemed to throw in the kitchen sink, some more advanced postures, perhaps as spice to the other asana that he focussed on more closely on both days.

The talks were interesting of course, the first, Saturday,  on his 40 years plus in studying Sanskrit and yoga. As I mentioned he was there with Iyengar when Iyengar was teaching out of his house but later he was also already living in Mysore when Norman Allan came to town. He has some stories.


Norman talked about his first book The Yoga tradition of the Mysore palace and it's (first) reception among Ashtangi's, the horror and vilification as they felt their ancient practice was being presented as a revivalist. All Norman felt he was doing supposedly was suggesting that the main influence on Krishnamacharya's yoga came from the Mysore palace and the old yoga texts in it's library. Several time he referred to Krishnamacharya practice as being strongly influenced by literature, by descriptions of practice in the ancient texts, there certainly is that thread in it, versed in sanskrit himself, Krishnamacharya seems to have combed the old books for all he could find on yoga practice.

Norman stressed that though he seems to have questioned the source of the Krishnamacharya asana tradition he also sought to 'save' asana rather than dismissing it's emphasis in yoga practice altogether but that this was somewhat overlooked in the furore that greeted his book.



There is something of the trickster to Norman I suspect, perhaps he got it from Iyengar, but it's not a bad trait.

It is perhaps this focus on asana as revelatory knowledge that  justifies the inclusion of asana in Norman Sjoman workshop and it's place in our own practice. He wants to argue that Iyengar has a 'dynamic' focus on asana (or used to) initiated by introspection while Krishnamacharya and Jois followed a linear tradition orientated on accumulation. Personally I suspect that both possibilities and temptations are inherent in all asana based systems. I think of Krishnamacharya Yoga Makaranda and his long stays, the long slow breath and his focus on kumbhaka in asana, surely there was introspection here.

I've just renamed my blog, Overcoming asana, the overcoming of individual asana as well as the overcoming of our fixation on asana, the objectification of asana as well as the method, tradition or lineage in which we find ourselves. I'm thinking here of the dangers of asana as obstacle, but then that's not new, that danger is well documented from within each tradition, however the temptation is ever present.

The second talk, Sunday, was on the Yoga Sutra's, mostly Norman read sections from his new book Yogasutrcintamini in which he seeks to situate the Yoga Sutras in a wider tradition rather than as a single authoritative text. It's a wonderful book and I want to devote a post to it but here's a taste...







Norman's books are available from black lotus books http://www.blacklotusbooks.com/publications/gate.htm

After the talk on both Saturday and Sunday, Norman presented pranayama sessions. On my recent workshop I was asked by my hosts if I thought I had perhaps gone a little far in my inclusions of Kumbhakas in my own 20 minute sessions of teaching pranayama. I had built up to them lengthening the inhalation and exhalation then adding first one then the other short kumbhaka before lengthening them just a little bit. I wondered if they may have been right, did I go too far. Norman however jumped right in, long inhalations and exhalations, long kumbhaka's of around fifteen to twenty seconds for each stage and at the end we were practicing nadi shodana at I think 30 second inhalations and thirty second exhalation, very intense. The pranayama sessions ran for longer than an hour, it was a quite full-on pranayama practice. I'm typing this very quickly now because I'm looking forward to going upstairs and practicing it just like that here at home, working up slowly to those long inhalations. It was intense, challenging but also inspiring. The first day I opened my eyes to notice that many had given up half way through and were in the is savasana's already but on the second day almost everyone seemed to stick it out to the end, inspired rather than turned off by the challenging approach.

And that probably sums up Norman's workshop

It was intense, challenging but also inspiring.

He is also presenting another couple of workshops around the country

One at Urban City Yoga in Leicester and one at Free style Yoga Project with Mark Freeth in Tunbridge Wells, links to the websites below:

http://www.yogacoventry.com/yoga-workshops/yogaexpo1-nsjoman/ 
http://www.urbancityyoga.co.uk/pages/workshops
http://www.freestyleyogaproject.com/workshops/

Appendix 

I was asked which asana Norman presented in the workshop, so here's a list. I'll write more about his approach to these later but for now I'm dying to go practice,

Workshop notes: NB this is just how I remember it the order might be slightly wrong and I may have forgotten a couple and I may well have got the ratio's wrong for the pranayama but it will give a rough idea of how I remember it ar least.

Norman was joined by Shelly Goldsack who demonstrated most of the asana as well as assisting throughout the asana sessions. She also allowed us to come early on the Sunday and observe her works with Noman on her advanced backbend practice which was generous. 

Saturday Day 1 of 2

Asana Session 2 hours
Sirsasana 10 min
Sarvangasana 20 minutes inc. leg lowering etc
Halasana's
Side bend, equal distribution, toes slightly pointing in
Utthita Trikonasana
Parivritta Trikonasana
Utthita Parshvakonasana
Parivritta Parshvakonasana
Prasarita Padottanasana A
Parshvottanasana
Digasana's
Ustrasana - lifting the thoracic,
Dropbacks
Janu Sirsasana 35 degrees, pelvis level
Paschimottanasana
Savasana

Lunch

Talk about Norman's Sanskrit and yoga studies

Pranayama 1 - 1/2 hours followed by a long savasana (these are very rough notes)
Ujayii
Nadi shodana, adding kumbhakas one by one
Making each stage longer
20 sec inhalation and exhalation
Then 30 second inhalation 30 second exhalation
Bumble bee pranayama
Long savasana.

Sunday, Day 2 of 2

Asana session 2 hours

Sirsasana 10 min
Sarvangasana 20 minutes inc. leg lowering etc
Halasana's
Vasisthasana
viswamitrasana
ardhabaddha vasisthasana(?)
Utthita Trikonasana
Parivritta Trikonasana
Utthita Parshvakonasana
Parivritta Parshvakonasana
Prasarita Padottanasana A
Parshvottanasana
Ustrasana
Dhanurasana
urdhva dhaurasana
viparita shalabhasana
Janu sirsasana
paschimottanasana
ekapadasirsasana
dwipadasirsasana/yoganidrasana
mayurasana
savasana

lunch

Talk 2 hours - Yoga Sutras (and shastras)

Pranayama session  1 - 1/2 hours followed by a long savasana (these are very rough notes)

Ujayii
Nadi shodana with kumbhakas 15  seconds each stage
20 sec inhalation and exhalation 20 second puraka kumbhaka
Then 30 second inhalation 30 second exhalation no kumbhaka
Bumble bee pranayama
Long savasana.

20 comments:

  1. I very much enjoy starting off a practice with a long shirshasana. It was something I missed a lot when I started practicing Ashtanga. When I started with it, I felt like I could just practice forever afterward. It really helped to set the breathing into long slow deep breath, easing tension in the lower part of the body while awakening and expanding the chest, shoulders and neck, and of course the spine. I remember the first time I was told to do it, I thought the teacher was nuts. Now I miss it when practicing primary. I often modify my primary at home to start with Shirshasana and then stay in Sarvangasana at the end for a very long time. I have knee trouble and rather than doing all the intense Janu Variations, and Marichis, Shirshasana and Sarvangasna offer some ways to open the hips without over stressing the knees. Some of Iyengar's sequences are almost entirely on the head. Sounds like an awesome workshop.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Vinyasa krama too, LONG sequences of movements in headstand, shulderstand too, in fact it make up most of the Krishnamacharya section in the 1938 B and W movie of krishnamacharya and Iyengar. Going to explore it for a while, still feels a strange place to start but then hasn't Sivananda always been that way.

      Delete
  2. Pick up a copy of Prashant Iyengars "A class after a class." I think youd appreciate it after your experience in this workshop, which sounds deeply rooted in that method of teaching. The muscle soreness always accompanies a proper Iyengar based practice. ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I found 'A Class after a class' online here http://www.iyengar-yoga.com/download/class.pdf

      Delete
  3. Correction: not "A class after..." but rather "Tuesdays with Prashant." He unveils a beautiful philosophy within the asana practice.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is the ringbound one that looks like a calendar, will look out for a copy, thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Can't find a "look inside" anywhere, shame there isn't an online/kindle version. I'm moving back to Japan in a few months, I'm trying to part with books rather than buy more. It's going to be a frustrating couple of months.

      Delete
    2. Ill friend you on facebook and send some scanned highlights. Maybe tonight Cali PST.

      Delete
    3. That would be kind of you thank you

      Delete
    4. You should have brought some books to Valencia and given them to me... ;-)

      Delete
  5. These sequences are structured like Light on Yoga. The inversions at the start really transform the mind for practice. It's very meditative. I typically hold off on Sarvangasana till the end though which is a more modern style of sequencing. This has a more pacifying, mind-dropping effect for the end of practice. Sounds like the physical pains are very Iyengar also :)

    According to this, even at 95 BKS Iyengar still practices headstand as the first pose and does nirlamba for 20 minutes! Here's a photo:
    http://wondersofyog.blogspot.com/2013/09/incredible-guruji_22.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I find that most Iyengar sequences these days start standing then slowly move to inversion via Uttanasana, Prasaritta and adho Mukha, then invert. After that there may be seated poses then Sarvangasna and a modified Setu Bandha. I wonder if the physical pain comes from the fact that there isn't much heating happening as with Ashtanga and other forms of Vinyasa practice. I wonder if it that brings a more sustained stretch?

      Delete
  6. David, I find the soreness comes from sustaining the pose. Longer stays engage the muscles differently, they sre stretched more, and due to focus of energetic intelligent alignment, the body adjusts out of its patterned laziness. At least thats what i find.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Further to the above, Prashant speaks of dynamism as distinct from asana. In other words, the final pose as it were where you do not move is the asana, the movements into and out, while parts of the whole asana are dynamic mofvements wherein thinking about alignment, adjustment, pain, etc., are occuring. Jumping as they say is not asana. I think he sees asana as the strict still seat of equipose and one pointed attention as in pantanjala. Its not averse to vinyasa, just different in the objective "use" of asana.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think Ashtanga thinks of the asana in the same way Anon, distinct from the vinyasa. It's more apparent in Krishnamacharya's early writing with the longer stays indicated. Must write the post soon on Norman and the movement within an asana, it's physical emotional, psychological

      Delete
  8. Yes, I was thinking the longer stays, reminded me of the Richard Freeman's workshop actually. Plus the.... openings were pretty intense. I quite like headstand at the beginning but I tend to do Vinyasa Krama leg movements in them so prefer to be stretched out thus the end of the practice, interesting though. Very interested in some of Norman's ideas on the longer stays, post to come.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I don't think heat has anything to do with it. We typically move only from the places that are flexible. The focus on alignment restricts the areas that are easy to move so that the whole body can open. For example, I took a class earlier this week with very long holds of parsva sirsasana against the wall. I do this pose regularly. But the feedback of the wall showed me what straight was, and I'm still sore several days later. It teaches a different intelligence in the body. The props don't make things easier!

    The other thing that happens with the long duration is that the "muscle moves to the bone." When you hold a pose for a few breaths, you can muscle through it, but in long durations, the pose has to shift onto the structure of the body, and this has the effect of realigning the fascia, muscles, skeleton, making the body a conduit for the prana. But that whole process creates a lot of soreness!

    In LOY the sequences start with headstand and ALL of the variations. I practice from the book quite a bit. I find that it kind of takes the place of surya namaskar and loosens up the body for the rest of the practice.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Intrigued. Any idea where I can find his schedule for 2014 (for Europe)? Looking forward to further posts.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Anon "17:19" you state the approach articulately and this too is my facination with Iyengar. I find you can learn so much in just focusing on rudiments. Good stuff.

    ReplyDelete

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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