Thursday, August 04, 2005

Thank you, moon....

I needed a break, BADLY, what with the Advil-embargo and all. If I could take some Advil, then perhaps my obliques wouldn't feel like they had been smashed under the tires of an SUV (who knew my binding arm could exert such force). Or is it my floating ribs? Those little buggers kind of creep me out - ribs that aren't attached to the front of the ribcage?...They just seem like they are waiting to stab me from the inside out in the midst of a really strong Mari C or D adjustment. Could that really happen??? I really don't know, but from my quickie research on the web, it seems that there is quite a lot of movement in the area of the floating ribs in general, to the point where one can "train" them to face INWARD, facilitating the "molding" of a 15 inch waist!

Thinking about my soreness in my obliques, it occurs to me that in the beginning of my yoga practicing days, I found that most often, I was sore in my lower back, from backbending through my lumbar spine. Then, when I discovered Jivamukti, I became sore in my triceps from doing chatturangas. I remember not being able to go to Jivamukti except every-other-day, because of this soreness: it would take me a day to recover in between. Now that seems kind of funny, considering that the Ashtanga practice has upwards of 60 chatturangas, considerably more than any Jivamukti practice, and my triceps feel perfectly fine. I guess things do change over time.

Since I am not practicing today, I also have had some time to reflect on the whole shala-hopping, one-teacher vs. many teachers quandry. I have thought about where I am spending my time practicing versus who I consider "my teacher" to be. And I came up with the most unexpected thought, which I hope does not create a spate of angry comments, but well, I take my chances:

My very first teacher was Govinda Kai, or Russell Kai Yamaguchi, as he was then called. The class was led half primary at New York Yoga, and I had never sweat so much in my life or felt quite so incompetent, and I think he SKIPPED Mari D! So, you can imagine where I was at at that time with my practice. I could tell instantly that Russell (as I still kind of think of him) was the "real deal", but I swore to never go back to him until I had a bit more competence. That is how I turned to Bikram and Jivamukti. I occasionally returned to Russell/Govinda's class until he stopped teaching the class, and in the meantime spent time reading Beryl Bender Birch's Power Yoga. And I spent my time practicing vinyasa, which felt to me like a beautiful dance.

I preferred the "Ashtanga-based" vinyasa of Jivamukti, and I enjoyed learning about Hindu gods and practicing their form of meditation ("Inhale LET, Exhale GO"). I didn't love the Iyengar-based vinyasa at Om, nor did I embrace Buddhism or Cyndi Lee's "Cuteism". But when I decided that I wanted to teach yoga to breast cancer survivors, I decided to get my training at Om was a one-month intensive and it was in NYC. OK? So, now the truth is known. It was not a love of the Om method, which in truth, got me way off-track for a while, at least as regards my current journey.

At Om, there were 14 Required Elements of an Advanced Practice, and one of those elements was Surya Namaskar B, which really was not Surya Namaskar B at all because it included Warrior II and stopped at plank before Chatturanga in the transitions from Warrior II. But nowhere in the Required Elements was there a mention of how MANY Surya B's a class should have. And so, many Advanced classes at Om contained at MOST, one Surya Namaskar B. And I couldn't much break a sweat, and I couldn't warm my muscles and joints. And by the end of an intensive month there, I felt like my body was broken. I began teaching almost immediately, and I found that outside of Om, my students did not want to practice in the Om style. So, I found myself incorporating more of what I used to do at Jivamukti and just going with what my gut told me would reach my students. The further away from the Om style I got, the better my teaching got, and the more students would flock to my class.

The progression toward Ashtanga was a natural one then, from my interest in an Ashtanga-based vinyasa style. I guess after awhile, I was craving something that was less of a "dance", something that had more structure. And luckily, New York Yoga hired MaryBeth Garutti to teach a led primary class. Through MB, I discovered wonderful things about Ashtanga. When I didn't understand WHY the system was structured as it was, she helped me to understand and to work through it more effectively. For example, I couldn't understand why Ardha Baddha Padmotannasana came AFTER Uttita Hasta Padangusthasana, since the latter made my hips feel tight, and yet the former required very soft, flexible hips...and she helped me to understand why and helped me to focus on softening in Uttita Hasta Padangusthasana, instead of hardening. When I was attached to the heat of the room, she was patient and non-judgemental, which helped me more than ANYTHING to disengage from the attachment.

MB encouraged me to seek out a Mysore practice, and I did, first meeting Eddie Stern at SKPJ's Puck Building extravaganza and getting his OK to practice at his shala (it really didn't take much to get his ok - all I had to do was meet him and tell him I wanted to practice Ashtanga in a Mysore room, truth be told). I then went to the shala a couple of days later and met Barry Silver, one of the teachers there, who was subbing for Sarah Plumer's 11 a.m. session. I observed that first day, and then I came back the next day to practice with Sarah. I LOVED that shala, its warmth, its golden walls, its feel, its smell, its inexplicable energy, and I quite liked Sarah too, who had a soft and gentle manner but a firm authority, which I needed.

The next day was Saturday, and all day, I couldn't wait for Sunday at 7:30 a.m., when I could go back. Well, guess what? I made my way down there, and the place was closed for a workshop with the Ayurvedic Physicican, Robert Svaboda. As I sat there on the steps with two others who came by mistake, I decided to go to Guy's shala, where there was a Mysore practice starting at 8:30 (doors open at 8:15).

Guy was there, and I met him and Lori, but Mark Robberds, from Australia, was teaching and was going to be teaching for the next six weeks. I really liked Mark right away, and Guy convinced me that I ought to commit to a three-day-a-week package. Six days a week was not possible because of my teaching commitments at the time. But I knew I wanted to practice six days a week, so I knew that the other days, I would go to Sarah. In all honesty, I preferred the space at Eddie's, and if you have read my blog up until now, you will already know that I prefer the WAY I practice at Eddie's - something about Sarah or the room or, I don't know. All I know is that I have always felt more calm and focused practicing in that golden space. But I continued to practice primarily at Guy's.

At times I have wondered if what makes me like Sarah so much is that I don't see her that often. I am being REALLY honest here.

Anyway, getting to the end of this way-too-long story, is that in the nearly six months in which I have been practicing Ashtanga nearly exclusively and nearly six-days a week if not six-days-a-week, I have had one consistent led teacher, who I admire and can thank for getting me on the right track, three different teachers at AYS and one teacher at Eddie's. But even though I see Sarah at best, twice a week, she is the one who I see as the over-arching factor. When I practice to Supta Kurmasana at AYS, I feel a bit like a fraud, because I know that Sarah wouldn't have me doing it (which is why I offerred to Guy the option of cutting me back to Navasana or even Mari D). I do not in any way resent that I get the delicious experience of practicing Supta K at Guy's shala. I am THRILLED. But at the same time, in my heart of hearts, I guess I believe that I should be going as slow as Sarah says.

So, perhaps in all of this, I have actually found a teacher? Even if I don't see her as often as I see my other teachers? I have heard others on the EZBoard say something to this effect - that their "teacher" is not necessarily the one who they see every day, but someone who they see when they can, who has that certain something that makes them feel inspiration, and unquestioning trust?



julie said...

Yes but those EZBoarders don't go to other teachers in the meantime, they (mostly) have home practices and see their teacher when they can.

We are all at different places in our journey and I did go to a few teachers at one time, M/W/F I went to M who is one of my favorite teachers still, she's amazing or sometimes B. T/TH I went to another teacher, often, Kiran from EZBoard who is another amazing teacher that has taught me more than she'll ever know. When I started at Tim's, I spent a couple days with Tim, M, K... I think the difference is that even though, at that point, I was practicing with Tim, he wasn't my teacher and I hadn't dedicated myself to his teachings. When you are practicing with a lot of different people the practice is presented to you through their teachings, in their way. When I began practicing only with Tim, a change was very deep for me... part of it is purely the dedication and discipline. It takes a LOT of discipline to rearrange my life so that I can be at the shala every morning for Mysore. Part of it is the consistency with which the practice is engaged.

I hope I am not saying this harshly but I don't think you can have the same perspective or the same experience without a daily practice that is consistent. At least that's how it has worked for me over the years.

That is why there is no question that when I'm allowed to practice again, it will be at my shala home. It is why when Tim's studio closed down and we were practicing in the dungeon of the Best Western, his students followed him there even though the surroundings were not the best, the class times got moved around. It isn't "worshipping" -- I don't feel that way about Tim at all.. but it is a deep respect and a discipline.

I don't think I'm making myself clear..took Tylenol PM to sleep and it makes me all loopy for half the next day.

Anonymous said...

When I'm away from "my teacher" I don't go farther in my practice than my teacher "allows." For example, I was away for a month, practiced elsewhere, got a new pose. Returned to my teacher, I even told him that the other teacher gave me the next pose, but I didn't do that pose with my teacher until he gave it to me...
The weird thing with you is that you practice at Guy's very regularly. He commits to you (albeit, its the summer and he's away, but you'll see that end soon enough - he RARELY goes away - this summer is a first) and when you're in his shala, you are taking away the attention he can give his other regular students. It really isn't fair. If I were you, and I felt Sarah was my teacher, then when I couldn't make it there I would practice at home. Its really not fair to do otherwise.
Also - just a thought - could it be that you enjoy your practice with more because it is later in the day? I certainly have way better practices when I practice later than early morning...

Anonymous said...

Go back and read your defenses, what purpose does the arguments serve? Who sits in your jury box?

Eddies and Sarah seem to be where you blossom with their teaching, Guys is a space to practice, Ezboard an imaginary place to hone defenses and justifications.

In the end what matters?


yoga chickie said...

Julie - I hear you. And I am really glad you shared your experience. It is good to know that others have wandered a bit before finding a "home". I am totally open to the notion of finding a home shala, but I guess I need to "feel" it first. There is one other thing I wonder...what about "attachment"? How does practicing non-attachment get reconciled with practicing with one teacher only? I ask out of sincere interest and curiosity...Lauren

yoga chickie said...

To Anonymous regarding Guy's commitment:

You said, "He commits to you ... and when you're in his shala, you are taking away the attention he can give his other regular students. It really isn't fair."

I hear this quite a bit, but at this point in my Ashtanga learning curve, I am not really understanding this notion. My understanding of my relationship to Guy is that I pay for a month's worth of classes at AYS, and during that month, Guy teaches me. How is there anything unfair about this? How am I taking away attention from other students? Aren't I entitled to the same attention by virtue of having a monthly membership?

If I were running a shala, I would welcome any and all students who paid their monthly fee, regardless of where they spent their time outside of the time they practiced with me. As a vinyasa teacher, I welcome all students, even those who just blow in for the class because it fits into their schedule. I commit myself to them for the hour and a half, and then maybe I never see them again. So be it. I'm serving them while they are with me, and that's what counts.

As for your thought on enjoying practicing later in the day...YES! I have definitely thought of that!!!!!!!!!! IVDP once made a comment to me (maybe not here, but when I met her in person) that early morning practice is when your body is most honest. I love that notion. But what to do with it....Lauren

yoga chickie said...

Lea...yes, I totally hear you. My "defenses" are just me processing my own thoughts. I am really interested in this concept of one teacher. It is very anathema to my own way of thinking - my Western, abundance, multiple choice way of thinking. So, I think about it and analyze it and write about it. I want to practice Ashtanga the way it was "meant" to be practiced, but I still have not fully processed or understood how or why that must include practicing only with one teacher....Lauren

Anonymous said...

well, that was quite a monologue there,, you do not need to stop, but maybe you should be a little less hard on yourself, ashtanga is a great practice, but asana is only 12-1/2 % of the practice, it seems that you are going a bit gung-ho with asana. slow down girl. i understand you have had a lot of bad things happen, and you like to put as much energy in your yoga, but don't go overboard. if you keep going like this, you will burn out, that would be a terrible shame, because i can see you really enjoy it. you only have been practicing A. for six months,
let it happen for a while without
obsessing too much wether you get a pose, where to practice, you are a student when you practice, so don't watch other people, you can observe YOUR students, when you teach. and regarding " receiving new poses", i always just do my practice and when the time is there, it will happen, before i finished primary, i was even a bit nervous when i knew that "next week" i had to do whatever pose I was told to do. (can't i just hang in there a bit"....)anyway, my honest opinion. greetings,ivdp

yoga chickie said...

thanks, ivdp, you are a gem!



Anonymous said...

The one teacher aspect has been elusive for me even when I committed for 3 years to one.

Now I live 3 or more hours from any certified teachers. Reflecting back I realize a different sort of drive now than my old practice and one teacher. I love my old teacher and include him as a link in the chain. The chain is strong and peaceful. I know the links in your chain are as strong and peaceful no matter which or all teachers you choose.


yoga chickie said...


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I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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