Monday, October 09, 2006

Linda's Boyfriend

If you don't keep up with Linda's Second Trip to Mysore Blog (the First Trip to Mysore was completed, and upon Linda's return, took on a really fun and flip Sex and the Shala kind of vibe before Linda decided to pull it out of syndication in the interest of not alienating one of the topics of her fun and flip blog entries), well, let me give you a quick rundown: Linda is still practicing like the adorable Meg Ryan-looking madwoman that she is, is still rocking her way through Second, is still living the Sex and the Shala lifestyle (Yogarella does go out, but she might go home early sometimes) but has now settled into a relationship with a fellow yogi, fellow Ashtangi, in fact. Let's call this Ashtangi, "A", as that is what Linda calls him.

A is a Jivamukti-trained yoga teacher. As many of you may already know, Jivamukti is an Ashtanga-based vinyasa practice. There are always sun salutations, there is always a shoulder-stand-centered finishing sequence that follows at least three Urdvha Dhanurasanas. In between the Sun and the Final Fish are sequences of postures drawn from Ashtanga. But not just Primary Series. In a Jivamukti class, you may be struggling with Uttitha Parsvakonasana (from the Ashtanga Standing Series), but you still may have the opportunity to float up into Mayurasana (which appears about halfway through the Ashtanga Second Series). And nearly every Jivamukti class includes Ardha Matsyandrasana (which is bound in Jivamukti classes by anyone who can do it), another Second Series posture. Mari A and Mari C sometimes appear, but not many people can bind in C. Mari B and D are never included. Kurmasana is unlikely to appear in a Jivamukti class; however Badha Konasana and Upavishta Konasana are often included. Side plank - or Vasistasana - will usually appear in a Jivamukti class. And Pincha Mayurasana is as likely to be included as Headstand or Handstand.

Jivamukti is a FUN place to practice if you can get beyond the intense vegan dogma and the loooooong dharma talks and sometimes silly pranayama that takes up the first 20 minutes or so of a Jivamukti class. You get to warm up deeply, with lunges often thrown into Sun Salutations. You get to bind in postures that don't have binds in Ashtanga - Uttitha Parsvakonasana and Parivritta Parsvakonasana. You often get to explore a variety of versions of one-legged king pigeon (Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana). The music is rollicking, which dovetails nicely with my musical sensibilities.

In a Jivamukti class, strength matters just as much as flexibility, which is kind of refreshing, given Ashtanga's intense focus on flexibility (remember - in Ashtanga, no one "cares" how you jump back, but they DO care if you can bind in ....Supta K....what else did you think I was going to say?!). In a Jivamukti class, there is a playfulness that simply cannot exist in a quiet Mysore session.

So, with all of that in mind, I urge you to read THIS spirited, spontaneous and fascinating discussion/debate over what IS Mysore practice. Is it about the tradition handed down by Guruji? And if so, which tradition, exactly? Guruji taught different groups of senior teachers differently. While I know that my teacher, Sir, teaches his shala students in the same manner in which he was taught, I also know that the way he was taught is not the way every other teacher was taught. Swenson and Williams were definitely not taught in the same way that Sir was, and as a result of the way they were taught, they have certain biases and ideas about how things SHOULD be taught, with all due respect to Guruji. Tim Miller, Chuck and Maty, Nancy Gilgoff: all different. NOT "California Style", which implies a free-wheeling, rules-breaking, laissaiz faire approach (when I use the term "California Style", I use it to refer specifically to the practice of adding Samakonasana and Hanumanasana into the Standing Sequence). But different.

The blog entry that sparked the debate was Linda's description of A's approach to teaching a brand new student what seemed like essentially, too much of Second to be absorbed in one go. A few of us, via comments or via emails (to me, actually, since I have such a loud mouth on Linda's blog) basically eviscerated A for not doing it the way our teachers do it. I went so far as to say that I wouldn't want to be taught by someone who was teaching in the way A was teaching because I WANT the tradition. Then K spoke up, and it made me go...Hmmmmm.

K made me stop and think: what is tradition? what does it mean to practice in the Mysore style? Are the rules we follow really "rules" or did we just make them up to go along with our idea of what Mysore style SHOULD be? Are we just trying to make up reasons for why our teachers give us or don't give us poses? Who is to even say what the effect of giving or withholding poses may be in the case of one student versus another? I mean, in my case, I love to bitch and moan about how slow Sir is taking me through Primary. But on the other hand, it wouldn't feel right to me to go on to the next pose without mastering the one I am working on. Did Sir's way work its way into my construct? Or did I find Sir because I needed that sort of discipline?

It's interesting stuff. Worth a read. And Linda loves the attention!!!



Tova said...

i need to take exception to the idea that strength doesn't matter in ashtanga. all the teachers that i have had, most of whom have studied with Guruji at one time or another, have always cultivated the development of strength alongside the flexibiliy. also as a teacher i will fequently tell very flexible students to use "restraint" and use their strength to hold them out of being fully in some asanas instead of allowing their flexibility to let them collapse into it. but as a teacher yourself, don't you think it is much easier to grab someone and shove them into, say.....i don't know...supta kurmasana ;) than to help them with a jump back into chaturanga, right?
i don't mean to invalidate your experience with ashtanga as being more flexibility oriented, perhaps it is because you are HUGELY strong and your teachers want you specifically to work on your flexibility?

boodiba said...

Hee hee! :)

I feel like we're in some sort of club. Wait! We are!

In the light of ANY conclusions all this talk of what is and isn't Astanga, I'm happy that I initiated the discussion. One of the reasons I always loved listening to Howard Stern (I'm repeating myself but what the hell), is that he is NOT politically correct. He brings things that most are afraid to mention out into open air discussion.

I still think devoting that much of a percentage of your attention to one person is better suited to a private class. AND I was jealous. But I now see "A's" reasons for doing it as well.

Anonymous said...

I have been practising with an old school teacher, guruji's student form the 70's and he mixes the two styles of the way he was taught - cruise along through primary and intermediate and the sharath-influenced get every asana strong and perfect before doing the next. My teacher maintains that it has more to do with making space for more students and less about individual practice. he argrees of course, that one does need to have a certain understanding before ploughing on forward just not sooo strict. sometimes in led classes he throws in postures from intermediate and advanced a, so who knows?

yoga chickie said...

Tova - interestingly enough, I find teaching chatturanga easier than teaching binds. In terms of physical adjustments though, it is obviously far easier to rotate someone's arm and reach their hands together than it is to hold their core up in chatturanga or even in a headstand.

I don't feel that my physical strength has been cultivated at all in my Ashtanga experience - the only time I was ever urged to use any strength at all was in Navasana (in the press-ups) and in Bujapidasana (in the lifting up out of the pose). I believe that my teachers believe that strength is a non-issue for me. I know I have gained strength in the past year or so. But I have gained WAY more in flexibility.

Perhaps your strength versus flexibility is more balanced than mine as a starting point, and that is why your teachers have cultivated them equally?

Linda, Linda, sound soooo diplomatic!

Tova said...

just out of curiosity, do you feel like your male teachers and your female teachers approach the idea of strength vs flexibility in practice differently? i am just thinking that because strength comes more easily to men and flexibility is more difficult that a male teacher might focus more on the flexibility in others practices because that is what he needs to work on more in his own practice? just my women's studies major coming out in my yoga practice.

yoga chickie said...

Tova - I have only had male Ashtanga teachers, although I have gotten assists from female teachers, but I can think of one female who has had an influence on my practice who puts way more emphasis on feats of strength than on feats of flexibility (she suggested going into Crow in the exit from Utkatasana to get that floating up feeling). She happens to be a former dancer, but her practice does not appear to be especially flexible (by Ashtanga standards, which is a very high bar!). While she IS flexible - flexible enough to work from Primary through Laghu Vajrasana, I can see that the flexibility is not without its challenges for her. She seems to enjoy working with the strength though, as oppposed to focusing on the flexibility. So....I don't know!

K said...

I do think certain teachers focus more on teaching strength and others on teaching flexibility (and, also, for those of you who know me, that I would put my former teacher in the 'flex' box and my current one in the 'strength' box - both are guys, by the way, Tova).

In an ideal world, all teachers would be able to focus equally on both, but since that can't happen, it's nice to be able to choose a teacher that is strong at teaching your weakness.



samasthiti said...

All of the teachers I have had have told me this is not just about becoming more flexible. There has to be a balance between strength and flexibility.
I think what you lack is what you build upon. If you are strong in the first place you will gain flexibility, if you are flexible you gain strength. If you lack both you get both.
Mysore is such a personal practice, you develop such a close relationship with you teachers. They know what you need, at times more than you may want to admit.
A good teacher is going to teach to your weaknesses and your strength, if they only taught to your weakness you would probably quit.

BUT ANY WAY. New comers to ashtanga take up much of the teachers time. Sunday there were three at my class and they get all the attention and the regulars are left to fend for themselves. But the teacher's not my boyfriend and they weren't hot bendy chicks and they only get to learn the first half of primary.
So, I blabber. Sorry.

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Northern Westchester, New York, United States
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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