Sunday, March 15, 2009

The love continues...

I had to leave a hot vinyasa yoga class yesterday because it was neither hot, nor vinyasa. As far as the yoga goes, I suppose that was my responsibility, and although I could have yoga-ed it up by letting feelings of equanimity flood over me in place of the annoyance and rage I was feeling, I did not. I chose, instead, to leave after 60 minutes, 30 to go. I just rolled up my mat and said, "I gotta go. Thanks."

I would have hated it if someone left my class in the middle, when I was teaching. I thought about that and debated what to do, pretty much from the first time the teacher came over to me and lifted my thigh away from parallel to the ground in one of the Warrior poses ("Too deep! Think of your knees!" she admonished if she knows my knees.) And that was within the first 10 minutes of class. After 50 minutes of arguing with myself and not knowing whose side to take, I decided that it would be better and kinder to myself to simply put myself out of my misery and leave.

And so I did.

Here is what bugged be about the class though, what made it intolerable for me. And I point this out only because it makes me realize how totally awesome Ashtanga really is, even if only as a jumping off point for a well-thought-out self-practice to last a lifetime:

1. All that talking.

All that incessant talking. "Blah blah blah, I am so spiritually aware, let me tell you how much I know about spirituality. Sure, I am just a housewife living in Northern Westchester, just like you. But I am OH SO enlightened. And you are my captive audience. So listen up."

Well...maybe I am not there to get spiritually incentivized by you. Maybe I am there to practice asana and go into my own head. Or out of my own head. Whichever it needs to be for me to go to that peaceful place that asana (or gardening, or running, for that matter) can get me to. But either way, listening to you blathering on is certainly not helping.

Ashtanga gets it right. It is either totally silent, except for the murmers of the teacher talking one-on-one to students in the room, or it is simply the sound of the vinyasas being counted out in Sanksrit.

Oh, how I cherish the silence of Asthanga practice.

2. The talking, part deux: the contents of the talk is inevitably inane.

OK, so, first you blather on about how the yoga poses don't matter. Then you proceed to tell us exactly how to get into them and how doing the poses properly is going to massage our thyroid glands or get our digestion going. Then you act like a cheerleader when you see someone trying to do an arm balance. But I thought it doesn't matter? Then you try to stop the more advanced students from going deeper into the poses because that is not what YOU are teaching today...but if the poses don't matter, then why do you care?

Silence is golden in yoga. The Ashtanga practice teaches you to teach yourself. It is the most awesome gift a yogi can give to him or herself.

3. The inconsistency of the sequencing...or, you win some you lose some.

Sometimes, and particularly when a teacher has been taught by Baron Baptiste or Jivamukti, or is an Ashtangi in her own practice, the sequencing of poses makes beautiful sense. It starts with warming up, it moves through various permutations of standing poses, gradually adding twists and hip openers and moving through to backbends, then forward bends then a finishing sequence.

But sometimes, the teacher's "creativity" gets in the way. And that's when it all goes to shit.

Take yesterday's class, for example. It started off fine, if a bit slow, but then the sequence seemed to focus almost exclusively on standing balances. And standing balances are nice, but they should not be the meat and potatoes of a practice because they focus too much on strength and not enough on flexibility. Too many balancing poses lead to an unbalanced practice, as I see it. Besides, ALL standing poses require balance anyway. So, why keep repeating Warrior III ad nauseum? At some point, I think it was a Warrior III that was the final straw for me. I just didn't want to spend my precious yoga time standing on one leg anymore.

It wasn't fun. It didn't feel good. It left me cold. Literally. Which brings me to...

4. If you call it a Hot Yoga class, then keep the heat on.

There shouldn't be cool breezes in the classroom. I shouldn't sweat my way through the first 10 minutes of Sun Salutations only to start shivering as the sequence gets slower and the heat starts to go down. It is uncomfortable and disconcerting. At least with Asthanga, there is no outside source of heat, generally speaking. You're expected to bring the tapas with you, and you're expected to really bring it. And when I say tapas, I don't mean small dishes of Spanish food.

5. The Control-Freaking Buzz-Killing Assists

There is one thing that NEVER happens in an Ashtanga class, never ever ever, and that is a teacher communicating to a student that she should pull back and not go as deep. It is absolutely unheard of in Ashtanga, where alignment takes a back seat to "completion" of the "energy circle" that is the pose. LET your knee come out in front of your ankle in Warrior II. Let your thigh sink beyond parallel in Extended Side Angle. Twist your spine until you're all Linda-Blair-Excorsist-esque. Bind at the forearm, if the wrist isn't enough for you!

But outside of the Ashtanga world, it's all about the buzz kill. Where did this notion come from that we shouldn't go as deep as we can into a pose? And even if it's somehow "wrong" to do so, if you don't KNOW me and my body and its strengths and weaknesses, then how can you know if it is wrong for me? For example, when I go deeply into a lunging pose like Warrior II, my knee is not an issue at all. What IS an issue is my hips, which feel fairly tight, and deepening the lunge relieves the tightness. My knee? Not even part of the equation.

6. All the pauses, the resting, the breathing while doing NOTHING.

In Ashtanga, the breaths are counted out. Inhale and bring your arms up, exhale and fold over. In this class I took yesterday, you know what the teacher counted out? The breaths. Just standing there and breathing. After we finished standing and balancing on one leg, this is what we were told to do: "Stand and inhale. Exhale. Okay, inhale. Okay, exhale. Third one, inhale, exhale."

REALLY? I need instructions on standing and breathing???

In Ashtanga, every inhale and every exhale are tied to a movement except when you are holding a pose. Standing is not a pose. OK, it technically IS a pose, but in this class, it wasn't. She just had us standing and breathing.

I'm not saying that I will never go to a non-Ashtanga class again. But this experience made me realize that the best yoga that I do is the yoga that is the best yoga for me. A tautology? Perhaps. But it works for me.



Tracy said...

god, that is so true lauren. the one reason why i can't bring myself to going back to yet another Bikram ALL that non-sense chatter. It really irritates me deep down. I used to love Bikram yoga..but they just won't shut up!!!!!!!!!!!! Some of the things they ridiculous.
That is where Ashtanga hits the mark! xo

Anonymous said...

Totally agree. Nothing worse than a poorly or barely trained vinyasa teacher whose sequencing makes no sense. Bikram talk is unbearable. And silence IS golden.

Unfortunately, however, recently I have come upon an authorized ashtanga teacher who is a total control freak, talks too much in a mysore room, intervenes too often in students' practices and QUIZZES students on pose names. She thinks she's so smart that everyone needs to hear everything she wants to say and thinks everyone WANTS to be corrected every second.

Other New Yorkers may know who I mean.

Yoga Chickie said...

Hmmm...I have no idea who that is. I can't even imagine who it is! I hope that whoever it is soon mellows out. Maybe she is just really enthusiastic at this point? Maybe she's been trained in one of the talky forms of yoga, besides just being ordained by SKPJ? I mean, I guess there is something to be said for knowing nothing about teaching and being authorized purely based on you rown practice...

Anonymous said...

I laughed out loud at your post - it's ALL SO TRUE! All that chatter, so irritating. Though to be fair the other people there may not have had as much of a yoga practice as yourself?

A question (I don't claim to be a teacher or anything, so in good faith): 'preserving the knee' for a lifelong practice sounds like a good thing to start on, even before you develop any knee problems - in fact better if before. I'm talking about the knee beyond ankle in warrior II thing. And if you relieve the tightness in your hips by bending the knee, instead of coming up higher and then lowering as the hips open, aren't you missing out on a balance thing (knees strong, hips open) that is part of the objective? As I said, I'm not a teacher and I know that you've taught, so an honest question.

Yoga Chickie said...

To be honest, as a GENERAL matter, I would say that you are RIGHT. But I don't think I would ever have assisted someone's knee back when I was teaching. In fact, I would stay the hell away from peoples' knees!! In Warrior II, I would tend to assist the pelvis..encouraging the student to aim the tailbone down....or the chest...encouraging it to open laterally.

In a gym setting, if I were a personal trainer, which I am not, I might encourage a student who has weights in her hands to NOT lunge the knee out in front of the ankle. But without weights...not sure this is relevant.

Not sure...all I know is that I really felt some buzzkill vibes going on.

Anonymous said...

Was this class in Westchester? Cause I live near Westchester and have yet to find a good hot vinyasa teacher anywhere in the area or across the border in CT. It's amazing to me how many teachers are coming out of yoga training without a sense of how to be a grounded and intelligent teacher with some intuition about students and their true level of abilities. There are too many teachers with limited training out there calling themselves "experts" in whatever style they feel qualified to teach. As a whole, I've also found most vinyasa teachers try to wear too many hats...vinyasa, hot vinyasa, slow flow, this and that. And just because they've got a "yoga body, doesn't mean they can or should teach yoga!

Anonymous said...

thanks for you response re warrior ii. my knees are pretty sensitive, so it's good to know this kind of thing.

Yoga Chickie said...

Class was in Westchester. Not a reflection on the studio, but on the teacher. And it could have just been a bad day, right? I don't think I would take a chance and go back to her, but I recognize the possibility that it was just the teacher having a really really bad day...

Anonymous said...

Yeah I sometimes chalk it up to a bad day for the teacher but I never go back either. My yoga time is too precious these days to not have a great practice whenever possible. Even on a bad day though...a hot vinyasa teacher should at least be cranking up the heat unless she was feeling ill!

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About Me

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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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