Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Of Moving House and Visiting Teachers

Between work and dealing with the builder and figuring out what to get and what goes where in the new house and oh yeah, I moved in this weekend finally... I haven't actually had time to post updates! I don't think I've even shared a single photo of the new place here yet. I might just start posting random photo updates just coz that's faster and time isn't what I've got much of these days... (I actually started writing this post a week ago and haven't been able to finish it!!)

Oh yeah, and did I tell you Clayton Horton was also in town? He was here the last 2 weeks actually, and it's been great FINALLY having daily Mysore sessions at the shala. I'm totally lapping this up.

An observation I've made: I cannot function on 6 hours sleep, followed by a 2-hour practice, followed by a full-on 8 to 10-hour day at work. I used to make the joke that my yoga practice was the hardest thing I had to do of the day and since I'd be done with it by 8am, the world would seem all good after that. Unfortunately, I've realized that with what my job entails, I'm no longer sure if my practice is the hardest thing I do of the day. So you can imagine after Week #2 of Clayton in town, it's starting to kick my ass. I'm exhausted and miss the little afternoon naps I could take in Mysore to recover!

The first week Clayton was here, he also did a 3-day teachers' intensive. It counts for Yoga Alliance's 30hr continuing education credit. So glad I took some time off my day job just to reconnect with yoga and other yogis too! The first half of each day was spent discussing philosophy, and the second half of the day was spent on breaking down the Primary series and going through the various adjustments for it. It's been AGES since I've taught, and my adjustments are completely rusty now, I might need to start a little yoga-playgroup going to refresh my adjustments! Or maybe ask to assist my teacher at the shala... Too many things I want to do, so little time! Guess it'll have to happen AFTER the move and doing up the house. ;)

In the first couple days of Mysore classes, I was still getting back into my body and only doing Primary series. Like all teachers trained in the traditional Pattabhi Jois way, Clayton wanted to see me stand up from backbends, then dropback and stand up again 3 times before moving me onto Intermediate. I was totally crap the first few days - wobbly and crashing and hurling onto my knees... And then after a couple days, suddenly my body remembered what it had to do and everything clicked into place and it happened. WEIRD. I can't explain it except... er, muscle memory?

And since then he's been watching me do each pose at a time in Intermediate. He asked where I was up to, then said "Let's start with Pasasana". The next day after Pasasana, I lay down to do backbends then he told me to continue through to Bhekasana. And the day after that to go to Parsva Dhanurasana. And we're now up to Laghuvajrasana. I'm pretty happy hanging out here at this pose and working my way through it (my regular teacher M gave me Kapotasana about a week before Clayton arrived, but I am so totally not ready for it at all!) I've been so completely exhausted the past couple days of practice, I've been coasting my way through it, ie., not really putting in 100% effort. Conserving energy! I have my whole life to figure this out, I'm not gonna kill myself to try and impress a visiting teacher... ;)

There's something about this teacher-student relationship in Ashtanga that I find compelling. The student learning to submit to teacher - I totally get the humility and respect it takes to do this. Interestingly, I used to be of the theory that "you are your best teacher"... But I'm now going through the phase where I feel you can't really say you're your best teacher until you've had enough time and training with a GOOD teacher, who can spot your weaknesses and imbalances and guide you to where you need to be/ what you need to work on. Only when you've been shown the way and can feel it from within can you tap into that again when you're on your own.

A good teacher doesn't just help you physically on an asana level either...a good teacher can tell from the way you breathe how this can affect you energetically, or how it can affect your Vata/ Pitta/ Kapha doshas... (just from the quality of the breath, length of the breath, inhales versus exhales, at what point in the vinyasa you breathe and how this affects you, etc.) I realized this just from being in the same room as Clayton, seeing what he picks up on in different people's practices, including mine. Such wisdom comes from years of experience and a depth of study on various subjects.

While breaking down Laghuvajrasana with me one day, I had a moment of realization, that AHA! moment when I understood why some teachers put such a focus on learning to dropback and stand back up again before moving students onto the Intermediate series. It became totally apparent in Laghuvajrasana that day when Clayton was explaining how to use the inhale to come back up from the floor again (I still can't go all the way down to touch my head to the floor. If I do this, I get stuck and can't come back up). It's a totally similar movement/ action to standing up from a backbend!! It's using that inhale, pressing the hips up and forwards that's similar. Sounds easier than it is, of course.

A great thing that's spun off from his workshop series is there's a group of us who enjoy the regular morning practices so much to the point where we were bummed that the shala still only opens on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for morning Mysore classes. So we asked if the shala was STILL not gonna open on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, could we start a self-practice group on those mornings instead? And TA-DAH! We got a set of keys to share between us. :)

This morning, there were 5 of us in self-practice including Clayton (he flew off to Barcelona today and wasn't teaching; just practising). This little group feels really promising, hope we get to keep this up!

I have to say I've really enjoyed having a visiting teacher for a solid long stretch. 2 weeks is a luxury! Usually most workshops happen over a weekend or the teacher visits for a week... But having 2 solid weeks with the same teacher really helps expand one's practice just that little bit more. And the whole shala just feels a lot more inspired too.

So now maybe I need to start working on my next post - the before and after shots of the apartment!! Mind you, there's still sweet f**k all in the living room except for a TV. I'm thinking of having a ghetto-style housewarming party where everyone has a picnic on the floor (nope, the sofa hasn't arrived yet). And since the kitchen doesn't get installed until 2 weeks' time... People will just have to order takeaway pizzas or bring their own food. Hehe. Fun times!! :)



  1. Clayton is AWESOME. I spent an on-and-off month in his former SF room in 2007, and of course no standing up, no Intermediate, BUT some great Primary adjustments and there's just something about his teaching vibe that makes one all YES, ASHTANGA :)

  2. Those wood floors, those huge windows, and are you in front of a park?? Yay!!

  3. Beautiful place! Love the wood floors.

  4. I spy a balcony! Clayton is on my radar, but I have to ask (and will perhaps post about) what about us oldsters who may never drop back/ stand up? That seems unfair to ban us from ever doing second. Whaaa.

  5. Patrick - Yeah, totally! I love how he's totally not dogmatic about stuff at all. In the workshop sessions, he'd joke about how some students would come to him and say "...but [insert name of famous oldschool teacher here] said this and this and [insert name of another famous oldschool teacher] said that and that..." and I like how he approaches it with a "well try it for yourself and see how it feels!" ...or he'll say something like "they may have been taught a different way, but this is how I was taught". He'd give anecdotes along the way too about how he was taught the asana a certain way from Guruji but then another teacher would do it a different way and then after he tested it out for himself and felt how it gave him a different opening somewhere else, he would then adapt to a different drishti or a slightly different way of "doing" the pose from there. So I like how he's open that way and not "it MUST be like this". :) We hung out quite a bit after classes too and turns out a close relative of his here is an ex-colleague of mine. Man, the ashtanga and advertising worlds are already so small, it's weird when they collide!

    SF - I'm next to a canal actually, those trees are by the canal! Amsterdam's also quite lush with trees anyway... Those windows and the amount of light the place gets is what totally made me fall in love with it. :)

    jsf - thanks! It's white-washed oak. The place didn't come with a floor (only what they call Fermacell here - the underfloor sound absorption material). Was thinking of getting recycled wood flooboards off Marktplaats, the local version of eBay, but everything's in Dutch on the site and it totally did my head in. Anyway, my builder of course recommended the most cost-effective and easiest (for him) floor option so I went with it. I love it! Wait till you see the hallway tiles I got. I can just stand there and stare at my hallway all day. HAHAHA!

    Loo - you're right about a balcony! But it's a teensy weensy tiny balcony, enough for 2 chairs only. But I ain't complaining... Some tiny bit of open space is better than nothing. ;p And on no dropback/stand up, no intermediate... it totally depends on teacher/ student and the type of relationship you cultivate with each other I reckon. My Sydney teacher was super strict with the same rule too for the rest of us, but a slightly older lady who couldn't dropback/ stand up from backbends was also given intermediate. When I spoke with her, she told me "I've been doing Primary series for 12 years so I guess E felt it was time to move me on!" So even teachers who "follow the rules" don't always follow them. I also actually really believe that after doing so many forward bends in the Primary series, you totally need to even it out with all the backbends in the start of the Intermediate series. That's what the oldschool teachers preach anyway and there's logic in that theory too. But see... that's why it's cool not to be totally dogmatic about things... I reckon it totally depends on the teacher, the student, and how the rest of the student's primary series practice is going. After all, from what I've read, Guruji used to teach intermediate quite soon after primary in the old days, so these "rules" keep evolving too, no? I like to think of them more as 'guidelines', not RULES. :)

  6. I love your place!! Can I go visit sometime? Just kidding. I just did my very first drop back this weekend! The teacher told me to start practicing it every day. We'll see. It's been over 24 hours and I'm still feeling the effects after the deep back bends.

  7. Those wooden floorboards are beautiful! We have carpet in our apartment and I'm really missing the charm and warmth of wood floors. Totally agree with you on the importance of learning from a good teacher before going off to practice/explore on your own. While I still believe that the practice is the ultimate teacher, most of us could do with a good guide to keep us growing along this path!

    And YYogini - I'm commiserating with you on the aftereffects of dropping back ;)

  8. Good to hear from you here, J.

    I also love Clayton, though I'm sure he doesn't remember me except for maybe the day I broke my toe in his room. Jumping to catvari. :-) But Clayton made a big impression on me. He is a lofty soul. My brother lived in the apartment directly above his Mysore room on Valencia street for a year. Very good place to live!

    Speaking of, so... I'm going to see these new digs in person in a few weeks, right? Exciting.

    There are MANY senior teachers, the most experienced teachers trained directly by Pattabhi Jois, who do not expect people to stand up from backbends before starting intermediate. I learned primary and intermediate with three very well known senior teachers, and did not stand up from backbends until it happened spontaneously after I'd been doing kapo for a while. Thus, my ego had no investment in it and my emotional body also had no blocks. I think it's safe to say that this course, guided every single day by SKPJ students, was not harmful to my backbend practice.

    That said, many of us who were not trained this way still DO require people to stand up from backbends before starting them on intermediate. I do this because I respect Sharath's refinement of the method, understand why he requires this and totally support it. I rely on him, together with my other senior teachers (not my own preferences or just my personal experience many years in the past), to know how it is I should teach. Sometimes it is not as easy as "I teach the way that I was taught when i learned." Honestly, the more global consistency in the method, the easier it is to come together in community. The practice has never changed since it was discovered written on banana leaves. And the practice is, daily, ever new, ever new, ever new.


  9. Beautiful place you got there, love the space and the light and the air. Congratulations.


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