Original Entry Created on 09/12/2013 16:35
I was introduced to Ashtanga yoga by Sonja Appel in India as part of my teacher training course. i really loved this style of teaching mainly because I am unsure about how to approach self practice. How should I structure my own session? How do I make sure I continue to progress? It’s 99% practice and only 1% theory so how many books should I read from my comfy armchair in order to maximise my progress on the mat? Ashtanga Yoga took all of this away from me. Shri K Pattabhi Jois, an internationally renowned teacher, taught this method to students around the world for over sixty years. As I have only been practising yoga for three years to be handed this sequence took the angst away from me and I continued to work through the primary series as my self practice once I returned home.
I had not had any additional instruction in Ashtanga Yoga since my return from India and I was feeling stuck, even though I had been using one of the compulsory reading books from my yoga training, John Scott’s Definitive Step-by- Step Guide to Ashtanga Yoga, which provided me with a detailed guide taking you through each the postures. Imagine my surprise when I found a series of workshops with the legendary John Scott himself in Oxford, just 30 miles from my parents-in- law … and there was still spaces. Quicker than you could say Savasana (the resting pose at the end of class) I was booked in and getting very excited!
We chose the worst day of the year with travel with high winds and driving rain which resulted in our usual five hour journey taking over nine hours. Exhausted we arrived in Swindon and caught up with family before the big day.
Armed with my mat, block, strap and blanket I arrived at the village hall on the outskirts of Oxford for the first session where John was going to take us through the primary series. Imagine my surprise when the man himself met us at the door, and made us all feel at home. We were packed into the hall like sardines and there was not much space between neighbours but somehow it didn’t really matter as the hall had a great buzz of excitement as we got ready for the session ahead.
John has a great presence and brought the room under control and guided us through the sequence, whilst also adjusting our poses individually and with the assistance of some of his teaching students. It was great sharing the room with so many people doing yoga and to hear our breath united … through mine had a more panting quality at times!
By the time I was waiting for my self practice session the next morning I was raring to go but when I was chatting away to a few of my new yoga buddies I discovered that it was not protocol to use my crib sheet, where I kept a list of each posture in the sequence to keep me on-track. So when I set up in the room I surreptitiously slipped it under my mat and hoped to get away with it when under the eagle eye of John and his team. This plan did not work well as I had not placed it completely under my mat in my pathetic attempt to sneak it in unobserved and John pushed it further under my mat out of sight … but it was not out of mind … my mind anyway! I got stage fright and couldn’t remember any of the series … and as my progress was one of the slowest in the room as I tried to focus on linking my breath with my movement I couldn’t copy anyone else. I sneaked a peek at the illicit sheet just as John walked passed and caught me! Where is the posture in the sequence where the ground opens up under your mat and swallows you? I’ve named it ‘Igotcaughtasana’? He was really sweet about it but I took the hint … I racked my brain and made it to the end with no more cheating …. well nearly no more cheating! I was sweaty, tired and excited by the end. Couldn’t wait for the next session in the afternoon, where we were going to work on technique. The self practice sessions were limited to 13/14 students but everyone was back for the afternoon session and we packed ourselves into the hall. It was here that I learned I had been doing only half a practice. Ashtanga Yoga is a counted practice and I had been only focussing on my breath, trying to inhale and exhale at the right time … with the right movement … in the right order. I never realised I should count as well … and whats more be counting in Sanskrit which is an ancient Indian language. My intention during practice should have been to remain in the moment … I got that one – top marks! and know where I was in the sequence as well as the number of movements within each posture …. missed that one completely!
By the time I was waiting for my starting time on the final day I was a bag of nerves! I had been studying the sequence overnight to make sure I didn’t find that uncomfortable pose ‘Igotcaughtasana’ again. My memory was much better this time though and I worked my way through the sequence with only a couple of minor errors. The adjustments were amazing and I could really feel my improvement as I got into a number of postures I had struggled with up to now with the help of John and his team. Slowest as usual meant that it took me the full two hours to work through the sequence. Exhausted was an understatement and by the time the afternoon session arrived I could feel a stiffness through every part of my body.
During the lunchtime I sought John out and asked him if he would write the sanskrit numbers in my copy of his book and he very kindly agreed and started to flick through the book , which I had proudly informed me I had read from cover to cover, only for him to bring me to the page where all of these numbers were written underneath pictures of the relevant postures. I had found a new posture this time ‘Iamanidiotasana’ but with a twinkle in his eye he showed me how the counting system works in each posture so that I can work my way through the series, breaking down each pose into its constituent parts.
The afternoon session focussed on the additional poses in the secondary series and I struggled … but still enjoyed it … having had a glimpse into what may lay ahead if I continue to practise with patience (not that great at this but am getting better thanks to yoga!) and persistence.
By the time I arrived back in Cumbria that evening, my physical body was stiff and sore but mentally I was a buzz. I have learned a great deal from this experience, not only physically but more importantly the mental aspect. It was in the practice of Yin yoga where I first found I could stay in ‘the moment’ and started on a my meditative journey thanks to my teacher Josh Summers. However, John has helped me discover a meditative quality to Ashtanga Yoga that I never knew existed. By counting and linking my breath with the movement he has shown me that even this active yoga practise is leading me further down the road to discovering more about myself and transforming how I feel about myself and the world around me.
If you ever get the opportunity to attend one of John’s classes or workshops – go for it. It is truly transformational … though John may find that stopping me from embarrassing myself in public may be too big a job even for him!