Let The Breath Do You

June 28, 2011 § 6 Comments

2011 is really shaping up to be the year of workshops, yoga-wise. After Nancy Gilgoff in February, we had David Garrigues come visit last weekend. I was in two minds about signing up for his class even though I follow his blog and his writings really resonate with me. He’s not a big-name yoga teacher the way the senior teachers are, but he’s experienced and has something to share, and I didn’t want to be left wondering ‘what if’ by the end of the weekend. So I signed up.

I’m glad I did. While I didn’t leave with a strong, fierce passion the way Nancy’s led class ignited in me, David has this wild, intense enthusiasm for the practice that’s fascinating to observe. The way he shares his very personal experiences can be a little esoteric and abstract to my beginners’ Ashtanga mind, but also very endearing. It’s like having a sibling much older than you telling you about his adventures along this path that you’re about to embark on. You don’t really get everything he’s saying, in part because you haven’t experienced it, but you still want to follow along anyway because he’s got an energy, a passion to his story-telling that just draws you in. That’s David.

I attended four sessions over the weekend, beginning with a pranayama session on Friday evening, a Led Primary on Saturday morning (which was unexpected), Sunday Mysore and a Q&A on Sunday afternoon. After some persuasion on his part, I decided to check out the kirtan on Sunday evening as well.

Friday evening began with some Surya As – blindfolded. If you’ve never tried it before, I recommend it as a way to really draw awareness to your breath. Of course, there’s a pretty high chance you may end up off your mat after you’ve jumped back, but considering how relaxed those sun salutes were, I think it’s worth it. We then spent the rest of the session on our back doing a bunch of viloma pranayama exercises while grounding the femurs/feet to activate the bandhas. I found them to be really helpful in drawing awareness to mula and uddiyana bandha. At one point, in telling us to relax and let the breath flow, he said, “Let the breath do you”. Great analogy, now to put it in practice.

Saturday morning, he took us through the vinyasa count for the primary series before doing a Led class. It was draining. There was a break in intensity at Navasana when, in the middle of his long and treacherous counts, he forgot where we were at and asked aloud. “Five!!!!”, someone shouted out desperately amidst giggles and trembling thighs. Didn’t get many adjustments in that session though he came and hefted me up in shoulderstand to really balance on the edges of the shoulders instead of the upper back. And then again in headstand where he helped me to get up and find stability before I flopped back onto the mat.

As if I didn’t get enough, there was Mysore-practice on Sunday in a busy room, where I did my best to keep his reminder of the breath in mind. It was hard. Didn’t get many adjustments either, possibly because I started as most of the Intermediate practitioners were entering their backbending/dropback sequences. He conveniently appeared in UHP though, on the second side, lifting my leg from a bent, almost-90-from-the-body-angle to a straight, 45-degree-or-less-angle. And he did it with a big smile, looking at my sweaty face with a big-eyed expression that said “Yea!!! Let’s do this!! Isn’t it awesome?!?!”

Gulp.

There was a touch on the knee in Warrior I for a deeper bend, Ms A’s assist in Supta K and some guidance in Urdhva Dhanurasana to push my knees inwards. I started feeling light headed halfway through the practice so I called it quits after Supta Konasana to save energy for the backbends. As I found my beloved spot by the wall for Sirsasana and went up, he called me down immediately and assisted me with it. As expected, my back arched way too much as I went up, but I eventually found my balance even if I was still swaying a little. The silver lining is that my body felt stable and light in this pose for the first time. There was no tension in the neck, there was space between the shoulders and the neck and my arms felt strong. The icing on the cake was the few seconds where I stayed still, without having David’s hands to hold the ankles, before I started to freak out and sway back down to the mat. All in I probably spent about 18 to 20 breaths in that pose, the longest ever. Felt good.

We did some Viloma pranayama again after Mysore, then it was a Q&A/Asana clinic session in the afternoon where he spoke on a whole bunch of topics: finding the edge in practice, going to Mysore, food and yoga, etc. And then kirtan in the evening with David leading on the harmonium, Surinder Mann on the tabla and one of our shalamates on bass. It was pretty cool and I’m glad I went to check it out. I like that the chants are pretty simple, repetitive and in Sanskrit, makes it easier for you to really get into the music and sway with the flow instead of thinking about what the lyrics mean and trying (or perhaps telling oneself) to find meaning in them. I’ve had my share of Catholic  ‘Praise and Worship’ sessions through my teens and early 20s and they’ve got nothing on kirtan in terms of sweeping you up and feeling like you’re really part of a bigger whole. I didn’t get swept up as much as I could have. There was a part of me that felt reserved and wanted to stay an observer even though those tabla beats were rocking pretty hard.

The kirtan was also where I started to understand David a little better, and see that the music is part of what fuels his love for the practice. It’s obvious that he’s a teacher that also focuses on the ‘Bhakti’ of yoga, the devotional aspect. It’s definitely not something I’m used to and there’s a hesitation somewhere inside me, perhaps a product of a Catholic upbringing and motherly reminders that I shouldn’t get involved in “all that chanting stuff”. Maybe I don’t ever need to, but I’m definitely not passing up the next opportunity to go to a kirtan. At the end of the day, it’s fun!!

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