September 24, 2012 § 6 Comments
“Good job! Now stay there. Do it slowly, take your time.”
~Peter, after adjusting me in Supta Kurmasana and somehow knowing that I entered into a different mental space while in the pose.
Peter Sanson is in the Bay Area for these two weeks teaching at two other studios before coming to ours next weekend. I couldn’t wait, so I registered for two classes at Magnolia‘s, last Friday and today. It meant a 4:30 wake-up and a 30-40 minute drive at 5am for a 6am start – enough of a commitment to provoke many ‘whys’ in my conditioned mind, those questions for which I have no answer.
But driving home today after a hot and sweaty practice, I began to realize the answer, one which I knew all along: because it’s worth it and because you know you have to go. It’s that simple and complex really. I left the studio today encased in the longest-lasting post-practice bubble since I started Ashtanga almost three years ago. That is, it carried me for another 2-3 hours after, through breakfast and then rush hour traffic. I didn’t realize the altered state of mind I was in until I ordered my coffee, where I uttered the most genuine response to a cursory “How are you” from the cashier. It was the usual “Good thanks, how about you”, but it came out of me with such purity of intent, tranquility and presence that took me by surprise.
It is really difficult to paint a detailed picture of Peter Sanson as a yoga teacher. Apart from the superlatives, which you will read about all over the cybershala, there aren’t any specifics. He doesn’t give asana advice for the masses and doesn’t talk philosophy or sanskrit. He doesn’t make videos, write blog posts or magazine articles, or is even on Facebook. He is so under the radar and such a gem of a teacher that he really is – to me – Ashtanga’s best kept secret. Simply because when you’re in his Mysore room, magic happens. Whether that magic occurs in the form of an epiphany and fireworks and immense joy, or magic of the subtler sort, of shifts that only you and him can know – the reality is that magic happens when he’s with you on the mat. And even off of it, just being a part of the larger Mysore room. I haven’t received many adjustments from him these two days, but I feel as if I’ve learnt tons about adopting a gentle and fun-loving attitude to the practice. And alot about love. There is this child-like innocence he has that’s infectious, that manifests in the way he expresses joy that you’ve “nailed” the pose the way it’s supposed to be done, or that you understand what he’s trying to get you to do. This joy, it’s hard to ignore. Especially when you’re coming up from a backbend directly to his beaming face and an enthusiastic “YES! YES!!” with a congratulatory pat on the back thrown in for good measure.
From the Peter Sanson view of things, the Ashtanga practice is very simple, grounded on three things: breath, bandha and driste. Everything else is secondary, except when he’s working with you on a pose. His adjustments are firm but gentle, and they deliver an intensity that’s strong yet pleasurable, served with a generous side of instructions to relax. The emphasis on relaxation and gentleness puts him in a very different space compared to the other visiting teachers I’ve studied with. He’s trying to get us to find ease and comfort in the practice, to avoid forcing at all cost, and to go deep instead of going forward. He’s not concerned about whether you can do the perfect jumpback or get both heels to the ground in downward dog, he’s more interested in reading your energy levels, picking up on subtle cues – like whether you’ve engaged Uddiyana or Mula Bandha – and telling you to stop for the day if he sees that your energy levels are running low. He’s strict, but in a loving way, in a way that makes you wish that you had two full weeks with him instead of just five days, split across three weeks.
Two practices down, three more to go.