May 6, 2014 § 9 Comments
Just spent 3 days with this amazing woman in Santa Barbara, ahead of her commitments at the Confluence this weekend. Out of all the senior teachers, she is the one I have wanted to practice with for the longest time. I can’t explain why, but perhaps it has something to do with her words, her perspective on life and this practice and its potency that piqued my curiosity.
What is there to say that hasn’t been said already? This strong woman, full of humor, compassion, discipline, kindness and a beautiful voice – she has a way with words that simplifies the intangible elements of yoga practice into concepts that are easy to digest and apply. Her devotion to the Ashtanga vinyasa system, her unshakeable faith in it, inspires faith in you that this, maybe, is more than weird contortionistic exercises, that this path may actually be one where you could possibly connect with what is Sacred or Divine. Or both. Her convictions are compelling and infectious. Her touch is firm but gentle, instructions concise, sometimes a little curt, but when she’s there with you on your mat, there is nothing but trust and presence. She is with you, even if there are 30 other people in the room waiting for adjustments of their own. We ended the workshop with a Mysore practice yesterday, and for a first-time practice with a new teacher, I have never felt safer or more relaxed.
After my trip to India I started to realize that I needed – more than ever – to find a Teacher of my own. One with whom I could go deep. Yes, we all know that we are our own teachers, that the practice, done over a consistent period of time, with devotion, is the best teacher. But a little help from experienced hands wouldn’t hurt, would it? The problem is, with so many teachers all around the world, how do you choose to commit before you’ve had a chance to practice with someone? That’s the benefit of workshops I think, giving you the chance to get the flavor and sense of what this teacher’s like before you decide to commit and travel halfway around the world to immerse yourself in their teaching. How lucky are we to have this privilege of choice. And yet, sometimes I wish we didn’t have that choice; that to study Ashtanga you just had to turn up on the doorsteps of a small house in Laksmipuram and surrender to everything that lay beyond that threshold.
This weekend clarified the search a little. I wouldn’t go so far to say that Dena’s my Teacher just yet, but I would definitely study with her again, given the chance. What I do know are the characteristics that I look for in a Teacher figure: someone strong, who is able to hold me accountable for my own practice, who inspires me to give of my best, who is able to point out or bring to the surface those elements of myself that I’m either not aware of or am avoiding. Someone who has walked the path, fallen, gone through their own darkness and come through the other side. Someone who knows what it means to be real and safe (in asana practice), and honoring SKPJ’s tradition without being dogmatic about it all. Someone, in other words, who has at least 20+ years of practice. And who is, preferably, a woman.
Dena on practice:
“Practice is a product of time, place and circumstance. Some creativity is needed in order for the practice to meet the needs of the yoga practitioner and their householder responsibilities.”
“Unrealistic expectations are the seeds of disappointment.”
“Don’t push into your limitations. Lean into them. You may find that these limitations move as you lean, then you keep leaning until your body tells you to stop.”
“You don’t arrive at (the full expression of) a pose from the first count. Sometimes you may not arrive until the third count, or the fifth count, or the fifteenth count. Give yourself the space to arrive.”
“It is not about how far you go, but how you get there that is important.”
On finding Mula Bandha:
“Imagine you had a burrito last night and the beans weren’t properly cooked, and now you’re in a crowded room trying not let others know that you’ve got gas. How do you hold it in?”