Living the dream

I have not put on “real” clothes once this week. I can’t tell you how much I love getting changed after practice in the morning into another set of yoga clothes for teacher training during the day! It’s really been an exhausting, but amazing week so far.

On to business, the David Swenson experience thus far. Saturday and Sunday I did mysore with him in the mornings. It was a very small group on Saturday, perhaps 10 or 12 of us, and only a few more on Sunday. David did the opening chant in call and response style and we all got to business. The fact that there were so few of us meant everyone got his attention and he gives a wonderful, firm adjustment. It was nice to get attention in poses that usually never get adjustments at my home shala, like parivrtta trikonasana and shoulder stand. He came over as soon as I stood from my last urdhva dhanurasana and sat in from of me holding the backs of my upper thighs. He told me to drop back slowly and he brought me back up as soon as the heel of my hand touched the floor. It felt great and forced my heels to stay on the floor. His insight on the heel lift was regarding my short achilles tendon possibly being the cause. He told me he has them too and that his heels do not stay on the floor in pasasana because of that (!).

I took two of the Sunday workshops: Ashtanga’s Greatest Hits, which was a by request class where we broke down any pose people in the class needed help with or were curious about. The majority of the class were not ashtanga practitioners so there were no crazy poses. The most fun for me were nakrasana and mayurasana, which I came close to getting with David’s tips. The second workshop was Backbending and Inversions. Lots of group work happened and it was ok. For me the best part of both classes was David’s story telling and humour.

Teacher training began on Monday. There are eighteen of us, which is more than I anticipated. Most of the group does not have a regular ashtanga practice and there are only four of us have traditional mysore style practices. I was also surprised about that. We got right into teaching on the first day and everyone taught the whole class one surya namaskara. I was nervous, but it does break the ice. David talked about teaching and adjusting; things like prioritizing the corrections that make the pose safer, rather than just more aesthetically pleasing. We learned adjustments for downward dog and the beginning of standing on the first day. The following two days have been similar schedules. In the mornings we partner up and teach the sequence as far as we learned the previous day, adjusting in every pose. Then we learn the next few poses with the adjustments. We’ve done the standing sequence, jumping forward and back, then closing sequence (all but the last three poses so far). He says tomorrow we’ll finish up to navasana. I can’t imagine how difficult and overwhelming this must be for the people who have little or no experience with ashtanga. They are having to memorize the sequence, including Sanskrit names, and be able to teach it (no Sanskrit counting, just breath cues). I’m happy to only have to stress out about teaching and remembering all the adjustments, I don’t think I would be enjoying myself nearly as much otherwise. He is a patient teacher, and answers every question fully. He somehow still manages to be a bit firm and no-nonsense sometimes though, and I appreciate that. He even took time to help me with my jump backs at lunch today.

We get a two-hour lunch break and afterwards David sits at the front and tells stories and answers our questions, sort of conference-like. He speaks of Guruji often and tells funny stories about his experiences with him, both in Mysore and the US. Today there were a couple of questions about Mysore (whether a practitioner should aspire to going and whether or not he still goes). This set him off talking about what the experience of practicing at The Shala is like and lots of very funny stories about going to India. He often mentions David Williams and does a wonderful impressions of people. Yesterday he addressed someone’s question about whether ashtanga practitioners should just expect to get injured at some point. He told us that he has never had an injury from yoga (or “the yoga” as he calls it), despite having been a faithful practitioner since the early 70’s. He keeps driving home the point that ashtanga is only as hard as you make it. It’s ok to modify poses and you should do whatever you need to be safe (although he says props are only a last resort). We also discussed ladies’ holiday today. He says it is 100% personal choice, and doesn’t buy into the rule that women absolutely should not do practice, or even not do inversions during that time. Everyone should listen to their own body. David is very humble and has a wonderful way of making practice seem light. He regularly refers to it as a tool for life. He treats each persons practice as equal, regardless of how proficient they are with the asanas. I love that. He says that yoga should be fun and should build your prana, not deplete it.

Here are a couple of the nuggets of wisdom I managed to record in my notebook:

-“An adjustment creates a memory in someone’s body.” I thought this was a powerful way to think of it. I imagine most teachers want to create positive memories in someone of their experience in a pose.

– “There are fears that keep us alive and fears that keep us from living.” This came up when we were working on headstand and talking about the fear of inversions. He told a wonderful story about his wife’s experience of taking her first driving lesson and having her fear validated. I hope this is something I would already do, considering my field of work, but his demonstration with one of the participants was great.

I’ve been up around 5:30 every morning to get my butt to practice, then bus way out to the shala in the suburbs where the training is being held. It makes for very long and tiring days, but it has definitely been worth it. I can’t wait for tomorrow!

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