What: 2-day Ashtanga Yoga workshop offering four different workshops of 2.5 hour each with a different focus. On the first day we taught an Ashtanga yoga class looking mainly at the technique of the standing postures and in the afternoon an inversions class with focus on moving in to headstand with safety. The second day began with a Mysore self-practice class followed by a back bending and restorative session.
Where: Yoga Kula, Leeds When: 5+6 May 2013 10.30 am - 4.30 pm
Who: Workshop was led by myself and Alan O'leary and open to students of all levels to participate.
On the basis of that the first class I taught with Alan revolved mainly around the standing postures of the Ashtanga sequence including Sun Salutations. One aspect of these postures that I am beginning to understand is the important of (a mild version of) Uddiyana Banndha. (A full and concise explanation is not appropriate for this blog post so I will just give the overall idea of the concept and then you can read further about it here. See is also this video of Kino MacGregor explaining the difference between Uddiyana Banddha and Uddiyana Kriya).
Uddiyana Banddha teaches us to work deep from the core of the body with a firmness to the lower abdominal (protecting the lower back) while keeping softness and spaciousness in the upper abdominal cavity to encourage deep breathing and full movement of the diaphragm. Many students who don't understand this Banddha will instead grip at the abdominal muscles and hip-flexor muscles, tensing and shortening the front of the body rather than lengthening and softening.Through exercises to locate this 'Banddha sensation' and partner work we went through the key postures of the standing sequence and Downward Facing Dog. The main purpose of the class was to get the students to understand the subtle lift of the lower abdominal muscles together with a sense of letting go while in the postures.
This class was followed by an afternoon session on inversions. I often omit inversions in my regular classes as it takes time to explain how to move in to shoulderstand and headstand with awareness and safety. The main focus for the inversions session was therfore to spend time on preliminary exercises to build up strength and courage to do the postures safely. Before moving in to the more extreme inversions, balancing on hands, head or shoulders, we focused on Downward Facing Dog and half dog to work on rotation of hands/shoulders. Interestingly the principles of 'lifting up' from the previous session on Uddhiyana Banddha came back when understanding how to engage the core muscles for inversions. I then introduced a few Iyengar based techniques: we used bricks squeezed between first hands and then thighs to isolate the action of first the arms/shoulders and then legs/pelvis. Following this we practiced handstand. This position is the easiest in which to identify the before mentioned muscle groups that needs engaging to keep inverted balances steady. We worked in partners again using the wall for safety. After handstand we moved in to headstand through various preliminary postures. When learning to do inversions safely it's vital to know which steps to pause at and stay with before attempting the full posture. Finally we moved gently in to the Ashtanga shoulder stand sequence focusing mainly on keeping weight through the arms and the shoulder and not in to the neck.
Monday morning started with a Mysore class. I love teaching Mysore because it gives me the opportunity to give personal feedback to each student. It allows them to work with their own breath and internalise the practice. Many discrepancies or bad habits that accumulates when practicing for a while can be detected and therefore rectified during this practice. Also it was a great opportunity for me to assess whether my instructions on the previous day had been clear to the students. Alan has written a blog post about Mysore self-practice. Read it here.
I have out of curiosity been practicing Matthew Sweeney's Moon Sequence lately and found it a great alternative to the Ashtanga sequences. The Moon sequence focuses less on chaturanga and upper body strength and more on back bending. It became the starting point for the back bending session. After explaining the different parts of the spine that play part when opening the back we warmed in to the session by practicing the beginning of the Moon sequence. The beginning of the second series Ashtanga sequence builds up strength and flexibility with lots of control. This was a natural follow up starting with Shalabhasana up to Laghu Vajrasana with a few modifications. Last we practiced Bow posture (Urdhva Dhanurasana) in threes where the students would help each other create length and lift through the spine. See image to the right.
For the remaining part of this session we went in to restorative postures winding down mind and body after a very stimulating back bending session. Restorative yoga, where supported relaxation gives the energy back to the body, is a very valuable tool particularly, I find, as an Ashtanga yoga practitioner. In Ashtanga Yoga we become accustomed to the upwards and powerful energy of the practice and underestimate the value of letting go and giving in. The postures are set up with lots of props: bolsters, belts and bricks to support the body to rest in various supine, prone and twisted positions. The perfect antidote for two days of physical practice.
The fourth post will be about teaching an improvisation workshop for improvisation Exchange in Leeds in May 2013.