This past weekend, I spent 14 hours learning from David Swenson, one of the foremost authorities on Ashtanga yoga in the world (here’s his most famous book: Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual). This blog is mostly about me getting it down on (digital) paper before I forget the details. The broad stroke takeaway is that I am forever changed by this experience – as a yogini and a yoga teacher for sure, but as a person just as much. I’m overflowing with gratitude for having had this opportunity and experience. Before I continue any further, I need to thank my husband, Wayne, for this opportunity and experience since he’s the one who made the whole event happen. Thank you, honey xoxo.
I wasn’t sure how I wanted to attack this post, so I think I’ll just stick to the chronology.
Thursday night, I was lucky to be tasked with picking up David at the airport. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve met a few yoga celebrities during my many trainings and I will say that most are very friendly. There have been a couple that were obviously impressed with themselves and one I would put into the category of guarded. I wondered with some trepidation where David would fall, fearing that I would be disappointed. I pulled up to the curb to collect him, got out of my car and he briskly walked towards me and scooped me up in what I can best describe as an enthusiastic hug like you might give your close friend of 30 years with whom you are reuniting. He was authentically, joyously, smiling from ear to ear. Now for those of you cynical bastards thinking, yeah, I’ll bet he did, first of all, shame on you. Second of all, he did the same to Wayne lol, who I’m sure was a little taken aback by the experience. For myself, I was relieved and excited that the weekend was about to begin. We spent the car ride talking about Texas, where he’s from, and New Jersey, where I’m from, and their equally bad reputations. We talked about his unexpected new passion for his wife’s Peloton bike and life in general.
Friday night: the workshop begins
Friday night consisted of a fundamentals of Ashtanga yoga class. This was an overview exploration of the method and the poses of the primary series. What stood out about this introductory session and what I was unprepared for was how funny he was, how dead on his impressions were of Pattabhi Jois, Richard Freeman, Tim Miller, and so on were. The entire class was laughing throughout the two hours.
Saturday workshops: The FULL Primary Series, Floating and Handstanding Workshop, and Pranayama Workshop
Saturday morning began with the full ashtanga primary series. The full series, not edited in any way. I’m making this distinction because when I teach it, I tend to edit. I leave out some of the poses that I know are beyond the skill level of anyone in the room. From now on, I won’t do that. We discussed the need to keep everything in, offering modifications of course, but leaving everything in so that students are aware of the practice in its entirety. If you’re one of my students, buckle-up – that’s coming.
At the end of this practice something happened for the first time in my 20 years of practicing. I’ve seen this happen to other people. I’ve seen this happen to my own students, but I’ve never had this happen to me. As I lay down to savasana, I wept. A steady stream of tears flowed from the outer corners of my eyes, down my cheeks. They were tears of joy, tears of gratitude for the opportunity to be in that moment, tears of love for the practice that has saved me in more ways than I will ever be able to express. Now, I’m not a terribly weepy person and I’m not an overly emotional person, so it took me completely off guard. Even now as I’m typing this, I can feel that emotion rushing in. ❤️
The second workshop was about floating and going upside down… so you know… candy. I learned some great tips for teaching my students and I can’t wait to pass along that information! The third workshop was all about pranayama and I learned that I’ve pretty much been breathing wrong for the entirety of my yoga journey. Hurray! Oh well, nothing like trying to do something easy, like LEARN HOW TO BREATHE ALL OVER AGAIN. Piece of cake. These two workshops along with Sunday’s inversion workshops were taught in the style of teacher trainings. Wonderful. As someone who now teaches often at teacher trainings, I learned a whole bunch of new tools to pass on for partner work. I’m excited.
I feel like I need to pause here to mention that at 62-years old, David’s practice is still un-fucking-believable. From jokingly floating one-handed while pretending that he’s being lifted by the pants, to playfully pretend falling out of a handstand into a crumpled ball on the floor. Just wow.
Sunday: Intermediate Series Bus Tour, James Brown Backbends and The Eight Limbs
We started Sunday morning with an introduction to the ashtanga second series, which if you know anything about the second series, you know it should be called Relentless Backbending Series. Ugh. I dreaded it all night. I tossed and turned with kapotasana nightmares! I’m happy to announce that I survived and lived to see another day. To follow up the Relentless Backbending Series we had a backbend workshop. Oh lord. My only saving grace was that it was combined with inversions. I’ve never been so glad to bust out a headstand in my entire life.
This workshop is where the title of this post came from. See that squeezing move James Brown does coming out of his splits without using his hands at :29 (such a badass), that’s what we need to do coming out of a backbend. Sweet.
So much more than Eight Limbs
The Eight Limbs philosophical discussion with David deserves its own subheading. I have read the interpretations of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I have studied the eight limbs. I’m more versed than many on the yamas and niyamas. I’m not bragging – I’m just a HUGE nerd. That said, this discussion was a revelation. The insight offered by someone so rooted in the tradition provided the opportunity for analysis and discussion that I previously had never encountered. Particularly, as we discussed the real life application of the yamas and niyamas, the multidimensional, nuanced positions he offered were refreshing and I’ll share what I can in the coming months as I write here and allow this new knowledge and understanding to assimilate into my own thoughts and perspective.
Again, if you know me well, I’m not someone who gets weepy, but my eyes welled up. I was sad that it was over. I glad to be moving forward. I was grateful. I was fulfilled. I was reminded of why I do what I do. My fire and passion for practicing and teaching yoga have never dimmed, but they were fed immeasurably and that fire burns even brighter as a result of this time.