-The popular quote, “Do your practice and all is coming” by Pattabhi Jois is not quite right: according to Nancy, he actually said, “Do your practice, someday you teach, and all is coming.”
-When Nancy asked him how she should teach the practice to students, Pattabhi Jois told her, “You teach as I taught you.” And that is what she tries to do, varying her methods very little from they way it was originally taught to her in the early ’70’s.
-He taught her differently than he taught David Williams. He had Nancy do less vinyasas than David. David was already an adept student of asana when he met PJ; when they travelled through India and met a variety of Indian Yoga teachers, many of them wanted David to study with them because of his ability. Nancy, on the other hand, although flexible, was not strong, and had medical issues (nervous system, migraines) that prevented her from doing the Ashtanga practice as rigorously as David did. PJ would literally put her into the postures, and bring her through the vinyasas. He healed her: by the end of two months, she was much stronger and healthier, her migraines had gone away, her menses had evened out.
-We are not meant to breath with Ujayi breath. PJ would just say, “Breath with sound.” Ujayi breath is a pranayama technique.
-"There is no jalandara bandha anywhere in the Ashtanga practice. It’s just a dropping of the chin towards the chest. Jalandara is done during pranayama."
-Nancy remarked upon the four “generations” of Ashtanga practitioners and subsequent teachers who have gone to Mysore over the past 40 years.
- 1st Generation: the first Western students to study with PJ, David Williams, Nancy Gilgoff, Norman Allen
- 2nd Generation: the second wave of students to study with PJ, such as Lino Miele and Eddie Stern.
- 3rd Generation: the third wave, who went to Mysore when Sharath began assisting PJ.
- 4th Generation: the most recent wave of students who have only studied with Sharath.
-"It’s all good," she said. ”If you surrender to the lineage, it’s not about the small self. It’s not about the ego. The practice is the teacher."
"You can be a limited person, and yet still be a teacher. As a teacher, be willing to say, “I don’t know” when you don’t know the answer."
-”To gain your body’s trust, don’t go too far. The mind and the body are two separate things. Leave the mind at the bottom of the stairs.” (You have to walk up a flight of stairs to get to Christine’s practice space.) “The body has a natural intelligence. The mind will create fear and forcing. The body will resist you when the mind forces it. Don’t force. Restore trust, and it will open.”
-”Ashtanga yoga isn’t about straight lines or external alignment - it’s about inner alignment and it’s about energy. It’s about “curves” really. Guruji didn’t care about straight feet or alignment, as with Iyengar Yoga. Iyengar is a separate system, a valid one, but it should stay separate.” [Nancy studied in Pune with the Iyengars for a time, and at first mixed the systems, but she has subsequently returned to Ashtanga principles alone in her practice.] “The mixing of the Iyengar “alignment” principles with the Ashtanga system causes confusion and can create problems for some students.”
[To illustrate this, we spent some time working on uttitha parsvokonasana and virabhadrasana, where we allowed the bent knee to track past the ankle in the lunge - but no further than the line of the toes/instep. The straight/back leg is allowed to open through the hip flexors more this way - you really feel a good stretch in your flexors and groin. The outside edge of the back foot is not forced to the floor either, but allowed to lift off the ground if necessary. The body from the back foot to the fingertips becomes one long curve. If you look at a picture of Sharath in virabhadrasana in the new book, Astanga Yoga Anusthana, and in Yoga Mala, this is how they are doing these postures.]
-Nancy never talks to anyone when they are doing Suryanamaskar - it is a prayer, a dropping of the burdens of life and a transition to the meditative state of practice. She uses this time to quietly assess the student’s practice, and sometimes comes up with a strategy that she will apply through their entire session that day, if necessary.
-EVERYONE SHOULD LEARN PRIMARY AND INTERMEDIATE UP TO USTRANSANA, REGARDLESS OF AGE. Her litmus test for moving on to Intermediate:
- The student has a daily practice and can remember the Primary series postures without her help.
- Their breath is steady and not erratic when they take rest.
- They must be able to get their head to the floor in all four Prasaritas
-Once students learn Intermediate, they can use the practice to help keep their bodies healthy. Primary is for grounding the body, Intermediate for the spine and nervous system. Both are maintenance for the body and a dedicated student can do both series. People shouldn’t be afraid of moving on to it, and she feels there is too much holding back. She feels the holding back of students from Intermediate is detrimental. After all, many of the Intermediate postures (i.e. shalabasana, ustrasana) are taught in Hatha yoga classes without causing physical problems in the students.
- Intermediate is the hardest series, because of the emotional openings that happen during it - fear, anger, sadness are revealed. Lots of chocolate helps - some practitioners will crave it!
-You can do Primary and Intermediate on alternate days. If you practice 6 days a week, this would mean your day off would happen after an Intermediate practice. She doesn’t see a problem with that. Ending the week with Led Primary is something that arose in Mysore in later years.
How the practice has changed:
-The breath is quieter now than it was when she started.
-The practice seems to be less fun now.
One last thing, not in my notes, but it's memorable. Nancy said that Guruji just loved to teach, and loved teaching so much his family had to ask him to take a day off (Saturday.) He would keep throwing new postures at them as long as they wanted it....they'd have to ask him to stop. Through all his teaching, through all their interactions over the years, he was always kind, generous and loving, and that's what made them so dedicated to him, because they knew how much he loved them and wanted them to be happy and enjoy the practice, and their lives.
At this point, my notes end, as we were practicing and adjusting each other in earnest. The remainder of the workshop was devoted to working through every posture of the Primary series and learning the adjustments. There's enough fuel there for another blog post.
(Many thanks to Kira Goldenberg for the great pic!)