Ashtanga Workshop Week 4- A Student’s Persepective
Things were really changed way up in week four, halfway through the Ashtanga Basics workshop. Michele’s in Costa Rica, so Johnny Haag from morning Mysore was with us.After a halting start with the opening invocation – turns out, I’m not the only one who gets a little lost right after abahu purusakaram – we were right into the practice for the next two very athletic hours. Johnny says to keep your eyes open and retain your focus until savasana – no daydreaming. But for me, the combination of focus, breath, and movement is challenging enough. I can’t imagine thinking about anything else. For two hours, I didn’t.
Most of my experience with Johnny has been in small group settings in 1:1 practice. It’s interestingly different to have the same teacher in a large class. I prefer morning practice – my own speed, prep poses, much more focused – but I liked the pace and energy.
Knowing we’d be taught differently, this week I thought a lot about teaching styles. And the expectations for both the teacher and the student when they arrive at a yoga studio. Assuming a threshold of safety and trust based on basic competence of the teacher, does style matter? Yes. And no. And maybe.
There is always something to learn. In Louisville, I picked up some tricks about getting closer to half lotus. In Richmond, I labored toward trianga mukhaikapada paschimottanasana. Hearing about it in a southern accent was charming. I still hate it. But people continue to patiently teach me this damn – I’m sorry, this fantastic – pose, and for that I’m grateful. I didn’t have the same connection in either Louisville or Richmond that any of us have with Johnny or with Michele, and how could I?
When you’re a beginner, just getting to your mat can be challenging. Charisma, or the occasional word of encouragement, or a basic level of engagement with the teacher and other students can nudge you the last necessary bit. During daily practice, there’s a lot of time in proximity with the teacher. Respecting them is a prerequisite. Liking them helps. I’m not pure enough to disregard these things.
Johnny is a pace setter. I’m sure I’m not the only one who despairs of jumping through with his measure of control, but it’s inspirational and fun to watch. He went through a lot today. Michele’s workshop teaching style has been demonstrative and focused on each pose. The contrast between last Sunday and this Sunday’s pretty interesting, but in the end? The styles just resonate differently.
I don’t learn through listening – I have to see it, which requires my glasses to be on, always a challenge in Ashtanga, or experience it. So today’s practice was good for me. Last week’s practice was, too. But it’s not so much about teaching. It’s mostly about the physical sensation of being in a pose.
At the end, I went into halasana and – whaaaaat? Was that my mat? Under my toes?! It was all I could do not to wave Johnny down or say to Shanna, HEY! Check out MY TOES! I’ve been practicing next to Shanna for a few weeks now. Two things: I believe her toes always touch and likely she doesn’t care about mine, so I left her to her own practice. But it’s so thrilling to have something like that happen after, in my case, years of trying.
Those toes aren’t on the mat because of a specific teaching style. It’s because I’ve been practicing for a few months. But it’s also true I’ve done two workshops and a lot of classes with Michele. I’ve seen Johnny very early in the morning a ton of mornings. And while they’re my toes, surely they’re there because I’ve been fortunate enough to be taught.