What style of yoga do you practice and teach?
I am strongly influenced by the Iyengar method of yoga. If you are a student of any other style of yoga and were to take my class, you would probably say it was Iyengar, but over the years my style has become heavily influenced by other disciplines such as the Alexander Technique and Body Mind Centering. Someone coming from a traditional Iyengar background might find the themes and sequencing in one of my classes to be a little off the beaten path.
Where and to what level students did you teach this class?
This was a Level 2/3 class taught at Yogasana Center for Yoga in Brooklyn, New York.
What were the primary themes of this class?
I was working with two lines of inquiry, one about the overall approach to the practice, the other about anatomical action. Instead of having a fixed idea of what each pose should look or feel like, we observed and released habitual patterns of coming into and out of each pose. Staying with the transitions rather than dropping into the poses in the habitual way made the whole process a mindfulness practice. The anatomical theme was about balancing the curves of the spine by pairing them off and keeping them as long and wide as possible. We paired off the cervical and lumbar curves, but also the thoracic curve and the sternum, thinking of them as two parenthetical structures softening and widening around the organs.
Guide us through the sequence of poses.
We started in Shavasana (Corpse Pose) to wipe away the tensions of the outside world and to find a blank slate with which to begin. After that we did a few opening stretches and simple standing poses to wake up the shoulders, back and legs in preparation for Shirshasana (Head Stand). In Head Stand practice, instead of plopping down on the floor and lifting up, we practiced taking the poses in a flow from a simple seated pose, Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose), into Head Stand, and then coming back out to Vajrasana by reversing the sequence. We practiced just the transitions once that way with the non-habitual interlock of the fingers and without actually coming up into the full pose. The second time around we went up and held for 5 minutes or so. In a similar way, we practiced Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) 1 and 2, and Halasana (Plough Pose) book-ended by Sukhasana (Comfortable Pose).
After that came the back-bends. I taught the class twice during the week, the first time in an hour and a half, the second in an hour and forty-five minutes, so I had some extra time to throw in another min-sequence of back bends. You can see from my notes how I sketched out a couple of different possibilities.
What were your sources of inspiration?
This had stuff in it from all over the place. The method for inhibiting habitual responses and staying with the flow came from the Alexander Technique. The idea of putting both inversions at the beginning of the practice comes from the sequences in the back of “Light on Yoga,” which I refer to all the time. The “x-roll” in the sequence comes from the Bartenieff/Body Mind Centering work I’ve been studying for the past few years with Amy Matthews at the Breathing Project and the back bends with the feet up on the bolster come from intensives I’ve taken with Donald Moyer from the Yoga Rom in Berkeley.
How did you set about planning your class?
A lot of the time I don’t need to practice the sequence I’m teaching before hand, as I draw directly from the work I’m doing on the mat for myself. I remember this one came from a number of different moments after various classes where I thought “I wonder how this would work if I applied it to such-and-such.” I remember building this sequence up with a lot of to-ing and fro-ing from my notebook to my mat.
How was the class received?
I’m very lucky to have my Yogasana students. They are very open and receptive to new things, so it went down a treat. Sometimes I worry that challenging them to change the way they think about how they approach their practice might cause a revolt, but they always go with it.