During Saturday morning’s session (10am-1pm) Kino led us in the Ashtanga Primary Series. This series formed the foundation of my initial yoga teacher training back in 1998 at It’s Yoga in San Francisco. Since that time, I’ve been something of a “yoga slut” – dabbling in a variety of formats, studying with a whole host of “yoga stars”: Shiva Rea (vibrant), Sean Corne (intense), Anna Forest (wildly funny), and so on – sucking it all in and mixing and matching styles to suit my participants’ wants and needs. But sometimes it’s nice to get back to your roots, to stop wandering, so for the past few years I’ve limited my workshopping and yoga-vacationing to ashtanga.
Despite the fact that the Primary Series is a set series (same poses every time, start to finish), no two instructors seem to teach it in exactly the same way – including people who have studied at length with the grandmaster himself, Shri K. Patthabi Jois. Each time I’ve done the Primary Series with a new instructor there have been several moments when I thought, “Whoa! never seen that before!” or, “What just happened?” But since Kino spoke of lineage and tradition with great reverence, I assumed there would be no corners cut, no easy options. As we took our places on our mats I closed my eyes just for a second, cleared my head, and surrendered.
Surrendering to the practice involves far more than following the postures in order. We were told to bring three elements into play: the postures (asana), the breath (pranayama), the gazing point (drishti). Of the three, drishti has always been most difficult for me. If the class uses music (traditional ashtanga classes do not), I want to close my eyes; if there is no music, I start looking around – “Oooooo, what a cool tattoo! Philly seems more tattooed than Chicago. Wow! her spine is crazy flexible! Why don’t hairbands stay on my head?” So surrendering – at least for me – meant making a conscious effort not to look around, not to think about lunch. The first half of the class rocked! My body felt strong, my mind was focused, everything just flowed. Then all of a sudden my abs bonked. There I was humming along between navasana (like a V-sit) and a cross-legged “pop-up” onto the hands. I got through two or three rounds, and then in mid-pop-up my legs dropped, and my butt hit the mat. I tried to get back into it, but I just kept falling. So for a good 10-15 seconds I was baffled. I thought, “I teach Core Conditioning! I sing through planks! I love arm balances! What just happened?!?!?!” But there is magic in these large and music-free classes, and it lies in the breath. The sound of eighty people breathing in sync billows like a wave. You hear it, you feel it, and if you surrender, it might carry you to the next asana. And that’s exactly what happened. Call it acceptance, call it a second wind – but after that things actually got easier. Supta kurmasana (sleeping turtle), chakrasana (backwards roll to the bottom of a pushup, sort of), finishing sequence … not every pose was perfect, and at one point Kino gave my butt a little push as I hesitated mid-chakrasana, but for 90% of the class I managed to accomplish what I had set out to do, which was not to worry about accomplishing anything.