Here are some things that Tony said during our week of Advanced Practice.
ON PERSONAL PRACTICE:
The positions need to be cultivated in a gradual way.
In the 3rd set you will be able to reach the maximum of your ability.
You will get a lot more benefit when you find that place of stability and hold it motionless.
When you have reached your limit [in a posture], it is important that you learn how to stop the world.
The only way to make your practice simple is by practicing a lot.
It's not just doing the practice, but also studying; increasing your knowledge.
The mind can be very, very effective. But for most people the mind is very, very lazy.
We are like carbon. We can become diamonds, but it takes a lot of time and a lot of work.
The idea is to keep practicing no matter if you achieve those things (like samadhi) or not. Devotion to your practice.
A yogi becomes transparent, almost invisible.
ON HIS PERSONAL APPROACH:
I'm so happy just doing my own practice and ignoring the world.
To me, sustainability is everything.
The power that I want is not human power. It is divine power.
For me, the hands and the feet are assisting the position; that is my spine.
When people do things a certain way because "this is how Tony teaches it," then it becomes dogmatic. I don't want it to be dogmatic.
ON BEING A TEACHER:
You have the responsibility to stay healthy. You are the role models.
At least half of your class needs to be the standing positions.
Your objective should be to cultivate what is missing in [your students'] bodies. (strength or flexibility)
ON THE PRESENT AND FUTURE OF YOGA:
The standing positions are the most important for our society right now.
It is like practicing yoga in hell. (during a discussion of heated yoga studios)
Scientific yoga has to rely on all the other sciences.
We're in a big rush to get somewhere, but we don't know where we're trying to get.
Savasana is the most important posture in the whole class.
It is the last day of Advanced Practice with Tony. We will only do a morning session today and have the afternoon free.
We waste no time in getting to the exercises. Almost immediately Tony instructs us to stand. We do some qi gong movements to warm up before proceeding to the Standing Deep Breathing and then to the Complete Series. It seems faster and more effortless today. I think it is because I know this is the last time we will do it. I want to go slowly, to embrace each posture and each instruction.
In Short Man, Ida and I are upright on our mats, right next to each other. Tony say, "Are you having a competition to see who can stay up the longest?" We weren't before, but we are now! We stay in the posture for as long as we can, and Ida ends up winning (!).
After going through all the postures, we proceed to go through all the Mudras and Bandhas we learned this week. The breath control slows my mind down, and I become very relaxed.
Then we are done. With no ceremony, Tony thanks us all and gets up to leave. He puts on his baseball cap, picks up his backpack and, just like that, he is gone. The rest is up to us, either individually or collectively. Will we continue our practices with dedication? Will we teach or run a studio? Will we honor and pass on the tradition that we have learned?
This morning's session is similar to the last few days. We discuss the postures. Today everyone asks questions about the postures they are curious about. What is the final step in the Peacock? Where do you put the hands in Full Cobra? What is the best way to work on Dancer? We also talk a bit about Ghosh and Tony's history with the yoga. Always interesting, especially since we hear so many rumors about the past decades. It is nice to get the stories from the man himself.
The yoga itself requires less and less effort. After so many hours spent practicing this week, my mind is perpetually calm and focused. My body is perpetually warm. When we stand up to do the postures, I feel a wave of relief and ease wash over me. Then we begin with the Standing Breathing or with some qi gong. We begin to move through the postures and my body is strong, my mind still.
I know that strength and flexibility are building from the regular practice, but it feels so effortless. Like each day I can do more and try less. It is like magic sometimes, though I can see my muscles building and I can stretch farther. The power of regular practice is profound.
Tony explains the final stage of Nauli, what the Bikram people call the "washing machine." The abdominal muscles roll from side to side, requiring isolation and control of each individual muscle group in the abdomen, all executed while holding the breath. Not easy.
He also shows us a separate Nauli exercise with the wrists. It seems like a simple movement - rotating the wrists together in harmony. But it is actually very challenging, revealing all the imbalances and weaknesses in the arms and wrists.
This afternoon was posture free. For the entire 3 hour session we discussed the setups, intentions and modifications of the last few groups of postures in the Complete Series. The conversation bounced back and forth as people chimed in with questions or additions. Tony demonstrated many of the positions and clarified the purpose of each.
As this week of training and study comes to an end, the strangest part is how close it all seems. Nothing, even the most "advanced" position seems far from me, both in understanding and execution. Tony has helped so much this week to push us further in our knowledge and experience.
The dual forces are starting to reveal themselves: 1)pure energetic strength and relaxation from practicing so much asana and mindfulness, and 2)physical exhaustion from practicing so much asana. My body is at once tired and energized. My mind craves both practice and release. I need to sleep and also I am too energized to sleep.
My right knee is sore. It is my medial collateral ligament, and I keep irritating it every time I do a hip opening posture. So my challenge is to back off of those postures to let my knee heal. Luckily (and frustratingly) Tony is attentive and constantly offering modifications for me, telling me to back off and chiding me for my ego. "Is it hard to let go of the postures?" he asks. Yes and no. I am here to practice the advanced postures with him. I want to be pushing myself physically. Instead I struggle mentally, trying to protect my knee from my own desire to progress.
He goes over all of the Lotus positions in detail. It is a thing of beauty to see someone execute the positions with such ease and precision. But we have to be careful with these postures. They are generally not good for the knees, especially if we do them frequently and for long periods of time.
In the morning's 'short series', Tony does everything starting with the left. He is determined to show us how flexible yoga can be. All the things that we think are rigid, the things we have done thousands of times, can be changed. In this afternoon's class he does something different. He omits some postures, does 2 sets of other postures, does the whole Cobra series as mudras, and then includes all the inversions. It is enlightening to experience Tony's freedom and control over the yoga.
This morning began a little after 6. I did some simple exercises on the patio as the sky got lighter. It is hard to complain about the lifestyle here. The weather is warm, the ocean and the sky are beautiful.
We seem to be hitting our stride with Tony. The group is becoming more familiar with each other, so the discussion is flowing more freely. Tony seems more comfortable and more fluid, moving from topic to topic and addressing everyone's issues, concerns, questions and a whole lot more.
This morning's 'short series' includes all of the so-called "advanced postures," with the Bow Leg, Tortoise, Plough, Full, Peacock, Headstand, Tiger and Handstand sequences. It is nice to get to the advanced postures with more energy and strength. And with class this afternoon, it means we will get to do them all for a second time today.
He shows us the second step of Nauli, engaging the sides of the abdomen separately. Discussion comes around to Hell-Bent, Bikram and other dramas of this yoga community. Sometimes it seems like a better idea to just ignore the crap and focus on what is important. We put so much energy into discussing the flambouyant and frustrating. Perhaps it is our way of sifting out the meaningful tidbits, working our way toward the truth and a good direction. On the other hand, perhaps it is our way of avoiding important questions, like 'what do YOU think is the best way to practice, or teach, or build a community? Will you stand by it? Fight for it? Or just criticize those who have tried.'
This afternoon we begin with a lengthy discussion about alignment in Life Pose that turns into a discussion of history, competition, art and the purpose of yoga.
Our afternoon practice of the Complete Series begins with a few qi gong exercises. They are so calming and grounding, very beneficial to the yoga practice. It all goes well. The Complete 84 doesn't feel like an over-long terror anymore. It is starting to feel normal and even peaceful.
Only bad part about today is that my right knee continues to bug me. I have to back off of many postures that twist the knee. A blow to the ego, but the right decision for the health of my body.
This morning, as expected, we were quite sore. 4 1/2 hours of posture practice yesterday, and we'll do it everyday for the next 5 days. At 6am we walked down to the beach to get our bodies moving and loosen up our muscles.
Each day Tony is teaching us the Mudras (specific postures with breath control) and Bandhas (muscular control with held breath) from the Ghosh tradition. This morning we worked on Uddiyana Bandha, an important exercise that is a precursor to Nauli, which we will get to later in the week. I'm excited for that. I've learned Nauli on my own over the course of the past year. I am eager to study it with a master teacher.
This morning's 'short series' was essentially the Master's Core System. A nice round system that is intermediate in difficulty. No really advanced postures, so it felt comfortable. Nothing that required incredible exertion or caution.
The afternoon session was the Complete Series. Tony seems intent on destroying me. I am working on dropping back into Wheel. Once I am in Wheel he urges me into One Legged Wheel on both sides, then tells me to drop to my elbows (I am beyond toast at this point). He helps me a bit to get down to the elbows, then says "Tiger!" and lifts my legs up into the arm balance. I gave as much as I could to lift up into a respectable Tiger, but I don't think it was anything to write home about. When I finally came down, I was excited, grinning and completely spent.
It is great to be here practicing under the watch and guidance of such a great yogi.
Last night we arrived in San Jose del Cabo to spend a week studying with Tony Sanchez. The next 6 days will be dedicated to "Advanced Practice," whatever that means. I still don't know what to expect from Tony or these coming days. Inevitably they will include lots of practice of Ghosh's complete series of 84 postures, but I'm sure there will be much more.
This morning begins as all things begin: with introductions. There is a french woman, an irish woman, a canadian, and a few Americans from across the country. 9 of us in total. I look forward to the close attention we will get from Tony as we practice and discuss, and the relationships that will surely form as we get to know our fellow yogis.
He begins by explaining that he will be splitting up the Advanced Series (the Complete 84) into 3 shorter series. We will practice these short series in the mornings and then practice the Complete Series in the afternoon. This morning's practice includes the Lotus Series.
In the afternoon, we waste little time before diving straight in to the Complete Series with all of the variations and additions that have been made over the years. It ends up being something like 104 postures. He is clear at the beginning of class: "If you start strong, finish strong. I don't want you to expend all your effort in the first 20 minutes of class." He advises us to pace ourselves. The class takes about 3 hours.
At the end, during the final two sequences, Tiger and Handstand, Tony gives us all personal attention. One at a time we do the postures with him nearby. He assists and advises.
As I am doing my handstand (which by no means am I an expert at), Tony grabs my legs and says "Scorpion, bend your knees." I laughed out loud. I have never attempted Scorpion with any earnestness and was not expecting it. But with his help I gave it an honest go, the results of which were captured for posterity above. Who knows? By the end of the week, maybe I'll be close.
This journal honors my ongoing experience with the practice, study and teaching of yoga.
1) Sridaiva Yoga: Good Intention But Imbalanced
2) Understanding Chair Posture
2) Why I Don't Use Sanskrit or Say Namaste
3) The Meaningless Drudgery of Physical Yoga
5) Beyond Bikram: Why This Is a Great Time For Ghosh Yoga