Category Archives: workshop

Longer format class with a guest instructor, focused on key facets of the practice. I include weekend workshops and retreats

It ain’t heavy — it’s my mat

I love my Manduka Eko mat because it’s big (71″ x 26″ ), thick (almost a quarter inch) and resilient. It cushions my knees and other pointed edges. It’s like a solid foundation that does not budge when I sink into pigeon pose. But it must weigh seven pounds, but that’s dead weight. I decided that I wanted to take it to the Buddha and the Body meditation retreat, along with my zafu and a blanket. I obviously wanted my yoga equivalent of a “security blanket.” I slung it over the shoulder in a bag that my daughter loaned me for the day.

Large Horizontal #1

What a mistake! Talk about taking my personal baggage to meditation!

Carrying it around on the Metro, to and from the venue, then back home, it turned into an unwieldy anchor hung around my neck. By the end of the day, I staggered to the pickup site at Rockville Metro station so that I could just unload it.

I’ve hauled it to my classes at Thrive for four years and never thought about it twice. But I was throwing it in the back seat of the car, not lugging it around. I will definitely need to find an alternative to it if I no longer have the benefit of driving to my class, workshop or retreat.

Just so you know, I am a Manduka affiliate and would get a small commission if you follow the Manduka link and buy something. Consider it a symbolic effort to recover some of the costs of this site.

A Purple Heart for a Meditation Retreat

Photo: three yoginis seated in meditation at Thrive Yoga, Rockville
Stillness comes to the mind

Yesterday, I went to Buddha and the Body retreat organized by Jonathan Foust from the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW) in a rented basement of a Northern Virginia church. Life has been so hectic over the past six-nine months, I’ve stopped attending the Wednesday evening IMCW session with Tara Brach, and not been able to find a more convenient time slot to engage in group meditation. I figured that I could cram my meditation requirement into an intensive day-long session (9:30-5:00, with several breaks).

What I did not count on was the physical beating that my body would take from being seated in easy pose for much of the day. Because my hips have opened up over the past year, I decided to bring my zafu cushion and sit on a yoga mat, rather than be a wimp stilling on a chair. What was deceptive was that I felt extremely comfortable seated in easy pose, propped up on a folded blanket and my cushion, and could keep my spine poised vertically over my hips with ease. Both legs (thighs, knees and calves) were resting on the ground (my right left tends to rise). But I did not realize how grueling the experience would be. My muscles were not used to sustaining the pose for hour after hour (with breaks, of course), especially in the deepest reaches of my core muscles. In previous extended sessions of easy pose,  I found myself slumping over and tilting the hips back, being unable to hold the arch in the small of my back, which was a clear alert to shift to a different posture or seating arrangement.

All this fatigue crept up on me. After the lunch break, I noticed that it became harder and harder to keep my mind focused on meditation. I was so numb and fatigued that I could not identify where the problem was. Even when we were laying down, I could not keep my mind on target. I felt as if I was just skimming over the surface of my mind. If there had been symptoms, such as leg cramps or going to sleep, I could have identified it and changed my sitting posture.

After the retreat finished, I took the long Metro ride home from Ballston, Virginia. It seemed to take ages (more like 90 minutes, with a transfer at Metro Center, thanks to the slower Saturday train schedule). I had dinner, took the dogs for a walk, and then took stock of my body: I realized that I was extremely exhausted, even though I did not have any sore muscles,. I hit the bed and did not regain consciousness until 7:00 the next morning. Once I was back on my feet, I could tell that my hips and associated muscles had the post-exertion ache of being pushed beyond standard limits.

Of course, I should really be talking about Jonathan Foust’s dynamic meditation method and the impact of the meditation itself, but it will have to come in another entry.

Trash-talking yoga instructor makes class sweat

Photo: Brian Kest yoga class at Thrive Yoga - Brian speaking
Ganesha's playfulness matched Brian Kest's humor

Bryan Kest returned to Thrive Yoga almost a year after his previous workshop, this time for just an evening instead of a weekend. He drew a maxed out crowd, officially 86 paying customers, but we were packed in with just an inch or two between mats. Pretty good for a Tuesday night. (Yes, I know, why am I reporting on it now? That’s another story.)

Kest gives off this aura as an “average Joe,” with a streetwise attitude  and accent from Detroit, hardly what you’d expect from one of California’s leading yoga entrepreneurs. He refuses to call himself a yoga teacher or guru: “I am a yoga instructor; I can only guide you into a posture that will allow you to access the teacher within.” He then goes into his introductory lecture; I heard the same 60-minute message last year. He delivers it in a kind of stream-of-consciousness way, but he has a clear target: you, as a yoga practitioner have to wake up, take ownership of your practice and really understand why you’re sweating on the mat. Continue reading Trash-talking yoga instructor makes class sweat

Why my thighs feel dead

Photo: forward fold, leaning towards the foot
Forward bends are so deceptive -- you shouldn't work too hard at them

I took in a workshop for hamstrings, quads and forward bends with Jessica Apo as part of Thrive Yoga ‘s 360 Degrees of Yoga series of workshops, instead of my normal Saturday class. The two-hour session started out slowly with some restorative poses and gradually built up some heat. By the end, I was sweating up a storm and glad that I could fall back on my mat for savasana. After dinner, I noticed that my thighs felt as if they had been numbed with a pain killer. They were not sore (that will probably come tomorrow). It was just the intensive work on my hips down that burned my muscle to a crisp. I could probably use this kind of session once or twice a month (if not more often) because it’s an area of my practice that needs help.

Jessica has another two-hour workshop coming up on June 26 on inversions for beginners and advanced beginners at Thrive. Jessica has an approachable style of teaching, which betrays her six-years experience as an elementary teacher and prenatal yoga. During the class, she came around frequently for adjustments. I will probably grab it because I am relearning practically all my poses.

The past work week had a hectic pace. I did not make it back to a formal class until Friday when I took a yin yoga session. It’s good to chill out on the mat, but it’s also good to burn: the key question is how to find a balance.

PS: I had a hard time getting to sleep at night because my muscles were sore and my sleep was shallow. After several attempts of just lying there and taking it, I ended up going through my standard yoga bedtime routine and that help me release some of the muscle  stress that had been locked into my body. I did not get to my Sunday morning class.

A different kind of yogini

Photo: hearing-impaired yogini talking with Desirée At Thrive Yoga‘s recent Rumbaugh workshop, I had my mat next to a special yogini. I never caught her name. She was hearing impaired and she had brought a sign language interpreter with her. Dave and Susan gave them plenty of room in the corner of the studio (actually, my favorite turf for taking pictures, which is why I ended up next to her). The interpreter frequently stood off to one side signing Desirée’s lecture and demos. During the routines, she sat or stood near the woman and passed on the instructions.

I got a chance to partner with her when we were doing handstands in the inversion session. She was able to get up into the pose fine, and I goofed up a couple of times with the support. I also did not know the sign that she gave to let me know that she wanted to come down. I let her get out of having to support me for the hand stand, in part because she could never have supported my weight. I could see that she had a very good personal practice and she was capable of absorbing everything that Desirée was offering.

After the session was over, the woman and her interpreter approached Desirée and had a conversation. There are some obvious obstacles between a hearing-impaired yogi and an instructor because hearing is so important in cuing through a practice. In the workshop’s case, this was not even a standard class, but an extended demo/lecture/try-it-yourself format. I am pretty sure that the woman did not know exactly what to expect. Plus, Anusara has its own specific terminology for how a posture is put together and an interpreter would have to be familiar with it to translate that language into appropriate signs. At one point during the session, I was tempted to grab one of Desirée’s associates and ask them to actually help the hearing-impaired yogini get a clear idea of what Desirée was asking of us by actually laying hands on her and rotate muscles in spiral directions.

I had been meaning to blog about this encounter on the mats with the hearing impaired, but I forgot about it until I came across a tweet from the Deaf Yoga Foundation, based in New York City. It’s main mandates are preparing a yoga sign dictionary, teacher training, and community outreach. The dictionary is interesting because it is drawing on hand gestures in Indian (Hindu) dance. Check out Dancing for the Gods.

Delayed Vision

Photo: woman folds forward on a yoga mat, lightly touches foot
Forward bends are so deceptive -- you shouldn't work too hard at them

I am unable to write any comments about the Desirée Rumbaugh workshop; just no time to string together more than a few lines. I have posted more photographs on the Thrive Facebook gallery. I was trying to take shots without a flash, relying on opening my lens as wide as possible. The more settings and options you have, the more likely you’ll forget something or just get it wrong. Plus people are moving, which may complicate things with slow shutter speeds. In other words, I am saying that there’s a high failure rate in these photographs. I might be able to rescue some of them with Photoshop, but it’s a steep learning curve.

Yoga Workshop Fatigue

Photo: wheel pose at yoga studioI have put in ten hours of yoga in three days at Thrive Yoga, participating in the Desirée Rumbaugh workshop this weekend. It was intense, fulfilling and insightful, thanks for Desirée’s infectious dynamism and deep knowledge of yoga. I also had the distraction of taking photographs whenever I could break free from the mat. I filled up one memory card with shots, and it will take a while to process them all. Since getting back home after the class, I have been blissed out (or burnt out) and don’t think I could muster the energy to write too much about the experience.

Hip Openers and Resisting Temptation

Photo: Rumbaugh demoing a yoga variation on half pigeon poseThis weekend I am participating in the Desirée Rumbaugh‘s “Heart Stimulus Plan” workshop at Thrive Yoga as resident photographer and yogi pretender. Four two and a half hour sessions. Thankfully, we had MLK’s birthday holiday on Monday so I will have a day to recover from this excess. Tonight, it was a sizeable class, but there was still room to spare. I’ve heard that there are still spaces available for the other sessions.

Tonight we worked on hip-openers and inversions: inversions were stuffed into the last 20 minutes (not a complaint), and Desiree really led us through a series of demos and highly focused postures that gradually led us deeper and deeper into the contradictions of how to spread your sit bones. This was not a vinyasa flow class with sequencing to work up a sweat and work the whole body (as with the Brian Kest workshop in October.) No, Desirée had us apply “shins forward and hugging to the midline, thighs back and spiraling inward, hips scooped to support the core and spine.” Anyone who has taken an Anusara class knows the alignment principles that are repeated over and over again. If you confront this vocabulary for the first time, you’re baffled, but Desirée does a good job of wittily describing and joyously demoing how the principles are applied in poses.

Photo: Rumbaugh showing how to get in splitsAt the end of the class, I sat crosslegged in Easy Pose (Sukhasana) on my mat. In the past, my right hip was always so tight that my knee would jut up at a 45 degree angle. More recently, my left hip had actually opened up substantially and came close to resting on the ground (“cheating” with a blanket under my hips). Tonight both hips were open and I could rest both legs on the ground. Even though I was protecting of my right knee like crazy, not pushing it too far, pulling back from the edge, that’s progress. Maybe I should not give up all hope of one day doing Lotus (Padmasana)

The danger with Desirée is that she is so inspired and energetic that you want to follow her off the deep end, take a pose to the next level and compete with your neighbor as to who can get deeper in a split (not me). Desiree warned us that we need to protect ourselves with the right tools and techniques.

Well, I have two sessions tomorrow so I should to bed. I need sleep.

Photography at yoga worshops

At the Brian Kest workshop at Thrive Yoga a month ago, I took it upon myself to be the official photographer of the event. I took my Nixon D40 and kept it near my mat. A couple of times a session, I got up and took some photos, as many as I could because so many uncontrollable factors (and my own inexperience) can cross up a photo. You can see a selection of the shots at the Thrive Yoga Facebook photo gallery

Kest was cool with the distraction of a flash and shutter going off. Susan told the people that if they objected to any of their photos that showed up on Facebook, they could drop her an e-mail and we would remove it. I made a point of taking lots of shots of student greeting Kest after class. Several people specifically requested photos as mementos. Saturday class was more packed and it was really hard to move around. For the workshop weekend, I positioned my mat in a spot in the corner that allowed me a little more leeway because it was “leftover space” — no one could fit another mat in there. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, it became so hot and humid that the lens started fogging up and everything took on a halo-like glow. I caught it on Sunday and could wipe it clean with a towel, but I was afraid that I would scratch the lens.

There were times when I did not feel comfortable taking pix. For instance, during the Long, Slow and Deep (LSD, get it!) session on Saturday afternoon. People were really zoned into their experience. Besides, by the time, we had actually tunneled into the sequence and deep restorative poses, I didn’t know if I could get up. And if I got up, whether I would be able to get back down again and in the same mind and body set. I decided that meditative sets were off base (well, the whole practice is meditative, but you know what I mean).

I don’t have any other lenses so I had no way to get around the limited anlges and focus depth. Susan had commented that I tend to show panoramic views of the whole (really a large segment of) class. I tried to focus in on individuals or smaller groups. As evident in this blog, I am working on a series of photos that concentrate on isolated shots, a hand, a foot, clasped hands in a bind. Rather than looking at the whole pose and the full practitioner, I am focusing on a small slice of practice — a kind of drishti.

There is this obsessive idea of the perfect pose in much of the Western practice of yoga, that you have to get the alignment just right, find your edge with ease and grace. So we want to see lanky models pose with perfect lighting. That’s why I like the isolation shots because there is no presumption of perfection. The foot of a novice on the mat is just as eloquent as the foot of a master. It tells a lot of things. My daughter, for instance, saw a picture of a foot and hand on a mat and immediately noted that the ball of the foot was slightly raised, putting more weight on the outer edge of the foot. In yoga, you’re supposed to distribute the weight over all “four corners” of the foot.

I find myself really draw to this subject matter. In part, I am grappling with words to describe the experience and frequently coming up short. Photography offers another approach, more spontaneous, direct, succinct. But you’re only working with the surface, which is only the first layer of the senses.

Taking pictures is a great excuse for stopping in the middle of a demanding vinyasa and taking a breather. It was a demanding practice so I welcomed the opportunity to get out of more hard stuff. I also welcomed the chance to get around and look at other people’s practices more closely. It was enriching to see the diversity of experience and ease on display.