I did not go into the workshop with Desiree Rumbaugh with any special expectations, aside from that of knowing that an excellent instructor would be guiding the process and a group of yogis would energize the environment. I saw the occasion as a mid-term evaluation about how my practice has been maturing since my last workshop. I wanted to see how the work invested on the mat has paid off. So I pick up where I left off yesterday.
Thrive Yoga’s Dave Bowen gets a taste of Desiree’s adjustment of wheel pose.
Fourth Finding: The day after the workshop was over, I felt really fatigued, my whole body burnt out. I pampered myself and did not try to do any yoga or exercise except for my walks to and from the Metro, a couple of miles. I felt sore as if I’d really gone through an extreme physical ordeal. I was especially sore and stiff in my hips and shoulders, thighs and arms. Curiously, my knees hurts when I walked, as if I might be a risk of tweaking a tendon. Throughout the weekend, I had been probing my edges and it was natural that my body should feel the strain. At my age (two months short of 59), the energy reserves are shallower, the recovery capacity is slower and the need for healing is more pronounced. But it took me a while to realize that this sensation is really a kind of muscle memory of all the poses that I did and the new edges established. I stop, focus in on my aches and pains, and sense what muscles involved, and then I feel myself drawn into alignment and something lights up inside me.
Desiree stands back in awe, watching Christine Peterson
(you can tell she’s a Forest Yoga
buff because she uses gloves)
settle into Diving Osprey pose.
Fifth Finding: yoga is an experimental, experiential science. It is a sophisticated universe of knowledge about the body, mind, spirit, energy and their complex interrelation, which has been accumulated, filtered, refined, and aged over millenia. But the application of this knowledge system on the body and mind is left to the individual practitioner. Desiree said that you can tell when a yogi is advanced because they take their time getting into poses. It almost looks as if they were practicing in slow motion. That’s because they are observing and parsing all the information coming back from the far reaches of their limbs with scientific rigor: how do the muscles feel, have they reached their edge, is there a risk in pushing beyond the edge, do I feel at ease, can I dwell in stillness in the pose, how can I get out of this knot, what emotions and energies are released by this pose, what am I revealing about my mind or spirit in this vulnerable pose and so on. A beginner will zip through the vinyasa, and in and out of poses, as if he/she is sprinting to a finish line. The intermediate yogis are the ones who get themselves injured, Desiree pointed out, because they are pushing recklessly beyond what is physically safe and worth the risk for the practice. She admitted that she was guilty of this excess in her early years, and her current skills at practicing advanced poses and assisting others to learn yoga were acquired through painful mistakes and the need to heal and avert them in the future. She got really amped up when people started asking questions or giving insights that showed that they were paying attention to the details. The workshop drew a pretty experienced crowd of yogis, but we went over the details of the poses as if we were all beginners.
Thrive Yoga’s Lisa Johnson turns inward in Eight-Angle pose (Astavakrasana).
Sixth Finding: Anusara yoga practitioners have their opening invocation “Om namah shivaya gurave…” that starts each session, and then there’s the mantra that they repeat for every pose: “Shins press towards the mid-line, thighs spiral in and back, the sit bones widen, the tail bone tucks into the space made by the blossoming of the hips…” The Universal Principles of Alignment are the guidelines that John Friend laid down to unify all the yoga practices and poses across multiple lineages and traditions. Desiree repeated the instructions over and over again, and then came back to them, again and again. But I never found this repetitious or boring. Even though the instructions are similar, each pose opens a different gateway into the body. And since your body is changing in the process, each time you approach a pose, the experience is going to be unique. You can be practicing mountain pose or a complicated arm balance, and the same attitude and approach apply.
The reward of sweat
Seventh Finding: at any time during the workshop, I’d look up and see yogis and yoginis, teachers and students doing their stuff, and all of them were bumping into what seemed to be their own bodies’limits. Desiree would come up and apply pressure with a hand or knee on a specific area and show that it was merely a false floor, that there was space beyond that faux boundary. Desiree was asked about the ideas of some yoga teachers, like Paul Grilley, who make a point of highlighting the anatomical limits that exist in all people, and may be quite different, the conclusion being that you should not ask students to go beyond their physical limits. Desiree said, however, that Anusara celebrates freedom of yoga (as opposed to anatomical limits) and that each individual should assume ownership of his or her own body and take it as far as they can.