Beryl Bender Birch at Thrive Yoga

I’ve just spent three days focused on yoga with Beryl Bender Birch at a Thrive Yoga workshop. I am writing this posting on a staggered basis because I’m still putting my thoughts together about the workshop.

Beryl has been a pioneer of introducing yoga in the United States, starting nearly 35 years ago. She now operates out of the Hard and the Soft Yoga Institute on Long Island and has taught several generations of yoga instructors. She built up traction teaching yoga to athletes in New York City in the 1980s. She coined the phrase Power Yoga as a more appropriate tag for Ashtanga yoga that American could understand. She also wrote two books, Power Yoga and Beyond Power Yoga: 8 Levels of Practice for Body and Soul, that were among the first to reach a broader audience.

We had four 2.5 hour sessions, one Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday. In the second Saturday session, we did a restorative pose for 15 minutes and closed with a meditation. In between, Beryl distributed a half dozen different translations (or interpretations) of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and had us read them out loud. Then, she led us in a discussion of what yoga is, why we practice it and what we want to obtain. That was one of the traits of her teaching. In our first class before doing a jump-back or starting ujayay breath, she held up her hand with about an inch between thumb and index finger and said, “Yoga is this much about asana.” The conversation was lively and informative.

For the actual practice, Beryl led us through the Ashtanga Primary Series. It was my first time following a traditional sequencing of poses, though many were modified for practitioners who had not mastered a specific pose.

I think that the appeal of a workshop is the chance to discover the alchemy of shared practice, bringing together an experienced teacher and a roomful of bodies and minds focused on getting the most out of the opportunity. 50-60 sets of lungs churning up the prana in unison — that’s some pretty powerful magic. Beryl did an excellent job of creating the right atmosphere. She always spent the first 30 minutes of a session building up a rapport with the students, giving us an idea of where she wanted to take us, letting us tap into her wisdom and getting a feel for how we could handle the work.

There were actually students who had not taken more than 10 hours of yoga before the workshop. On the other hand, several yoga instructors who had trained under Beryl also showed up for the workshop. At several points, Beryl stopped a student from doing the vinyasa and had them looked at other students as they did the practice: “You can learn as much from watching as from doing.”

Beryl had a nice gesture at the end of the final session: she brought out a box full of yoga books (a few courtesy copies but most purchased with her own funds) and she gave them away to the students. Spread the wisdom!