the image on top is "Welcome Home Sweet Sugar" by Kelsey Brooks

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Partner Yoga with Gigi and Chad

so much fun. No, seriously, SO much fun. Chad and Gigi ran a partner/contact class at Santa Monica Yoga Co, and Kimi and I decided that this would be the best double date ever. We got there a little late (oops!) but rumor has it that class started with an invocation to Ganesh, remover of obstacles, and a collective Om. Gigi and Chad then led a vinyasa together, switching off leads, guiding us through a short but beautiful and challenging practice. After we felt grounded and connected, we began the contact. First up- a row of trees. We used the people next to us as balance, and found that it was much easier to balance with some help. Gigi reminded us to find our own center first, and then assist others. Warrior III with some arms for support showed up, and then we did utthita hasta padangustasana, a big mouthful and tricky pose (hand to big toe). Standing, you balance on the left leg while bringing your right knee into your chest. You then had the option of handing that knee to your partner, or perhaps extending the foot and passing the foot along. It is considerably less challenging then it looks, a testament to the power of groups, I suppose. Then came the partner work: now we were really getting started. We stacked up planks, when one partner does upper push up, and the other grabs hold of his or her partner's ankles, and places the tops of their feet on their shoulders. Double down dog followed, and we were able to get a whole row of down dogs (which resemble more handstand prep) across the room. I think the record for my group is 8, but I think another group topped that. "Are you ready for the climax, guys?" asks Gigi. With Chad, they demonstrated a way for one partner to move from a handstand into a backbend with the other partner's assistance. That description, unfortunately, does little justice to how divine that pose feels. It's called "backpacking". Imagine the best adjustment you ever go in a wheel or camel, and multiply that joy times 100. I started laughing and I couldn't stop!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Breathing with Mark Whitwell

Mark Whitwell started class with a flair of southern hospitality and light chatter, as if he was perfectly willing to be distracted by anything that was to happen in the next five minutes. He engaged with students by asking them about how their practice was going, and then sparked connections with students he had lit up in the past. Most fascinating, he asked if he or she was continuing their practice. If the answer was yes, he would be ecstatic (well, very, very calm, but ecstatic). Mark has a real personal connection with people, cultivating a true guru-student relationship of caring, guidance and compassion. His dedication to the breath is clear during class. He comes up next you and listens to your breath (a technique that Jared Hirsch implements....of the same teacher). It is a simple and quiet technique, and yet it takes a tremendous amount of strength of character to do this as a teacher. I've tried focusing on the breath in classes, and asking to listen to people's breath in this matter- and its hard. What's most curious is that it is my own trepidation holding me back. I am not confident of my ability to sense when people really are or are not ujjayi breathing. I have too many doubts, such as 'oh, maybe they are being quiet' or 'oh, maybe they are not ready' or 'perhaps this is not what the person desires in his or her practice today'. Perhaps it is just that I have not yet learned to make those fine disctinctions. Mark Whitwell knows the breath, and knows exactly when you are engaging ujjayi, and exactly when you are not. In fact, as he came up to me, I was convinced that I was breathing right- I was efforting the thing, intently. Yet Mark reminded me that ujjayi is less willfullness and more dedication and openness, that the breath bypasses the nostrils and comes right from the heart. That image stuck with me, and all of a sudden the center of my body is my lungs, and they initiate and inhale and exhale, they become the center of my being. Mark stood next to me, faithfully through my sun salutations, until the concentration I had in his presence sunk into my patterning. He continued to check in with my several times throughout class, and advised me that I must breath like this all of the time, even in other people's classes. That breathwork has stayed with me, and I am so grateful for it.