An Ashtanga Yoga weekend workshop {shared by Gert McQueen}

Gert is a fellow WordPress blogger I met over a year ago through my other blog. She and I discovered, over time, that we have many, many common interests and experiences. I hope you enjoy her guest post below as much as I do!

I’ve been practicing Ashtanga now for just over 10 years. At first I thought I would never do it, for ‘it’ is a very strong intense athletic type of yoga. I had never been athletic in my life but then in my middle 50s I’m doing this type of yoga. But as you know, once you make that commitment and just ‘show up’ you find just what you can do!

Here’s our group picture! The only male, Jeff Rule is the owner of the studio. I am in the center, in green. In front of me, in blue is Mary Flinn, guest instructor. Next to her is Kathy Falge. Kathy and Jeff are my Ashtanga instructors. Also present are three instructors of mine that teach Vinyasa flow and Kripala.

Here’s our group picture!
The only male, Jeff Rule, is the owner of the studio. I am in the center, in green. In front of me, in blue is Mary Flinn, guest instructor. Next to her is Kathy Falge. Kathy and Jeff are my Ashtanga instructors. Also present are three instructors of mine that teach Vinyasa flow and Kripala.

I usually practice 2 nights a week; on Monday and Thursday evenings, 90 minutes each night. The only time I miss a class is when the weather is too nasty (too hot, cold, or stormy) or I’m ill. Once retired I did a ‘mysore’ practice (personal practice) early mornings at the studio when I lived in that neighborhood. But once I moved, 15 miles away, it was next to impossible to get there in the early mornings. The idea of dealing with dark and snow and traffic no longer appeals to one who is retired! In fact the only night driving I do any more are those 2 night yoga classes! Everything else gets done before 4pm or it doesn’t get done. I should mention that I bike a 7 mile round trip trail as often as possible; this season the tally is, at the moment 800 miles. In the winter I go to a gym, 3 to 5 times a week, to bike and work upper body/core machines. I also walk and do tai-chi.

Like lots of folks I am not very self-disciplined but have found that if I ‘pay’ the fee I’ll want my monies worth; therefore I make the class. Now of course I ‘know’ I can practice at home and I try but for the most part it doesn’t happen. There are always so many other things to do, at home. Is that a cop-out? Sure, but at least I’m honest! I’ve wanted to get into a home meditation practice and even with on-line sessions I keep getting side-swiped. So I try to remember to – just keep coming back to my breath and my practice! There are times when illness or injury will stop or limit my practice. Again, just come back to it and it will stay with you and you with it.

When it was announced that the studio was inviting a certified level 2 Ashtanga teacher to do a workshop, September 27th, 28th and 29th, I signed right up! I’ve attended 3 other workshops in the past by visiting yoga instructors, who taught Ashtanga, but never a level 2 instructor. My instructor met this woman in Mysore India earlier this year.

Workshops are interesting…different instructor, energy, views – all help to get you ‘out of your comfort zone’ even if it’s only a short time. But funny things happen…you ‘work’ harder because you want to make your instructors ‘look good’ (by having great students for the visiting instructor) and you want to ‘look good’ too! And then you, the student, the one who is practicing yoga, finds that you can do ‘more’! You find that hidden strength and calm to move beyond and achieve something that was just within your reach!

I had done my normal 90 minute class on Thursday. The workshop was a total of 9 hours over 3 days (2 on Friday, 5 on Saturday and 2 on Sunday) and then my normal 90 minutes class on Monday. That’s a total of 12 hours of yoga in 5 days. Many of us wondered, out loud, if we could do that afternoon session on Saturday! We did, plus by Sunday morning, we all were loving it!

Every one has some physical limitations; we just modify and adjust. I have some breathing/heart rate/coughing issues as well as the ‘usual’ female stress incontinence. If I get too hot I start to choke, cough and I sometimes must stand ‘still’ while I get my breathing/heart rate settled. A trip to the bathroom before major hip-openers and twists is a given and then again before headstand and savasana. All small prices to pay for the benefits of the practice! And then there are some postures that may not be ideal or wise for us to do. For me its shoulder stand sequences (constriction of chest area), jumping, crow postures, hand stands and very deep forward twists (wrists, breathing and belly fat). Even with restrictions it is always good to do modifications.

In our studio we sometimes leave the windows open a crack and/or put on the ceiling fans. Generally speaking our ‘classes’ are geared to those that ‘show up’, that means there can be many levels of understanding and learning of the postures that entail more instruction versus ‘just doing’ the practice. So, the workshop format allows the participant to do the complete and traditional style of Ashtanga; something we may not get always in our regular class time.

So, it didn’t take long, probably about 5 minutes, before our visiting instructor closed the windows and turned off the fans! Oh, we all knew we were in the ‘heat’ for sure! Could it have been that heat that opened my muscles up more enabling me to do more with my body and get more strength? I’m sure it was.

In addition to a more ‘intense’ practice experience our guest instructor gave us opportunities to be part of a fire ritual and offerings, healing mantras and circle and a guided meditation that was a very profound personal experience.

Check out the studio at these sites…

The Problems with Bikram Yoga from a Lover of Bikram Yoga

Yoga Sparkle from Pinterest

Image: Pinterest

I began my yoga transformation on October 14, 2011. I didn’t know it was going to be a transformation; I was just looking to avoid knee surgery for a right knee injury that had been causing me great pain for nearly 9 years following a nasty car accident in 2002.

My intro to yoga was at a Bikram Yoga studio. (Not a hot yoga class offered at your corner yoga studio, but at an “official” Bikram certified studio with instructors who participated in the grueling 9-week intensive teacher training.)

I hate the heat and the humidity, so the idea of entering a 102-degree temp room with humidity added was not exactly appealing to me. But testimony after testimony that I read online gave me the strength to temporarily suspend that hate.

I won’t bore you with the details of my first experience but will tell you that within 5 consecutive practices, I was hooked and my knee pain had miraculously disappeared!

I could explain it away and say it was due to finally breaking up some scar tissue with a more effective exercise outside of walking, speed walking or elliptical training. I could claim it was just the heat. I could claim I hadn’t worked hard enough up until that point in my physical therapy. Sure. I could take the skeptical stance and say it was something other than the actual sequence, the holistic aspect of everything about Bikram yoga, that “fixed” me.

But I am not a skeptic…at least not any more. I truly believe Bikram yoga healed me, and I will be eternally grateful to my amazing instructors who brought and continue to bring it to me.

With that said, I must admit that Bikram yoga is not the end all and be all of yoga styles…not even close! I have a few complaints, let’s say, about Bikram yoga which explains why I have ventured out of my yoga comfort zone to become a yoga instructor of a yoga style other than Bikram.

1. There is no chance of being lulled into deep meditation in Bikram yoga, because there is no chanting or music in Bikram.

The absence of music might be seen as a good thing to anyone who suspects yoga is a religion or filled with “shining, happy people” oblivious to reality. When you enter a Bikram studio, don’t expect to be bombarded by Zen music in the practice room or by chimes or gongs or bells. Bikram yoga isn’t “pretty” yoga. It’s as serious as yoga can get without being serious yoga, if that makes any kind of sense. Even if you do get hooked on Bikram yoga, there will surely come a time you’ll want to venture out into the world of “pretty” yoga to experience the peace of a low-humming group “OM” to bring stillness. Bikram gives you stillness but not with music, and don’t we all love music on occasion?

2. There is no chance you’ll ever say, “I’ll be right back. I’m going to take a quick Bikram class.”

After spending 90 minutes in a sticky, hot room with a bunch of other sticky, hot AND smelly folks, you’ll definitely need and want to take an immediate shower, wash your hair and dump your clothes into the washing machine. There is nothing worse than tossing your just-used Bikram gear (towels, pants, top, etc.) into the backseat or at the bottom of your landing and tripping over them the next day. Why? Because you’ll pass out from the rancid odor and need smelling salts to be revived! Your olfactory will be screaming “Oh, f#@&!” I guarantee. I don’t even like sitting down on the seats of my car after a class without laying down a dry towel first. The drive to my home is less that 5 minutes, but the dry towel is nearly soaked through by the time I reach my front door.

3. There is no chance of building your upper body from a Bikram yoga practice, but your ass will be fabulous!

Unlike a Vinyasa flow or any class where you are doing up dogs and down dogs and planks, there ain’t nothing like that in Bikram yoga. Bikram yoga tends to focus more on lower body strength and balance and flexibility in your upper and lower back. The anti-arthritic grip used repeatedly throughout the series is great. But none of the postures will build your shoulder or bicep muscles. How can I be certain of that considering I am relatively new to yoga? Well, I had been practicing nothing but Bikram yoga for 12 months straight. Then I accidentally stumbled into an advanced Vinyasa flow class one Saturday morning. After 90 minutes of planks and dogs and crow poses and pigeons, I couldn’t raise my arms for three days. Yes. Three days. Although I had been actively participating in Bikram classes 3-4 times a week, nothing prepared me for the intense workout my arms and shoulders received that fateful Saturday.

Regardless of these few complaints, I recommend that everyone try Bikram yoga at least once. And if you’re a Bikram yoga fanatic like me, consider supplementing your practice with different yoga styles every now and then. Your arms will thank you.


© 2013 Paula Carrasquillo and A Yogini Transformed.

Paula Carrasquillo is an active yogi, author, and advocate who has lived in numerous watersheds throughout the United States, including Colorado, Maine, Maryland and New Mexico. She currently lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Paula is passionate about her family, friends and the motivational and brave people she meets daily through her online writing and social media exchanges. To Paula, every person, place, thing, idea and feeling she encounters is significant and meaningful, even those which she most wants to forget. Follow Paula on Twitterand check out her other blog.

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