Great to see Dena again, its been a long time since last August in Bali. Other familiar faces there too, Camilla who I last met 2 years ago at Dena’s mysore week in Stockholm, this proves Ashtanga is a small world, I seem to run into more and more of the same people wherever I practice on the planet.
The morning workshop was “Refining the fundamentals“, begining with engaging the breath into the front, back, sides etc. It was good to do the “Child on the chair” exercise again and the 3 minute breath count one. I have probably done this one 5 or 6 times with Dena now. The first time, probably back in 2003/4 sometime, then I was taking around 15+ plus breaths in the 3 minutes, today it was 8 1/2, I suppose it shows how my practice has evolved in that time, how I now appreciate how important the breath is to my practice and not just an optional extra. We did Primary up to Navasana, but stopped to look at jump throughs, Dena never names names, but when she talked about the jump throughs she had witnessed you knew when it was yours being referred to. Her reference to “struggling” not just plonking the butt down, but trying to keep the lift and wriggling the feet through. At one point she smiled and said “I got you working now Kevin“. At least now I try to smile through the discomfort, I will always remember her telling me to “Take the strain off my face” one Saturday morning in Clapham a few years ago.
Quite a long look at backbends too, beginning with lifting and lowering with the breath, then lifting higher and interlacing the fingers, then holding the butt to make it relax, which stops the feet heading outwards, while remembering to “Squeeze the Mango” keeping the inner thighs engaged. All this before we actually performed Urdva Dhanurasana. She made the point that going straight into Urdva Dhanurasana can be very extreme and it is good, especially in a Mysore environment to warm the back up with these little exercises first.
After 3 lovely hours it was time for a break, a sandwich in the sunshine, Carnaby Street was packed for a 60’s festival, including scooters and music. At one end was a green Piano which anyone could play.
The first part of the afternoon session was a discussion about the practice, emphasising that it should always be about the Integrity of the spine, not about the limbs. How we are all guilty of thinking we are in the pose, while in fact our lower back has collapsed (Oops must sit up straight while typing!).
How we shouldn’t keep using the flexible places (lower back & neck in backbends). We did Upward dog, first with exagerating the bend in the lower back and neck, we all agreed how uncomfortable it was, then by lifting and trying to bring the shoulders back and upper chest in front of the shoulders, while not engaging those flexible places. Dena said if we keep relying on the flexible areas, using them, deepening into them, then eventually we will damage them, its better to do an “honest posture”, even if we think it doesn’t look as good.
Someone asked about dropbacks, how they were experiencing discomfort in their lower back, Dena said the pain comes from compression, how the bend should not be in the lower back, but from finding length and space higher up in the body. She said that some shala’s insistence on students being able to dropback and stand up before progressing to 2nd series was perhaps the cause of pain in many backs. She said most people could eventually do the dropback, but at what cost to the integrity of the spine.
Someone asked Dena about the evolution of her own practice, in her 30’s Dena was doing 3 & 4th series, was mega fit and bendy (Not that she isn’t now). I think this must have been during the time I saw her do a demonstration at TLC and came away thinking is there any point me carrying on, I will never be able to do 5% of what I had seen. But 2 kids later I think she has mellowed, her practice has changed and she certainly doesn’t seem as intimidating to me as she did back then and thanks to her my practice has evolved way beyond my expectations. It is about accepting where you are and enjoying the practice, allowing it to evolve, what happens on the mat is all good.
We finished today with chanting, we chanted and chanted and eventually the mind shuts up and you reside without thought or a care in the world and just are. Though competing with the rock music from the 60’s street festival nearby was quite a challenge!
Alas no early trains tomorrow, so I cannot do Dena’s Mysore practice in P-Hill, but I will go to AYL’s oven. Then 4 hours to rest before the workshop in the afternoon, just hope the sun and trains do their bit, today was glorious, let’s hope tomorrow is too.