A weekend with Eddie Stern in Dorset

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I was inspired to head to the seaside for Eddie’s weekend workshop by the wonderful Ashtanga NY video and the book he wrote about Guruji. Despite these, over here at least, he still has a lot lower profile than other teachers, so I was wondering what to expect.

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Well I found a teacher who is Knowledgable, compassionate, funny, self deprecating and quite happy to go off topic and with the flow. As I was setting up my mat on the first morning he came over, introduced himself and asked about the large scar on my left shoulder, explaining my limitations and what my practice is, there was no “don’t do this or that” he just said “go ahead and do your thing!”

Friday practice was primary only, after a day off and a long journey it was probably a good thing not to push it, apart from getting me to lower my hands in Tiriang Mukha and the odd prod he mostly left me to it.

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I was wondering if we were meant to do dropbacks, but then I saw someone else doing them, so I stood up and started playing around, he soon came over and did assisted cross arms then full drops and up, “very good” as I came up from the last one.

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Altogether about 40 people took part, quite a few more used to being led, so for the last two days we had a choice, either Mysore style or a later led class, about 15 people took that option. I was in the first start group for Mysore starting at a very civilised 9am, 12 of us, which was a nice amount to start with. Days 2-3 it was full practice, which for me meant two days of going a bit further than I would normally at the Shala to Kapotasana hang backs. All the block experiments and running for the bus have strengthened my quads a lot and doing the extra postures feels good, not depleting. It also helps open my back up, making walking the hands in on Urdva Dhanurasna possible now and being able to hang for longer in dropbacks. Eddie helped me in Bhekasana each day, he has a different technique pressing down near the elbows to help keep the hands in place while leaving the student to try and lift the chest, all help gratefully received before heading to the back of the hall for closing. I enjoyed every practice, Eddie is a very calm presence sitting on his chair in Lotus like a Buddha watching us, then jumping down to give an adjustment.

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Lunch view

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Beach cafe, a change from Pret

As the afternoon sessions didn’t begin until 2pm that left plenty of time for a drink and a slice of cake in the kitchen before heading down to the cafe on the beach to have lunch in the autumn sunshine looking across to the Isle of Wight.

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Puja

The afternoon class was billed as Chanting, pranayama and yoga philosophy, plus time for questions and answers. The first part of the afternoon session took place at Helen’s new Shala 2 minutes walk away, a converted Wesleyan chapel. It’s very new and to help wish the building, students and teachers well, Eddie held a puja to Ganesha on the second evening. A ceremony of chanting, invocations, offerings and flowers.

I would love to practice with Eddie again, he’s down to earth, at times irreverent, but amazingly knowledgable about our practice.

Q&A
About practising on moon days, Eddie said that if we have a 6 day/week practice then it’s good to take the moon days off, but if real life gets in the way and we can’t practice every day, but happen to be able to practice on a moon day then it’s ok ” nothing bad is gonna happen!” He went on to explain how taking rest on moon days came about. The Sanskrit college where Guruji taught only took Brahmin boys who had lots of rituals to perform on moon days, so didn’t get time to do their regular work, they also took off the day following the moon day. It was believed that if teachers taught on new moon their knowledge would decrease and on Full moon days a students knowledge would decrease. Guruji kept up the tradition with regard to practice. But Eddie explained it was far from being a hard and fast rule, Guruji’s daughter Saraswathi began teaching Monday to Friday, with Saturday and Sunday off, she still taught on a week day even if it was a moon day, but did not give new postures on the moon day.

Question on religion and yoga by a yoga teacher who had been stopped from hiring a church hall to teach yoga in. Eddie talked about the lawsuit in California by Christian fundamentalists aimed at stopping his yoga in schools program. He said although all kids call it “yoga” it is officially known as the “Wellness & Health program”. The exercise part is based on yoga, but there is also health and nutrition teaching, the lawsuit was thrown out, but is being appealed.

Question about the Urban Yogis program. I’ve seen the YouTube clips about this, but had no idea how involved and how much time, not to mention his own money Eddie has poured in to this. The idea is to get kids out of the cycle and control of the gangs that run the “Projects”, all of the kids who started the program have had friends, relatives killed and injured by gun crime. Eddie started the program with 6 kids who he trained 3 hours a week over a year to teach basic yoga to their peers in the schools. Once they passed his course he then got the schools to hire them as part of the staff to teach yoga and wellness. From those first 6 kids he now has many more in the program which is also now partly backed by a foundation. The idea being that the friends of the kids in the program see their friends getting a training and finding a route out of the spiral of drugs, crime and gun violence and are inspired to follow them.

Question about yoga and age. Eddie started by saying it’s a fact that eventually our body’s won’t be able to do what they once did and if after illness or injury we can’t do something to not to get frustrated, just do what we can do, but DONT stop doing a posture because we don’t like it! He said he has a lady at his NY Shala of over 80 years old who shows up every day at 6:30am and does her practice, over the years he’s taken poses away to accommodate her arthritis and fitness, but she still does her practice.

I tried to make some notes from the philosophy, but I always find when writing something down I miss whatever comes next.

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Group photo taken by Scott Johnson of SYL

States of mind concentration
Distraction
Obsession
Mind pays attention then wanders
One pointed focus
Cessation, stilling – Nirodaha or selective discrimination

The 3 questions
Who am I?
What am I doing here?
What do I do next?

5 reasons we suffer
Avidya – not knowing who we are.
Asmita – creating a false idea about who we are
Raga – desire
Dvesha – aversion
Abhinivesha – fear of death

6 Responses to “A weekend with Eddie Stern in Dorset”

  1. martin Says:

    Enjoyed your blog Kev ….thanks

  2. Monica Gullickson Says:

    Thanks for a great blog. What a nice spot to practice too!
    xx Monica

  3. Joanna Says:

    Wow sounds a fabulous workshop and a brilliant man

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