Saturday, December 17, 2011

Visions of Yoga Teachers of the Past

Like many Ashtangis who have practiced for a few years, I've had quite a few teachers.  One Saturday while enjoying my morning coffee, I attempted to figure out where (and in some cases who) they all are.

By my count, I've had at least 7 regular Ashtanga teachers. That's not counting teachers I've taken classes with when traveling or teachers of other styles whose classes I dropped in on sporadically or teachers who subbed for my teachers on a short-term basis.

9 years (7 Mysore-style) and 7 teachers.  That's pretty...impressive?...confusing?  Actually, I feel like it's quite a blessing. Each of them has contributed something to my practice and understanding of the Ashtanga system.  This post is a kind of virtual bowing to their lotus feet.

Jen Malone  - Jen is now in LA and teaches, I believe at Equinox. I was at the Healthworks in Boston lifting weights and didn't feel like going home to work on my homework (a pattern at the time!  :)  So I looked at the schedule and saw "Power Yoga" on the schedule.  I had been doing "Hatha" yoga up until then and was skeptical of "Power Yoga." Fortunately for me, what Jen was really teaching was Ashtanga. I was so hooked that I took the class every week and then sought it out at Healthworks' other locations.  Finally, I cashed in the gym membership and invested in a Back Bay Yoga Studio membership.  Jen also introduced me to Sigur Ros, a bonus.

David Vendetti - David doesn't teach Ashtanga any more, but like many excellent vinyasa teachers, he used to.  David's Tuesday night BBY classes were packed and sweaty, and...funny!  Over 90 minutes we would laugh and breath and end up in a sweaty pool at the end.  He brought anatomy into his teaching with such fluency that I was later inspired to take his 200 hour teacher training.  Practically everything I know and understand about the way the human body functions I owe to David.  David also has a good grasp of the way that Ashtanga can harm the body if practiced without compassion or incorrectly.

Cary Perkins - When I finally got tired of spending a fortune between the premium gym membership (so that I could stalk Ashtanga classes at all branches of Healthworks) and drop-in classes at the studio, I finally decided to take the plunge and quit the gym and go for Mysore.  There's a bit more to this story, but that's for another post.  Cary was my first Mysore style teacher.  She was fierce and funny.  She made me observe on my first day which infuriated me.  But I came back anyway as if to prove to her that I had memorized the series.  She let me practice up to navasana when I started.  After about 2 months, we were starting drop backs.  I was terrified, but she stayed with me and helped me get through the fear. And then after I was practicing for about 4 months, she left. I think that she teaches in London now.

Michael Hamilton- He's a phenomenal teacher.  The one thing that stood out the most in his teaching was actually during a workshop after he had left Boston and then returned to do a weekend teacher's intensive.  I can't remember which pose it was, but someone said "I'm confused, so and so says that you have to do it this way, but such and such says to do it this other way.  Which one is right?"  Michael replied "It depends on what you're trying to access."  I believe that Michael is somewhere in Europe right now. Germany?  Switzerland?

Scot Hendricks - Scot comes from a dancer's background.  He has an intuitive knowledge of movement.  He really like to push people to their edge.  In particular, I remember a Tuesday night class that he was teaching that fell on a moon day.  He said to the class "Tonight is a full moon. We don't practice Ashtanga on moon days.  So instead we're going to do something different."  We chanted bija mantras and did some restorative poses.  Many of the die-hard (if you can call someone who practices Ashtanga but not Mysore-style "die-hards") yogis left angry. Some even complained to the studio owner.  That took a lot of guts.  Scot also taught me to beware the "yoga mind-fuck."  This would be the phenomenon where people try to guilt you into doing something or for having a certain point of view because you're a yoga teacher.  I think that Scot is somewhere in Asia right now. 

Kate O'Donnell -  Kate was my teacher for the longest period of time (something like 5 years off and on).  She and Scot used to swap. One would teach for a few months while the other was studying in India.  Almost my entire intermediate practice developed under Kate. She emphasizes the moving of energy and healing through the practice.  She offers a lot of "research" poses.  The space for research allowed me to heal my humerus/shoulder injury (or at least work with it).  Kate also introduced me to Ayurveda.  It is under her guidance that I take a twice yearly cleanse.  If you are ever in Boston, I highly recommend that you go to Back Bay Yoga and take practice with Kate. 

Greg Nardi - Greg is my current teacher here in Philadelphia.  I was pretty excited when I was getting ready to come to Philadelphia.  I was coming from a place where there were no Ashtanga teachers to a city that had two (later I learned Philly actually has 4 authorized teachers!).  My initial intention was to take some classes with Greg and some with the other teacher and get a sense of which was better for my learning style.  After a few Sunday led primary practices with Greg, I decided that I didn't need to "shop around."  G has many excellent attributes as a teacher.  He is exceptionally knowledgeable about the spiritual aspects of yoga and about the "scientific" aspects (such as anatomy).  His teaching style is very malleable. He adjusts his instructions according to the individual student.  This is especially helpful for me.  I seldom "get" what I'm supposed to be doing from the first set of instructions.  I need to hear instructions a few different ways. In addition to my daily practice, I'm now engaged in a very challenging and rewarding apprenticeship with Greg. 

I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to practice with such talented individuals whose devotion to the lineage inspires.


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