Primary Friday: Homecoming

Wow.  Where shall I begin?

Week 2 of the Swenson TT is over and I am absolutely swimming in Ashtanga.  From 7:30 in the morning to 5 o'clock at night, I'm in training.  We practice asana and pranayama in the morning, pairing up for asana practice -- one plays the student, the other the teacher, then we switch.  After that, the whole group convenes for pranayama before we break for lunch.  Post-lunch, we study the Sanskrit count, followed by 2nd series postures and adjustments in the afternoon.  After that, I go home to review my notes and/or listen to Sharath's led Primary DVD until I fall asleep to dream sweet dreams of Ashtanga until morning comes, when it starts all over again.

David and Shelley are really hitting all the bases.  First thing this morning, they taught us how to do nauli kriya, or "navel cleansing."  It's not as hard as it looks.  (Try it!  Let the always lovely Kiki show you how.)

This afternoon, David showed us some gentle bodywork techniques to help students complaining of back and neck pain.  Next week, the philosophical discussions begin and there has been talk of karma yoga.

Today, I led my first student through Primary to the traditional Sanskrit count.  This Sanskrit study has taken me well outside of my comfort zone.  At first exposure, the logic of it was confounding.  I realized that I have never been to a counted led class, so it was difficult to follow the rhythm.  However, now that I've had some time to chew on it, I like the way it feels in my mouth.  Literally.  The Sanskrit language has a sweet, rich sound and a satisfying texture.  I really enjoy leading the practice with the count, the sound is soothing and seems to enhance the meditation... that is, unless I'm stumbling over the next number.  Luckily, I've got some time to practice before my next crack at it on Sunday.

It has been fun to take my practice further into Intermediate again.  With David's permission, I have been doing the standing series in its entirety and then moving straight into 2nd rather than splitting at Parsvottanasana, as per the tradition.  I just can't give up all that hip opening work in the latter half of standing, it is too terribly needed for the lotus postures later in the practice.  And (who am I kidding?) I like to try my hand at those floaty transitions from Utkatasana and Virabhadrasana.  More and more, they are feeling as I envision them to be.

As for Intermediate, on Monday, I practiced to Supta Vajrasana.  Tuesday to Bakasana, Wednesday to Tittibhasana, and Thursday, I took it all the way to Pincha.  Which, by the way, I balanced and held on the second attempt with nothing but the assurance of a spotter standing by.  The exit was a different story:  I could not for the life of me figure out how to find the lift to move my hands into position for the chaturanga landing.  I came down in a forearm plank position, which was fine with me.  Save the landing for another day.

For the first few days of practice, David was on me about my breath.  I have a habit of dragging it out until I'm moving through the sequence like molasses.  I thought I was justified -- if I could do it comfortably, then why not?  Then he came by one day during Kapo to assist and, standing over me, made the comment that my breath in Kapo is how I should try to breathe throughout my practice.  I laughed at the time, but that remark really put things in perspective.  I instruct my students to "pump the breath" in big backbends to avoid the panicked, erratic breath that tries to take over.  So now I'm trying to pump the breath a little more throughout my practice, not just elongating the breath but harnessing it completely.  It's been interesting to bring even more emphasis to the breathing and it seems to have had a profound effect on my practice.  It is much lighter, less exhausting, in part because I'm not spending quite as much time in each asana, but also because the energy seems to flow more freely when I avoid sitting in the pauses between the breath.

One of the things that has made this experience so incredible is the fact that David's book was my very first exposure to yoga, long before I had any notion of the distinction between the different "styles" or approaches to the practice.  Fast forward ten years and a cross country move, and I find myself in Austin practicing Ashtanga just in time for David and Shelley to start travelling less and teaching here more.  People have traveled here from all over the world to attend this intensive, the first of it's kind, and I just so happen to live 2 minutes away.  It's been an interesting journey with a roundabout route from those first few uncertain Surya Namaskara ten years ago to now, but I feel as though he's been my teacher all along.  The fact that Shelley is an excellent teacher in her own right, with a different but complementary perspective, is the icing on the cake.  There are murmurs that they may someday establish a more permanent presence here in Austin... ahem hem.

I, for one, would be delighted if that were true.


  1. Hi,

    I would like to know if you could give stone advises or links for beginning a nauli Kriya practice.
    In a book, I've read some preparatory practice with helping the rolling practice with the hands.
    But I don't know how to pass to un-helped practice: how to separate the distinct muscles?


  2. Hi Louis - The trick to finding the rectus abdominis, and then further isolating to the right and left sides of that muscle is to use the arms. Stand in a wide stance, bend your knees, and rest your hands low on your thighs. To engage the rectus abdominis, exhale completely, suck the belly in, and then press into your hands. To isolate the right side, press into your right hand and lift your left hand slightly from your leg. To find the left side, press into your left palm and lift the right hand from the right leg.

  3. Hey,

    this is working great, still have some trouble for isolating the central part but sides are fine.

    thanks for this good advice.

  4. You're welcome, Louis! So glad it helped. :)