Friday, March 14, 2008


(David Swenson c/o Yoga House)
I had the opportunity to attend a weekend intensive workshop with renown Ashtanga instructor David Swenson (see picture). This was not my first time in his presence: I did my initial 40 hour teacher training in 2004 in Burlington VT with him and his wife, and attended weekend workshops in 2006 and 2007. I find his style approachable, instructive and fun. I will also admit, this was one of the more intensive workshop weekends I have attended: 1 ½ hour guided Primary Friday evening; 1 ½ hour guided Primary on Saturday morning, followed by a 2 hour breakdown of backbends and inversions (yes, we worked on headstand) and 2 ½ hours in the afternoon where we did the Primary sequence again with Secondary sequence added on. Sunday was another guided Primary and in the afternoon a breakdown of the jump thru, jump back and the jump forward.

I love doing workshops. Not only is it a chance for me to gain instruction from some fabulous teachers, but it’s an opportunity to study different styles, to immerse myself in the nuances of the Ashtanga tradition and to challenge myself. I have been to workshops by David Williams, Doug Swenson, Govinda Kai, Manju Jois, David Swenson, and Michelle Syme. While all are teaching the same sequence, no two instructors approach the Primary series in the same manner. This is fascinating to me.

For example, David Williams doesn’t do headstand. At all. He doesn’t like how it feels on his neck so therefore he omits it. He also emphasizes that yoga should be fun, because if you enjoy it today you are more likely to do it tomorrow.

Doug Swenson has developed a Sahdna Chi style of yoga that gently flows from one posture to the next. While he likes the Ashtanga sequence, he feels that "working outside of the box" improves the postures in the Ashtanga sequence.

Manju Jois and Govinda Kai are traditionalists. You begin with the opening invocation, move methodically through the sequence and end with a closing invocation. The sequence is counted and called out all in Sanscrit. This is followed immediately with pranyama exercises and chanting (yes, in Sanscrit). Michelle is also a traditionalist, but likes to play music during her classes.
David Swenson does what I call a ‘contemporary’ practice. He may or may not start with the opening invocation. He may or may not do the "Om’s". He counts the breaths mostly in English, adding the Sanscrit counting only after the class is moving. He encourages modification. The reason he omits the Om’s and the chants is because there may be someone in the class who’s beliefs do not encompass the traditional aspects of the practice.

Workshops can be daunting. You are moving out of your classroom and away from the teacher you have become familiar with. The situation is no longer comfortable - new place, new routine. The workshop instructor may count things differently, may have you do something different in your poses or even do a slightly different sequence from what you are used to. They may challenge your world view in subtle but significant ways. And this is why I love workshops. They challenge me to go beyond what I have gotten used to, open my mind to new ideas and refresh and invigorate my practice.

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