Thursday, July 28, 2011

Matthew Sweeney Workshop Review July 22-24, 2011

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a workshop at the Yoga House of Edina (link is on the left sidebar) as lead by Matthew Sweeney. This is the third time I’ve attended one of his sessions and this one was probably the best one yet. They all follow a similar format – Fridays are always the Moon Sequence, then the weekends are a combination of practice and technique.

I didn't take as many notes as I usually do.  This was a session for me to just soak in. 

For a more in-depth breakdown of each of these follow the links to previous postings
July 2008 - Chandra Vinyasa
July 2008 - Primary Series; Jump Thru/Jump Back
July 2008 - Secondary Series/Inversions
July 2009 - Overview

Friday – 6:30-9:00p Chandra Vinyasa (restorative vinyasa flow). Done on Friday evenings to mimic the body’s natural tendency to want to start ‘slowing down’ in preparation for the evening and to save some energy for the upcoming weekend. A great sequence for Ashtangi’s and vinyasa folks alike.

Saturday 9:30a-12:00p – Primary Series. Very thoughtfully done with explanations and guidance on some variations to some of the poses.

Saturday 2:00p-5:00p – Jump thru, jump backs. Whoo. Amazing how these two things can take three hours to breakdown and explain and practice. Kinda depressing too, to realize how little abdominal and shoulder strength I have to execute some of these components.

Sunday – 9:30a-12:00p – Intro to Secondary Series. An introduction only, because “technically” and “traditionally” Secondary series is not to be practiced unless the individual can do a dropback and a pop-up unassisted. This was one of the best intros to Secondary that I have yet attended. Again, very methodical instruction, great breakdown and explanation of the postures and sequencing, and incorporated Saturday afternoon’s technique.

Sunday afternoon was back bending, but I couldn’t attend. Needed to pick my pups up from the kennel by 5p and I was looking at a three hour drive. 

Everytime I go to one of his workshops, I pick up another nugget to take back with me. There is usually so much being thrown at you, as a student, in these indepth weekends that after a while the brain really does turn to mush.  In a good way. 

My only complaint with the weekend was the studio owner refused to turn on the air circulation and so 40 of us were practicing in a small room that easily hit 85* (29.5*C) and the same in humidity. It was stifling. The air was so heavy as to be almost suffocating. I don’t mind practicing in a warm room, but my goodness, keep the air flow fresh! It was honestly cooler outside, and outside was 80*+ (26*+C) because the sign down the street said so! And if I wanted to do Bikram, I would. Ashtanga is not Bikram…  Seriously, everyone was sweating just sitting. 

So if you ever have a chance to attend a session with Matthew Sweeney – GO! GO! GO! It will be a challenging session or weekend, but so very, very informative.  And hopefully your studio will be more moderate in temperature and airflow...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Substitute Teachers/Subbing for a Class

Just a brief interlude from David Whytes 10 Questions!  This was on my mind. 

Two separate and independent conversations recently brought to my attention the issue of substitute teachers and subbing. I can also recall a blog posting or discussion on whether or not to announce a substitute teacher and some of the justifications for each, but alas, I don’t recall where that was.

First discussion involved my younger Sis. She is not a regular practitioner, but would like to be someday when her work schedule is not so wonky. The stars finally aligned to allow her to attend a class at her local Lifetime Fitness. She said she got there early, rolled out her mat in the middle of the room and watched the people slowly fill up the space. She estimated by the time everyone was in, there were about 50 people. Then the instructor came in, announced she was a substitute and that this was going to be a Hatha level II class…despite it being advertized as a level I. This caused some anxiety for my poor Sis…not what she had expected! Sis said they started moving, and the instructor put them in all sorts of pretzel poses. She said about 10 people out of the 50 could actually do those poses. Finally, sore, sweaty, and somewhat freaked out, she was able to quietly slide out of class near the end. Dismayed. Upset. In shock. Unhappy.

Second discussion was with a long time friend who has rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia and is on the generously built side. She signed up for a slow hatha class through her local community education and was developing a tenuous understanding with the regular instructor about her abilities. And then came the sub….who, according to my friend, seemed intent on singling her out with persistent adjustments throughout the entire class. Even though this was the first time the two had met.

Now, this isn’t a posting about an instructors ability to teach, but rather, how a substitute teacher approaches a class that is “not theirs”. They have not developed any kind of rapport with the students, they may never be back again, or back infrequently. I myself have subbed and have been in a class with a substitute instructor so I can see both sides of the discussion.

From my point of view, and humble opinion, why would an instructor bump up the level of a class from what is advertized? Ego? Misinformation? Misunderstanding when talking to the regular teacher?  This is where knowing how to ‘level’ a class is mighty handy. Offer a place for everyone to work, and teach from the middle. Anything more is just showing off. A more experienced practioner is going to know how to add on to a pose – and an experienced practioner is also going to know to accept what ever is being offered and work on the things that we “can’t see” (bandha’s, breath, internal alignment). Nothing will turn of a potential new student than being “blown out of the water”. 

Adjustments – a personal thing to be sure. I do very little hands on adjustment in part due to the nature of a flow class and in part due to my training. 98% of my adjustments are verbal; spoken out loud to the entire class or offered quietly one-on-one with much pointing. However, speaking from experience, if I’m subbing, unless the person is going to hurt themselves, I’m totally hands off. I don’t know the students, I don’t know what injuries they are coming to class with, what experiences, and I won’t see them again for months afterward. Or maybe never. Who am I to suddenly start making all sorts of adjustments based off of one 60 or 90 minute class?

I’ve seen students get hurt because of that. One gal I know received a ‘simple’ stretch while in downdog, in a workshop, and her hamstring hurt for 6 months.

Now this isn’t to say I haven’t made mistakes too. But I hope I’ve learned from them – and from watching others, and I’ve add those experiences to my filing cabinet of “things to be more aware of”.

So, fellow yoga peeps, what are your thoughts on subbing a class or being in a class that has a substitute teacher?  What do you like to do, or what do you like to see?

Monday, July 18, 2011

10 Questions That Have No Right to Go Away by David Whyte

10 Questions That Have No Right to Go Away by David Whyte

June 15, 2011

The thought-provoking poet David Whyte considers what we should be asking ourselves—especially when we least want to confront our own answers.

4) Where is the temple of my adult aloneness?

In 1996, I wrote a poem called "The House of Belonging." In it, I spoke about the small, beautiful old house I came to live in after the end of my first marriage. In the poem, I wrote:
This is the temple of my adult aloneness
and I belong to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.

That temple was the house I moved into after the end of a chapter in my life. There I would live alone, but also with my son a good deal of the time. It was a new start. There was a great deal of grief in letting go of the old, but I was so very excited about my new home. I felt that even though it was such a small house and an old house, it had endless new horizons for me, as if the rest of my life was just beginning from that place. It is important to have the equivalent of this house at every crucial stage in our lives. Where do you have that feeling of home? Do you have it in your apartment? Do you have it when you walk along the lakeshore or the seashore? Where do you have that sense of spaciousness with the horizon and with your future?

Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water

Gaston Bachelard, a French philosopher, said that one of the beautiful things about a home is that it is a place where you can dream about your future, and that a good home protects your dreams; it is a place where you feel sheltered enough to risk yourself in the world.

Monday, July 11, 2011

10 Questions That Have No Right to Go Away by David Whyte

How apropos given the season of Summer for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. 

3) Am I harvesting from this year's season of life?
"Youth is wasted on the young" is the old saying. But it might also be said that midlife is wasted on those in their 50s and eldership is very often wasted on the old.

Most people, I believe, are living four or five years behind the curve of their own transformation. I see it all the time, in my own life and others. The temptation is to stay in a place where we were previously comfortable, making it difficult to move to the frontier that we're actually on now.

People usually only come to this frontier when they have had a terrible loss in their life or they've been fired or some other trauma breaks open their story. Then they can't tell that story any more. But having spent so much time away from what is real, they hit present reality with such impact that they break apart on contact with the true circumstance. So the trick is to catch up with the conversation and stay with it —where am I now?—and not let ourselves become abstracted from what is actually occurring around us.

If you were a farmer, and you tried to harvest what belonged to the previous season, you'd exhaust yourself trying to bring it in when it's no longer there. Or attempting to gather fruit too early, too hard or too late and too ripe. A person must understand the conversation happening around them as early in the process as possible and then stay with it until it bears fruit.

photo from

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

10 Questions That Have No Right to Go Away by David Whyte: Question #2

This is question #2 and I feel he really sums it up at the end: "What can I be wholehearted about now."  That is a really immense question.  We are so busy trying to *get* something else that we just don't pay attention to what we have *now*.  We want to be able to the full expression of "that" pose, we want the job/house/car/entertainment system/computer/iPhone, we want... we want... we want...   But what if we stopped and acknowledged what we have now?  Can we find contentment by simply being in the present? 

10 Questions That Have No Right to Go Away

By David Whyte
June 15, 2011

2) What can I be wholehearted about?

So many of us aren't sure what we're meant to do. We wonder if we're simply doing what others are doing because we feel we don't have enough ideas or even enough strength of our own.

There was a time, many years ago, working at a nonprofit organization, trying to fix the world and finding the world didn't want to be fixed as quickly as I'd like, that I found myself exhausted, stressed and finally, after one particularly hard day, at the end of my tether, I went home and saw a bottle of fine red wine I had left out on the table that morning before I left. No, I did not drink it immediately, though I was tempted, but it reminded me that I was to have a very special guest that evening.

That guest was an Austrian friend, a Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast, the nearest thing I had to a really wise person in my life at that time or at any time since. We would read German poetry together—he would translate the original text, I read the translations, all the while drinking the red wine. But I had my day on my mind, and the mind-numbing tiredness I was experiencing at work. I said suddenly, out of nowhere, almost beseechingly, "Brother David, speak to me of exhaustion. Tell me about exhaustion."

And then he said a life-changing thing. "You know," he said, "the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest."

"What is it then?"

"The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness. You're so exhausted because you can't be wholehearted at what you're doing...because your real conversation with life is through poetry."

It was just the beginning of a long road that was to take my real work out into the world, but it was a beginning.

What do I care most about—in my vocation, in my family life, in my heart and mind? This is a conversation that we all must have with ourselves at every stage of our lives, a conversation that we so often don't want to have. We will get to it, we say, when the kids are grown, when there is enough money in the bank, when we are retired, perhaps when we are dead; it will be easier then. But we need to ask it now: What can I be wholehearted about now?

photo by