This is going to be a long post with many subtitles…
Paul, Modifications and Kriyas
Ok. So I met Mr. Paul, director and main teacher of Yoga Thailand as well as certified teacher by Guruji and I practiced with him during four weeks. And what is my opinion about this man, who sometimes calls himself as yoga rebel and who people either seems to love or hate? Well, I think that he is fantastic. He is very devoted to Guruji as well as Tiwari (his pranayama lineage teacher), he is still keeping up his asana practice even when his main practice seems to be pranayama nowadays. He has two kids + wife and he is running a busy yoga retreat place as well as traveling and teaching internationally. He is very present, up-to-date and knows, what he is teaching. I personally consider him as a very inspiring person. For me, he is a yogi, who believes in this practice and who is trying to live as he is teaching. His teaching style includes modifications, when those are beneficial for the student as well as “extra” asanas, if needed. He understands that all the bodies are very different and he is constantly searching information regarding for example good nutrition and health in general.
What I valued most in Paul, was his psychological eye with me. He was getting on my nerves and I am sure that I was getting on his nerves a lot too, but he didn’t loose his mind with me. He was patient with me until I was ready to listen to him. He was challenging me most of all mentally, he wanted me to think my practice and decide myself, what was the best for me. He didn’t let me go easily and I appreciated that. I wasn’t trying my best during the first TT week, I think that I had one kind of like attitude problem. I came directly from Mysore with very strong ashtanga vinyasa background and during the first week in YT we were basicly going through Primary Series very slowly, pose by pose, and I couldn’t do my normal practice at all. Oh my God. It was so getting on my nerves, because there was no flow, my body was cold and I was worried to hurt my back again because of all stiffness and coldness in my back. I also didn’t get, why we were doing all those modifications, when I had originally learned ashtanga without blocks and modifications following very by-the-book practice.
After a while I started to see the benefits, which came through those extra asanas. My back started to feel better, my mind was calmer, my hips were obviously more open. I was struggling every morning with Ardha Chandrasana, the pose, which I hated first so much. But I learned to like that pose, because it was and is so difficult for me. I love challenges, one day I want to do that pose perfectly. I learned, that all the people aren’t the same, so it’s useful to know a couple of modifications. I am still not a big fan of blocks and robes, but if those can bring the people happiness in ashtanga, I can tolerate that. It’s good to keep in mind, that all the people don’t want to take ashtanga so seriously than I or my friends do and for them ashtanga might be just a hobby among others.
Paul showed me a nice mixture of Western and Eastern thinking. I am still very much indeed Mysore girl, because I love Sharath, flow and Mysore friends, but I learned in YT that constant studying is important. It’s good to keep eyes open, listen to your body, learn ways to cope during injuries, learn to think yourself, too. I am ready to study more with Paul later and I am glad that I went to YT. If I teach someday, I want to combine Eastern style with Western style. I want to keep the lineage clean, but I also want to help people. I believe that balance between those two is possible.
Paul is a big fan of kriyas and Yoga Thailand’s wellness center is also very focused on detox and cleanses. I didn’t try kriyas, I still have a very big resistance, what comes to staring at the candle, vomiting salty water and putting a string inside your nose. I just don’t believe that body needs all those extremes to be happy and healthy. I would like to try detox someday, but kriyas I will skip. However, it was good to hear about those tehcnics, if someday one of my students will be very interested in kriyas.
What I Learned?
Regarding my own practice, I learned lots of new, very useful things. I learned more about alignments, deepening my poses, proper breathing technic, keeping my back straight and armpits little open, twisting properly, keeping my mouth shut in Savasana, keeping my chin up in Salamba Sarvangasana and doing light practice. We did a couple of times Ashtanga Lite, which is a restorative, modified asana practice, where you do Savasana basicly between every seated pose. Ashtanga Lite was a nightmare practice for me because of my back, but I learned to breath a little bit better during the weeks and my second Ashtanga Lite was better than my first one, when I walked out of the shala after half an hour practice…
Most of all I learned to deepen my practice and not rush around so much. I learned to focus better. I learned a lot of small, helpful details and I learned also, how to teach and watch myself.
I was really glad to learn more about nutrition. I have had obviously a really big lack of knowledge regarding proper nutrition. It is a topic, which I would like to study more. Just keeping myself properly hydrated all the time and avoiding sugars is making my practice to go another level. I see the ayurvedic approach regarding nutrition very interesting. I think that Western nutrition is typically more fixed to give the same guidelines for all the people, when ayurveda is understanding better the different kind of like body types and characters. I also like ayurvedic thinking regarding paying attention to your eating environment and reasons, why you are eating. Often you eat just based on habit, not based on hunger or lack of nutrients. Ayurveda is also happier to accept use of honey, cooked foods, dairy products, pasta and rice than modern raw food junkies. Raw food is good for me personally, but I like to keep a lot of variety regarding my meals. Good food is keeping my energy levels high and even when we had broccoli everyday in Thailand and I was so bored with it, I noticed during the last days in YT, that it was giving really good boogie for my practice.
I enjoyed teaching practices so much. When you watch and adjust other people, you learn all the time also for your own practice. When you really have to think, how to explain something for another person, what is easy for you and so hard for other person, you really challenge yourself. In a way you have to go to other person’s body and then start to think, how to move it. Teaching is extremely difficult, but so much fun too. And it’s so wonderful to see, when somebody actually follows your advices and improves the practice. You do so many mistakes, but when you finally learn to adjust, somebody can be like wax in your hands.
Big part of the course was pranayma practice. Every morning we started with pranayama practice before moving to asana. Our common pranayama class took about one hour including a little bit chanting and sitting.
First I thought that pranayama is crazy boring. You just keep breathing using different technics and that’s it. Well, those technics are really difficult (at least for me) to learn. And it takes time to see the benefits of pranayama. When it was the end of the course, I started to enjoy pranayama more. It made my practice more focused and helped my back, too. It’s going to take a while that I will be able to really use those technics, but even my little pranayma helps me to find the connection between my breath and body (specially bandha connection). I believe that in asana practice, I can lift myself easily up, when my breathing is correct. Asana will be also deeper and flow will get better. So I decided to give a little chance for those breathing technics. I will try to keep up my own pranayama practice at least during half a year to see, is it really beneficial for asana and my life outside the shala, too.
Technics, which Paul was teaching, are very basic and not include long controlled retentions of breath. I agree regarding heavy pranayama with Sharath, it shouldn’t be started before your asana practice and/or body control is on certain level and for sure, my level isn’t even near that yet. Mastering Kumbhaka takes years after years practice under competent teacher’s surveillance. I was happy to get a glimpse of better breathing and that keeps me going with pranayama, too.
Teaching Exam and Final Exams
The program included in three different exams. We started with teaching exam. I was keeping one 60 minutes class and Paul was observing my teaching technics. First I was really nervous to get Paul as my commentator, but after all I was happy, because I got feedback directly from him.
My teaching class was the last one of the day. We all had already done five classes before I got my change to teach. So obviously it wasn’t the best shift, when it was late afternoon and nobody was anymore interested in at all to practice or go through the same practice again. I was very nervous, when I started to teach, because I was so worried to mess up with the mantra. I have done the mantra thousands of times, but when it’s call and response, it’s so difficult to remember, where to continue. Quite many people had this problem, I am sure that this gets better after a while, but you really want to do it correctly, when you are doing it under your teacher’s eyes in exam. Luckily I got it right, I was really close to forget, but I was able to pull myself together.
After that all my excitement went away and I started to enjoy teaching. It was just pure flow. After my class I wasn’t able to remember, if I taught all the poses, so this was my first question for Paul. I remembered the sequence and all poses. In this exam you have to teach different technics like how to jump through or back and how to close the knee properly. You also must hesitate certain things like keeping back straight, twisting in a correct way and you have to offer modifications, because this class is designed for beginners. It was really interesting to notice, how everything just came from somewhere so clearly. I was thanking all my teachers in my mind after the exam. I have learned so well from my previous teachers, that the exam was after all suprizingly easy for me. And I have pretty serious stage fright, but this time I forgot the whole thing. I was just so happy to talk about the things, which are so dear for me.
I got very good feedback from Paul. Next time I have to keep in mind to do all demos so that I am facing the students. I was happy to hear that he liked my style to approach the students and I also got good from him regarding my demos. I remembered to mention the key points and the flow of the class was good. I was so pleased after the class. It was just so cool to be able to see, that I can actually do it!
Our second exam was oral exam. That was easy for me. They wanted as to repeat the pose names of Primary Series in Sanskrit and tell them kriyas as well as pranayamas. For many people this exam was difficult and they studied really hard to be able to pass. For me, this was something, what I learned in my home school, when I started ashtanga. I was once again so grateful for my yoga background in Finland.
Last exam was written exam. It was very long (included around 60 questions) and we had three hours to finish our papers. I didn’t have enough time to answer all questions, but I was pretty sure after exam, that I got enough points to pass. And yes I did. In exam we had for example some anatomy and sutra questions. I really have to focus more on anatomy, but sutra questions went suprizingly well.
All exams were once again just reminders, how much there is actually to study to become teacher. But that is the reason, why I love ashtanga so much. You are never ready, never complete and you can learn from everybody.