At the beginning of October, I had the great pleasure of spending 5 days with David Garrigues in Los Gatos, CA. For those of you that don’t know David, he’s an Ashtanga Vinyasa teacher and one of the few teachers in the United States certified to teach Ashtanga yoga by the late Pattabhi Jois himself. He’s super enthusiastic. He’s super knowledgable. And he’s SUPER intense. In a way that I totally fell in love with. I come from a history of Iyengar teachers that are know to be very “expressive” (read: seeing exactly what you are doing from across a crowded room and yelling at you to make corrections.) This is not done in a mean-spirited way, but in a way that’s designed to get your attention. And that’s how David rolls as well. It really make you focus. It’s a tactic that really works for me as a practitioner. So I deeply appreciate David’s approach.
Each day (for five days straight), we would start with two hours in the Mysore room, working hard and getting our sweat on. And I have never sweat more than I did in that room. Not even in a Bikram class! Talk about tapas. In the afternoon, David would spend about 90 minutes (or so…who’s counting?) working on his Asana Kitchen stuff. Basically, it was time to really dive into the poses. It’s the alchemy of yoga poses. If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend checking out David’s YouTube Channel, Asana Kitchen for lots of great tips on asana practice (and also great philosophy chats).
The first day, David spent the time discussing finding the axis. The midline. Or, if you want to get fancy about it and use Sanskrit, the Sushumna (central energy channel). In Ashtanga Vinyasa, all postures are built from this one pose of Samasthiti, or equal standing. It may seem like you are just standing there, but if you are really working it, you can break a sweat. It’s all about finding the axis. The center line. And really ultimately, it’s all about finding balance between front and back, left and right, upper body and lower body. So let’s give it a try.
- Bring your feet together. Press down firmly through all four points of each foot (big toe mound, little toe mound, inner heel, outer heel). Gently spread your toes apart. Then set them back down.
- Draw your outer shins gently in. This should help to rotate the shinbones internally.
- Lift and contract your quadriceps. Lift your kneecaps. Point your kneecaps directly forward so the inner and outer knees are parallel to one another. (Can you see how one of my knees is SO different than the other? Same with the shins! Fascinating!)
- Press your thighbones back into the hip sockets enough so the groins get soft.
- Squeeze your outer hips in.
- Contract (ie don’s squeeze tightly!) your gluteals to bring tone into the buttocks.
- Drop your tailbone down.
- Lift your pubic bone up towards your navel.
- Draw your navel back towards your spine (again, not sucking it in, but tone and firm. There’s a difference to the quality energetically).
- Move your front ribs in. Lift your side and back ribs up.
- Draw your shoulder blades lightly back and move them towards your spine. Don’t push them down. Again, it’s subtle
- Widen your collarbones evenly.
- Bring the center crown of your head to rest on the spine. Your chin will be parallel to the floor.
- Gaze softly forward to the horizon.
Totally simple, right? Not really! So so hard. It’s ultimately about stacking the joints, like you would build the foundation of a building. And to keep your concentration, your dharana (single focus , holding steady) takes a lot of practice and work. Once you THINK you got it down, try it out with your eyes closed. Play with it. Stand on a block. Or two. Try holding your Samashiti form while rising up onto the balls of your feet. Try maintaining Samathiti while in Urdhva Namaskarasana (arms overhead in prayer pose). See how many ways you can integrate all the cues of Samathiti into your asana practice.
David said it takes a lot of strength to stabilize. As a yoga practitioner who has always been fairly flexible, this has been my challenge. To cultivate the strength it takes to stay stable and find that midline consistently. Some days, I am totally on it. Other days, I sway like a weeping willow in a light breeze. But I continue to try, to practice and to be okay with just learning where my body is at in space on that given day. Finding the axis is tricky, but it truly is the starting point for a strong, stable practice.