48 Week Slowly, Slowly Method

by Feb 7, 2014

It has been a great start to another year at Te Aro Astanga Yoga. The energy at this time of the year is always a bit special. There is a slow start to the year with plenty of breaks for public holidays and everyone comes in with a bit of that summer holiday feeling still about them. The room slowly starts to fill and the energy deepens as people settle into the new year. There is plenty of warmth and I like how easy it is to get the sweat flowing.

Many of you will have noticed that I advertised on my first Newsletter of the year and on the web site that we are offering a “48 Week Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga workshop” for 2014. This was intended to be a little bit tongue in cheek, but with a serious message behind it.

This is the beginning of my 15th year running of teaching 40 plus weeks at Te Aro Astanga Yoga in Wellington and I am quite proud of the fact. For me, the benefits of this level of consistency are immeasurable both for myself and for my students. The opportunity to work with people over a long period of time gives me great satisfaction. This means that I can take a very considered, “slowly, slowly” approach to how I teach. This “slowly, slowly” method is something that Guruji always emphasised. Very often he would say, “slowly, slowly, one by one you take”.

This really is the best way to go about a strong asana based practice like Ashtanga. There is very little to be gained by getting ahead of yourself. You need to take time to learn and to assimilate every asana as you learn it, but that is not all there is to it. You also need to give your body time to develop the strength required to endure in this practice. You need to have time to strengthen your nervous system and to deal with some of the emotional issues that will arise through the practice. If you don’t do this, then you will be playing “catch up yoga” and this is very difficult and can be dangerous as well.

Having a long term approach to my teaching also means I can keep the energy in the shala light and steady. More sattvic than rajasic. I think it is very easy, particularly with Ashtanga, to get carried away with the excitement and power of the practice. The endorphin rush you generate can be pretty addictive. This is not what yoga is about. We need to cultivate the sattvic in order open our awareness of purusha or pure consciousness in contrast to prakrti or the material world. This is why the depth of your time in Padmasana and also Savasana at the end of your practice is vital. You should not need to end your practice in such a state of euphoria that the high will inevitably be followed by a low. This is what is happening when you have a serious drop in energy some time after your practice. Instead you should have a feeling of gentle contentment at the end of your practice. A feeling that all is well in your world, that all is as it should be.

I sometimes notice that post yoga high is especially evident during short workshops and I also notice that this leads to people becoming workshop addicts who can only get motivated by attending numerous workshops during the year. The risk with this is that they never quite develop a sense of an enduring, life long, daily practice. A practice that feels lived in and is as comfortable as an old jersey. It is this sort of practice that I work to achieve every morning and also strive to convey to my students. I am not anti workshops as you can definitely gain some valuable insights or take your practice to new levels by attending them. The important thing is to take this learning into your daily practice, not just go from workshop to workshop.

I teach over a 48 week period because I am teaching a daily practice. I get to see my students practice evolve and their understanding of it evolve on a daily basis. I get to experience their joy as their bodies unfold. I get to encourage them and guide them through those periods of frustration when their bodies resist. And all the time my own practice evolves and my understanding of teaching this beautiful method deepens.

P.S. Having said all this above, it should be noted that I love and really look forward to the two workshops that Peter teaches at Te Aro Astanga Yoga every year. Mind you, I think this could be because of the gentle approach he takes to teaching, even in a 5 day workshop situation.

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  1. Olivia Richardson

    Awesome post Mike. I have to say, it has been really comfy being able to practice at the shala. One of the first places that gave me a sense of ‘community’ when Bryant and I moved to Wellington. Thanks for being a gentle giant (in a tall kind of way way).

  2. Fran Rigby

    This post sums up the joy I have felt in rediscovering my practice this year. I practised fairly solidly several years ago and really enjoyed myself. However, my focus became pushing and pushing my body further and just focussing on learning the next asana. I have hyper mobile joints and as a result I think that I did myself a few injuries. I was warned off yoga by several medical professionals and did not return to my practice for several years. This summer while yoga was shut, I began to practice again, with a mindfulness to not pushing my joints too far and a focus on breathing. This time I rolled out my mat every day at home and just did a little at time, even just five sun salutes and then stopped. I have come back to the practice in the new year and have discovered with a calm attitude I am getting much more out of my practice. The high has been replaced by a meditative calm. I am not looking around the room to see who knows more than me and who can stretch further, I am satisfied each time with the practice I have done that day, the better sleep I am getting, the feeling of strength in my body, and my calm mind. Totally recommend the slow approach!