by Kara-Leah Grant, Musings from the Mat
(Written a few weeks ago, before I left Glenorchy – in case the time frame or location confuses you!)
I’ve just walked out of my second Mysore-style Astanga class with New Zealand’s Peter Sanson and I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.
It’s like my brain’s in first gear, or submerged in water.
If I feel into it, it’s like a consciousness shift, where I’m going sideways from one way of being into another way of being but I’m caught in limbo between the two ways of being.
It makes me want to sit and meditate for an hour or so just to settle and integrate. But my man is back in 15 minutes with Samuel and it will be straight into bedtime routine, so instead I’m grabbing the opportunity to capture this moment.
Astanga Yoga. Wow. With an experienced teacher. Double wow. I haven’t been to a yoga class in soooo long.
And I haven’t been to a yoga class with a real teacher since April, when I did a class with Katie Lane.
Peter though is another step up from Katie, simply because of the depth of his practice and the length he’s been teaching. And what a treat to go and take a class with him.
I’ve been practicing yoga for over a decade now, and I despair at times because I’m still so very tight. I know it’s held tension, not muscular as such. but knowing this and being able to do something about it are two different things.
But take a yoga teacher who’s never seen me before and doesn’t know my history, and they’re able to see directly into my practice and what I’m bringing to it that I don’t need to.
Stop fighting with the poses! Stop wrenching your body round! Stop holding so much tension! Where’s all that tension coming from? You don’t need that! Let it go!
All of which is said with compassionate good humour and often a tap on the body that reminds me of exactly where I am holding the tension.
Yesterday, I turned up without really knowing the Astanga sequence. I’ve done Mysore three times – twice in Wellington at Te Aro Astanga and once in Dunedin with Tiffany Fleetwood-Bird. The last time I did it, the entire practice aggravated my hip and I felt like I was fighting the yoga the entire way.
This time, I was hoping to just follow along with the people around me, but it turned out that either they were going too fast and too many postures ahead for me to keep track, or they knew even less than I did. Peter was just in town for a week and a number of yogis turned up who’ve never ever done Astanga.
That meant much shaking of the head at my postures and lack of drishtis.
What posture is that? Did you do XXX? Go back!
But as it does in a serious yoga class with a dedicated teacher, the pearls of wisdom were also flying.
Astanga is renowned for it’s intense and forceful adjustments – which can be dangerous when delivered by less experienced teachers. Peter however knows his stuff, and with grace and humour was able to guide me into postures I’ve never dreamed of doing. My hips let go in ways they never have before.
And as always, when there’s a physical release like that, so to did the emotions fall. I spent much of the forward bending postures surrendering and sobbing in equal measures. And marvelling at my head touching my knee with ease at times.
I left class determined to find my way back again tomorrow – despite living an hour away and having difficulty with childcare. Thanks to my wonderful supportive partner, I got my second opportunity.
This time I was more prepared. I swotted up on the sequence, reminding myself of the postures I’d forgotten so I could focus more on presence and flow than on what comes next. And it paid off.
The start of class was staggered – as people arrived, they began. Peter created cohesion by chanting for about ten minutes at the front of the room. It was late afternoon, and the afternoon sun flooded in the expansive windows the the church hallway.
Through the windows, Frankton and Lake Wakatipu sparkled in the spring light. I was close to tears just at being in that space, feeling held and supported in my practice. I haven’t ever really had a yoga teacher, and today and yesterday, I felt that absence keenly.
So today, stepping into the first sun salutations, I was so grateful just to be there. It felt like a prayer, offering my body and heart up to the practice. God, I’ve missed having a yoga community!
Already, the pointers Peter had given me yesterday helped immensely as I approached each posture. I stopped fighting and started praying. And I could feel all the places where I was holding tension. Let it go let it go let it go. It’s my mantra right now. Let it go.
Two days of 90 minutes intense asana – and I ache. Yes, I practice yoga daily, but it’s often a ten minute kriya, or meditation, or pranayama. Asana has been woefully lacking and I miss it. I need it. I know this. Just as I know I need a teacher. Always have really, but have been really good at making do without one.
Now, musing on my experience, so much is coming clear – as always.
For a start, my own need to seek out a good teacher and at least check in every six months or so. Maybe Peter. I may not be an Astanga yogi, but that doesn’t mean I can’t practice Astanga.
Later, a different idea presented itself. In conversation with a friend she asked casually,
“Why don’t you move to Napier and study with Peter?”
I laughed. Move to a town I’d never had any desire to live in just to study yoga? That’s crazy!
But was it?
I’d already made the decision earlier that week to leave Glenorchy. I knew I was going somewhere – I just didn’t know where.
Then, unexpectedly and out of the blue there arrives a yoga teacher. And haven’t I been yearning for someone to study with for years?
Hell, I’ve written an entire series of yoga articles on this website about it!
Was it so crazy?
I began to entertain the idea.
I floated it past my man Leighton. He was up for the possibility.
I called a good friend in Havelock North, just outside of Napier. She’s both a yoga teacher and a parent. She had nothing but good things to say about Peter, the location and the local yoga community.
Hmmm… a good teacher to study with, a yoga community to be a part of… people to teach even, maybe…
One thing led to another, as it invariably does when we feel our way through life just going with what we know to be true without trying to plan and control everything. I spoke to an uncle in Napier. I booked a ferry trip.
Yep, in early January I’m going over to check out Napier, Hastings and Havelock North with the intention of possibly moving there so I can study with an Astanga Yoga teacher.
Me! Who’s written before about how Astanga just doesn’t work for me… Oh the Universe has a great sense of humour… yes it does.
Who knows what will happen? I don’t know for sure until I arrive in Napier and see what happens.
Maybe, after a decade of looking, I’ve finally found a yoga teacher I can regularly study with.
Now wouldn’t that be something?
I’ll keep you in the loop.
Answers to Questions You Might Have:
What’s Mysore-style Astanga?
Mysore-style is when all the students practice the set sequence of Astanga yoga at their own pace. the class isn’t led by the teacher at all – but the teacher walks around and gives personal instruction and adjustments as required. It’s like doing home practice, but you’re with other people who are all doing exactly the same practice as you. I prefer it to led-classes because I can move at the pace of my breath cycle, and listen more to my body. It gives me the best of home yoga practice, with the added bonus of structure, discipline and the feedback of a teacher.
Who’s Peter Sanson – and why Peter Sanson?
Peter is a Kiwi (from Gisborne I think) who first met Astanga’s Guru,Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in 1989. After that, he travelled to Mysore (the home in India of Pattabhi Jois) for twenty one years in a row to study. That means he’s spent a lot of time learning directly from the Guru. Peter has an Advanced B Level Teaching Certificate – I read somewhere he’s one of only three teachers in the world with that, but I’m not sure if that’s true. Regardless of lineage and certificates – all of which can mean diddly-squat – what impressed me about Peter was his presence and his teaching. I felt like: ‘Here’s a man I can learn something from’. And that’s what I want – to learn.