My head’s still spinning from a day spent with legendary Ashtanga teacher Dena Kingsberg (yep, that’s her in the pic above!).
Just to paint the picture, Dena is a devoted practitioner of Ashtanga yoga and a senior student of the late Sri K Patabhi Jois. With 30 years of unwavering practice she completed the fourth series in 1996 and holds the highest recognised qualification in this method. She teaches with her husband Jack both internationally and from their simple shala in Byron Bay, Australia.
She spoke about so much, and I wanted to remember it all – it all made so much sense! I managed to scribble down some notes, which I’ve shared here, as writing things down helps me sort through things and keep a hold of them. If I don’t it’s just in one ear and out the other!!!
One of the things that’s really stuck in my mind (if I’m honest, it’s turned into a bit of a brain worm!) is her asking why it is we practice yoga? Everyone came up with a host of different words – wellbeing, health, happiness, balance – but what she was really looking for was freedom. But, she said, not the freedom that implies we can do what we want, when we want. Because that’s an awful lot of wanting.
[You want to know what I said? Well, the words of Jacqueline Fuller in her 2005 Telegraph article about attending one of Dena’s workshops describes what happened perfectly…“My mind went blank – the kind of vacuum one is supposed to attain during yoga, but isn’t ideal when you’re being asked … by an important visiting yogi.”]
She was talking about freedom from the thought/reaction/emotion cycle we’re all so guilty of getting tied up in. The freedom to be totally ourselves without apology, to be truly who we are . Freedom through self mastery. The purpose of yoga is just to be our natural selves, so for example, when we reach a fork in the road we will choose our right path. Don’t cheat or bluff or give the impression that you’re something different from what you are. Because if you’re not your true self eventually you’ll fall on your face (Dena’s words not mine)! As she said we all pretend that we know more than we do sometimes – no wonder we’re all so insecure! Everyone’s going to find something that they can’t do so we might as well be honest about it and save ourselves a whole heap of suffering. I think that this kind of web we weave around ourselves is the very opposite of the freedom that Dena describes.
And she spoke about it being okay to celebrate what you can do, your own natural ability and enjoy what you’re good at. But quickly reminded us, it’s in practicing the things that we can’t do that we change and develop, that we get to know ourselves better. We’re looking for yoga with heart not an empty asana practice. To show us what she meant she described a flute player holding his instrument with perfect posture and balance. It looks beautiful, perfect even. But without the breath, without the movement of prana there is no music. Genius…
She laughed as she said there are easier styles of yoga than Ashtanga! And she’s definitely right!!!
But this method, Ashtanga Yoga, offers us the potential for freedom to be wholly and fully ourselves. If you’ve never thought to turn the volume down, you don’t know there’s anything else to hear. And what might we hear? Our intuition, our creativity, what will make us happy, our purpose. We might even open up enough to let emotion in and out. We might even be able to speak what we need to say.
Here’s the rest of my scribbles!
Imagine squeezing the toothpaste from a toothpaste tube. Squeeze from the bottom of the tube bringing the sides together to make a connection, then slowly drawing upwards to get the toothpaste out. Don’t squeeze too hard but just enough to get the right amount of toothpaste…
Let the Bandhas INSPIRE your movement.
The Perfect Posture (a la Instagram)
Everyone who’s floating through – it doesn’t just happen overnight! It’s taken A LOT of effort and dedication.
Foundations of Practice
Do the work in the foundations of practice, less struggle later!
Breath in to the back of the ribs/heart and out through the sit bones (not literally of course – try it and you’ll see what she means!).
Try to have the shins and the arms perpendicular to the floor and the arch spread across the whole spine.
Uninterrupted concentration leads to meditation. Meditation is the soothing of the soul. LOVE this…
One way to think about this is as clear perspective. Only when we have clear perspective do we have any chance of understanding ourselves and understanding others. And only then can we begin to reduce conflict.
Best not to have a problem with your problem!!!
I want to hear her talk again, to be able to take more notes, to listen more and maybe do more figuring out. To hear again what she said about choice – you get to choose your practice, you get to choose to be a strong practitioner every day, whatever that means for you.
As a yoga teacher I am first and foremost a student of yoga and my heart is filled with gratitude to have been part of such a thought provoking and inspiring day. Thank you Sarah Durney Hatcher for hosting Dena and for inviting me along to share the day with y’all…
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