A Lifelong Pursuit

A Lifelong Pursuit

  • Posted by Kaleigh
  • On January 31, 2018
  • Comments

The more you learn, the more you realize how much more there is to learn. A couple of us are in Boulder, Colorado this week studying with Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor (pictured below) in a 5-day yoga intensive. There are around 40 other Ashtanga practitioners from all around the world here with us, packing the tiny studio; our mats are touching each others’ on both sides, some slightly over or under the ones next to them. We are all thirsty for what these wise teachers are willing to share with us. Each day begins with a 2 hour Mysore practice. Even though I have attended numerous intensive trainings and other classes with them, Richard has a way of bringing me back to the beginning, it is astonishing and I have butterflies in my stomach. I feel like a new student learning to drop back from standing into a backbend and come back up again under his guidance. “Reach your arms back and just hover as if the ground were way deep in space, unreachable,” he utters in his unmistakable whisper, looking deep into my eyes with a mixture of curiosity, subtle laughter and genius. And today Mary showed me the intricacies of my “last Asana,” the newest one I have learned which felt extremely awkward and difficult until she was willing to share some pointers with me such as, “reach way back through your straight leg and foot and don’t lift it high until your torso comes up.” Brilliant. Now I feel capable of doing it smoothly and will keep stopping at that one until I feel strong and stable in it. Then I will be ready to take on the next one which seems impossible for my body to do at this point, but then again so did many of the asanas that I do at least a few times a week now. This is a practice that will always have a challenge ready for me if that’s what I want, but this is also a comforting practice that I can find therapeutic ease in on days where I might move more slowly and only do the very first asanas I learned back in the late 1990’s. The first time I came to the yoga workshop in Boulder there were no Mysore classes in Utah. Richard was my first Mysore teacher.

Richard Freeman + Mary Taylor

Front Yogis Steph Nally and Sarah Jane with Mary Taylor

After our morning Mysore practice, we rest and then sit together as Mary leads us through the beginning of our meditation time. After a settling 15 minute sit, we take a small break and then come back for Asana class, learning about different types of energies inherent in selected asanas. Richard makes us laugh and also surprises us with deep revelations.

We take a lunch break then reconvene for Sanskrit chanting and discussion of verses from the Bhagavad Gita. He has such a love and knowledge of this book and seems to have memorized the entire text in Sanskrit. Our Bhagavad Gita discussion ties into modern day politics and all the problems we have in our world today. In the book, our hero Arjuna faces a moral dilemma of how he can fight on the battlefield when the side he would be fighting contains his teachers, family and loved ones. His charioteer, the great Krishna, advises him and helps him gain perspective. He learns about many types of Yoga through Krishna which are tools he can use to do what needs to be done. These Yogic tools are very relevant today in all of our moral dilemmas.

Then we have pranayama practice. These are “ancient yogic secret” breathing practices or “freeing of the Prana” (life energy) that used to be only taught to devout ascetics in India. Richard tells us of a gentleman that wished to learn pranayama from Krishnamacharya, the great yoga master. Krishnamacharya owed the student a favor and asked him what he would like. The student said he wished to learn Pranayama to which request Krishnamacharya queried whether the student could sit in padmasana (lotus posture) for 3 hours. Luckily, the student had this ability because he had practiced asana for so long. So we are very lucky to learn these practices from Richard, who learned directly from Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who in turn was Krishnamacharya’s favored student and of course learned from the great master himself.

For the next 3 days, we will dive deeper into these practices and texts. I am grateful for each moment I spend here and I know I can spend years refining and growing this knowledge and most importantly, share it and put it to good use. Two of our other teachers, Brian Forman and Steph Nally attended the workshop last week with Richard and Mary and Steph stayed on this week. I am so happy to be here with her! I feel that even though the way we pass on this ancient knowledge in our classes may be simple, the intention and ideas behind this method are intricate, incredibly sophisticated, time-tested and deeply rooted and if we can learn to focus and quiet our mental chatter during our asana practice or any practice for that matter, we can all intuitively understand what yoga truly is.