Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as bird wings. – Rumi
Yogaview, in Chicago, sponsored Maty Ezraty for a five day teacher intensive and weekend workshops. I have always wanted to find training with the ‘teacher of teacher’s’ so was elated to find they were doing this teacher’s intensive. I am always fascinated by the old videos of Jois teaching Primary and Intermediate students to the small band of students that are now senior teachers in the Ashtanga teaching world, although they have all gone off on their own direction as far as Ashtanga. Maty is one, Richard Freeman, Tim Miller, Chuck Miller and Eddie Stern are others that we look up to in the West. I remember Maty in those videos and admired her intensive focus. I loved seeing Guruji throwing her around in third series, and have heard of the deep respect she has from all who have learned from her.
The attendees were mainly vinyasa and “Ashtanga teachers”, whatever that means. I am sure a lot of people came there looking for some expertise in teaching Ashtanga, whatever that means to you. There was very little of Ashtanga in the training and Maty focuses mainly on Iyengar yoga. Each five hour day consisted of a three to three and a half hour class followed by some work on hands on assists. On the first day she said that she knows a lot of us come from different styles and training and to be open minded about the work we were doing. The classes were very much sequenced like the Iyengar classes I take. The alignment is Iyengar and the cueing. This is, no doubt, somewhat of a shock to those that practice mainly Primary or Intermediate series because, for one thing, the vinyasa is missing. The poses are the same though. I think there are people that think the poses are aligned differently in Iyengar. They really are not. There may be minor spacing of the feet issues etc, but people have to remember. Iyengar and Jois had the same teacher. The sequencing is obviously different. In Iyengar you may be doing poses early in your practice that are not allowed until later in the series of Ashtanga, like handstand for instance. Of course you are doing way fewer poses. In each class with Maty, we did 10 to 15 poses, with a lot of demoing from other students. She pointed out to a rather advanced Ashtangi, that her Trikonasana was all wrong. About an hour later, I saw the trainee sitting and looking a little confused sitting on the floor. I think Maty’s assists showed her there is another way than what she thinks. That is not a bad thing.
For the vinyasa teachers, it is hard to tell. “Power Flow” (whatever that means) students are always willing to work hard but alignment and assists are all over the place so depending on who they worked with, this had to be all pretty unfamiliar. Right away Maty said her assists are for aligning the student, not making them go deeper. In Power Flow you can expect a full range, from mild massage to intense manipulation of the form. Maty made these classes with poses we all practice daily, HARD. Some of the worst moments of the week, arms overhead for ever, a chaturanga on blocks, handstands times 4 or 5 (the girl next to me said she hates handstands too but that she would rather do that than the chaturanga thing on blocks again and I agreed it was awful and I am practicing it every day now), warrior 3 on the wall, and others. We were at the wall a lot. EVERYTHING on the wall is harder. Trust me. I think Maty made the classes hard for a reason. I think the difficult classes with familiar poses reflected that we could do better as teachers and practitioners, no matter what style. Are we really teaching anything or just guiding classes. Do we take our students for granted and let them do what they want or do we find what they need. (Maty is an expert at being the teacher who shows you what you NEED.) Are we really paying attention as teachers to what is going on physically and energetically with our students. Maty is in touch with that and throughout the sessions I watched her change the alignment of the beautiful poses the attendees had into a more profound pose. A young man she assisted in Vira III on the wall came out shaking and bent over and sweating profusely.
Maty teaches the building blocks of alignment that run like a stream through all the poses. The main alignment cues she uses again and again, I have heard, but the progression of what we learned did change on a very deep level. I did not see resistance in the group. I see observation and note taking. She shows how to take crunchiness out of the low back and hips in Virabhdrasana 1 with various attendees. She shows why a person with knock knees can’t bring the bent knee back in Virabhdrasana II. She also teaches that there is a process in bringing the hand to the ground or foot in Trikonasana. Yes! I am tired of seeing the hands hanging in the air that some teachers insist on and that I have to BREAK my students of. (I have trained most of my students that Uttanasana is hands on the ground and not hanging out in ‘rag doll’ in their low back.) Maty insists on this too.
Maty’s classes left me sore. My thighs and arms hurt. The arms in down dog are different from what I am used to. She insists on 90 degree bend in the standing poses like Vira I and II, which you are holding a LONG time. During the session she tells us when we start practicing like this the four or five breaths we are used to won’t be enough any more. One reminder to use the feet and inner thigh is in every pose. That Chaturanga. When she is teaching that pose and basically NO ONE, even the vinyasis and ashtangis can barely lift their belly and EVERYone wants out. We are sweating and she doesn’t release it, she says it is better to work into the pose this way than do it a thousand times wrong. A thousand time wrong. Of muscling through practice. We ALL do it. That theme comes back over and over. She tells us this is hard because we learned the wrong way. It is harder for us to change. It is easier for our new students. We all come into yoga with patterns and we seek balance and healing. The light goes on for me, that I have worked AROUND my weaknesses instead of working in my weakness. Pretendasana I call it, or muscling through without finding BALANCE. Learning to walk AGAIN.
I just saw this on Facebook this morning and Petri is right. I do teach a teacher training, but I do believe that experience is vital. We do the best we can but I tell every trainee. Never Stop Learning. Maty has that experience he speaks of. Years of working with teachers and students. Watching, observing, finding new ideas, deconstructing old ones. She doesn’t call this an Iyengar training or Vinyasa or Ashtanga. It is pure training with no dogma. I don’t consider alignment dogma. Dogma is an attachment to the theory to the point of excluding other points of view and diminishing them. That is not what this is. It has everything in it from her background. The Ashtanga method is deeply ingrained. A lot of the WORDS remind me of Richard Freeman, who teachers a more Ashtanga with Iyengar influence. There is a lot to learn. You can bring these layers into your teaching. We are there to help our students, even if that means not giving them what they want all the time.
She is the teacher we all want to be. Informed passionate present and compassionate. It is always great to work with someone who is so focused on teaching and giving what they have learned.