“Ashtanga is for the hungry, the ones who have something gnawing inside, the ones who honestly aren’t happy accepting complacent norms. Ashtanga is for those who are alive with intense feelings that there are worlds to discover, worlds that are found by reaching passionately inwards for expression that will contribute to personal and collective healing” David Garrigues
Yesterday was a good day to drive down to Chicago for a few Eddie Stern workshops at Chicago Now yoga studio on North Lasalle. I have visited this studio before for kirtan but this was my first workshop/class experience. I have met the owner, Amy Beth Treciokas, when she came up last summer to Madison and taught a full primary at Yoga Eight. If you look up her site, you will see she really brings quality workshops and has great classes at her studio.
Eddie Stern is the third Patabhi Jois early student I have taken workshops from. The other two are Richard Freeman and Tim Miller. I would highly suggest anyone who can get a chance to take workshops with them do it for no other reason than they all have fascinating stories about Guruji. Among others.
Eddie mentioned he pracrticed for 17 years with Jois. He is one of the authors of the compilation of memories of Jois, Guruji, which is really a great book to read to gain insight into the experiences of teachers with Jois. If you read this book, you will realize these people are a large extended family and Eddie had a very close relationship to his teacher.
In addition, these teachers all display not only an understanding of the practice, but also of the full philosophy of the sutras, including the necessity of working into a pranayama/meditation practice.
We started out with a full primary class, which is just what you would imagine, the prana bounces off the walls and ceilings and intensity level is high. There was literally steam rolling off people’s bodies. He ended with a pranayama practice, surya and chandra bhendana without retention. Two practices I still need to look up, and sitali. Sitali is a cooling practice and he did mention that should always be last. When questioned on the pranayama practice, Stern indicated these practices are suitable for most students after the first several months of practice. He said Jois’s sessions were half an hour in padmasana with long kumbhaka, thus more appropriate after the later series.
The afternoon session was therapeutics where Eddie worked with questions from the group to show outside work from practice that could help with injuries or conditions. The two chosen were low back pain and hamstring injury. I am not sure where Eddie learned this. I doubt it was from Jois, but could be from being a teacher for a long time. Teachers who pay attention to students do become healers over time, plus we are always working through out our own issues. Eddie owns his and admits most of his injuries were ego driven, not from conflict with the integrity of the practice itself.
That is one thing he, among the others, do not question, even though he was asked about the practice serving the individual. He said Jois worked different with each student. Many of them learned slightly different over time. Jois did teach to the individual, but Stern insists the progression and intelligence of the sequencing should not be changed and is not open to interpretation but that many of us go through different phases of life or we do get injured and we need to work around it individually.
One of the attendees asked about the bhujapidasana and how the asana and the transitions should be taught. He said that many of the poses have levels of advancement to the final pose. He said the balance should first be practiced getting the feet off the ground first, then shift to bakasana, then jump back. Once this is mastered, bring the forehead to the floor and lift the feet back, and finally the chin down.
He talked about the progression of the arms in prasarita C too. This could have been a separate session. I would love to know more about the progressions in many of the asanas.
He mentioned the film of the primary series taught by Jois to Freeman, Tim and Chuck Miller, Maty, and Karen Haberman. He said prior to this Jois had never taught any of them to bring the chin down in bhujapidasana and then he did while taping. He caught all of them off. He said, no one expected it, neither he, nor Chuck, Maty, Tim or Richard. (What a nice group to be included in!!!!) Jois had no problem trying to catch them off guard! I have watched that film many times, and could not tell they were surprised.
Like I said those are the stories that are a priceless and important to the lineage. These people are also the preservers and teachers of the history as this practice moved out of India. I could listen to those stories all day.
Eddie also gave a lecture on history, focusing the relationship of tristana to tapas, svadhyaya, and Ishvara pranidhana. It was an interpretation of the sutras that I had not heard before, but worked well in delivery.
Eddie is also an altogether approachable and nice guy. If I lived in his town, New York, I would definitely be practicing there. I hope to run into him again in the future.