After my 8am session with Scott Blossom I had a 30 minute break to get myself over to my next class with Patricia Walden. The session was titled “The Art of Twisting: From the Outside In”. Patricia has quite the following and this occasion was no different. I found a spot up near the front and unpacked my massive bag of props. You can always spot the Iyengar students because they’re the ones carrying an unbelievable amount of blankets, blocks, and whatnot.
She began with a short meditation and then began a long sequence that unfolded into twists of all kinds. We began with standing poses, warming up with Parsvottanasana (intense side stretch pose) then straight to Parivrtta Trikonasana (revolved triangle pose). She did this to emphasize the action of extending the spine, which was the theme running through all the twists. She explained you must extend and lengthen the spine before any twisting can happen. One thing I liked about the sequencing was she had us come into both of these poses exactly the same way – starting at the top of our mats and stepping the left foot back. We went through all of the points for Parsvottanasana before finally twisting our torso into revolved triangle. I liked this approach because you get the extension of the spine and it links the poses together, which is an Iyengar trademark.
We moved on to seated twists, where she showed us how to use the belt in many different ways for leverage and for making the clasp, like in Marichyasana III. After several seated twists, we did one more standing twist, parivrtta parsvakonasana, coming in to it from a lunge with the knee on the floor. This is a tough pose and I liked how she broke it down into small segments so you felt like you really got the alignment step by step, instead of throwing yourself into the pose (which is what I often try to do).
We finished with an unusual sivasana. She said that when she studies in Pune with B.K.S. Iyengar, he would often give them uttanasana with a ‘sivasana mind’ as their final pose. We rested our head on a block and quieted our mind to a sivasana state. I felt good afterwards and surprisingly was not missing the traditional sivasana.
After this class we were given a three hour break to have lunch, rest, and check out the other offerings going on around the Hyatt. There’s a massive marketplace set up with vendors doing demonstrations, giving away free samples of products, and selling all sorts of things from clothes to props to jewelry. There was a pop-up bookstore set up by a local bookshop from West Portal that was a real treat for me. I stood around for ages perusing the books on Ayurveda, vegan cooking, meditation, yoga sutras, you-name-it. Since I didn’t want to be sucked in to the clothing booths because my current collection of yoga clothing is ridiculously huge, I set off to find good eats.
After a nice lunch, I found the room where my last class with Patricia would be held, and I set myself up for a nice long supta baddhakonasana. This session was titled “Cultivate Willpower and a Fierce Heart through Asana”. I definitely wanted to rest before this class and it’s a good thing I did. It was a really strong practice, pushing us to our limits and examining what you’re made of! She took us through a series of ten poses that cultivate strength, but her process was more about seeing what happens when you go beyond what you think you can do. So much of yoga is really about the mind and how it puts limitations on us. This class was set up to show you where your mind places those boundaries and how you approach them.
We started class against the wall, with a five minute downward dog. A five minute downward dog may not sound like much to you, but go and set yourself up with a timer and give it a shot! You’ll soon see how five minutes feels more like twenty. This wasn’t one of those restoratives down-dogs where your head’s on a block and you’re hanging out. This was a full five minutes of giving it your best shot at your best down-dog. When she finally called us out of the pose I literally thought my arms and shoulders would fall off. Just when I thought my shoulders were completely burnt out, she took us through several rounds of Warrior II and Warrior I, without letting us drop our arms between sides or poses. Then it was back to the wall for more shoulder-busting full arm balance! Needless to say, my arms were frazzled and there was no way I was getting up in this pose. I have a hard enough time doing handstand when I’m fresh as a daisy. At this point we all started to have a good laugh together and this is one of the reasons I adore Patricia. She is incredibly light-hearted and compassionate in her teaching, and always encourages you to enjoy the practice and smile. Even though I wasn’t getting up in the pose, I enjoyed her explanation of ways to work towards going up and coming down with legs together and straight. Ah, something to look forward to.
She moved on to more powerful poses, like Warrior III and the ever-popular Chaturunga Dandasana. Then for fun she had us try Nakrasana, crocodile pose. If you’ve never tried this, it’s actually kinda fun, but certainly not easy. There was a lot of groaning and giggling going on around the room. If you don’t know this pose, there’s a great description with photos in ‘Light on Yoga‘.
Next we did all sorts of backbends, beginning with Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (upward facing dog) and moving through Salabhasana (locust pose) to Urdhva Dhanurasana (upward facing bow). We did what felt like 500 backbends to finish off the class, before ending with a nice, long, lovely sivasana. It was a well-earned sivasana that felt like icing on a cake.
I never would have pushed myself this much in a class without Patricia’s steady guidance and supportive manner. Don’t misread me, at no time did she push anyone to go beyond what was appropriate for them or endanger anyone in the class. She simply created a space where you could investigate yourself and your mind, to find out what happens when your mind says ‘I can’t possibly do that’ and you decide to try it anyway. She really made me question my attitude towards my practice and revealed to me how sometimes my limitations aren’t physical limitations at all, but rather the mind has become bored or fatigued or simply unsure. I realize now that maybe the reason I think I have to come down after three minutes in sirsasana is because my mind is bored and wants to move on. Learning how to push through the dullness in the mind is one of the biggest reasons I practice yoga and sometimes I lose sight of that because the practice itself becomes so habitual.
That was the end of my day at the conference and obviously I was beyond tired when I left! But I had a big smile on my face and felt full of gratitude for having the opportunity to be with two wonderful and inspiring teachers. If you have the opportunity to study with Patricia I highly recommend it. She is a lovely person and a very skilled, devoted teacher. I always take something new away from the time I’ve spent with her and she’s a great role model for anyone aspiring to teach the subject of yoga.
- Yoga Journal Conference – Pt.1 (fourelementsyoga.wordpress.com)