I had the chance to take a workshop this weekend with Carrie Owerko, a senior Iyengar yoga teacher from NYC that teaches at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of NY. What an amazing teacher and fantastic workshop!! Carrie’s knowledge of the sutras and yogic philosophy is obviously quite extensive and she weaves this knowledge into her class in a beautiful way that really makes it accessible.
It was a three-hour workshop and she covered so many things it would take me ages to share all of it. So I’ll just touch on some highlights that I really enjoyed. First, I just want to say that Carrie has a very warm, fun-loving, compassionate personality that fills the room when she is teaching. Iyengar yoga teachers have had a bad rap over the years, sometimes described as being cold, strict, mean, or harsh. Carrie is none of those things and it is so nice to see a teacher at this level be so playful and inquisitive. You really get the sense that you are along for the ride, as she examines and experiments with poses, philosophy, principles, and ideas of the practice. Laughing and in awe of what she finds. It was a real joy to experience this.
A theme that she touched on several times throughout the weekend was the idea of approaching the pose with two things in mind: center of gravity and direction. Where is your center of gravity and where are you going? Are you moving up, down, back, forward? She’s not just meaning the direction you move in to get into the pose, but the action of the pose while you are in it. Like when you are in downward-facing dog and although your body is no longer moving, there is an action while you are in the pose, the action of drawing upwards. If you ask yourself where is your center of gravity and what direction are you going in, you can really begin to understand the pose and what the actions are. How you can refine it, change it, and explore it. We did a lot of this in the workshop. Putting our feet up on blocks for downward-facing dog, then doing the pose without the blocks to see the difference. Where does it feel different, why does it feel different, and what can I do with this information?
We worked a lot with the shoulders and the outer rotation of the arms. She showed us several variations on setting up for pincha mayurasana. First with the block in its usual place, but the arms are not belted, and the hands are on the outside of the block, even the thumbs. The thumbs rest along the sides of the block and the fingers turn out, so the upper arms rotate from inside out. This keeps the elbows from spreading out and therefore eliminates the need for a belt. It puts the shoulder blades right where you want them so you’re more supported going into the pose. Then we rolled a mat and placed it just under the elbows so the upper arms were slightly elevated (playing with our center of gravity). We used a belt this time and turned the palms to face the block, so our lower arms, wrists, and palms were like they are in sirsasana. Except the palms were squeezing the block instead of clasped. This also helps teach beginning students the arms for sirsasana.
Throughout the entire workshop she had us coming back to the turned-out hands position, repeating it for many other poses so they all linked together through this action, and showed us how the work of the shoulders and arms is very much the same for so many poses. We carried this into our sirsasana by holding the block in the same way as we did for pincha mayurasana and placing the back of the head against the block. My shoulders were insanely tired by this point, so I bobbled and wobbled the entire time I was in the pose. We then carried this arm rotation and hands-turning-out action into our work with backbends, like dwi pada viparita dandasana (two foot inverted staff pose).
By the end of the three hours I was tired, mushy, and really happy that I had listened to my friend and signed up for this workshop. Carrie’s coming back to the institute in December and I am already anticipating her return. I can’t wait to play and laugh and see what gems she will reveal to us.