Manju Jois: Teaching Primary(1st) Series Day 1

Some of you may know that I’m in my hometown participating in two Yoga workshops. My hometown is the once beautiful Palm City, FL but I will not be getting to much into that. The workshops are two five day trainings on how to teach and assist. The first five days are focused on the Primary Series of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and second on Second Series. Makes sense so far. One Yoga Planet in Fort Pierce hosts the workshop. They have a second location in Vero but I will probably not be heading to that one. Margarida, the owner?, brings Manju Jois down to our little piece south Florida once a year for a few weeks of training. This year the first week was Mysore with Manju. I had to skip that. I can’t pull off three weeks away from home these days. The next to the the assist workshops.

With that quick preamble done, Day 1 of the workshop is complete and thought I would do a short recap.

It’s about a half hour drive to the studio and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Better said, the way I thought I had to drive to get there I was not looking forward to. A road full of traffic and traffic lights or the highway. I was wrong. Maybe the holiday of the great Dr. King had a little to do with it and also my mother enlightening me about another road to take but the drive was great. Only a short trip up US 1 then onto the back roads that bring me to the intercoastal waterway road, Indian River Drive. A slow speed limit but no lights and no traffic. Hoping that stands true tomorrow. We’ll see. I miss the water. I miss the saltwater. Growing up here I told myself and others that I hated it but now looking back it was a grand time. Special.

So with this great way to start a workshop, a pleasant drive with the temperature in the 60’s and tunes turned up loud, day one begins. The little, I’m sure “historical,” downtown is as sparse as an abandoned mining town. The free parking that won’t get you towed is in the multi-level cement garage just a block or so down from the studio. Easy walk through this empty village. And I’m not to early to find the studio still lock. The door opens with ease.

Tall ceiling, large colorful not my taste but some interesting paintings cover the walls, warm, and a super friendly greeter. Students wait on their mats while others arrive and pick out their spot before I can remember what I supposed to do when I come to a studio.

Sign my life away on the waiver. Sign in on the workshop attendance sheet. Spin in circles. Put my shit in a cubby. Spin in circles. Wonder if I should ask for a toilet or look around for one. I spot the sign. Shorts replace pants and I join the rest of the eager beavers on the mats. I take in the wall art. My eye lids shut and I sit quiet and rest. I have had a couple long nights before this day. Not as used to that as I used to be.


Everyone’s standing. I might have fallen asleep. Opening mantra. Here we go. Call and response. Of course. Oh. One word at a time. That’s a bit confusing. I’ve only done that twice before.


Let’s workshop! Wait. Why are people Surya Namaskaring? Everyone is. Are we practicing first? Mysore before the workshop? I guess I’ll just practice till I’m told different. Maybe I should have read the workshop email better. I bring myself through first series. A wondrous experience. I was not expecting to practice this morning and planned on trying to get up early the next several days to practice before heading to the workshop. Another pleasant surprise. We’ll be practicing first thing before the workshop everyday. Starting the day with practice has become a joy. It releases me of burdens that I want to hold onto so that I suffer. Don’t ask me why I want that. The day seems clearer after practice, freer. Warm, close, and not to wet. I could probably wear the shorts I practiced in tomorrow. In fact I’m gonna. I’m not going to practice in them tomorrow but after practice for workshoping. They’re good

The workshop will focus on hands-on assists for primary series and today we go over the standing sequence. Padangusthasana till Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana. The foundational asanas(postures) of ashtanga. “What about Surya Namaskar?,” you ask. That’s yours. That’s your “prayer.” Time to bring one’s self to practice. No assistance necessary. Of course the teacher still teaches the movement, breath, and focus of the Sun Salutations but this time is for the practitioner to come into practice. Set their intention. Worship the Sun. No need to bother them with hands and feet manipulating them. Let them find a center for the days practice.

Hands can help when padangusthasana starts. The hand becomes a focus. Manju brings the warmth of the palm into the assist. Manju brings the three great goddesses the reside in the hand to the assist. Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Govinda directing the direction of the spine with a massage up the strong muscles of the back. First of course finding evenness and stability with a pull that might be a little strong for someone blind to ashtanga. I’ll come back to that later. Secure the student in their asana. Move their spine in the direction it wants to go. And keep the student wanting the assist with no threat of falling over and a massage towards the heart. There’s more. Hands push hips one way. Legs help the student’s balance. Simple movements remind the student to give up on holding shoulders so tight. An arm around the ribs helps twist.

In the end the student needs to feel secure. Needs to feel assisting not assaulting. It needs intention not tentative limp fingers that show no direction.

And I come back to it. But what about those that are super tight, scared, injured, or recovering. Simple, if the student is uncomfortable enough in the asana they need to come out of it something is wrong. “Pain is not gain. Pain is pain,” Manju said. The assists he showed are the end point of the help. The teacher needs to know how far a student can be assisted. Which is why hands-on assist can work in ashtanga. During a mysore class the teacher and student build a relationship. They learn about each other so no harmed comes.

I look forward to tomorrow and my nice waterside drive to practice.