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.

The paradoxes of Ashtanga yoga.

Oh what a word! Paradox. Google defined it for me as: “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true” or Yoga in general. Into my tenth year of practicing Ashtanga I have come across the paradoxes of Ashtanga yoga many times. The most recent one being severe pain which could have come from practice. A month or so go (writing this in March of 2017) I had to stop practice and break down because of agony in my right wrist. What! This was supposed to be healing me! What’s going on? It crushed me for the day. Tears and all. I have built a life based around physical activity that needs the support of the wrist near one hundred percent of the time. What was I to do? My practice ruined therefore life has collapsed. My only choice give up, wander into the wilderness, and wait for death. No, no, no. Now you’re just being dramatic. Of course life isn’t over.

I may never know if it was or was not my practice that caused the pain, but I do know that I noticed it during chaturanga and especially urdhva mukha svanasana (up-dog). But, this isn’t a post about wrist pain. It’s about the paradoxes of Ashtanga yoga or the aspects of yoga that seem to contradict themselves. This healing practice that makes bodies ache and joint scream. This practice of non-attachment that gives me withdrawals when I skip more than one day of asana a week. Building up my ego by keeping me slim, fit, and able to lift-up into handstand, but ego bad? Similar thoughts going through your head while you shouldn’t be thinking? Maybe they will be now. Such beauty in the opposites of Yoga. Shiva and Shakti. Yin and Yang. Everything and nothing. Okay not quite opposites, paradoxes.

Without Shiva we have no Shakti. Without everything there can not be nothing. Like all things one cannot be without the other. This pain that practice brought led to analyzation. It led to using the modifications I teach others. It led to a new more aware practice. It led to the conclusion, “You moron you know you felt funny wrist things before this and you did nothing but ignore them. And now look.” These paradoxes of yoga that appear are helpers. They are the questions to be asked and studied. What are you doing when the pain happens? What may be causing it? Why are you not changing it? This is your practice as it works for you. The practice is not an unbendable bar of outer space metal that we have no method for manipulating. Experiment, ask your teacher, read books and try what you read, modify, stop. Know that Yoga is more than movement. It tries to make us go deeper, to find blockages that need a solution or at least contemplation. Thus it gives paradoxes: absurd statements that want investigation or at least acknowledgment. There will be things that do not make sense. Bathe in the glory of human ignorance or question it. Your choice. Your practice. 

Looking for contradiction in a practice that preaches goodness is the slippery slope into philosophy. Which can easily be ignored, but can as easily be a quick path into deepening a practice.  Ashtanga — Yoga in general — is more than just exercises if you wish it to be or it’s a fine way to better one’s health and life.

This is just the beginning of my journey into the world of paradoxes of Ashtanga yoga and I hope to continue falling down this rabbit hole and have an adventure in whichever wonderland I may find myself. What are some of the paradoxes of Ashtanga yoga that you have found? Write them in the comment section below. One of my favorites is the ego-building of Ashtanga’s asana practice. Gotta keep that in check. Don’t forget to love yourself though. Be well and thank you for reading.

Ashtanga: Breath, move, live.