Tag Archives: Laurie Blakeney

More Blakeney Notes

Alas! It is sad when a good workshop ends as Laurie Blakeney’s last class was on Sunday. Rather than a bunch of unrelated tips, the main points I have gained from this workshop are: sequence based on effect and feeling versus just a the same clan of poses, and asanas are supposed to draw one more internally no matter how “difficult.”

There was one class where we did closed twists. That is the clan where I have a great amount of difficulty due to my girth. As usual, she had us start with about an hour of seated poses. We did Marichyasana III. She asked me to move my bent knee foot more to the side. I knew the instruction, but noticed that this is a pose I subconsciously avoid due to the discomfort it gives me. That may contribute to my fumbling around in the base. She also had us sit on one blanket when I normally use three. My anxiety even before we got into the pose was overwhelming.

But once we started executing the pose, I felt better. I moved my big belly over and got into the upper back. She used the analogy of a doctor using a stethoscope and putting it on your upper back, asking you to breathe into it. That worked wonders!

She then pointed to a photo on the wall at Guruji in the full pose with the arm wrap. “You see the black and white photo where the light is shining from his skin? Breath into those places where the light is brightest.” A “light” literally went on in my head in how I view the poses.

She also made the analogy of starch sting on a balloon in pranayama. This comes from a kids’ craft project where one dips a string in starch and wraps it around an inflated balloon makes the general shape of the balloon. When the balloon deflates, the string remains in the shape. This is how she said one can visualize the ribcage in pranayama practice.

She emphasized the importance of not skipping savasana after pranayama. She said that she knew of a nurse who would have an intense pranayama practice before work but eschewed her savasana. She said later in the day she would become irritable. Once the nurse started practicing savasana, she said the late day irritation dissipated.

 

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Blakeney notes 2018

I’ve been fortunate enough to clear my busy schedule to attend a few classes with Laurie Blakeney who is in Hawai’i. Blakeney is now the IYNAUS assessment chair, and I have been attending her annual workshops for the past few years. What I appreciate about her teachings is she gives simple instructions which produce a maximum amount of effects.

Case in point, on the first day we worked on the concept of keeping both panels of the chest even. The reason why I chose the I-Beam graphic  is because that is the image that she branded in my head when we went through a few simple poses. The lower part of the I-beam I imaged were my hips. The middle the spine. And the top part my shoulder blades.

Right of the bat she taught Bharadvajasana, a typically asymmetrical hip pose and had us study the evenness in the torso even though there is an obvious distortion. The point seemed to be not to get the even torso, but to create an intense awareness of how easily it  gets distorted.

Wrist 5

It seemed like we did Bharadvajasana for 20 minutes. She said that it is best to lose track of which side you are on when doing twists, and just call it “20 minutes of twists.” As I have written before about Bharadvaja, a figure in the Mahabharata, his claim to fame was his ability to meditate and his scholarship. Very fitting title for this pose.

I like how Laurie will teaches about an hour of sitting poses before standing poses. By the time you get to them, you already feel the awareness of the points she is trying to make. She also taught wrists and the scooping in of the upper back. But for this lesson the “I-beam” hit home

In Utthita Hasta Padasana, the pose before Utthita Trikonasana, my hips were uneven and I found it very challenging to even them (probably based on bad habit). And in Parsvottasasna my hips were even more uneven.

utthita parsva hastasana

She gave a wonderful instruction in Parsovattanasana while our hand were on blocks: pull your hips back while extending forward with the chest. As she said this, I kept that I-beam image in my mind an felt great extension of the spine. By pulling the hips back, a lot of other things pulled back too that she did not have to mention. Mainly, the side panels of the chest stayed even like Tadasana.

More to come…

 

 

A few more Blakeney gems…

Before one of the classes at Laurie Blakeney’s workshop, she had us put a strap around our knees and behind the shoulder blades by the armpits. Knees are high and ankles are crossed. She said this is a common image seen with Hindu deities and she saw old pictures of Indian town leaders also in this seated configuration with strap.

About five minutes in this pose and the abdomen and groins soften tremendously. The strap also hits you in your mid thoracic making you lift your chest. I had my niece demo the pose.

IMG_1761

On the last night of the workshop she taught an intensive inversion intermediate level class. We worked on hand positions for Sirsasana I, II, and baddha hasta sirsasana. In her classic fashion of using her experience as a piano tuner has a vehicle for awareness, she had us utter parts of the Patanjali Innvocation while we were in these different Sirsasanas. If our voice was wavering that meant we were straining too hard. She then had us monitor the effect of our abdomen with the different hand positions. As this was a class with fairly seasoned practitioners, she encouraged us to “be very interested” in these subtleties of the postures to remain interested in Yoga, as the basic instructions which involve mere stretching cues have been rehashed ad nauseam after decades of practice.

077-baddha-hasta-sirsasana-iyengar

Baddha Hasta Sirsasana

She also did some work on the Salamba Sarvangasana I and II and Niralamba Sarvangasana I and II. Lately in my Sarvangasana practice I have felt an overwhelming panic sensation if I remain in classic Halasana for more than 30 seconds. It has been a strange phenomenon in since my prostate surgery several years ago. So rather than suffer through it, I shamelessly used a chair for halasana.

She rounded off the night by doing all the forward bend variations: Paschimottanasana, Marichyasana I, Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana, Triangmukhaikapada Paschiomottanasana, and Janu Sirasasana. She said just as a thoroughbred horse needs to to be run through the various drills, we as practitioners need to run through the different variations from time to time to stretch out our might. “But sometimes the horse starts to get old,” she said with corresponding chuckles. Can’t wait to see Laurie when she comes back next year…

 

“Asanas are just a puzzle” – Laurie Blakeney notes part 2

This is a continuation of the notes from the first basic class. The second hour was spent on standing poses: Vrksasana and a “vinyasa” of Utthita Parsva Konasana -> Utthita Trikonasana -> Ardha Chandrasana and back in same order.

In Vrksasana we did straight away in the middle of the room. Instructions were to lift from the perineum. She did not have us in udrvha namaskar, but a hybrid of urdvha hastasana and urdvha namaskar “lifting from the wrists.” She noted that bent elbows collapse the abdomen.

In our “vinyasa” we worked in depth on “skating” the back foot into ardha chandrasana from trikonasana. Rather than clunky movements getting the leg to lift, we moved the back foot in slightly and corresponded the straighting of the the standing knee to the lifting of the leg in one fluid movement. Then, with more sophistication, lowering the leg and bending the knee in the same fluid movement. She noted several time if the foot skates in too much it is a clunky lift and made reference to Guruji’s demo in Light on Yoga as seen below where is back foot is a healthy distance away just prior to the lift. We did this for about 30 minutes.

ardha chandrasana iyengar

She finished with prasarita padottanasana as a “headstand” substitute and setu bandha as a “shoulder stand” substitute with a intermediate transition with the lumbar spine resting on the block and knees bent before savasana.

During the course of all this, Blakeney made a statement that “asanas are just puzzles, and like a puzzle we put them away when we are done with them.” This is subtle, but comes from a deep philosophical approach from the sutras in which asanas are a vehicle to attain awareness to the inner self. The asanas certainly highlight areas that are unknown to us, as in the hips which were the emphasis of this class. Of course the next day I felt the hip work we did even though after class it did not seem like we did that much. That is the magic of a seasoned teacher!

*Laurie Blakeney has an advanced certificate in Iyenagar Yoga and is the Director of Ann Arbor School of Yoga.

Notes from Laurie Blakeney’s workshop part 1

Laurie Blakeney has flown into the islands like the much needed trade winds and began her workshop this week. I attended the morning basic class. We started with an hour of seated poses: dandasana, swastikasana, baddha konasana, and upavistha konasana. The emphasis was to address stiff hips.

In dandasana, she had us engage both legs at a time and notice which one engaged first. Then she had us engage one leg at a time. It was telling on how we have a tendency to work one leg more than the other, and more minutely, how we work certain parts of each leg more than the others.

In swastikasana, we did a forward bend with a folded blanket under the cross of the shins. She called this “rolling uphill.” I had a tremendously difficult time in the forward bend as I am quite girthy. “It doesn’t matter what is hanging out, what matters in the interior abdominal muscles behind what’s hanging out,”Blakeney said.

In baddha konasana, we leaned to one side to get the whole side of the thigh on the floor, then slowly shifted back to the middle trying to keep the thigh on the floor as long as possible. This was quite effective in elongating the inner groin muscles.

We then did a quick transition between baddha konasana and upavistha konasana with our fingers behind the knee tendon. We monitored which knee tendon “snapped” our fingers first (of if they snapped at all). Again this built tremendous awareness on how one side often acts differently than the other, and how within the leg there are different movements. In upavistha she noted that the feet should not be the “shining star” but rather the work of the quadriceps. An ongoing theme over the past few years with Laurie is she noticed Hawaii practitioners have overactive feet, likely a symptom of wearing slippers, and wants us to soften them more in our poses.

More to come as I didn’t address the second part of her class, the standing poses…

Laurie Blakeney workshop: doing fewer Asanas with more in them

blakeney and guruji

I am still reviewing my notes from the last workshop I attended with senior teacher Laurie Blakeney which ended two weeks ago. One thing I appreciate about Iyengar yoga is that it does not try to re-invent the wheel with new poses, but takes what is available and makes it better.

There were many new ideas I was exposed to during the workshop, but the one thing that left the biggest impression is the fact that she could have a two hour class and only do a handful of poses.  Like 6 to 10. She would start class with a concept. The large concept was drawing the inner legs into the abdomen. She kept that theme during the whole five days of the workshop, but it never got redundant. Only deeper.

What really took the cake for me was one intermediate level class where we spent 45 minutes working on Jatara Parivartanasa (stomach churning pose). First with abdomen awareness, then with bent knees, then with straight knees, then with a “J” shape, then with the perineum aligned with the crown of the head and a dozen more points. By then end we really had a deeper understanding of this pose and did not feel short changed that we didn’t learn a dozen new Asanas.

jatara parivartanasana

One of my basic level students asked me if intermediate level classes were harder in her workshop. I answered that they were not as hard as her basic level classes, but they had more refinement and awareness that a basic level student may not appreciate as much as a seasoned student. Of course one also had to be able to do a 10 minute Salamaba Sirsasana with variations in the middle of the room as well!

I have noticed in my own practice and teaching since the workshop, I am more apt to repeat a pose a half dozen times instead of two or three like I normally do. Again I notice that each time something deeper and more magical happens.

Thank you Laurie for the wonderful workshop!

Reflections a year after becoming Iyengar certified

post assessment face

The face above is one that had just come out of the last portion of the rigorous two day Introductory II assessment for Iyengar yoga certification. Exhausted, hopeful, anxious and relieved, I could barely walk out of the venue site in Lemont, PA. I would find out the next day that I passed. That was a year ago.

It is also a face that represents four grueling years of teacher training. When I started the teacher training program, there were 17 of us. Only three finished the program with certification (one moved away and got certified through another instructor). Our program included five and a half hours of weekly classroom time and one weekend a month teacher training classes on both Saturday and Sunday. In the month before our assessment we met every weekend and would practice on our own outside the studio at a student’s home.

We trainees had to stand in the back of the room and observe. When we were competent enough, we could assist. Our teachers would allow us to teach one pose to the class we were observing. We would always get a lesson after the class: How do you teach this to someone with a knee injury? How do you teach this to someone with a back injury? What if they are too weak to do it this way? What is an alternate pose if someone has high blood pressure? Those and many more questions are ones we had to work through and show mastery in before our teachers would allow us to apply for certification.

I am grateful for my teachers Ray and Shelley for being so hard on us. Without them, I would not have had the toughness to get through the rigors of the assessment process. I have to say that there were many times that I questioned their methods. I often thought they were too strict. But I stuck with it until the end.

In the year that followed, I have reacquainted myself to my devoted wife and have made more time for her. There have been many changes in the Iyengar community. Earlier this year, Guruji received the Padma Vibhushan award in India. For me that validated his dedication to Yoga and its spread throughout the world. He was also in a good position to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Then, on an August afternoon, I heard the news that Guruji had passed. I immediately called my teacher Ray who confirmed it. It was a very sad time.

Luckily, there was a workshop taught by Laurie Blakeney at the time. She is a very long time student of Guruji. Her teaching respected the heaviness of the time, but made it light and healing for the O’ahu Iyengar community. Despite hearing of Guruji’s passing when she got off the plane in Honolulu, she was still able to provide a first class workshop.

Blakeney’s toughness to teach jet lagged in the midst of bad news comes from the same toughness that was taught in our four year apprenticeship. It is now dawning on me the value of going through such a difficult process. Like the pressure that makes a diamond out of coal, this process brought out the inner luminosity that was dormant in us.

Blessings to my wife, Guruji, my teachers, and the Iyengar community for this experience.