This weekend I attended a 3 day workshop with Nancy Gilgoff, at the beautifully appointed Slater's Barn in Wiltshire (go if you ever have the chance). I'd heard a lot about Nancy from S and others so I was really looking forward to it, although I must admit to being a little apprehensive as I knew we'd be focussing quite a lot on 2nd series, which I hadn't really practiced before.
I needn't have worried - it was an amazing weekend with a very wise, kind and inspirational teacher and I enjoyed it immensely. Last week I wrote another blog post called 'Questions' in which I aired some doubts and concerns I'd been having with regards to Ashtanga yoga practice - Nancy managed to dispel all of these over the course of this weekend.
One of the major differences in Nancy's approach to teaching Ashtanga is that she believes in letting people go right through the primary series (and, after a while, on to the 2nd series), even if they aren't able to do every single posture 100% 'correctly' - she believes that the focus should be on the breath and the movement through the series, not necessarily on achieving 'perfection' in each asana. To me this makes a lot of sense - it removes the attachment people have to achieving a particular asana (and risking injury by pushing themselves too hard in the process) before they're allowed to continue; instead it allows them to focus on the practice as a whole. It also means they're able to experience and benefit from the asanas that come later on in the series which will ultimately help them to one day nail Marichyasana D or whatever posture it is that they're struggling with. And overall it just feels like a gentler and kinder approach.
This is of course a marked departure from how most teachers approach Ashtanga, and Nancy made it very clear that she didn't think that her approach was 'better' than that of these teachers...she said it was just the way that she'd been taught, it's been working for her for 40 years and it was how she was told to teach by Patthabi Jois (she asked him just before he died if she should carry on teaching in this way and he told her yes). I for one hope she keeps on teaching like this for many more years to come...
One of the things that Nancy does have in common with most other teachers is her belief that Ashtanga yoga should be a daily practice (barring Moon days and a rest day each week). However, for Nancy this doesn't mean that you need to be thrashing around sweatily on your mat for 2 hours. 5 Surya Namaskara A's, plus the three seated Lotus poses at the end of the finishing sequence can constitute a practice...even just standing on your mat and breathing deeply for 10 breaths can be a practice (David Swenson said this too). It's about bringing awareness to your breath and your body, not pushing yourself to physical extremes. Again this was something that really resonated with me - I can definitely be guilty of pushing myself a little too hard in practice at times, in order to keep 'progressing' and I'm going to try to take a step back from this approach a bit and be kinder to my body. It's perhaps easier said than done - but much better to ease back and be able to enjoy this wonderful practice every day, than risk hurting ourselves badly and not being able to practice at all.