David Swenson adjusted my foot in triangle, and helped me to bind in lotus… David Swenson acted as my wall, and pulled my feet upward into handstand. David Swenson showed me that momentum is what I need in order to jump back from sitting, as he “threw” my legs under my body so swiftly and so smoothly. I felt so light. I’m like a little kid, excited and gitty at the experience. At the same time, relieved to know that he is just a simple guy…profoundly simple. And so, so funny!
I knew that David was coming to Asheville for months. As always, I feel so limited by money. To do an entire weekend workshop, or even the week long teacher training, is beyond our means. As the weeks got closer, however, I just couldn’t bear to miss the opportunity to at least be in the same space as him. It was his book from which I first started learning Ashtanga yoga. And while I could call myself self-taught, this system has a great lineage of teachers, and I rather like to think of him as my first teacher. So, I signed up for 2 sessions of the weekend workshop.
Sitting in the room, waiting for him to come, others started to filter in. The conversations were quiet, the feeling of anticipation was immense. When he walked in the room, I thought my heart would burst! He sat and addressed us all, making sure to make everyone laugh.
At the front of the room, there is a raised platform for teachers. It is covered with a tapestry with OM symbols. Directly in the center is the largest OM. And, as he sat, he slid to the side (almost child-like). He jokingly hesitated to sit on the OM. Lightening the mood, we were free to have some conversation before the led Primary Series began. Big Message: No pain, no pain! Yoga should not hurt. And it should not be forced.
The story that he told put Ashtanga in the Western world into perspective. Making fun of “typical yoga teachers” (and himself, he added) he changed his voice to a soft, flowing nature and said something like: “Yoga is not something that we should force, compare, or rush into. It’s like a seed of a tree. And the strongest trees grow very slowly. Yoga is the very same.” Then returning to his normal voice said: “And this is what some people acutally hear: Yoga, blah blah blah blah… Yoga…” And followed with that person’s reaction: “How many series are there in Ashtanga? And what is the fastest that anyone has ever gotten through them all?”
More laughter, followed by alternatives for some of the harder asanas (postures). And then we practiced. We created our own weather system in the room. Hot, humid, and dripping with sweat. It made some of the postures very difficult to do…and some of them very easy! Flowing, moving, breathing, bliss.
After the practice, I approached David. I let him know how meaningful it is to share this space with him. And offered him my gratitude.
There was a break between the 2 sessions that I attended. So, I changed my clothes. I am so glad that I had the foresight to bring extras. Everything was soaked! Some people were even buying new apparel in the small studio gallery. Most people dispersed and spread out around the wonderful town of Asheville, I’m sure. I stayed put, taking some time to reflect, rest and have a light snack. My body felt cleansed, but my mind was still searching.
Among all of those people, I still felt very separate. Many people had come together, traveled from many states away. Others had been to his workshops before. It is easy to compare yourself to others and their experiences — and then make yourself feel bad about what you have not done (and that’s just what I did at first). In fact, David, at one point said something like this:
“It is simple to make something easy very difficult. But, it is very hard to make something difficult, easy. Yoga is not easy. That said, it’s just yoga… It is much more important to be a good person than it is to do a jump through.”
On my break, I decided to do a little reading. And I finished the last Chapter of Tara Brach’s book “Radical Acceptance.” Once again, as though speaking directly to me, she quoted Lama Gendun Rinpoche: “Wanting to grasp the ungraspable, you exhaust yourself in vain. As soon as you relax this grasping, space is there — open, inviting, and comfortable. So make use of it. All is yours already. Don’t search any further…nothing to do. Nothing to force. Nothing to want — and everything happens by itself.”
I also practiced the meditation that she gave: Who am I? Who is feeling these feelings? And letting them go into the vast space of everything and nothing that surrounds us. It was just what I needed. I watched the pigeons for a while, rested under a tree watching the clouds pass by and feeling the cool breeze on my body.
After the break, we all connected in that space, pulled together by laughter. There was more conversation, followed by instruction on the “physics of flight” and standing on our hands. We worked together in groups, getting very close contact with one another, using the technique that David called “grab-ass-ana”. Laughing, laughing, and more laughing! Blissful, happy, YES!
With a light-heart, I resumed with my day. Smiling, interacting, and almost floating. I received a message that I so desperately needed: Be good, be happy, and don’t take yourself so seriously.
It takes me a while sometimes to remember that we are all connected all of the time.