Manouso shared his wit and his wisdom with us during another Atlanta workshop hosted by Stillwater Yoga. He weaved stories into almost every lesson, which made what he taught memorable and engaging. Just for fun those of you who were able to make the Atlanta workshop take a minute to go through my short sample of titles above and see if they trigger your smriti (memory) of the story behind them and relate it to what was being taught.Goldie Locks & The Three BearsThe Power SeekersSpringtime In AtlantaHip StoriesPalm SundayThoughts During a Three-Hour HeadstandThird Floor ObservationsThe Difference Between Medicine and PoisonThe Big HingeThe 29-Minute SetubandhaWho Touched My Robe?How A Mother Taught Her Son To Blow His NoseStairway To The Top of The Empire State BuildingThe Paris HeadstandThe 20-Minute HippyThe Mirror Meditation
It is mind-boggling to me how much information Manouso is able to convey in just three short days. I feel a lot of it has to do with this uncanny ability to seamlessly link and connect us to the material through these entertaining stories. Did I retain all of them? Absolutely not. However, I do believe, my body got more than I think it did.
Manouso alluded to the possibility of the body and the "mind stuff" collaborating more than we have been led to believe. Directives don't always just come from the brain telling the body to do something - the body works on the brain as well. I'm the type of learner who learns by doing (whether that means what I'd call "marking out" the directions with my body or hitting keys on a keyboard with my fingers to figure out what I thought I heard.) Therefore, the body having an affect on the mind stuff makes sense to me.
I can't figure it out in my brain all the time. Like Manouso, if ADD (or for me ADHD) was a big thing when I was a kid, I would have been diagnosed with it for sure. Luckily, my mom put me in ballet class at the age of 4 or 5 and I stayed with it pretty much daily until I was 23. When I left it my life went way off balance for a couple of years until I found yoga. The physical aspect helps me unclutter my brain. When I think back on the workshop, or get into the asanas we worked on with Manouso, I hear his voice correcting our attempts, I see his demonstrations, I hear his stories and I'm able to get myself into a place of learning again.
I may not relate all the stories correctly. So, I welcome corrections. However, for kicks let's give this a try: Goldie Locks & The Three Bears as I remember was about getting to a place where we feel "just right". This was after our beginning svastikasana (this one [of three other versions] was about stretching our inner heels away from each other and lining feet under knees, keeping front shin parallel to front wall) and our chanting, where he said something like, 'whatever this chant means to you let it help you find your inner being'.
He connected Goldie Locks & The Three Bears to the 'Seeking Power' story. Manouso related the first story to our asana practice and transitioned, if memory serves to the second story with the idea that we may say we come to yoga for other reasons, but we are really 'Seeking Power'. If you think about it he's exactly right. We want power over our mind, our body, our emotions, or over our bosses, enemies, our competitors, the list could go on and on. Historically, it was this mystical power of yogis that was perceived as a threat by others.
Yoga: The Art of Transformation is an art exhibit of yoga-themed artwork in various mediums. This was the overarching plot throughout Manouso's workshop and one I was glad he integrated into our lessons. Those of you who have not heard the fascinating segment: "Journey of Self with Yoga Master Iyengar: A Talk By Manouso that took place during the opening in San Francisco of the art exhibit that is touring the country and has spawned a beautiful book, please click here and here.'Springtime in Atlanta': A story about the warnings Manouso received about coming to Atlanta in April with the pollen count so high. He taught us how as aspiring yogis, we can learn to overcome the pollen through a series, which he took us through. It was a series that took patience and the ability (which he encouraged throughout the workshop) to forget everything we think we should be doing in an asana and listen as if it was the first time you were doing the pose. I didn't feel I had problem with the pollen, until after the series. The pressure I had felt normal until the series helped clear it and I got hints of a nicer normal.
'Hip Stories': Began with a story about how tales about his hip issues have gone through the Iyengar Network like the game "Telephone" where the story begins with he has a congenital hip defect that BKS has helped keep him from surgery and ends with something crazy like he has an elephant-sized spur shaped like an orangutang. This began our three-day hip work lesson that was brilliantly designed layer by layer to wake up our hips like they've never been woken up before.
'Palm Sunday': was told on the Saturday before the religious holiday, Palm Sunday and began our lesson on the inner shoulder. Not to be confused with an earlier lesson on lifting the inner shoulder blade. Palm Sunday was what ad people would call a witty mnemonic device more than a story to help us remember to slightly bend our thumbs to better push our palms flat in Prasarita Padottanasana, which enables us work the triceps inward and back, widen our elbows, and engage our armpit chest to create a specific action in the inner most shoulder area. (Remember, feel free to correct me here)
'Thoughts During A 3-Hour Headstand': The inner shoulder lesson progressed into Salamba Sirsasana with the story about a man who was determined to find out what went through yogis' minds during 3-hours handstands. If you've done a five minute headstand and tried to double that time what goes through your mind? Now do the math and…well, the only thing you can think about is how to stay in headstand.
'Third-Floor Observations': On Iyengars 95th birthday Geeta Iyengar, his daughter, held a workshop to teach Indian yoga teachers how to instruct on pranayama. Manouso tried to get into the workshop, but was relegated to the third floor where he observed the workshop from a perspective that turned out to be better than he would have gotten in a crowded room on the first level. This story was the segue into a progressive lesson in supta pranayama. It also taught us to be happy with what presents itself it may turn out to serve you better than you think.
'The Difference Between Medicine & Poison': This was a story about how much is too much. The difference between something being a medicine or a poison is "amount". Learning to be discriminating about what is being taught and how much to apply the action to your body comes with practice (abhyasa) and self-study (svadyaya). The story came into play somewhere around our 20 something super-wide Utthita Trikonasanas to help understand our hips and knees.
'The Big Hinge': Is a story about hearing BKS Iyengar refer to the ankle as a "hinge" for years until around the time of Iyengar's 80th birthday celebration; and not just 20 Utthita Trikonasanas that we did, but more like an entire day of Utthita Trikonasana & Utthita Parsvakonasana, the idea of "filling the voids" in the arc of the ankle and the ankle being a hinge began to sink in deeper. The story was coupled with a lot of walking to a studio door hinge and making sure we understood what a hinge was; along with many Utthita Trikonasana, Utthita Parsvakonasana, Utkatasana, and Malasana variations.
'The 29-minute Setubandha': Taught us to be wary of trying to practice with BKS Iyengar. Manouso gives us a laugh as he describes a time when he decided he was going to practice exactly what BKS Iyengar was practicing. He placed his mat perpendicular to the wall and set up for a Setubandha from Sarvangasana where the tips of his toes (like Iyengar's) would be touching the wall. After a successful Setubandha, Manouso waited and waited and waited….wondering when Iyengar was going to come out of it. You guessed it: 29 minutes later. This helped to curb the discomfort of getting into various versions of Setubandha Sarvangasana that Manouso demonstrated for us afterwards. Yes, I still feel it.
'Who Touched My Robe': Involved a religious reference to Jesus's robe (Can you make Jesus possessive? Seems like he wouldn't approve.) and the woman who touched his robe in blind faith that Jesus could heal her and he did. Manouso's story referred to the ever growing sensitivity and subtlety of parts of our body. Manouso furthered this by comparing how we touch fabric with our hands - because our fingertips are the most sensitive part. "What if through yoga we could make other parts of our body as sensitive as our fingertips?" He asked us. It is this involution, this intense focus that gets us closer to having that happen. So imagine, he continues what BKS Iyengar can access.
The final half of the workshop was a Q&A portion and an eye-opening lesson on everything from Autism to Lymes Disease. The 'Mother who taught her son to blow his nose' was a segue to answer a Kapalabhati and Bhastrika Pranayama question. The 'Stairway to the top of the Empire State Building' and the 'Paris Headstand' referred to stories about how frighteningly brilliant Iyengar is -- at one time figuring out how he could (though he didn't) navigate the stairs to the Empire State Building by utilizing a single body part per 5 flights of stairs thus dissipating the load on the body, while at another directing Manouso in Pune to put a therapeutic student into a headstand that he put Manouso in 17 years before in Paris. Manouso confirms that Iyengar remembers this AND what he had for breakfast today- at 95.
After questions on a hip issue from someone who was unable to make the whole workshop and someone who has no certified teachers in her area, came encouragement for svadyaya (self study) and abhyasa (practice) on our own. He added his '20-Minute Hippy' story about how he gets up and for 20 minutes works on his hips then proceeds to other yoga. It's worth it to him. It's only 20 minutes out of his morning. Besides, he says, "what else do I have to do?" Meaning it's not so much time out of your day, out of your life to take care of yourself and study your body - your yoga. He adds that it can transform you and your practice considerably.
He ended the workshop much like he began with a call to action to find our inner being. He explained how historically staring into a candle flame or into a mirror was part of the yoga practice. A 'Mirror Meditation' done for a designated time over a long period of time removes the chatter and the masks and gets you closer to your true essence of who you really are - it's what the eight-limbs of Astanga Yoga are all about. It's 'Yoga: The Art of Transformation'. He explains that the first three Sutras of Pananjali say it all. It's very simple really but it takes a lifetime of dedication and practice --and like Manouso says, "What else do we have to do?"
I would like to express my deep gratitude for Kathleen Pringle and Stillwater Yoga for hosting; and a sincere thank you, Manouso, for sharing your story and encouraging us to use yoga's transformational power to help us discover the true essence of our own.