This bank holiday weekend I attended an Astanga Vinyasa workshop with Dylan Bernstein. The venue, the studio above Mad Hatter in Brighton, is small space and we were blessed to have had the opportunity to study with Dylan in such an initmate setting.
The weekend began with a seated breathing practice, exploring the movements of the five prana vayus with the breath. Dylan then led us through Primary series to Baddha Konasana, followed by the finishing sequence, inviting us to modify postures if we usually do. Throughout the practice he reminded us of the lifting, upward moving quality of prana vayu with the inhalation, the grounding action of apana vayu on the exhalation and the ‘golden moment’ where the two meet in samana vayu at the end of the exhalation. Bandhas played an important part of identifying these connections with prana.
After lunch we returned for a 2.5 hour talk and discussion on yogic philsophy, in which Dylan very successfully summarised, with a non-dogmatic approach, the c. 5,000 years of teachings from the mystic Vedas through to Tantra and present day Hatha Yoga practices.
Sunday morning was self-practice. Dylan asked us to embark on our usual self-practice whilst he offered adjustments. It’s been a while since I self-practiced in a studio with other students and it was great to be surrounded by the energy of others.
A light lunch was called for today, as the afternoon session was looking at jumpbacks, jumpthroughs, handstands and safe backbending. Dylan first led us through the Astanga yoga pranayama sequence as taught to him by Shri K. Pattabhi Jois. Each pranayama is performed in repititions of 3, with 3 ujjayi breaths between each pranayma: viloma (keeping the throat open during the pauses); nadi sodhana; bhastrika; sitali.
We then practiced a few light surya namaskaras, with a focus on letting the movement follow the breath; so the inhalation or exhalation begins prior to the movement. It certainly does bring a different quality to asana when using the breath in this way. For me the transitions felt more natural and light. Still in surya namaskara A, we then took this one step further, using the upward energy of prana vayu in the seventh vinyasa (to bring us from adho mukha svanasana to the front of the mat). When he demonstrated, Dylan was floating beautifully with straight legs, balancing on his hands with the pelvis above his shoulders before his feet gently landed, a quality I didn’t manage to replicate! Well I did try. Practice, practice…
Handstands were next up. We worked in pairs. The handstander being spotted by his partner who stood side on and used gentle touch to ‘ping-pong’ the legs back and forth from the central point of balance. A really effective way for the handstander to learn to find the balance whilst removing the fear that often arises when practicing handstand in the middle of the room.
We then moved on to learn how we can make choices about whether or not to engage the glutes in backbends along with experimenting with internal/external rotation of the femurs, how this affects the glutes and how we can override the glutes engaging in during some backbends.
Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable weekend of workshops that have shed a new light on some aspects of my Astanga practice, which is ultimately what I want to take with me from a workshop. It has also refreshed my enthusiasm and dedication of the Astanga Vinyasa system which I do need from time to time.
So thank you to Dylan for your teaching and to Guy (Ashtanga Brighton) for organising the weekend.