Take a melting pot with 60 students, throw in 3 teachers with unique approaches, sprinkle it with breath and a combined focus on the practice, let it bubble away for two sunny weeks and watch the force work its magic….
When one combines teachers with unique personalities, backgrounds, experiences and different insights into Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, one is bound to bring out something special…
The fourth course at Purple Valley was one of the highlights of the season. Kicking off December on a high note, David Keil, Gretchen Suarez and John Scott got the retreat centre buzzing and high on prana.
The balance of male/female energy (both with teachers and students) worked perfectly well in the shala, with Gretchen bringing a soft but firm and assertive touch to classes. Her background in psychology and insights into one’s mental approach to practice was very helpful – her intention to bring a sense of self awareness and loving kindness to students’ practice and attitude on the mat was welcomed, perhaps because it is a lesser focus in the Ashtanga world. Gretchen offers the mindfulness and meditation elements into the practice: on the mat, she reminds students to become aware of their ‘own judge’ and of that feeling that so many of us have of not ‘being good enough’… She encouraged students to recognise the negative thoughts arising through practice, without judging them. So no-one got away with excuses such as ‘I’m not strong enough’, ‘I cannot do this/that..’, ‘I used to be able to do this’, and so on….
Gretchen reminded students that love and compassion are also practices that each and everyone of us need to carry on and off the mat.
On the other hand, David’s observant and non invasive approach was one many were particularly fond of. David runs the well-known Yoganatomy website, which in my opinion, has the best, clearest, all rounded advice and tips for most practice related issues – search ‘knee pain’, ‘psoas issues’, ‘back pain’, ‘pelvis alignment’ or any other niggle that troubles you and a list of articles, short clips and diagrams will pop up. With such an in-depth knowledge of anatomy, combined with years of Ashtanga practice, one could easily come up with certainties and firm conclusions on technique and/or alignment, thus offering one way of doing things. David, however, is quite the opposite and offers a wholly non-dogmatic approach. He suggests alignment cues or tips based on his experience -both his own and observed in classes- and these are made only once he has carefully watched students in their practices. As a teacher, it does not take long to see patterns appear in people’s anatomy, movement and technique. And with a fun, friendly approach, David always managed to keep a sense of humour even in the most interesting moments. As I struggled in a deep hip opening pose, he stated ‘oh, so this is the fun side’….
As for John Scott, he appeared like the thread in that beautiful yoga mala. Tying every single element of the retreat together – from the early morning sit, to high energy handstand twirls- he buzzed round the shala, adjusting one student whilst keeping an eye on another, and counting through vinyasas without losing track of any movement. If Peter Pan practiced yoga, that would be John…
The advantage of having three great teachers is one space, is all the attention, feedback, energy bouncing and feeding off each other. The risk would be confusion and contradicting approaches, but this was not the case here and the combination worked its magic.
The way each of them held the space, giving attention to all the students, spending time and effort, observing and feeling what could be brought in, was mind-blowing. Taking care of approximately 60 bodies practicing, all at different levels on practice is a hard task to pull off.
Thank you, Gretchen, David and John. See you all in 2016!!!