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Thursday, March 30, 2006

getting fingerprinted

Silver Lake Yoga
2810 1/2 Glendale Boulevard

Los Angeles, CA 90039
(323) 953-0496
website: www.silverlakeyoga.com

Hatha Yoga at a friendly neighborhood studio!

yoga teachers are like fingerprints; no two are exactly alike.

even if you had two instructors who were proponents of the same style of yoga, trained with and were inspired by the same guru, and taught in the same yoga studio, you can almost bet that your experience in each of their classes would be different.

why? it could be any number of things.

they have different personalities. one could teach her class much like a preacher giving a sermon: what we're doing is sacred; follow me and i'll show you the way to enlightenment. the other could teach his class like your best friend showing you how to do a backflip: try this out; it's really cool!

they pace their classes differently. one may believe in keeping the class moving continuously from pose to pose to build strength, but the other may want students to ease slowly into each pose and hold it to make sure they get the alignment correct.

they have different tastes in music. granted, this only applies to those who play any kind of music during their classes, but even in the so-called hip-hop yoga world, one teacher may find adult contemporary tunes inspirational while the other blasts rap and reggae hits to keep the energy high.

so is any one teacher better than the other? not at all. just as teachers have different ways of teaching a class, students have different ways of learning.

i remember talking to one student who complained that she lost her focus every time the teacher stopped his class to have the students check out how another student was doing a particular pose. see how she places her feet just so, and how her body lines up this way? this is what you're aiming for...

i actually thought that it was a useful learning aid and was totally surprised that someone else found it a nuisance.

there are the students who want to be lifted spiritually and those who just want to muscle through the asanas and sweat it out (and that, i suppose, makes me a yoga schizoid because i sometimes want one or the other or even both at the same time?)

anyway, my point is that no matter how or what a yoga instructor teaches, you are guaranteed to get something out of a well-taught class. maybe it's a new pose. or an easier way to get into and hold a challenging pose. or you learn a new chant. or hear a new song that you want to download to your ipod as soon as you get home.

take, for example, the class i took earlier this evening with sam graham at silver lake yoga.

he didn't look like the typical yoga teacher. he wasn't ripped like the power yoga studs. nor was he the serene yoga master like erich schiffmann or the human pretzel like will duprey. sam looks just like that guy who was on the yoga mat next to you in your last class.

he didn't spout out nuggets of wisdom and he didn't play music by sting, madonna, or eminem. sam just told us what to do and how to do it, accompanied by nothing but complete silence in the background.

just like many other well-known yoga teachers in los angeles area, sam traces his roots to the center for yoga, way before it turned into yoga works larchmont. so he knows his stuff.

in fact, he seems to know stuff that's pretty esoteric. like the moon salutations that he led us through in class. yes, that's moon, not sun. chandra namaskar. apparently, it's so obscure that no one seems to agree on the sequence of poses that comprise it. check out these sites:

holistic-online.com's version
yoga.about.com's version
yogaessential.com's version
george mcfaul's version

not only does sam's version match george's to the letter, but it also resembles one of the versions laura cornell describes in her book, The Moon Salutation: Expression of the Feminine in Body, Psyche, Spirit:

The Moon Salutation was created by a group of senior female teachers at the Kripalu Center in the late 1980s. Their goal was to honor women's bodies and women's rhythms while also complementing the Sun Salutation. For some women during menstruation and menopause, the more familiar Sun Salutation is too stimulating for the nervous system, and should be practiced gently or not at all. During pregnancy, several of its postures are contraindicated, as they could injure either fetus or mother. In contrast, the Moon Salutation cools and calms the nervous system, and includes several of the most beneficial postures for menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
Men also love practicing the Moon Salutation because it is such a powerful psychological and spiritual counterbalance to the Sun Salutation. While the Sun Salutation enacts the hero's journey-stepping forward to face life's challenges--the Moon Salutation enacts the journey of descent--sinking into the depths to discover one's creativity, the process of literal or metaphoric birth.
Just as the moon goes through dark phases and returns to its full brilliance, so the Moon Salutation drops into the depths of lunging and squatting, returning to triangle, star, and half moon poses with radiant joy and openness. Further, because it is oriented to the side it is perfectly suited to practicing in a circle or facing a partner, opening us to relationship and community in our Yoga practice. Its earthy squats help us to feel grounded and open to emotions. - Laura Cornell

sam also got bonus points for actually spending time with me while i executed a headstand. not only did he give me pointers on the best way to do one along the wall, but he took the extra time to spot me as i repeated it without the wall's help. plus he helped me find that elusive balance point so that i could stay upright without his assistance. after that lesson, i can't claim to have been magically turned into a headstand meister, but i now have the confidence that i need to be able to get there on my own. some day.

in short, every teacher leaves his (or her) mark on each one of us. and all these fingerprints, every little lesson learned, makes us more knowledgeable, more resilient, more powerful.

i truly believe that my yoga practice has grown immensely after having been touched by so many.