My friend WW picked up Shadow Yoga a while back and she often spoke well of the practice and of her teacher, J. I promised her I would try it out, but as things go, I procrasinated. Until today that is: I turned up for my first Shadow Yoga and I met the teacher, J. She is amiable and kind ― a nurturing figure with a Earth Mother kind of energy about her. I like her, and I can see why WW would like her too.
Probably because of the summer break and people are away, there was only two students in the class. I was not too bothered by this, because I have been in situations like this before; you get more attention from the teacher and you get to ask a lot more questions.
The class was more hands-on than I have expected ― and I mean hands on: a lot of touching, prodding, pressing and alignments. I like it that J. focus on the healing properties of yoga; throughout the class she keep telling us about how certain parts of our body correspond to various meridians ― it was yoga as bodyworks. Most of all, she tells us that one day when we are advanced enough in our practice, we would be able to use yoga to heal ourselves. While I am still whirling from information overload, I know I can learn a lot from J. I just need to be able to keep up with her.
After some prodding at our bodies, J. explained the importance of strength and flexibility for the practice. The other student was flexible, but not strong, while J. pointed out (correctly) that I have flexibility and some strength. It is the strength that is going to support the asana, and so we have to work on building the strength to avoid injuries.
I found Shadow Yoga a challenging practice, as a lot is going on at the same time. It's hard enough to co-ordinate the muscles in the asana, you also have to maintain the Uddiyana Bandha ― the Upward Abdominal Lock. It takes tremendous concentration, and I was surprised J. calls Shadow Yoga the basics for yoga practice. The Uddiyana Bandha was not taught in my Ashtanga 1 classes partly because it was considered an advance technique ― to be taught only after the student masters the physical poses first. But I was looking to enrich my yoga foundations, and the Uddiyana Bandha will be important as I advance in my practice.
Meanwhile, in my online research on Shadow Yoga, I found out that Yoga Journal has a feature on Shandor Remete, the pioneer of Shadow Yoga. It traces the influences behind his school of yoga:
About 10 years into his studies with Iyengar, Shandor learned Ashtanga and became an adept at that practice as well. He has also studied the Japanese martial art of sword mastery, a practice which teaches that the hara (the center of the body, located below the navel) is both pivotal and sacred. Shandor thinks the hara is the kanda mentioned in yogic texts—the source of the body's 72,000 nadis or energy channels—and that the practice of Uddiyana Bandha echoes these Japanese teachings. Despite the diversity of the practices he's studied, Shandor has been able to see their similarities and weave them together into a cohesive whole.
I'm going to try to practice the sequence taught by J. and observe how it affects my regular yoga practice. Meanwhile, my thighs are going to ache like hell.
I can't end this post without drawing your attention to this title: Yoga ― with text by Linda Sparrowe and photography by David Martinez. The book opens with a tour of the history of yoga, from the Yoga-sutra by Patanjali, to the transmission of the practice to the West. It is a nice appetitiser to the main course ― more than 350 breath-taking black and white photographs of modern yoga masters doing asanas. One marvels at the flexibility and strength of these yoga masters. Yes, yoga is not about achieving the perfect pose. One can reap considerable benefits from yoga without being able to do the advance asanas like David Swenson, Ana Forrest or Baron Baptiste. But these photographs remind me of the grace and power of the dance of life known as yoga ― achieved through tremendous will, discipline and focus. It is awe-inspiring, and a call to practice.