The Joey Miles Ashtanga workshop fell on a weekend after a new moon. Well rested from a day off the mat, the room at the Buddhist Centre was a buzz. It was nice being in the company of about 20 participants – new faces and more familiar ones from morning Mysore practice – and knowing that we would be sharing each other’s energy.
Joey began the workshop with breathing exercises, having us lay on our backs with our knees bent and feet flat on the floor. It was a great way to begin the session, grounding us and bringing awareness to the upward and downward movement of prana. Sitting up in Sukhasana, Joey led the chanting of the opening invocation, the authenticity of his Sanskrit very moving.
This was followed by leading us through the Primary Series, with a few modifications to some of the asanas and added hip-opening exercises. Working with postures in different ways is always a good approach to veer away from usual habits or comfort zones, which may eventually enhance the strength of the posture.
The led practice seemed to go quite quickly however like all Savasanas, this one was much welcomed. As we lay on our mats, Joey read us an excerpt from Michael Stone’s book “The Inner Tradition of Yoga”, which turned out to be a foreshadow of the afternoon session.
When we reconvened after the midday break, Joey refreshed our minds with the excerpt he previously read. Having a pen and paper ready, he asked us to answer in stream-of-consciousness-style writing the three questions: What is the body?, What is Yoga?, Why do I practice Yoga? Such thought-provoking questions resulted in answers that brought about insightful discussions with others, and possibly ourselves.
The afternoon continued on with the chanting and interpretation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2:3 “avidyā ‘smitā rāga dveṣā ‘bhiniveśāḥ kleśāh”. This Sutra highlights the five kinds of suffering or afflictions (kleshas), our worldly baggage that prevents us from attaining Samadhi.
We were then introduced to some relaxation exercises for the torso and arms, as well as recognising moments in transition between postures when relaxation could be done. They were fun and as the practice of Ashtanga Yoga can be quite rigorous, easing up and letting go surely has its benefits.
During our Surya Namaskaras on the second day, we worked quite differently with bringing awareness to the opposite direction of the breath and the pose. Inhaling our arms up from Samasthiti found us grounding our feet even more, and as we exhaled folding forwards we brought our attention to our sacrum.
After the standing postures Joey proceeded to take us into the Intermediate Series, guiding us through with modifications and techniques on how to get into the more challenging postures. It was an enjoyably invigorating class as it is always fun trying new postures that are not part of one’s regular practice.
In the afternoon session Joey focused on Pratyahara, the fifth limb of Ashtanga Yoga. It is the internalisation and drawing back of the senses, where we remove any distractions from the mind. While seated on our mats, he led us through a process of carefully withdrawing from each sense, one by one. This was followed by other meditative exercises, making use of blocks, blankets, and chairs where we were curled over in Balasana and on our backs as in Savasana. This brought a close to the workshop – a perfectly restorative way to end a week and begin another.