The mystery of an Ashtanga Improv class

I’m sure I’m stealing a little something from Bobbie when I bring up a quip made by Tim Miller during her teacher training. It was something to the effect of, “Yoga’s not about mastery, it’s about mystery.”

I was wrapped up in mystery this morning during Tim’s Improv class.

We’ll first cut to the chase, though: After, Tim told me that I hung in there pretty well. “You gave it the old college try.” A lot of the poses were out of my league, but I did think I made a decent approximation of an Ashtangi. (I do have some trouble with the granthis, though.)

Just down from where I’ve been surfing, after the tide and wind shut it down. World Famous Swami’s.

The mystery was how Tim could weave together a sequence from a half dozen or so separate requests for poses. There was Surya B+, which includes a five breath warrior; there was nauli, which we did in between the Surya A and B, which according to Tim was something they did right when he first started practicing. (That was new. Anyone else familiar with that?)

And there were poses I’ve never seen nor heard of before. (Maybe out there in the Third Series?) Headstand, then dropping your feet down to the ground so you’re in a back bend. Upside down frog, I think. But also more familiar poses like Pincha Mayurasana (which I managed to hold away from the wall for close to five breaths). And a few others from Second Series, too.

I was thinking of this all as a mystery because it seemed a little magic how well it all came together. This was no pre-planned Vinyasa class. I know one old trick magicians use is to have a plant in the crowd, a partner in crime, so to speak. (Or really a partner in crime if we’re talking street betting / magic.) But it’s a bit hard to imagine that all six or so of the people requesting poses were plants.

The poses, themselves, are mostly a lot more difficult, physically, in part because of the unfamiliarity. (If you’re among those who balk at Ashtanga because of the repetition of the same poses and worry your body will get used to those movements, maybe you should encourage your teacher to add an Improv in once a week.) But the pace, ultimately, is a bit slower — with Tim demonstrating at times — and there are fewer vinyasas, thank Hanuman.

Ah, Hanuman! I should note, too, that after the morning Pranayama, Tim led more singing, with a slightly smaller band this time (just percussion). And he pulled the harmonium back out after practice and we sang the Opening Chant once more. Another twist, which was soothing and grounding (a word I’m not terribly fond of, but it seems to fit here.) Hanuman made me think of it because, of course, we sang the Hanuman Chalisa.

Somewhat counter to the mystery, perhaps, is that this improv class shows what’s possible, what’s ahead. In some ways, it removes the mystery from poses you’ve never heard of or just heard of in passing, but without much meaning to them. Now I know what lies ahead. It isn’t terrifying, although it is still mostly beyond my ken.

As is Tim’s mastery over the mystery of yoga. He strung a sequence of poses together from thin air. Magic, no?

(I suppose one measure to how “hard” the improv class is is that I had three people, I think, say some version of “brave man” to me. Four if you count Tim.)

I was considering taking Tim’s Intro to Second tomorrow, but I think I’d rather get in one final Mysore — Sunday will be Led First — which means up and out early. I might try to sneak back into the Pranayama class, which Tim promised would be more difficult. We’ll see if discretion proves the better part of valor.

And final note: Did get into the water, before the surf shut down on the high tide. Four days in a row — that’s the first time since 1991. Tomorrow, we will make it five in a row.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

4 thoughts on “The mystery of an Ashtanga Improv class”

  1. Thank you for this report. The improv class sounds like a great experience. I’ve only been to two of his workshops, but I really loved the way Tim imparts so much additional insight and information when he teaches like this – slowed down, demonstrating, experimenting, etc. I think I’ll try practicing with Surya B Plus for a while to help me better warm up for the intermediate backbends, which just come so fast. Never heard that about the nauli in between A and B. Very interesting.

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