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kali ray

6th August 2005 permanent link

Last week I went to a yoga class with well-known American yoga teacher Kali Ray. I’m perfectly happy that ashtanga vinyasa yoga is right for me, and in general I don’t go to other kinds of yoga class these days, but big-name famous yoga teachers don’t some to Munich every day and I was curious. (I wrote these notes for a yoga message board, but then it seemed a shame not to get maximum mileage out of them)

General Atmosphere: too many pastel cotton salwar kameezes and fixed smiles, and not enough faded sweaty lycra, for me to be completely comfortable. That’s just my personal cultural prejudice, your mileage may vary. (I’m completely comfortable with rotund elderly Indian guys teaching classes in their underwear)

Format of the class: chanting, asana, pranayama, meditation.

Chanting: om nama shivaya. Fine by me: I enjoy a chant now and again, and have the utmost respect for Lord Shiva. Not sure if it’s completely ok to get non-Hindu beginners to chant this though; it might offend their religious beliefs if they knew what they were chanting, which they probably didn’t.

Asana: Very gentle beginners’ practice (about half the people said they had no prior experience of this kind of yoga) but still interesting.

General principles: emphasis on mindulness of the breath (ujayi, but no bandas), breath-movement synchronisation and “natural alignment” without strain. Different levels of flow series, but always ok in a more advanced class to do an equivalent from an easier series if you can’t do something. Asanas approached by breathing in and out of them several times (described here as kriya, we would call it vinyasa) before holding.

Session heavily based around gentle spine-flexing exercises: cat arches, cobra-to-child-pose vinyasas … seems like a good idea for a beginners’s class.

Kali Ray’s assistant Tom comes round with verbal assists and gentle adjustments, and is clearly a very good and confidence inspiring yoga teacher.

Cobra – we don’t do this in ashtanga. Good to have a chance to play with it and feel how the diaphragm and upper back work in it. David Coulter in his anatomy book recommends a low cobra lift with no assist from the hands as a diaphragm exercise – I can see why.

A simple sitting twist - easy baradvajasana variation without the foot in half lotus, but held for long enough to get a really good rotation. Kali Ray says think of rotating the vertebrae one by one, not turning the torso as a unit. Not sure if I did, but good advice.

Shoulderstand variations with the feet up the wall, arching the hips away. Helping beginners to learn to get the upper back straight and upright without too much strain or balance worries.

And a deceptively simple little killer that I will be adopting on a regular basis. Lie on your back with your butt against a wall and legs up the wall. Take your right leg and rest your ankle on your left thigh, just below the knee. The ankle bone or just above should be on the thigh, not the foot or the ankle joint. Then, keeping your left heel on the wall, gently bend your left leg. Hold your right foot in your left hand, gently ease your right knee towards the wall with your right hand. Keep your hips pressed to the floor – if you don’t, nothing happens. If you do, hoo-ee. If you don’t feel this really strongly in the rear hip and glute, then I assume that unlike me you can aready do leg behind head easily.

Pranayama: very gentle. Single-nostril breathing, no retentions.

Meditation: short (5 to 10 minutes?) sitting meditation. Beginners allowed to sit with their backs against the wall – better, I think, than having them try to sit upright when they can’t and strain their lower backs.

related entries: Yoga

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