Last weekend, I was convinced that I had developed visible stomach muscles after practising yoga for seven hours over two days.
“Look at them! I seem to have some muscles now!” I crowed, pointing to my non-existent abs. My friend Barbara wasn’t so convinced.
We were at a three-day yoga workshop conducted by instructors Briohny and Dice. This workshop was held at Pure Yoga at Ngee Ann City. It was going to consist of very strong poses, such as handstands, arm balances and various other athleticism. Actually, it was more like a slow gymnastics class rather than yoga, and that was the way I like my yoga.
Take a look at this picture below and you will know what I mean.
In the yoga world, Briohny Smyth is most well known for her video showing her stunning inversion sequence for Equinox Yoga. In that video, you see her float effortlessly to a handstand and back to the ground. I have never seen anyone do yoga like that before. It was graceful and controlled.
This was the schedule. I signed up for the first three sessions and Barbara signed up for all five. As you can see, there was going to be a lot of inversions and back bends.
Session I: Intro to Flight
23 August (Fri): 7:00pm – 9:30pm
Session II: Upside Down to Right-side Up & Vice Versa
24 August (Sat): 10:00am – 12:30pm
Session III: The ABC’s of the Inverted Yoga Practice
24 August (Sat): 2:00pm – 4:30pm
Session IV: Bend your Inversion – Inverted Backbends
25 August (Sun): 10:00am – 12:30pm
Session V: Teaching Risky Poses and Transitions
25 August (Sun): 2:00pm – 4:30pm
There were a lot of people at the workshop. I think there were about 150 attendees. We didn’t arrive early enough to get a good mat so we were at the sides of the room and had to scramble to the middle whenever the teachers gave a demonstration.
We started the evening with a vinyasa flow sequence. Within 20 minutes, it was clear that this was going to be the best yoga class I have ever taken. Briohny and Dice were not just leading the class. They were also very concerned about alignment and making sure that we did things correctly, rather than doing things for the sake of getting into a certain pose. Some examples are:
1. Downward dog – most people tend to over flex their upper back by pushing their chest away from their shoulders and dropping it to the floor. We were asked to keep the alignment of head at shoulders so that we can utilise our shoulder strength in this pose.
2. Chaturanga – this is also known as the low plank or to me, the tricep push-up position, where you keep your elbows close to your rib cage and lower yourself close to the ground. I’m terrible at this pose and whenever I do it, I cheat by not having my arms bent at a right angle to the ground.
Here Barbara shows the right way to do a Eka Pada Koundiyanasana II, which requires a tricep push-up. One way to force our arms to go into a right angle is to push one foot on a block against the wall. The face should not be lower than the elbow, which is we do to compensate for a lack of strength.
We also learnt about transitions. For example, we learnt how to go from crow pose to chatarunga. We also learnt how to swing from downward dog to tripod headstand and down back to crow. Here is Briohny in a tripod headstand. Look at her shoulder muscles!
Handstands were also a staple in the class. Dice did the bulk of the demonstrations because Briohny had just given birth to their baby a few months ago.
I can’t figure out how to upload my videos to this webpage so here is a video of Dice’s handstand tutorial in another workshop in New York. What I learnt in his handstand class is that we should focus more on control instead of using momentum. Too often, we are so focused on getting into the pose that we skip the intermediary steps that make it possible for us to hold the pose. So for example, if you focus on using your core strength to lift your hips up, you would be training the muscles necessary to hold the handstand. In this video below, you can see that he barely uses any momentum; all movements are controlled. There is no kicking and flailing.
For people who are not flexible like me, one way to get into a handstand is to curl one leg as you hop the other leg into the air. The reason why I curl one leg is because my hamstring is not loose enough for me to lift one leg high enough while still maintaining squared hips. This method is good for preventing one hip from twisting and becoming unbalanced.
At the end of the three intense yoga sessions, I was completely shattered. By the third session, I felt drugged out and was unable to think straight. However, we had enough sense to grab a quick photo with the yoga couple at lunch time.
These were the best yoga classes I have attended. I activated muscles I never knew I had. I learnt how to utilise the correct muscles for difficult poses, when previously I would just rely on momentum or strain some muscle. I was even convinced that my abs were showing a little after all that strenuous exercise.
Briohny and Dice will also be holding workshops at the Namaste Festival in Jakarta from 29 November to 1 December 2013. Other teachers at this festival include Tiffany Cruikshank. A three-day pass cost $2.5 million rupiah, which translates to about S$288. Yes, we will be going! I do hope that I will be stronger by then so I don’t pass out after the third workshop.