“Lay down on your backs.”
That was the first thing Schuyler Grant said as she burst through the door of her Friday afternoon class at Kula Yoga Project. She was running a few minutes late and, I assumed, was not very happy about it. A bit put off by her abrupt entrance, I did as I was told and hoped I hadn’t make a mistake dropping in to Kula as part of my teacher training study in New York. But no less than five minutes later, I was deep into a vinyasa trance that would last a full two hours and leave me in a faint, woozy yoga high for the rest of my weekend in the city.
That was it — I was hooked.
Despite living a few hours from the city, I decided to keep an eye on this incredible teacher so that I could soak up more Kula goodness at every opportunity.
The next summer I found myself following Ms. Grant to Wanderlust Vermont — a mind-blowing yoga and music festival she helped found (read about it here) — and later, a smaller event called Wanderlust Williamsburg. It was all just a tease…one class here, one workshop there… I was enthralled by how she could command a room, weave me up and down on my mat, twisting and flowing into a meditative state, resurfacing only after a deep savasana with no linear recollection of how I had gotten so lost in the juicy vinyasa. I wanted more!
So earlier this month I found myself in the beautiful Berkshires of western Massachusetts at my favorite yoga sanctuary, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, eagerly awaiting a weekend workshop called Kula Flow: Vinyasa for Strength, Detoxification and Levitation. I wasn’t completely sure what to expect — the workshop required a week-long detox diet for preparation and I knew we’d be doing core work. I was a bit nervous, actually, because if there was one thing I knew for sure, it was that I was about to experience some seriously physical, deep yoga. I’m strong — but what if I wasn’t strong enough?
Schuyler didn’t waste a moment on Friday night when the workshop kicked off. We started easily… smooth lunar salutations with just enough fire for a quiet evening practice. It was only moments before any apprehension began to fade away with each breath.
Her workshop style is more action, less talk — which may not be for everyone, but certainly adds to her ability to build an atmosphere of complete focus. She carefully wove her introductions into the practice, so we were never just sitting at attention, listening. Yet, her teaching style is quite the opposite: all talk, no action. In other words, Schuyler rarely demos. Instead, she quietly walks around the room, making adjustments and enhancements, all while keeping pace for some incredibly detailed, lengthy, and intricate sequences. Her ability to give precise cues exactly when you need them, maintain a consistent rhythm with her language and instruction, and articulate advanced asanas is truly a gift.
We spent five hours on Saturday entranced by her teaching. While flowing through traditional poses with many Kula twists, we found ourselves backbending and upside down for most of the day. The highlight, for me, was her fantastically detailed instruction of the mysterious uddiyana bandha. An abdominal “lock”, as it’s often referred, accessing uddiyana bandha requires a clear understanding of how the diaphragm contracts and releases to control airflow in and out of the lungs. I thought that I had learned the action in the past, but Schuyler’s lesson on the mechanics of the breath was superb, and by mid-morning I was not only understanding the suctioning effect of the diaphragm on the abdominal organs, I was actually feeling it and employing it in my practice.
Late in the day on Saturday, after nearly four hours of steady practice, we approached the wall ready to engage our bandhas while inverting. I have a healthy handstanding practice, but I always use a wall and haven’t built the strength or balance (yet!) to remain upright without support. I planted my hands, exhaled completed, expanded my chest to activate the bandha, then hopped gently skyward. I felt a zipping-up action through my belly, and for nearly 3 seconds I was stacked, perfectly vertical, in a freestanding handstand! With control, and without a single toe touching the wall, I gracefully stepped back to the ground. The euphoria I felt as I melted into child’s pose with a smile on my face was exquisite. I was much stronger than I thought!
Sunday was an arm-balancing play day! Though many of us were tired and sore, Schuyler worked her magic and had us hypnotized in no time, moving from balance to balance all within one, long, seamless vinyasa dance. We played, rested, sweat, and experimented more with the bandhas. Once again, my usual circus of a mind was quieted into a steady stream of cool concentration.
I left Kripalu high as a kite. Having absorbed a full weekend of Kula Flow, I felt stronger, confident and more able to access deeper levels of focus and technique in my practice. But more importantly, I felt like I’d finally gotten a full and satisfying dose of Schuyler’s potent teaching. Though I cannot articulate exactly where she took us and how she got us there — you’ll have to take a class to experience it yourself — I can say it was an insightful and inspiring ride, and I can’t wait to lose myself in Kula again soon. See you at Wanderlust Vermont 2012!