Saturday, November 21, 2009

My views of the Manouso Manos workshop at the Ann Arbor YMCA

I've been having a difficult time figuring out what to write about the Manouso Manos yoga workshop classes at the Ann Arbor YMCA last weekend (Nov. 13 - 15).   First of all, it was an absolute treat for me to be able to take all four workshop classes this year.   But there is so much information to process about what he was teaching us.    It doesn't make sense for me to report here the exact sequences and instructions he gave us -- we'll be working with some of this information during the next few weeks in classes at Harmony Yoga.

Manouso has been coming to Ann Arbor almost every year to teach workshop classes for much longer than I've been studying yoga (1993).    His bio says he started studying with B.K.S. Iyengar in 1976 -- over 30 years ago.    He's one of only two Iyengar yoga teachers in the U.S. with the Advanced Senior level certification.

He doesn't have the personality that many people think of in a yoga teacher, i.e.,  he's not calm and serene, he's not a "fuzzy, feel-good" person; in fact he's loud and brash -- "barking" out his instructions, and he'll let students know in no uncertain terms when they aren't following them.  He doesn't pad his pronouncements with "nice, pleasant" words, but he's direct and matter-of-fact.   He is also brilliant, and utterly dedicated to B.K.S. Iyengar and the practice of Iyengar Yoga.   And he can be very humorous and self-effacing at times -- telling great stories about his experiences with B.K.S. Iyengar,  or alluding to his own (*ahem*) not so sterling past.

He's also very willing to share with us his extensive knowledge of yoga asanas, of therapeutic applications of the asanas,  and his understanding of the philosophy of yoga.    All of his yoga knowledge he credits to B.K.S. Iyengar.

It's been interesting to see how Manouso's yoga workshop classes have changed over the 10 or so years I've attended (or maybe it's just that my perception has changed).    He's responding to the fact that the Ann Arbor Iyengar Yoga population is aging, and many of the long time students and teachers (some who've been studying Iyengar Yoga since the 70's) come to these workshops with more and more physical problems and injuries in backs, hips,  shoulders, or necks.   These problems will happen to almost all of us who stay physically active (and even those who don't....) as we grow older.   Our bodies wear out!   Many of these problem areas can be at least partially relieved by training the body to move into better alignment.    During a couple classes Manouso focused on how to correctly work with the lower part of the body: low back, hips, knees, ankles.    Another class focused more on the shoulders, upper back, and neck.  He's been working with his own hip problems -- he's been told that he should get hip replacement surgery.   But after working with B.K.S. Iyengar over the last couple years, Manouso is learning how to work with his hips so that they function better with less pain.   He may still need hip replacement at sometime, but...maybe not.  

I have some minor knee problems that were flaring up last weekend before the workshop classes, especially in my right knee.   Years ago I told another visiting senior yoga teacher that I had knee pain.  She looked at my legs in Adho mukha svanasana and said my calves weren't working properly.  She probably told me how to work them correctly, but at that stage in my yoga practice I had no clue what she meant.   In one of the workshop classes last weekend, Manouso had us do Parsvottanasana (with hands on a chair) about 10 times (!) on each side with the emphasis on the legs.    For each repetition he added an extra instruction for the legs and pelvis.   As I mentioned, it was my right knee that was giving me the most problems.    After that class, my right calf was extremely sore (muscular soreness -- not a problem) for about 3 days afterward but my knee felt fabulous!   I think I'm finally learning to work my calves (and quadriceps) properly to help stabilize my knees.

For the most part, the poses that he taught were poses that most of us do often in classes and in our own practice.    His goal wasn't to give us an intense work-out, leading us through more and more exotic poses (which are fun to learn of course!), but to take our awareness more deeply into the poses that we already know.    One comment that he made is that "the practice of yoga isn't a work-out, but a work-in". 

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