A recap of Maya Yoga with Nicki Doane and Eddie Modestini – at Yoga East, Portsmouth New Hampshire.
I arrived to Yoga East excited for the long weekend with Eddie Modestini and Nicki Doane. I was met with a warm hug from Kimberly Dahlman, owner, director, lovely teacher extraordinaire. The last time I saw her, she assisted me in Laghuvajrasana while my calf cramped like a piece of paper getting crumbled and thrown in the trash. That was almost 18 months ago…I was about 5 weeks pregnant and didn’t know it yet.
I walked into the beautiful bright space and looked around for a spot to plant my body. It was full..mats splayed out everywhere. The sight alone informed me it was going to “get hot in here”. The room began to fill slowly as I struggled to find stillness.
Nicki and Eddie entered and sat opposite of each other. Nicki had a small stack of books, that I would soon learn to be her collection of poetry. She began to speak and it became clear the kind of space what was about to get held over the weekend. Their reverence to the yoga practice was clear…crystal clear. Yoga, like food, I have learned, can be your medicine or your poison depending on the quality teacher and the quality of the student.
Eddie had chimed in regarding adjustments based on what they see as teachers. “My teacher (B.K.S. Iyengar) told me, ‘Congestion in the body is often the first sign of disease.’ We will make adjustments based on what we see.” It hit me like a ton of bricks…just the reality of it. As a teacher I see so many different kinds of bodies and what a typical life without yoga can afflict on the body from the feet to the head, and what that can then lead to internally.
Nicki mentioned a few key ‘skillful’ principles in regards to practice and finding our intelligent edge, some of which I keep in my own tool box…and one new one that is now in my arsenal.
1) The breath: if it get’s held, or you start breathing out of your mouth, or it moves into the upper chest. It’s time to back off. This one I know intimately from my own practice…it’s true. 99% practice 1% theory right? I tell my own students…the breath is the silent teacher. What is it Kate said once that Guruji would say? “Breathing not happening, pain coming”? Something like that. My aha moment: Learn how to control and observe what the breath does for you, and your practice will transcend and take you with it.
2) Shaking muscles: “If at any point in the practice the muscles begin to shake and you can not control them with your mind/body or breath. It’s time to back off.” Nerves (from the nervous system that communicate to the brain) are connected to muscles….if shit is going down and you can’t control it…time to pull your body into the “pit stop”(aka: childs pose).
3) “If the pose is no longer ASCENDING Back off:” If your pose begins to collapse and you don’t have the ability to continue a ‘lifting’ action. REST
Note to self: Reverence does not only apply to ‘advanced postures’, it applies to every single one of them.
They went on to discuss their blend of both Ashtanga and Iyengar based on their teachers Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar. They are strong proponents of building the foundation and it would become more clear in their teaching. This philosophy, in my mind is one of the most important things to consider not just in your yoga practice, but in your work, career, strategy, and life.
Nicki guided us into jiva bandha, as we moved into down dog and focused alignment of our arms, hands, fingers, and protecting the wrists by pressing into the Inner Triads of the hands. We found our feet and ignited our arches, by lifting all ten toes, spreading the big toe away from the pinky, lifting the inner ankles, knee caps, aligning and stacking the limbs ‘just so’, tuning our instruments called bodies.
“Freedom. From each and every part of our body. Until freedom is gained in the body, freedom of the mind is a farfetched idea.” B.K.S. Iyengar.
I was in asana-land man, hanging on for dear life as I hit 2 minutes in Triangle, a small smile began to appear and sweat beaded off my brow. I was beginning to feel the flow of it…the energy called Prana, grounded in integrity. It felt electric, like someone took that big power switch and turned it ON.
I like attention to detail, I like alignment. I’m the girl who can notice a crooked picture on the wall a mile away. It allowed me to find success in my work. It creates focus, a place to expand from, and no space for the mind to wander. We moved into some slow and deliberate sun salutes planting each foot with care and moved into exploring Triangle over and over…a tradtional Iyengar Triangle, something I teach often in my classes.
There is a method here, I was noticing, of doing an asana over and over and over again. There is something academic and intellectual about this exploration. What was felt in the last pose is now integrated and you don’t think about it in the second one, now you start integrating other powerful actions into the posture. Perfecting it in your body. Then suddenly everything just lights up…you feel as if your inner light is going to begin cracking the skin and just break out.
I heard Nicki remind me to lift my knee caps in Down Dog again. “YOGA IS ABOUT ACTION”. She said loudly.
“She is right!” I thought.
Note to self: Change requires action and ALL of the time that action requires us to step out of the comfort zone.
I think we did Triangle 10 times (this might be a mild exaggeration but not far off). I learned how to screw my humerus into the shoulder joint and how to start finding powerful lunges that would lead into a wonderful standing backbend that would leave my already screwy sacrum feeling completely at ease. We found our way into Savasana and my mind drifted as I heard Nicki read her poem. I didn’t hear a word…I was completely worked and zoned out….all I heard was the rhythm of the poem, her deep reverberating voice filling the room. Then silence.
(Note: I found this artist, not knowing she was from Maui, the same Island Nicki and Eddie are from – this is simply the Universe doing its mysterious stuff.)
Reflecting on the day was truly learning the art of ascending. Engaging of the muscles to lift arches, knee caps, extending, expanding, LIFTING! Engaging our mind in a manner that allows us to move with integrity and honesty to RISE, not just to the occasion, but to life.