Monday, 13 June 2011

Peter Sanson in Dublin

Sometimes in life we get that call, the pull, of something we just have to do. At this stage in my life I am answering all of those calls, and going with whatever my instinct tells me. And sometimes this means think outside of the box a little.
On this occasion, that meant that (with a little help from ebay):

An anglo-concertina, bought when I was 15 and living in my parents loft for the past however-many years, plus:

Cherry red DM boots (also bought at about age 15, even though they weren't really my style, and languishing in my parents' loft ever since), plus:

Two tickets to see Take That, bought on a whim
Equalled this:

Dublin Bay. Specifically, four days of practice with Peter Sanson, who I was so bowled over by when I met him in May. After one practice with him I just knew that I had to find a way to practice with him again, so I got onto ebay, converted some of my belongings into cash, and booked my space. It’s been a week now since I was there, and having processed it I’m ready to share what I learned – with a little help from the notes I took while I was away.

Being in the first timeslot for the Friday evening practice meant that my Surya As and my first few Bs were accompanied by Peter chanting, and I never wanted it to end; his strong, resonant voice filled the room as we all began to practice. I think he explained in London that he chants the ashtanga yoga mantras he was taught by Guruji before he learned any asana, and takes about 15-20 minutes to complete (anyone know what this might be?). Nothing makes you slow your breathing and make every movement so deliberate as the sound of a strong and resonant voice chanting in Sanskrit, but I realised that it would have to end, and that that would be OK too. And when it did end, he told us to come to samasthiti when we finished our next salutation and we chanted the opening mantra together. Unlike often when you visit a teacher and the mantra is different this was just perfect to me, and I was surprised by the amount of sound produced. And for the first hour there were just 12 of us practicing with a certified teacher, and I knew I had made the right decision to come here.

Peter spent much of the first part of the practice with an older man who was breathing like a horse and clearly struggling, and next to him was teacher R (who had flown over to take part and assist for the weekend) and I tried hard not to be distracted by seeing the first teacher I connected with in London practice alongside me. As when I practiced with him in London, Peter teaches quite verbally and with a unique style, walking around the room referring to practitioners as Swami (“up, swami!”), making sure nobody skips over anything they are having trouble with “Ohh – trouble you two. You wait me”, all with the strange (but quite wonderful) mixture of Indian-inflexion and a strong Kiwi accent. After I dropped my leg in UHP he called to me to wait, then sent David (the owner of the shala) over, and despite being a head shorter than me the assist was strong and fantastic. Standing in front of me as I held my leg out for the final 5 breaths Peter reminded me to engage udiayana bandha to lift the leg and I really felt it.
Parsvotonasana was assisted too, Peter lifted my hips, telling me to engage mula bandha and I fiddled with the sensations trying to find it until he said “There! That’s it!” leaving me wondering how on earth he knew? The room started to fill up and was unbelievably hot, and as the number of practitioners grew we were packed in more and more tightly. Every inch of floor was either covered in a mat or soaking wet, every inch of my clothing was drenched. For the first time ever in a Mysore room I saw steam rising from the bare torso of the man in front of me and later, more disturbingly, saw it rise from my own body. I was assisted again in supta kurmasana – he called to me to wait for him when I was already in dwi pada to exit, and (this was a first!) I had to reverse it, go back down to the floor, undo the hands and go back to kurmasana. Reverse vinyasa! “Let’s take a look at this...I see what’s happening, this calf is trapped,” he says, rolling my left calf out and popping it behind my head. The extra treat is to be supported through bakasana and the jump-back to exit which is of course way less difficult than attempting it by myself!
I heard others being stopped at supta padangustasana and although I had come fully prepared to be stopped, having seen that he often stops people ealier than their normal practice would end, I went into ego-mode of “why should I get stopped?” whilst simultaneously trying to rush past supta pad to make sure I got past it undisturbed – bad lady! But after I finished the asana I heard “You wait me!” and he came over to do it again with me, and I got the same treatment I’d heard others getting. “Engage uddiyana, lift RIGHT up – don’t use your flexibility to come up” – as in, whole body off the floor if that’s the only way you can touch the head to the leg (needless to say, this is way more feasible when you have a person leaning on your straight leg than when attempting it alone). Then he got me to really relax the straight leg and to breathe super-slowly (“free breathing”) before telling me it was a great start, and we do more tomorrow, but backbending now. Which let me off the hook for dropping back (though I saw others doing assisted dropbacks who didn’t do full primary) but gave me more scope to spend time on urdhva dhanurasana without worrying about overdoing it. On my fifth or sixth one (he kept calling out to people to ask how many they’d done – in Peter’s room, it’s 3 minimum, but 5 or 6 is better) he came over and told me to take my hands slightly wider, but that it was good – and I felt like maybe my errant left foot was straight? Somehow it felt different, and much better, and I had the unwelcome realisation that doing MORE backbends is better than doing less.
I moved to the back of the packed-out room for closing and took it super-slow, ending with a looong savasana. But finding that my breath was catching in my throat (as it had been all practice) I took my hands to my throat to do some Reiki, and to my chest and stomach. Twenty minutes later I emerged, went to get changed and then stumbled out of the shala, making my way just around the corner to sit overlooking Dublin Bay whilst I ate an apple. And I can only describe the way I was feeling as totally took me another 20 minutes just to eat the apple, slowing down every movement, feeling every sensation, and it almost felt like my head was about to blow apart - the sensation of mindful eating was so intense. In fact, it was exactly how I felt after I practiced with Peter in May, and I have no other way to describe it than it must be his energy in the room when he teaches which causes this feeling. Weird, but very very wonderful.  Eventually I peeled myself off the bench and walked out to the main road to wait for the bus back to my B&B (another 20 minutes...there seemed to be a pattern emerging), getting back there a little before 10pm to get ready for bed, and more powerful practices in the morning.
Part two coming soon - no, really it is!


  1. Yay, sounds wonderful Mel, thanks for sharing.

  2. Sounds wonderful - can't wait for the next installment! It is coming, isn't it?!! You promised ... :)

  3. Part two is up! :) There may even be a part 3 but we'll see!

  4. The chant is the Adityahridayam