Anthony ‘Grimley’ Hall workshop notes

I recently attended a workshop with Anthony ‘Grimley’ Hall, who has become increasingly well-known in the yoga world through his blog, which began as a means to chart the development of his own yoga home practice and share his findings with others. What’s interesting about Anthony is that, at least to begin with, he didn’t have the guidance of a teacher; he worked it all out for himself from books and the internet and that makes it even more incredible to see what he has achieved all by himself, moving through primary and second ashtanga series and onto postures from beyond and also exploring Krishnamacharya’s vinyasa krama teachings, not to mention documenting his progress in painstaking detail through photos, videos and written accounts on his blog. The amount of discipline, enthusiasm and commitment, not to mention time, required for that is inspiring indeed!

Since then, his blog has expanded to provide a mind-boggling array of yoga information and resources, as his studies take him into more detailed research and reviews of workshops, books etc. Definitely worth checking out, although be warned that there is so much on there it can be a bit overwhelming to navigate around at first!

Something I particularly like about Anthony’s approach is that, fed up of researching new postures and only finding photos of the ‘perfect’ end point, usually executed by a gorgeous slip of a yoga thing in a way that seemed hard to relate to for a yoga newbie, he sought to address this by posting photos and videos of his progress in postures, so that he could share with others his journey of finding his way to the pose, rather than just posting his successful arrival. I love this – yoga is indeed all about the journey, and we can become far too fixated on wanting to reach the end-point. And then what? The journey never really ends, and when we finally realise that we can settle back in our seat and enjoy the ride.

I am as guilty of hankering after ‘mastery’ of a pose as anyone else, and constantly try and find the balance between wanting to achieve new poses and just enjoying where I am on the journey. Anthony’s humble approach has inspired me to share with you more of my own yoga journey. The poses that I share with you might not be ‘perfect’ in an internet viewing sense, but they are always perfect in a personal way – exactly where I should be at that point of time. We are always perfect in our imperfections… 🙂

Anyway, here are a few gems I gleaned from Anthony’s workshop:

  • The focus of the workshop was Krishnamacharya’s vinyasa krama teachings. ‘Vinyasa’ means ‘movement with breath’ and ‘krama’ indicates a sequence or pathway. Together, they describe a holistic system of yoga that uses logical sequencing of linked groups of postures to enable students to gradually build up their practice at their own pace, even within a group class. Students are only offered the next posture in the sequence when they are comfortable in the previous one. Sound familiar? Yup, ashtanga yoga comes directly from this tradition, as does iyengar yoga. Both Pattabhis Jois and BKS Iyengar were students of Krishnamacharya, so you can see what a huge pivotal influence he has had on the yoga tradition.
  • We looked at the principle of ‘kumbhaka’, which means breath retention. This is something that Krishnamacharya was strict on, and which has been lost within the ashtanga system. In most postures (but not twists), there is a 2-5 second retention of breath after each inhale or exhale, depending on whether the head is facing up or down in the posture. The benefits of this are supposed to be a stimulation of blood flow round the body and an increase in carbon dioxide in the blood.
  • Another central tenet of Krishnamacharya’s teachings (d’ya know what? I’m going to call him ‘K’ for the rest of this post!) was long holds in certain postures – apparently he recommended ten minutes in chaturanga. Hmmm, five minutes in utkatasana was enough for most of the room of ashtangis! It was good to challenge ourselves, as we’re so used to the five breath hold. Many students commented that a fine-tuning of alignment occurred naturally through the breath during the long hold; this was especially apparent in downward dog. Personally, I found it revealed to me my tight areas with great clarity, and also revealed the guarding patterns that I unknowingly employ during the usual five breaths. Given longer to explore the pose, you become aware of this ‘cheating’ behaviour and let it go with the breath, allowing the healing work to truly begin. So definitely a good practice for ashtangis to adopt from time to time I would say.
  • Anthony talked about the importance of fluid transitions between postures; a common part of vinyasa yoga styles. It is through the integrity of the repeated transitions that we gradually build strength, stamina and, eventually, grace.
  • We really did focus on the breath. We allowed the practice to be led by the breath. We were reminded that monitoring whether you can breathe slowly and with ease in a posture is a good indication that you have ‘mastered’ it and, traditionally, would then be offered the next pose. I am trying to bring this into my attempts at kapotasana, which tend to involve quite stressy, quick breaths (AKA – get me out of here quick!) and unfailingly I notice that if I can control my breath, my mind softens and the body immediately follows and I can see where the journey ahead lies rather than feeling stuck on the wayside!

Thank you Anthony for a great workshop – it’s good to get out of the ashtanga box sometimes, and also interesting to explore its roots… 🙂

3 thoughts on “Anthony ‘Grimley’ Hall workshop notes

  1. That’s a lovely posting, Becky. Pity I missed that workshop – am living in London now. You are so right about taking time in the breath to get comfortable in a pose – YOUR (MY) comfortable, not anyone else’s.
    We may note that of the 196 sutras of Patanjali, only three are about the asanas (postures) so, in a historic sense, the asanas were merely utilised to assist in the ultimate purpose of Yoga – enlightenment (Samadhi). The postures, he wrote, should be “firm and comfortable” (sthira and sukham in Sanskrit). The most important posture is the lotus (padmasana) for it is in this that the three limbs of meditation are worked on. We ‘should’, it is said, be able to hold this position for three hours.
    Now, I rather think that we are not expected to hold them all for that length of time but focus on the breath does help us to feel comfortable in our own personal place of development in a posture.
    Of course in recent years the western focus has been mostly on the asana and on using them as a physical exercise. This is not where it all originated, as I learnt on my recent four-weeks intensive in Rishikesh.
    However, even in a purely physical way we need to hold a posture for at least 30 seconds for our body to become adjusted and comfortable. That, I was taught, is the purpose of the 5 breaths; 5 slow breaths should take about 30 seconds. Even that gives only 6 seconds for each in-out but I bet that is more than many of us do in our normal practice or many a lead class.
    I recall that, when working with Derek Ireland all those years ago we would have sessions where we would hold for 10 breaths and even longer sometimes. In Rishikesh, we did an hour of pranayama each day and those exercises, especially the ones with the held retention, again help the breath during the Astanga sequence – and any other form of yoga.
    You’re so right about the ‘guarding patterns’ that we all have developed over our years of practice and where that breath helps to release them – each of us has a unique body so why should there be just one ‘perfect’ position in a posture? As Digby said once in a class, “there is no such thing as a standard adjustment”.
    So thanks for reminding me.

  2. Thanks for your comments Ian – an interesting read. ‘ve been experimenting with the breath retention and long holds and it feels good. It sounds like you’ve had a very thought-provoking time out in India – I look forward to catching up when you’re in the midlands, to hear more about it… 🙂

    1. It was very interesting to have teaching from Indian teachers – all mine, apart from one week with Manju, have been ‘western’. That is why I wanted to do a teacher training in India. (Apart from taking the opportunity when I was already there in Bhopal.)
      I came to think that what we mostly do here is ‘yoga’ (small ‘y’) and what I learnt in those four weeks was ‘Yoga’ (capital ‘Y’).
      Just the beginning.
      I will be doing more work on the sutras though I do disagree in some aspects with the interpretations of the teachers there. But that is a long conversation.

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