A weekend with Kiri Sutherland

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This weekend, my mornings was been spent with Kiri Sutherland at Upward Yoga studio practicing LED Ashtanga on Saturday and then attending her workshop today. She is a visiting practitioner from New Zealand and one of the 200 certified Ashtanga Teacher in the world. Coming back from the rigorous training in Vikasa where the all-famous Vikasa Salutations leaves many gasping for breath, I was craving for an equally intense teacher led class since. There is a stark difference between pushing myself in my own daily morning practice, and being pushed by someone else in a classroom setting. Kiri’s class was my first teacher led class since I had gotten back.

I don’t identify my practice with a specific type of yoga, and Ashtanga with its own rigorous set of poses (even in the primary series) always has me a little bit apprehensive. So when I decided to turn up at Ninie’s studio yesterday, I was warned that it will be a full primary series practice. Then again in hindsight, what else would you be expecting from say..one of the only 200 certified ashtanga teachers in the world right?

My first thought was “holy shit”. I diligently handed over my fee for the session (no backing out now!) and walked to the lockers to extract my phone and eventually tweeted something that sounded like “OMG, I just signed up for full primary series. We can do itttt…we can do itttt” as images of Sirsasana and arm balances flashed through my mind. It didn’t help that I had just downed a whole cup of freshly brewed Christmas Brew Coffee at Starbucks in an effort to kill of my migraine before the class. My thoughts were racing from one end to the other and the excitement of being able to practice in a class again made it feel like I had an orchestra of chatter up in my head.

The class opened with the soft spoken Kiri as she gently guide us through Surya Namaskar A & B and then the common poses throughout the primary series. We had lots of binding which I love and we went through the whole series of it – From Marichyasana A all the way to D. Hey maybe Ashtanga isn’t so scary after all. Kiri conducted her class with a lot of warmth, a lot of  gentleness about it that it felt comfortable. I think I might have forgotten it was an Ashtanga led class midway through the session!

The workshop today had a slightly larger turn out then the class yesterday with more in depth coverage on the jumpbacks and jump throughs she taught yesterday. My arms aching from yesterday, attempted more of these beautiful-to-watch jumpbacks and jump throughs but SO SO complicated when doing it unto yourself. One knee goes up close to your chest, through the gap between your arms,… and uhh what do I do with the second leg?? A few more practice, and perhaps with a little less calculated thought going into it, maybe, just maybe I will get it looking half as graceful as Kiri’s.

After the workshop ended, a few people hung around and I got to catch up with Ninie on her recent trip to Bali. At the same time I got to ask her about the infamous Chaturanga which I have been trying to do correctly since I realised in Anatomy class at Vikasa that my upper body strength requires lots to be desired for in a perfect Chaturanga. True, that yoga is more than just perfection in asanas, if ever perfection is attainable, but to be able to do it correctly and safely is obviously the ultimate goal.

Ninie, owner of Upward and also someone whom I secretly (or not so secretly anymore I guess, judging by my past entries on her classes) admire is now about 7 months into her first pregnancy. And even in pregnancy, she still keeps up with her practice and posted a jaw dropping practice in her 21 weeks.

I watched in awe as she set herself up into a plank and lowered herself mid-way to a chaturanga, shoulders strong holding her entire body up, knees and belly hovering close to the floor but never touching. “Ok now you try it” she said and I had to stifle a giggle as I set myself into a plank and said “even YOU can do it and you’re pregnant, you’re putting me to shame”. I think she chuckled a little before she said “well I’m pregnant, my tummy can’t really touch the floor anymore now!”

Both Kiri and Ninie reminded me today why yoga can be so humbling, and the gentle kind warmth that radiates from those who understands it well and practices it constantly is inspiring.

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