Friday, October 21

Jim Bennitt Workshops | Living Yoga Center | Urbana, IL

LOCATION: Living Yoga Center — my "home studio," as in where I love love love to practice when I'm not traveling. 
COST: $45/workshop or both for $80
STUDIO: See my original review  
Stilling the Waking Mind, 10:30a-1p
We all know that meditation is good for us. If you're looking to connect to spirit, find inner peace, or just trying to deal with the stress of modern life... meditation can work wonders. Why then do we still struggle with starting or continuing a meditation practice? The answer may surprise you. It could actually be your yoga practice holding you back! When yoga is practiced inappropriately, it could make it more difficult to find the inner stillness necessary for meditation. In this 2.5 hour class, Jim will draw on ancient teachings and parables to help you better understand "the lake of the mind." Afterward, he will lead you through a specially designed sequence of postures and breathwork that will make it effortless to be still and reap the benfits of deep meditation. This class is suitable for all levels. 
Vinyasa from a Tantric Perspective, 2-4:30p
The word vinyasa stems from the Sanskrit word "nyasa," which means "to place." The prefix "vi," in this case, means "in a special way." Thus vinyasa would mean "to place something in a special way." The word tantra translates "to weave" and refers to weaving together the material and spirtual worlds. A tantric vinyasa class is a practice consisting of postures, movemembts, gestures, breathwork, and meditation weaved together in a special way to reach a specific desired result. In this class we will first decide what our desired result will be and then practice in ana intelligent way to get there. This class will be on the more vigorous side and is appropriate for students in good health and strong physical practice.
INSTRUCTOR: Jim Bennitt began his studies in Yoga, Tantra, and Aurveda in 1997. For the next three years, he bounced around from one yoga studio to the next, until he met Paul Weitz, a teacher at Moksha Yoga Center in Chicago. Two classes a week turned into five classes a week and Jim decided he wanted to teach. He completed Moksha's teacher training with Daren Friesen, studied with master teacher Andrey Lappa, and assisted Gabriel Halpern in his therapeutic classes at The Yoga Circle. In 2002, Jim met his teacher, Rod Stryker. Rod's teaching included mantra, meditation, and elements of Ayrveda. Since then, he completed and now assists in severl teacher trainings in Rod's Para Yoga lineage. Jim is also a popular presenter at conferences, workshops, and retreats in the US and abroad and is a co-owner of Tejas Yoga in Chicago.

I'm going to go on a little bit of a frustration rant here... which has nothing to do with Jim Bennitt's workshop, except that it reminded me how discouraging injuries can be. I've mentioned before that I twisted my sacrum in March 2011. After a week-long yoga retreat I came home, got in my car at the airport, twisted to reverse not realizing how much I had loosened up that spine of mine, and crunched my sacrum. Those of you who have/had sacrum issues, you know how painful this can be. Since March, I've been visiting my chiropractor weekly, getting up to walk around at work so I'm not sitting on my twisted sacrum all day, and continue to go to yoga. But my sacrum is getting worse... as is my yoga practice as a result. Last week my chiro decided to do a lower back x-ray to get a closer look at what is going on, and we discovered L4 & L5 are jetting to my right (if you're looking at me) causing my spine to curve that way and my pelvis & sacrum are twisted enough to slightly make my left leg shorter than my right leg. 

After five hours of yoga my sacrum felt so much better, but honestly... there were some poses that were so painful (I obviously stopped going into them), I just found myself at one point in tears from wondering not only when will this be healed, but just when will I start to see improvements. I love my chiropractor, and I plan to continue visits because he does help and I consider him my primary doctor, but if any of you yogis out there have suggestions—I'm all ears. One of my instructors recommended bio-something (I've lost the pamphlet, I'm so unorganized these days, I apologize), which involved moving you further into the injury so the body corrects itself. She's had sacral issues and said it does wonders... but it also costs $70/hr and when I called that therapist she said we'd need to do about 3-4 sessions before I'd see a difference. Don't get me wrong, I completely respect the cost of natural/eastern/non-traditional health care, my dad was an acupuncturist, but I can't afford that. Seriously, when will my health insurance cover the doctors I actually see?!? OK, I need to move on, step off this soap box, kick it to the curb, and apologize for barfing this internal muck on you... but maybe one of you will have ideas. 

OK... Jim Bennitt's workshops. Hooray! I was so excited to be attending a yoga workshop in my home town. We don't get them here that often... or I'm horrible at getting information on these events. Anyway, I immediately signed up for both classes when I heard he was coming here. I really enjoyed the class I took from him at the Yoga Journal Conference—which was on Shodhana: Yogic Purification (see the link to watch a video of Jim demonstrating his practice, it's absolutely beautiful). 
STILLING THE WAKING MIND: This class started off with my 15-20 minutes of talking and taking notes. Here's what I gathered note-wise from it...
It is believed we suffer because we identify with the mind—there are four functions of the mind: 
The arrows on this differ from my notes,
but you get the visual
And the goal is to 
• Calm the Manas (senses) through donating our time to others, meditation on inner light and sound, and/or spend time in nature. 
• Dissolve the Ahamkara (ego) through seva (selfless service), Bhakti Yoga (chanting), and sacred gatherings (the Sanskrit word I wrote down for this isn't popping up in google, I apologize for my inability to hear or write sanskrit properly)—like this workshop I just so happen to be in.
• Empty Chitta (memory) by noticing samskaras (mental patterns) through mantra, pranayama (breathwork), concentration techniques, and meditation. This was talked about a lot in class, because we all cherish our memories so so dearly, right? But it's not about forgetting them, it's about not letting them define you or spending time judging them. What's done is done, today is a new day. 
• Sharpen Buddhi (intellect) through concentration techniques, self study, tapas (self-discipline—an internal heat that burns away impurities, often thought of as only a physical heat created in practice but much more). 
• And all of this to connect to the "fifth quadrant" (as my awesome sister-in-law once joked in reference to something else), called Atman (your inner light/soul).

Random not written down... Patañjali says "Yoga is when the mind stops" 

After our discussion we returned to our mats. Jim chanted a blessing before we started with some sun salutations and eventually held some poses for a longer amount of time... self-discipline to create tapas (sharpen that buddhi of ours). I loved that we were asked to do a headstand, as if it were nothing. It's not common to do a headstand in my daily classes—we do them, but there's just not enough time to include an inversion at the end of every class, let alone with the instruction of doing it in the middle of the room. I opted for the wall still, but I liked the experience of being surrounded by so many talented yogis. So inspiring! After savasana we did, I believe, fifteen minutes of meditation. A practice that I would like to start incorporating into my daily routine, but I've never once done this at home. My friend later recommended, just taking 10 minutes in the middle of the work day to go somewhere quiet and meditate. Which is a great idea, and probably when I need it most. But I would ultimately like to begin and end my day with yoga and some meditation. Goals are good.

Again, whenever I write about these workshops (like I noted for the Yoga Journal Conference), it seems a bit empty. Explaining the poses we did or the techniques we learned is useful, but the best part of the class is experiencing the feeling of yoga. The mental cleansing that comes after a couple of hours of yoga with a large group (yes, you can do this alone, but there's a vibe in a group... hence the importance of sacred gatherings). I can't put it into words gracefully (or even in a fumbling sort of way), but I just want to be sure to note that while the poses are necessary, they're not important. Great lesson to be reminded of. 

VINYASA FROM A TANTRIC PERSPECTIVE: This class had very little talking at the beginning, in fact I didn't take any notes as most of what Jim responded to students' questions with was taught in the first workshop. He did talk about how when people hear the word Tantric they equate it to sex, but quickly pointed out that sex is only a small part in the large world of Tantric yoga. I also liked the fact that Tantric yoga recognizes people living in a material world (I know, I hear Madonna singing now too), and instead of us all isolating ourselves in caves somewhere with out possessions and ultimately distractions—this path of yoga teaches us to appreciate the material objects, but to not become attached to or define ourselves by them. 

This basically was a lot of salutation work, which is why I think my sacrum is feeling better... there is no better way to wake up the entire body than doing a number of sun salutations. I mentioned before that twists were my nemesis for the day, but I had an amazing accomplishment today too. I did my first Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) in my adult years, anyway—held comfortably, arms correct, feet flat on the ground (I do have to thank my friend, Hollis, who I met during this class. She's doing her teacher training currently—while writing her thesis for school, both major accomplishments at the same time is impressive—and she talked me through it some... "arms looks good—work your feet in more pigeon toe—point the knees forward". Thank you Hollis!). It felt amazing!!! It's funny how a pose that is so intimidating or challenging your strength or brain function, when accomplished becomes your new favorite pose and you want to do it all the time. Yep, can't wait to do my next Wheel Pose. 

The last 1/3 of the poses was really a moment for me to sit and watch much more advanced yogis work into arm balances I can't yet do. Hayli has been prepping us in class for Eight-Angle Pose (Astavakrasana), which requires a lot of arm strength because you're basically holding yourself in the position by squeezing the legs to the arm. 
I love watching people go into Eka Pada Koundiyanasana II, it's so amazing to see the body hold these positions—for the flexibility and the strength. It completely inspires me to continue nurturing my body because as Aadil Plkhivala would say, "The body is the home to your soul!" 

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