May 13, 2013

Practicing Yoga for My Health Instead of My Ego: Tony Sanchez Seminar

Tiger scorpion practice
Five months ago, I read the book Hellbent by Benjamin Lorr. In the book, Ben fully immerses himself in the world of a Bikram Yoga student, competitor, teacher, and refugee. Around that same time I had been examining the yoga and the man closely myself and had lots of questions; the book came with perfect timing into my life, providing lots of answers and direction.

After Ben goes to Bikram’s teacher training, he goes to Mexico to study with Tony Sanchez, an ex-partner/friend of Bikram who also studied the same asana (posture) lineage with the same guru, Vishnu Ghosh. I had recently heard about Tony and knew a couple people branching out from the Bikram bubble to study with his videos or go to his trainings. The book gave me the information I needed to sign myself up for a seminar with Tony to study the lineage where my practice originated.

Some background... To make a long story short, Tony was running Bikram’s school in San Francisco while Bikram taught in Beverly Hills. Over time, Bikram changed his teaching methods and classroom setting, lost his personal practice, and fell victim to fame, and soon Bikram and his senior teachers cut off Tony. Tony faithfully practiced and taught the yoga he learned from Ghosh. However, Bikram’s approach to the yoga is what caught on to the masses.

Meanwhile, Tony continued to teach in San Francisco and also developed a program to have schools teach yoga to the children. He was successful in this and, instead of letting the idea of having a following go to his head or his wallet, he and his wife retreated to Mexico and went off the grid for a while. 

Then, seemingly just in time *ahem*, Tony began offering teacher trainings and seminars. In the beginning, only a few ex-Bikram teachers and studio owners knew about Tony and were visiting him regularly. Hellbent is the reason for about half of the people signed up for Tony’s current seminar and word of mouth by those individuals is taking care of the rest. His next teacher training is full and has a waiting list just as long.

The 84 posture advanced seminar was one week long, held where Tony lives in San Jose del Cabo in Baja Mexico. There were 16 of us, half of whom had spent the previous two weeks with Tony in his teacher training. Tony’s goal in this seminar was to have us focus on our personal practice only, so that we could think for ourselves as teachers. (The teacher training was a much different structure, I did not attend that). The small group setting was ideal.

balancing stick practice
For six days we practiced the 84 postures together and examined them individually, sometimes running through most of the sequence three times a day. Sometimes, while focusing on a posture individually, we took savasana after each one! In sun salutations we held each step for several seconds. Our afternoon consisted of a three and a half hour class of the whole series, yet no one was crawling on the floor! The room had no mirrors and was about 75 degrees. We learned to unlock hyper-extended knees, not to stretch our shoulder blade scapula out of our body, and that pulling is sometimes not the object of stretching. Sometimes Tony threw some different postures in or took some out. I felt like my yoga world was being turned upside down!

Assisting wheel pose
 Tony’s approach to practicing Hatha yoga is to use the least amount of exertion to achieve maximum results in a posture. In other words, not worrying about elbow, fingers, and stomach when the goal of the posture is to bend your spine. In backbending, Tony’s words are “don’t push, just fall.” The advice he gave on the postures made several more of them accessible to me.

"Don't push, just fall."
I was worried that I wouldn’t bend well without the heat but we took our time in postures. I went just as deep as I always do, without using force, and experienced no soreness! I felt strong in the classes and felt that the flexibility I was using was very sustainable.

This seminar was a great way to expand my thinking. Tony and the other Bikram method teachers and students were an inspiring group to be a part of. I learned so much to apply to my practice, which will surely influence my teaching. I am in no way abandoning the dialogue, 26 postures, and 105 degree room- just for the record!- but I do highly recommend an intensive seminar with Tony in order to expand your thinking and your practice. Feel free to contact me if you have a question!
You've seen his poster in all the studios!

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