Experiencing what it is to breathe.
Let me begin by putting my bias right out there for you now. I adore John as a teacher and as a person. He helped reignite my spirit and restore my love of practice during a critical time in my own yoga process. So I didn’t purchase the John Scott Yoga Apps for the purpose of writing this review – nor did John or the app’s creator, Graeme Lunn, ask me to do so.
Pure and simple, I wanted it for myself. I also wanted to learn.
You see, it’s not easy to be a student practicing solo. And even though I have a solid routine of steady practice, it’s hard on my own to separate out repeated patterning that is more unconscious habit than intelligent movement. Not to mention, like anyone else, I can fall into a One Way thinking mode. Because answers are easy to buy stock in and staying open is a much bigger risk. So lest my mind get too stiff … another perspective comes in quite handy.
Plus, it’s nice on a Friday to have a counted led primary. To let someone else take the wheel and drive for a morning and see what comes up. Which is what I did this morning – with John.
Old School vs. New School
First off, the Ashtanga yoga method hasn’t really changed over the years. We are still practicing all eight limbs and in asana, the emphasis continues to be on an internal structure of breath, movement, and focus. Yet within the method, techniques DO vary among the generations of teachers. Partly due, I imagine, to the fact that some of those teachers were brought up by Pattabhi Jois and others, his grandson, Sharath. But also, students’ bodies have changed both in numbers and needs. And our culture has changed.
Hard to really know how much any of this plays into the minor tweaks here and there. Personally, none of these variances bother me and in fact, are kind of reassuring. For me, it’s proof of a living method – one that leaves some room to breathe.
Still, if pesky little things like a few bonus (uncounted) breaths will confuse you … or small, extra movements like “hands on waist” are going to wreck your world of rules – then maybe this App isn’t for you. Because John is a bit old school like that, complete with some full vinyasas thrown in there.
But like I said before, these things don’t bother me. And actually, in many cases, I enjoy the differences even when I don’t always understand why. Besides I’m not here to school or be schooled – I’m here to learn. And in following John’s led class through the app, I realize just how much there is for me to do just that.
I am in awe at just how succinctly John is able to break down movements with breath, using only the most essential language. This makes John’s App perhaps the best I’ve ever come across for beginners – including those completely new to the method. Broken down into segments, but with the ability to be played straight through, John begins with a synopsis of what the Ashtanga yoga method is before moving into the opening chant.
At the heart of Ashtanga is vinyasa. The essence of vinyasa is a synchronicity of breath and movement … the breath initiates the movement and then movement and breath flow as one.
The first of both Sun Salutations (A & B) are counted in both Sanskrit and English to start, as if to say, Nothing exotic here – we’re just counting. John takes this almost nonchalant and sensible approach to the whole practice, breaking down various transitions that most of us would take three-hour workshops to learn, into bite-size pieces, easily digested and practiced right then and there.
John is absolutely brilliant when it comes to instructing breath and movement, together.
In fact, he can be so incredibly specific in both his instruction and the order, that it catches me almost off guard how the blend nearly sweeps me off my feet. How many workshops have we all attended learning to float? How many times have I had that simply jump forward drilled and practiced – and still swear there’s a cannonball in my pelvis. So much attention we give to the movements and physical technique – but the breath? It seems there’s a bit of magic on the tail end of that exhale that when coupled with a simple body position, maximizes the sacred place – bringing together something magically light.
Here’s John on coming forward from downward facing dog:
On the (1) tail of your exhale, (2) bring your head and shoulders forward (3) bend your knees (4) rock back
Supta, 7, (1) inhaling (2) jump up (3) look up – hands flat …
Astau, 8, (1) exhale (2) fold forward (3) head in.
How easy it is to simply move as I move, often (to my surprise) initiating an action a split second before the breath – and then to realize how that tiny difference makes ALL the difference. Hence why I numbered above – for my own reference, or perhaps, yours. (Just think about all the money you’ll now save by never needing to attend another floating workshop!)
Further, I’m amazed at the brief yet incredibly specific cues John gives in standing. As someone who has been practicing those particular shapes for almost two decades, it’s easy to check out. But as I’ve heard Eddie Stern say, a led class is an exercise in listening. So listen, I did. And follow.
Ekam, 1, inhaling – step to the right 4 feet and open your arms to shoulder height, turn your feet to the right and look to the right hand
Dve, 2, exhaling – bend your right knee to 90 degrees, placing your right hand on the mat.
Rotate your left arm over to 30 degrees.
Inhaling, look to left hand – and exhale.
Had I just been reading the cues and not practicing at the same time, perhaps there’d come no surprise here. But in paying attention, I made special effort to rotate my arm to the angle John specified and noted: my arm was angled higher than normal. And here again, this small adjustment was exactly the bit of space I needed to take the pinch I had come to expect, out of my shoulder.
Though just as crucial was John’s particular order of breath and gaze – a breathing pattern John meticulously points out in nearly every posture, cued from standing to seated.
The exhale moves us into the shape (flexion), and then the inhale shifts the gaze (extension). A distinction of energy John clearly wants us to make.
A Real Teacher’s Teacher
Truth be told, John truly is a natural born teacher. It’s a gift, really. And perhaps one of the reasons the teachers he trains are some of the best I’ve ever known. He seems to inherently understand the multiple modalities and repetition necessary to facilitate deeper learning – and thus at the end of the App is a visual chart for Sanskrit numbers, Sanskrit terms (including definitions), flip cards (complete with vinyasa count and numbered state of asana), and quizzes (that’s right – quizzes!)
Because Ashtanga (Vinyasa) yoga isn’t a style – it’s a scientific method. So I guess it’s understandable why John remains so particular to the way we breathe and move throughout. I remember in our first podcast, when he gave me his own personal definition of vinyasa – spoken like a real professor:
“By choice – continuously counted – choreographed – breath movement – synchronicity – with consciousness of prana – moving into and out of form – according to the universal laws on nature (birth-life-death)”
Yes. He said all that. Like off the top of his head. Explaining that every asana is birthed, lives, and then dies – though much more eloquently than I just did. You can listen to that podcast here. But don’t worry, you won’t be quizzed.
Honestly, I could go on here with more of my AHA! moments – but words are meaningless without a relationship to experience – YOUR experience. Or as John would say: “Experiencing what it is to breathe.”
Intermediate series coming soon!