A student’s intention- and pain- leads to #ashtanga and a new teacher

Maura Tibbs, ashtanga teacher extraordinaire

Two odd things about intentions: one, is that once you commit, incredible things happen.  A few months ago, I was determined to recommit to yoga. I would start and stop discouraged about my progress.

One thing about yoga is that you get to know your body.  It was my exploration into my limitations that made me realize that sciatica was my problem rather than a previously torn hamstring. Now, how to solve it?

I like disciplined, methodical approaches.  I was practicing vinyasa flow but as the name states, there was too much flowing to get into an asana deeply.  Having taken ashtanga classes previously, I was wary since this is the foundation of the more slang “power yoga,” the yoga of Madonna and Sting and athletes. I could barely touch my toes at times.

But having studied the philosophy for a few years, I also knew ashtanga had to be incredibly disciplined since most Mysore classes began at 6 or 6:30am and were 3 hours long.  Once I read about Project Air using ashtanga to heal, I knew I had to try it.

Intention led to fulfillment for I found a 7am Intro to Ashtanga class at Yoga Garden by a new teacher who had moved to San Francisco: Maura Tibbs.  It was exactly what I needed: no overcrowded class, attention to students’ bodies, techniques given for improvement.  Turns out ashtanga is very methodical.  Apparently, like any other craft or discipline, the unfolding of the learning depends on the teacher.

Ashtanga with Maura not only improved my vinyasa but my sciatica and tight hamstrings.  Perhaps because she herself overcame mild spinal bifida that she focuses on not just the pose but the therapeutics of yoga, paying attention to problem spots and injuries of her students.

Maura in her own words:

I discovered Bryan Kest’s style of Power Yoga in Los Angeles in 2000. At the time Power Yoga, which is a western style based on Ashtanga, was complementary to my athletic lifestyle. Shortly after my exposure to yoga, I began to suffer from back pain and muscle spasms. I was born with mild Spina Bifida, but it had not become an issue until I was in my teens and playing numerous sports. I began seeing a physical therapist who prescribed me a series of exercises that would strengthen my back and alleviate my pain. I realized that the exercises were familiar to me; they were all yoga postures!

For years I continued to practice various styles of yoga to supplement my other activities, and never had the need to return to physical therapy. Yoga did not become my focus until I was in college and was again suffering back pain from the compression of sitting at a desk day and night studying. I had always been a hyperactive child and when I stopped competitive sports I had difficulty finding mental clarity and lacked discipline.

I attended my first series of teacher training with Tias Little in 2007. Tias teaches a style called Prajna yoga, a fusion of Ashtanga and Iyengar styles, with an emphasis on meditation. The training that I completed with Tias helped me gain clarity, as his sessions are both contemplative and rejuvenating.

With my introduction to Ashtanga and Iyengar styles, my practice changed drastically. After learning the benefits of Vinyasa, (linking movement with breath), my relationship to yoga changed. After years of it being my source of exercise, yoga became my source of energy. The word that best describes what I found in yoga is “Prana,” which translates to “life force” or “energy.” (In yoga, the term prana refers to breath). Practicing Vinyasa helped me gain insight and awareness.

With my newfound passion, I decided to complete a teacher training focused on Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. The 200hr training was with Gary and Melissa Margolin: previous assistants to two of the most influential Ashtanga teachers in the U.S.: Chuck Miller and Maty Ezraty.

Melissa and Gary instructed me on how to teach Ashtanga with emphasis on alignment, therapeutics, and most importantly with insight. I studied the Primary series: Yoga Chikitsa (Yoga Therapy) under the guidance of Melissa and Gary.  Fortunately, my training included the opportunity to assist Melissa in her Mysore class. (Mysore is a traditional style of Ashtanga practiced in a group setting, with individual attention.)

The Mysore environment immediately felt like home. It is where I saw true physical therapy being practiced.  Melissa’s room included the most eclectic and diverse range of students, from competitive athletes to limited seniors.

After completing my training I knew Ashtanga was the style of yoga that I wanted to teach. Practicing Ashtanga yoga helps me resonate with my true-nature. I am lucky to have had the pleasure of witnessing and assisting others connect with their practice the same way that I have.


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