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David Williams at Downward Dog Yoga Centre, Toronto Jan 2003

“If it hurts you’re doing it wrong.” This sentiment was continually reiterated during the weekend workshops facilitated by David Williams last month at the Downward Dog Yoga Centre in Toronto.

David first began practicing yoga in 1971. Two years later, David began practicing Ashtanga vinyasa yoga and has not missed a day of practice in over 30 years. Fascinated with the teachings of yoga, David gave up the opportunity to attend law school and instead chose to travel to India to study yoga. He became the first non-Indian to be taught the complete Ashtanga yoga system of asana and pranayama by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. He also introduced Pattabhi Jois to America in 1975 and has taught the Astanga system to a variety of well-known teachers and practitioners including Danny Paradise, David Swenson, Doug Swenson, Tracy Rich, Jonny Kest and Bryan Kest.

David now lives and teaches yoga on the island of Maui and braved the colder climes of Canada to share his experience, knowledge and observations of yoga. During both the lecture workshops and asana classes, David continued to share his views on yoga in a very witty, warm and simplified way. His approach to teaching is refreshingly straightforward and I found he provided me with a great deal of inspirational “food for thought” to bring into both my personal practice and teaching of yoga. Terminology and form take second priority with David. What’s important to him is to help his students find their place in yoga – a place that’s safe, fun and meditative. He also continually reminded us that what's important is what's invisible.

“Make your experience of yoga as fun and pleasurable as possible, so that you look forward to it the next day,” he advised and added that the people who continue to do yoga are the ones who make it pleasant.

He also continually emphasized the importance of doing what feels right for your body and to develop a safe, slow and steady personal practice. “The greatest Yogi is the one who does what’s appropriate for the day,” David commented. He continued to remind us that “1mm beyond stretching is tearing” and that the use of force has no place in the practice of yoga. In all his years of personal practice, David has not sustained an injury from his own doing. He did mention that he did sustain an injury when he was being assisted by a teacher – a great reminder, I thought, for all of us yoga teachers out there who do personal assists.

On his first trip to India, David was told by an elderly Indian Yogi that the first 10 years of a yoga practice are ‘pre-yoga'. He was also advised that yoga is basically a synonym for meditation and that one's asana practice should be a moving meditation.

Throughout his workshops, David continued to emphasize the value of mulabandha as a way of focusing the mind, increasing prana, developing core/abdominal strength and enabling one to ‘breathe themselves loose’. David is a proponent of breathing into flexibility as opposed to external stretching to increase flexibility. During his asana classes David encouraged us to hold mulabandha and slowly, mindfully breathe into the pose. “The tortoise wins the race, “ he continually reminded us. “Make it pleasurable.”

David believes that most people start yoga in a state of chronic misalignment and that yoga is a method of "self-sculpting" to a place of symmetry. Slow, mindful movement combined with mulabandha and deepened breathing are the keys to moving from a place of misalignment to a state of alignment.

“The real secret to getting one’s life together is to get oneself regimented,” he commented. Having maintained a daily practice for more than 30 years, David obviously advocates practicing on a daily basis. “Everyday when you wake up, you have a different energy that you can access.” He went on further to suggest that a daily practice gives one a barometer of one's condition. One can look back over the last 24 hours and reflect on where one is gaining strength and where one is losing strength.

I thoroughly enjoyed time spent with David, both on and off the mat. His lectures on Pranayama and Ashtanga History as well as his personal sharings and tales of his travels were both entertaining and enlightening and his asana classes were most inspiring. And while I ensured that I didn’t go beyond that 1mm of stretching, I must confess that for the next few days after the workshops, I did find my muscles to be in a state of ‘heightened awareness’.

David most definitely speaks from the heart and it is clear that his heart truly lies in yoga. “I’m trying to do what makes me feel better everyday,” he commented. I found myself both inspired and in awe of his commitment and knowledge of yoga. “The knowledge of yoga is the gem of priceless knowledge”. It seems to me that David possesses quite a valuable jewel.


Copyright 2004 David Williams  

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