MY WEEK WITH ANNIE CARPENTER…or…How Can Inhale Arms Up Possibly Up Be This Challenging?
I just had the most amazing week in Venice studying SmartFlow® Yoga with Annie Carpenter! If you don’t know Annie from her books, DVDs, or contributions to Yoga Journal, I can tell you that she certainly earns her “a teacher’s teacher” recognition. You work amazingly hard, harder than you ever thought you could even in a basic pose, but you love every minute of it because it is so intelligent and because Annie is so dynamic! A former Broadway dancer/instructor for Martha Graham, you can see the influence of that rigorous discipline and athleticism, but you also see the captivating elegance and soulfulness of the dancer. She is no more than 100 lbs, but commands the room like few teachers I have ever seen. She attracts 120 people to a Saturday morning public class at Exhale just because they know it is Annie and because they appreciate that she is unlike any other teacher. They come mat-to-mat, literally 120 people in a room about double the size of Yoga Sol. While I didn’t love being mat-to-mat, it was a fascinating experience. It wasn’t my first time in a Saturday morning crazy crowded Annie Carpenter class, so I did know what I was in for. Just like any Annie class, workshop or teacher training, it doesn’t matter how many students she has, she makes sure she sees everything. It is really quite amazing. She does have assistant instructors – also fabulous – and between them, they seem to touch everyone at least once.
There is so much to share, but I’ll give you the highlights of my week at Exhale with Annie Carpenter:
1) Really worked hard! Most days began with a 7-9am challenging practice themed to one of Annie’s Movement Principles. The challenge came from the sophistication of the work in even the basic poses. Poses were held longer than in most flow classes, which I love (maybe from my Iyengar studies). Afternoons were spent breaking down the poses and honing hands-on-adjustments. Evenings were combinations of restorative and philosophy sessions.
2) Annie commented on Day 1 that sometimes her job “is to just be an alarm clock”. She walked around saying ringggggg to get students to “Wake Up” – focus – work more intently. First glimpse of her playful sense of humor – fun!
3) I have to tell you about her direct intensity. Annie is so direct, but ultimately so caring about her students that she can say just the right thing at the right time. I’ve heard her call a student “my striped shirt sensation junkie friend” (Well, she did say friend and she probably got more than a few thinking). She’ll get you to work stronger by saying, “Missy, as strong as you are, is that all you’ve got?” (Of course, you’ll work more intently, because she actually gave you that wonderful coaching push.)
4) I loved the SmartFlow® structure. Classes are focused with a keen awareness of primary movement principles of the body for clarity of alignment and sequencing. This strategic progression of the class allowed students to advance their practice in a very safe and intelligent way. I held my hands with greater ease and for a longer period of time in Reverse Namaste during the “Shoulder Girdle” focused class. Annie even complimented my Shoulder Stand, so it was a great day!
5) The Shoulder Stand teachings were one of my favorites! I am forever preaching the necessity of blankets for Shoulder Stand safety at Yoga Sol, and I was so happy to see Annie present with equal passion and serious respect. She pulled out the Exhale skeleton (must be a cousin of our Slim) and pulled his head back 90 degrees. She reminded us that the average person has 40 degrees of flexion in the neck and when you do Shoulder Stand without blankets, it is like poor Slim’s cousin – all crunched up a 90 degrees. She chose to demonstrate with five blankets – even for Tiffany (one of her senior teachers) – to lessen that angle of flexion. So intelligent!
6) Annie does have “Iyengar roots” and it seems to me that her teachings are a beautiful fusion of dance movement and body mechanics, Iyengar alignment, and a passionate desire to explore the full realm of the yoga practice and tradition.
7) Passion is a great word. Annie has it in everything she presents and it is contagious. I found it uplifting and empowering. Even on the long days when I might have been exhausted, I was still so excited to be energized with all the wonderful and creative information.
8) The people I met were another highlight! People come from all over the world to train with Annie and we had an international mix this week. Annie even spoke French to one student on occasion. I made friends with fellow teachers from all over – various tradition backgrounds – all ages – really dynamic group!
9) Another highlight was the Saturday evening Philosophy and History of Yoga session with John Casey, historian and Loyola Marymount professor – a brilliant speaker!
10) Some of our Yoga Sol students know Annie through our instructor Christine Chiu’s teachings. Christine studies with Annie and she even came up to visit me for the public class. Of course, we had to go to lunch afterwards and I must include the Venice eateries as one of the week’s highlights!!! If you are up there, check out Café Gratitude, Rose Café or Sauce. And if you want to splurge, check out Chaya. (I did Easter brunch here – really amazing!!)
Thanks Annie & Tiffany for a great week!