Close Encounters with Erich Schiffmann

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September 13, 2012

I spent last weekend hanging out with Erich Schiffmann, a yoga teacher of 44 years, author of Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness, and a dude who says “Wow,” “Yay,” and “Awesome” more than I do! I got to practice mirror-gazing meditation, get my first taste of freestyle yoga, listen to inspirational talks, laugh, reeelaaxxx (that’s how Erich says it), learn, hang out with a cool group of yogis, and eat lots of yummy vegetarian food.

This all took place in the charming and hippy-esque village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, at a weekend Essentials of Freedom Style Yoga retreat led by Erich, which was lovingly organized by Patricia Schneider and Andrew Junker, the founders of Yellow Springs Yoga. I really want to send out a big hug to these two for bringing such incredible yoga teachers to Ohio – it really is unbelievable to be able to drive a few hours and study with a master teacher like Erich.

Thank You Patricia and Andrew!

This morning I was going through all of my notes to prepare a post to recap the weekend, and there is just too much good stuff to download, so I’ll be sharing little nuggets of Erich wisdom over the coming weeks. Here are just a few memorable moments from the weekend…

It’s Fun to Be Learning

Erich shared that, after practicing yoga for 44 years, he is still in love with it; in fact, he admitted that he is even more in love with it now than he has ever been! And, after he shared this, he got this big grin on his face, followed by his infectious chuckle, and told us that part of the deal with yoga is that you just keep learning. With that same playful chuckle, he admitted that he hasn’t done a sun salutation in years; yet, his practice has become more intelligent, respectful, easier, and fun!

I found this refreshingly inspirational because I have wondered a few times if I will ever tire of practicing yoga, if somehow the utter joy of it will start to diminish. After hearing Erich speak with such enthusiasm, I know there will always be room for me to learn, live, and grow in my yoga practice, and this on-going learning is and will continue to be awesome.

Freedom Style Yoga Rocks

On Saturday after going through a practice of meditation and asana, Erich set us up for a little freedom-style yoga. We were basically told to do what we wanted to do, to plug into the yoga patterns that we already know, to pause and tune in to the asanas and trust ourselves. Erich explained that when these downloads occur, we give expression to what we’re feeling and channel it into our practice. And then he said words that were magical to me, “Give yourself permission to deviate from the prescribed pattern.”

During freedom-style yoga sessions Erich plays cool yoga music (from peeps like DJ Drez and Donna DeLory) and just lets the class do their thing. All I can say is wow—freestyle yoga rocks! When I experienced it, I closed my eyes, let my body relax and flow and do what organically felt good. I found myself putting together some really kick-ass flows that I want to share. Erich encouraged us to keep a notebook handy when we practice freedom-style yoga to journal what we experience and then teach pieces of it. It’s kind of like making up your own song and then teaching it to others.

I have a confession to make: My virgin freedom-style yoga experience was so much fun, so exhilarating and liberating, that it moved me to tears. But as with all my yoga cries, they were tears of joy.

After class I went to talk to Erich, who was extremely kind and approachable to all the workshop participants, and told him about my experience. His response was, “Yay, Awesome! Yay for Free Form,” and then he gave me a big hug. How cool is that!

This awesome photo was taken by the lovely Alie McManus

I’m looking forward to putting on some music this week, pulling out my yoga mat, and putting my new freedom-style yoga to practice. In fact, I’m going to practicing pausing and hesitating both on and off the mat instead of flailing about. I’m going to use these pauses to download and become more creative, to put more soul into what I do, to make it my song, and maybe come up with a few yoga poses of my own!

Have you ever tried freestyle yoga? If so, what kind of music did you play, and what kind of download did you have? I would love to hear from some of you, so please leave a comment below. And, if you have never tried it, I encourage you to give it a go.

Stay tuned because I’ll be sharing more about my experience in Yellow Springs with Erich Schiffmann. And, if you were wondering, thankfully there were no embarrassing moments like what I experienced when I studied with Rodney Yee and Max Strom.

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