Form Yoga in Decatur hosted a 3-day intensive Universal Yoga workshop led by Universal Yoga founder and creator, Andrey Lappa, on December 6 – 8, 2013. A few participants were universal teachers familiar with the method’s complexity. Many were yoga instructors from other traditions. Some were advanced yogis looking to grow their already potent practices. A few were fierce learners striving on more recently begun yoga journeys. In the end we were all two things, tired and hooked.
“Yoga must lead you somewhere so stop teaching bullshit”
Although a Buddhist monk, Andrey is intimidating. A powerful looking man with a serious look on his face, you have the sense that he could break you, if he wanted to. His seriousness disappears when he tells a joke. As you are getting the punch line, he is laughing uproariously. His selective use of profanity with his Russian accent is oddly charming. My favorite quote from the weekend is “Yoga must lead you somewhere so stop teaching bullshit.”
Universal yoga is exciting, different; fun…really it’s a riot. To the beginner it is stimulating creating a running internal monologue of “what’s next”? and “oh shit, can I do this?” A question usually answered with, “Wow! I guess I can.” To the mid level practitioner, Universal is an alternative to Ashtanga Vinyasa or power yoga with challenging arm balances, brisk movement, jump ups and jump backs and pretzeling a-plenty.
But for the experienced practitioner, the person who dedicates Saturdays to workshops and master classes and every day to pushing the edge a little further, the first experience of Universal Yoga is like graduating college and realizing you get to spend years in a PH.D. program going ever deeper into study that holds your most passionate interest. Complex, different, challenging, it holds your attention, and it just feels right.
The first thing you will notice is the cross mat. Carefully lined up like a Tetris board, the cross mat method won’t seem more crowded than a typical busy single mat class. Yet the cross mat opens up possibilities for freedom of movement, for transitions, for rotation of the body in multi-dimensional space.
The second thing you will notice is that you get started right away. Andrey believes that the practice of Asana is preparatory to meditation rather than directly integral with it. No opening chant, meditation or centering, just a brief prostration on the mat and you are off. With wonky 50-year-old stiff guy knees, the fast start is an adjustment for me. I’m used to giving my knees a chance to catch up. In Universal Yoga you start with a sprint so I was a bit wobbly at first. The flip side of this is a nice long Savasana with long periods of centering and meditation at the end of class. Given the fairly challenging practice, you will be thankful for this.
Universal yoga emphasizes equality. Every joint is worked and arms and legs, shoulders and hips get equal treatment. Some of the arm/shoulder stretches are like nothing you’ve ever tried. Universal yoga emphasizes the development of all directions of mobility of each main joint in the body. It provides a balanced combination of strengthening and stretching exercises in every class. It includes remarkably diverse breath work with multiple pranayama exercises, guided relaxations, and meditations. In short, Universal Yoga is about balance and detail.
The weekend was comprised of roughly 10 hours of lecture and 5 hours of practice spread throughout each of the three days. There were hugs all around at the close of the workshop and we had the sense that here was a master teacher that sincerely wants his students to learn everything he has to teach. His intelligence and sincerity affected all of us. Andrey is a person who has gone very deep in developing a definitive knowledge of yoga. The appetite is whetted and we can’t wait for more.
Loving movement as a lifelong swimmer and runner Ed Daniel discovered yoga in 2005. Like many, he came to yoga first through the door of a Bikram studio before moving on to other forms. Since then Ed has practiced and enjoyed various styles and his classes often blend elements from different schools of thought. Earning his 200-hour Yoga Alliance certification from Joe Palese he has studied with many outstanding teachers and continues to grow his practice through hands on experience.
Ed is stiff-guy friendly, friendly to people with sore backs, friendly to people with body image issues, friendly to people who are self-conscious or anxious or yoga-phobic. He believes in and embodies the maxim that yoga is for everyone and sees yoga as the union of body, breath, and spirit with an all-important added dash of humor. His classes at Form Yoga in Decatur are fun, sometimes funny, sometimes loud, and always open to grace… whatever grace means to you.