I recently completed my 2nd training in the Rocket® (Ashtanga Vinyasa), through the founding organization It’s Yoga. I became attracted to the Rocket sequences many years ago when I saw a friend practicing it – I was mesmerized by her seamless transitions. During my trainings I learned that the Rocket sequences and the It’s Yoga system is so much more than a physical practice, and is so much more beautiful, powerful and healing than I had ever imagined. I wanted to share it here with you.
Wikipedia will tell you that the Rocket Sequences were created in the 1980’s by Larry Schultz, who was a dedicated student of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. He created The Rocket sequences combining the primary and intermediate series of Ashtanga as well as key poses from the 3rd and 4th series. His theory was that everyone could do this practice using modifications (unlike traditional Ashtanga where one stays in a series until one is ready to progress), and so Rocket 1, 2 and 3 were born. It was due to this radical change to traditional Ashtanga that he was lovingly referred to as the Bad Man of Ashtanga Yoga.
Larry was fortunate to teach yoga to the band The Grateful Dead and it was Bob Weir who coined the name The Rocket as ‘it’s gets you there faster’. Basically Larry looked at the students in front of him and he saw that their bodies needed the front opening benefits of backbends (not in the Primary Series) and the fun and focus of the strengthening arm-balances of the 3rd and 4th Series so he deiced to create sequences that everyone could enjoy. This was in the 80’s and people still LOVE them. Larry’s legacy continues through It’s Yoga International, who run trainings as Larry created them and there are It’s Yoga Schools and teachers all over the world.
From the outside looking in, this might look like a very physical practice. There are over 600 poses in a Rocket Class. But this yoga is a tool. A mighty tool to connect to our self, to our higher self and to heal and be lighter.
‘The Pose is the Pose’ my first teacher, Salla, told me at her studio on Fuerteventura. It doesn’t matter if it’s handstand or child’s pose. ‘If the focus and awareness is there, then the pose is the same’.
The foundation of the practice is Breath, Bandhas and Dristi. Like Ashtanga yoga, a strong Ujay breath cleanses the body and keeps us present in the moment. ‘Breathe louder than your thoughts’ Larry told his students. Breathe lounder than your thoughts. Our Bandhas are our energetic locks that connect to the power inside us. When life gets hard and when real strength is required of us: to be honest, to be brave and to do what is right, not what is easy, this is where our Bandha practice comes in. It’s not just a physical drawing up of our pelvic floor and core muscles – this is where we draw our inner strength.
Our Dristi is our focus. Where we place our eyes and our awareness. Through our dristi practice we learn to be present and to focus our attention where we want it to go, without distraction.
These are all tools and the 3 of them work together.
For me, I practice differently every day. Some days I’m pumped, have had a coffee and I go for it. Some days I’m tired. I do less, push less and modify loads. Once I am focusing on Breath, Bandhas and Dristi ‘how’ I’m practicing doesn’t matter. I am present. I am breathing, I am moving, I am connecting. I am drawing up on my inner strength (bandhas) and I am focused. That’s the practice. If the ego is pushing me, and when I have entered into my ego mind, I am missing out on the other benefits. Sometimes I’ll hop back from arm balances and sometimes I’ll crawl. Some days I’ll hold downdog in the sunsalutes and some days I’ll lower to child. Some days my inversions will stick, others they won’t. That’s the practice.
The Rocket offers many ways of doing a pose and Larry’s vision was that everyone could practice together. Whether someone is lightly pressing up to freestanding handstands in the centre of the room, or hopping the feet up and down and feeling the weight on their hands – as long as everyone is practicing Breath, Bandhas, Dristi then every one is equal and every pose is equal.
Today is February 27th 2018, and it is the 7th anniversary of Larry’s passing. I never met the man, and yet his love and devotion to this practice have never been more alive through the teachings of his students and the founder of It’s Yoga International, Marie Russell, who is sharing the love of this practice.
‘There is nothing more satisfying to me as a teacher than to watch the glow with which people arise from Savasana. Often people walk into It’s Yoga with worry, stress and tiredness written all over their faces but when they leave, they show the effects of Ashtanga Yoga: they feel better and look better, lighter, freer, more relaxed and energized. This is why to me, teaching Ashtanga Yoga is a kind of self-realization; every time I lead class I, as a teacher, grow and express the insights of my own yoga. I see people take in the practice from various angles and develop, change and transcend their limitations, realize their possibilities.’
— Larry Schultz, YogaDragonden Blog:In Memoriam: Larry Schultz 1950–2011, Feb 19, 2010