Shadow play

Updated: 2012-07-06 07:50

By Rebecca Lo (China Daily)

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Shadow play

Scott Blossom is one of about 30 Shadow Yoga instructors in the world. Provided by Pure International

A yoga practitioner dazzles with his dexterity

At an early evening session on the first day of the annual four-day Asia Yoga Conference in Hong Kong, Scott Blossom is doing a little dance. It is unlikely any of the dance students there have witnessed anything like this before - and many of them are long-time yoga practitioners.

The 10-minute demonstration starts off simply with a series of breathing techniques. No pose is held for longer than a second, and the motion is fluid and continuous - like tai chi for triathletes. Low squats are combined with twists and postures that seem inevitable, yet speak of the many hours of practice that it takes to hone them.

By the time Blossom enters the last quarter of his demonstration, eyes are popping at the low handstands and core strength required to achieve the grace with discipline he is showcasing. He completes the last move and seems to have barely broken a sweat. Thunderous applause breaks out.

Blossom is a traditional Chinese medicine physician by training - Shadow Yoga is a hobby but one he takes very seriously. He gets up every day at 4 am, teaches yoga at Shunyata, the Shadow Yoga studio in San Francisco that he founded with his wife Chandra Easton, then heads into his clinic to spend the rest of his day practicing medicine.

"I got into yoga after high school," says Blossom, relaxing before the session.

"I had been depressed for about six months and a friend invited me to join a yoga class. It was like the first crack of light. Then, when I continued to study biology and then pre-med, yoga became a real savior. It helped me handle stress better."

Though he majored in traditional Chinese medicine, he also spent 7,000 hours studying to be one of about 30 Shadow Yoga instructors in the world.

Compare that with the typical 200 hours of training for regular yoga instructors, and it is clear how devoted Blossom is to his art.

He learned the practice from its founder, Zhander Remete, a Hungarian residing in Australia who devised the form based on Hatha yoga while adding martial art elements. Blossom continues to brush up on Shadow Yoga techniques by attending master classes that Remete hosts around the world.

"There is a strong basis on standing forms in the south Indian style," Blossom says. "Shadow Yoga is a revival of foundation work, with an emphasis on developing bone, marrow and tendon - all good for the core. There are also a lot of spinal and circular movements combined with squatting and low level work."

The term Shadow Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word for shadow, or chhaya. Chhaya is synonymous with different layers of being. Shadow Yoga aims to help individuals work through those different layers by bringing about an awareness of how to integrate different parts into a cohesive whole.

To that end, Shadow Yoga is much more than an exercise: its practitioners believe that it should be practiced in conjunction with sitting meditation and a disciplined approach to life.

"The body is nothing but layers of frozen shadow," Blossom says. "We attempt to investigate the light that is the origin of those shadows."

For people who want to take a few occasional classes, Shadow Yoga offers substantial benefits. "While Shadow Yoga requires commitment and daily practice for people like me, lay people can reap its benefits very quickly," Blossom says.

"They will find their digestion and elimination much improved, and the quality of their blood will improve as a result. This will manifest itself in shiny hair, glowing skin and healthy nails. For women, it helps prepare them for smooth reproductive cycles. Shadow Yoga also offers strong emotional benefits. It is great for people who tend to be meditative. We don't use any music in class because it's about internal awareness."

As Shadow Yoga involves a lot of squats and low work, care must be taken to avoid injuring the knees. "But there is no compulsion to do anything that will hurt," Blossom says.

"If you get lazy, it is easy to irritate the knees. Injuries are really wake-up calls to fine tune awareness of your body. You will then calibrate movements to avoid knee injuries - that helps you to realign your body correctly."

Blossom feels that yoga has become very commercial in recent years. That is one of the reasons he does not teach full time and he does not train instructors. "I like developing a community of students, where the environment is clean and our motives are clear."

"Teachers are assumed to posses a certain level of mastery which some instructors are much too casual about. Although I have never taught in China and this is my first time teaching in Hong Kong, I believe the established student and teacher relationship required for Shadow Yoga is already ingrained here. And people's mindsets are very good."

China Daily