Monday, March 13, 2006

Individualized Ashtanga practice ...NOT an oxymoron

Ho hum. Practiced today. It went fine. Vinyasas still a bit weak, and jump throughs a bit lame. I have to say, I don't quite understand what's up with my vinyasas right now. When I am alone in the privacy of my own home, I can jump my legs straight through. I can jump straight into tirianga mukha pada. I float. I fly. And then I come to class. And I klunk. I flop. At best, I scootch and slide. I talk to my legs, I tell them, "Engage, damn you!" And then I feel kind of bad because I know that my legs would respond much better to positive reinforcement. And besides, it isn't all their fault anyway. It's those shifty, mischievous bhandas not doing their fair share of the work. There they are. And then there they're not.

Where do they go, so furtively, taking with me my jump throughs?

Mari C and Mari D are just poses that I do now. Nothing major going on there. I don't see a lot more depth happening any time soon. Right now, I am dealing with sweat issues, which is slightly interfering with my poses. It's not quite hot and sweaty enough for me to break out my Mysore rug (even though I now have it at the read, just in case). But it's way too hot and sweaty for me to get through my entire practice without wiping and adjusting my yoga pants - either higher up on my tummy so that my lotus foot doesn't slide around on my bare skin, or lower down so that my back arm doesn't slide directly across my bare, sweaty back, making my wrist slick with sweat so that it becomes impossible for me to grab my wrist with my wrapping arm...or adjusting my tank top - either pulling it up so that I can use the slipperiness of my sweaty back to help me slide my hands up my back into reverse prayer for Parsvotannasana or to help me slide my wrapping arm around me in the Ardha Badhas, or pulling it back down so that I can grip my waist in Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana.

I love the heat, don't get me wrong. But all that sweat is just overkill for my practice. But summer's coming, and this is just the beginning, so I better get used to it. You take the good with the bad. And the fact that it's light in the mornings, and it's easier to get out of the house without the many layers of clothing, and I can wear flip-flops again...well, that's all good.

Bhuja Pidasana is pretty much about as good as it is going to get, I think, save for the tweaking that years of practice adds to any pose. I wonder when it will be time for Kurmasana. That is the one pose (by Kurmasana, I am referring to both Kurmasana and Supta K) that I fear and dread. There is something about the way people look in it, with their backs all curled up like a mushroom and their legs behind their looks scary to me. I feel that way about no other poses. So this should be interesting. If, and when.

Speaking of Kurmasana and Supta K, there was a girl practicing in my peripheral vision today who did all of Primary, but whose form was really quite sloppy. She could barely straighten her arms in Kurmasana. And it made me wonder: why is it that some people are expected to really perfect and finesse their asanas before they are given new ones (and by some people, I am pretty sure I mean me), and some people just plow through Primary with little adherence to the finer details that I am more or lessed forced to adhere to (for example, Mari A: if there is someone available, I always get an adjustment such that my UNDERSIDE of my chin is pressed into my shin and my back is stretched so far, it feels like I'm on a rack, but in a good way)? I bet that if I was seen doing Mari A with my back rounded, and I moved onto Mari B, someone would come over and tell me to do Mari A again with their help. And yet all around me, people have their backs curved and their foreheads on their knees.

I am in no way upset about any of this. I just find it interesting. I wonder if it is because forward bending is a huge strength of mine. Just as some of you bendy gumby people out there can touch your hands to your ankles in Urdhva Dhanurasana, or even walk your hands up towards your knees, I, myself, am forward-bending savant. My hamstrings simply feel no pain. They just stretch and stretch, like a worn-out rubber band. I consider this a happy little gift. We all have our gifts. This is mine. So, perhaps no one will ever give a hoot about my ability to bend 360 degrees in Urdvha Dhaurasana, but I'll always be kept to a high standard in poses that require loose hammies?

Or, as we were discussing yesterday at brunch, perhaps it is a reflection of the notion that my "yoga practice" is in the slowing down. Given a choice between taking the slow road or plowing ahead, my challenge is always to be willing to stay on the slow road. It's a major factor in why I gravitated toward Sir and Shala X. They "got" me. He "got" me. I'm an athletic, strong little person, and I can do what you throw at me. But that doesn't make it yoga. What makes it yoga for me is learning patience, learning to take instruction, learning to acknowledge when the ego is obscuring my view, like dirt on a windshield (and by "my" I am referring to my "self", the untouched, unconfused, unsubjective, pure truth, the observer of the mind; thus if the mind is all identified with the ego, the self is obscured, at least to some extent).

A real turning point in my practice came in September 2005 when Sir took everything after Mari C taken away, saying, "Let's finally get you to do this correctly, on your own, before we move past it." That was where the rubber could have met the road. That was the day that if I was not ready for what was about to be taught, I would have to have left Shala X and gone and found a teacher who would continue to feed my ego (Ego: "I'm so fit! I teach yoga! I can DO all the poses, I just need some help, but I can really DO them!"). If I had done so, however, I wonder what my practice would look like today? Would I even know how to bind Mari C? Would I be chomping at the bit for Second, which I am so not ready for (yet)?

The taking away of Mari D and everything past it was the greatest gift Sir could have given me as a teacher. My sticking around in spite of the blow to my ego was the greatest gift I could have given myself as a student.

Anyone else out there feel like their teacher teaches them a very individualized yoga practice, even within the sameness of the Asthanga series?



Anonymous said...

You look like you could have gone to the Oscar's in that dress! Wish I had invented those hose, brillant.

Yesterday the room was so damn cold, and yes New Yorkers, we had a collection of ice in the corner by the door, I couldn't get one drop of sweat going, not one. It just bummed me out the whole practice. Finally I took my mysore rug OFF my mat and it made such a difference, I felt much more grounded, before that I think I was trying so hard not to slide anywhere it was distracting.
When I started practicing 2nd again by itself after being sick I asked my teacher if he was going to take away poses and he said no, I could keep all of it. It hasn't been a year yet but I still haven't gotten everything back, it is slowly coming..........


Tiffersll said...

Yes, I would completely agree...everyone's practice is different. I think that's why it's important to have one teacher who knows you and where you are at. At Tim's studio, it's not so traditional. Everyone can practice the entire primary, even if that can't get through Mari D or Supta K. Like me for example, I can't do Supta K and it drives me up the wall...kurmasana sucks too (damn hamstrings). I do have a flexible back though, so I can grab my ankles and I'm doing viparita chakrasana after my urdhva dhanurasanas. I have mixed feelings about being stuck on one posture for forever...if that were the case, I would've been stuck at Supta K for probably three years. Maybe I would appreciate it more...

Anonymous said...

"Anyone else out there feel like their teacher teaches them a very individualized yoga practice, even within the sameness of the Asthanga series?"
Well of course - that's the whole point. And that's also why some in your class sail thru primary with really bad form - we don't know what's really going on with them - but Sir does. That's all the matters. Now, about you - from what I've seen (yes, I've seen you practice) your main and pretty much ONLY issue is focus and drishti. You tend to look all around the room before / after and during each pose. There's no way to do that AND be breathing correctly and staying focused. My 2 cents...

yoga chickie said...

K - we have to get SOME good weather around here, it's only fair! But I hear it is going to be in the 30's again on Friday...oh well. The hose really are brilliant, and they are not JUST about the no-toes - they are really flattering, silky and totally sheer.

Tiff - being stuck in one posture (I was stuck in C for about three months and Navasana for about three months) is something you really don't know how you'll react to until you're there. I thought it would be awful. But I could have been stuck in Navasana a lot longer without reaching my ego-breaking point.

Anon - Thank you so much for the feedback. I do tend to look around before and after - although I dispute the "during", at least in Primary (possibly you may be right about me in Standing poses) since my head is usually crushed down near my shins, and despite that I am a mom, I really do NOT have eyes in the back of my head!


DK said...

When I first started practicing I learned the poses one at a time. I stopped at D for a long long time. Then bhujapidasana. Other people would come in and if they did the whole series with alot of modifications, my teacher would not stop them. But if they asked, he would suggest.

When my teacher taught me headstand he said I had to come up with straight legs,and of course, no wall. Well, I was petrified so for two years instead of headstand I did a form of dolphin.
Other people would do headstand at the wall (mostly visitors) or come up with bent knees. Not me. Dolphin. Dolphin. Dolphin. Even in led classes, dolphin dolphin dolphin. I was certainly strong enough, just totally petrified.

I finally went up went day. Fell. And got up again.

My favorite asana is headstand with all its variation. It is like an anti-depressant, a clarity pill, a way to focus on bandhas and openings and alignment without the usual gravity constraints (instead of course you have different onesJ

I also take an advanced Iyengar class twice a week which usually entails all different kinds of headstands for A LONG TIME.

I thought my teacher worked me harder than anyone else because I had the most physical challenges. Now I know he taught me as he was taught because I showed up everyday and respected him enough to actually listen to him.

He considered me his student. And I am forever grateful.


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Northern Westchester, New York, United States
I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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