AYS Philadelphia Part 3

Just a warning that this post is primarily for people who practice Ashtanga.  It’s not that you can’t read it if this is not  your practice, it is just that you might be bored.  Unless you get excited about things like modifications for eka pada sirsasana with a folding chair, this might not be your thing.

That said, eka pada sirsasana with a folding chair!  I did not make that up.  But let me go back to the beginning.  Today we did nearly a full 2nd series.  In a physically exhausting 2 1/2 hour practice on muscles that haven’t built back up from last night’s exhausting 2 1/2 hour practice (including some talking I admit), David counted out 2nd series up to kapotasana, which we covered last night, and then led us pose by pose up to vatayanasa.  Did I mention that I’m exhausted?  Very long holds on some of these poses.

My favorite part was working on bakasana.  The jump to bakasana has been a pipedream of mine for a while, but has seemed out of reach.  Something for next year, or the year after.  But it turns out next year is, well, tomorrow, and he showed us how to stay quite low and crouch on a block.  So with your toes on the block in a low crouch with your arms extended a ways forward, you can sort of lightly hop onto your arms.  This actually worked one time.  Then you can move the block back, and eventually eliminate it.  I believe he has a video on bakasana on his blog to get the part about keeping your hips low and making a dome of your upper back.  Oh yes, and straight arms.  Straight arms!  They are getting there.  David said that Bakasana is the basis of all the other arm balances and if you harbor any curiosity about learning 3rd series some day, you have to work on this.

Third series?

Eka pada sirsasana with a folding chair was a revelation.  I have not been able to hold my foot behind my head without my hands yet.  He had us set up the chair with the edge of the blade of the foot going (the one going behind the head) on the front edge of the seat.  Tuck your head under and reach your hands through to the back legs of the chair, which you can now gently pull on.  I could feel my hip rotating.  I could feel muscles relaxing that I didn’t even know I was tensing.  I did this several times on each side and real progress was made.  We worked with dwi pada the same way (those of us that needed it that is, there were more than a few who didn’t need such clumsy props), but with both feet on the edge of the chair.  Tricky to set up but it’s the only way I’ve ever been able to approximate that pose.

Which brings me to another point that is very much on my mind this New Year’s Eve, and that is the future of my practice this coming year.  If you’ve been following you know that I’ve been doing 2nd series on my own at home, once a week on Sundays.  I am aware that this is not how most people learn it, and certainly not how it is taught in India.  While I’ve been able to modify where necessary, it’s far from a beautiful rendition at this point.  Also, it does seem to bring up…. stuff.  Emotional stuff.  Not sure that I can blame my practice but I suspect that it is a powerful factor in a difficult holiday season.  Family stuff I had no control over blew in like a hurricane and left me breathless.

My new teacher in Peterborough knows I’ve been doing 2nd on my own but I haven’t worked on it in class yet.  I told David I feel like a bit of a maverick working on my own like this.  This all came up because tomorrow morning we are doing a mysore practice and I have to decide what to do. We’re allowed to work further into second series than we normally do just for the workshop, even if that’s not where we are in our personal practice.  He said that I could practice 2nd in its entirety since that’s what I’ve been doing, and he would take a look at my modifications and make recommendations.  He also said that I could try going back in my personal practice and do 1st series and add in the first 3-5 poses of 2nd, which would go up to kapotasana.  And try that out for a few months and then add one pose at a time.  I might well do just that, but for tomorrow I suspect that I’ll practice 1st up to, up to what?  He said to cut it short to leave energy for 2nd series poses.  So 1st up to….let’s say Navasana and then 2nd series up to…. whatever I can get away with I guess.  At least pincha mayurasana I hope.  Although my yoganidrasana is pretty hopeless.

Another highlight was working on Pinca Mayurasana.  He told us how to do the jumpback from pinca, but I somehow missed the fact that your hands have to change from pinca to chauturanga position first.  By the time I realized my mistake I was out of juice.  For karandavasana he allowed us to work on it with the head on the floor (which is mukta hasta sirsana B I believe, don’t have my Swenson book with me though) IF NECESSARY only.  So after several failed attempts to get my legs into lotus from pinca, which is a relatively new pose for me, I put my head on the floor and managed a very loose lotus.  Not bad for an injured knee.  He spoke of getting lotus inversion crazy, of practicing lotus in headstands and any other time you’re inverted.  He also said that the tiny bump of moving your legs into lotus doesn’t have to affect your balance in whatever pose you are in.

In the end it was Joy who said the thing that I most needed to hear.  David was talking about energy and moods, whims, and ways of thinking about yourself that make more or less energy available for your practice.  To clarify, Joy said that sometimes she wastes energy worrying about what other people are doing and then doesn’t have that energy available for her practice.  That is exactly what I have been doing, spending a whole lot of time worrying about people that I love but can’t control.

Finally, David recommended writing about the things that come up during practice.  I don’t think he meant that I had to post it on a blog!  Happy New Year one and all.  Philadelphia is a lovely city but I am missing my home and my family tonight.



7 thoughts on “AYS Philadelphia Part 3

  1. Thanks so much for this great post, and your sweet blog about practice. David is coming to my studio next Fall, and it’s nice to get a little promo! Hope you are having fun in Philly! Happy New Year!

    1. Thank you Michelle! He’s got a lot to share, to me it feels like he’s on fire from within, glowing with an inner fire. It’s slightly intimidating and scary, but inspiring too. Where is your studio?

  2. (Sorry for the delayed response – life got in the way for a bit!)

    My studio is in Northampton, Massachusetts. Florence Yoga – http://www.florenceyoga.com. It’s a dedicated Ashtanga studio (i.e. we do Mysore 6 times a week and have led classes in Ashtanga only) with the occasional varietal workshop in Restorative Yoga or Sanskrit thrown in. A nice community – I’m thankful, and I’m really looking forward to David’s visit. Yes, he is really great – a traditionalist, yet at the same time, innovative.

    1. Thanks Michelle- I just looked and I have seen your website before. Your studio is about 2 hours from me, but there are some museums out there I’d like to see so perhaps I’ll plan a daytrip in the Spring. And I’ll definitely look for David’s workshop in the Fall!

  3. Thanks. I am interested in the prop you described for eka pada sirsasana pose, but can’t visualize how you do it. Do you mind explaining it again? Thanks.

    1. Hey Justin. It’s probably one of those things where you should have a teacher show you how to do it. Although I am a teacher, I’m a long way off from teaching 2nd series! That said, I’ll just muddle along the best I can from what I remember.
      First, you need an ordinary folding chair.
      Sit in dandasana so that your legs go under the chair and you are facing the back of the chair. So the back rest is directly in front of you.
      Obviously you should be pretty warmed up at this point and not attempting to put your leg behind your head cold because that would be asking for an SI injury, which by all accounts is unpleasant. Caveat emptor!
      Pick a leg. Any leg. Maybe start with the hip that is more open if there’s a difference between the 2 hips. Bend your leg at the knee and hip and cradle your lower leg in your arms. If it’s my right leg, I like to open the hip a bit first by putting the sole of my right foot in my left elbow crease and then wrap my arms around, clasping them in front of the shin. Release that and take your right foot in your hands and place it on the seat of the chair. As I recall this is the blade, or outer edge of the foot, not the sole of the foot, and right on the edge of the chair. Now you can play a bit, carefully, by reaching your hands through to clasp first the rear legs of the chair, which are closer to you, and then the front legs of the chair. In this case working with the right leg, the right arm will reach through the space between your legs. Breathe into your hip joint by imagining the breath going into that space. Wait a minute, do ashtangis say things like that? I may be mixing my metaphors. Eventually you can begin to squiggle your head under leg.
      Repeat on the other side. A trick I learned from David Magone (PranaVayu yoga) is to practice on your tighter side twice. So where I said to start on the looser side, that’s more or less to get used to this prop/ variation. In a home practice you could practice the tighter side first, then the looser side, then the tighter side one more time. Until you’re a bit more even. Good luck- I hope this helps!

    2. Oh, one more thing. This prop/assist is for people who can’t put their foot behind their head yet. I know that’s probably obvious, but just in case. If you can already put your foot behind your head, you don’t need the folding chair. Although I suppose you could try it out just to see what it’s like.

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