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.
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.