Sunday, 22 November 2009

Are you here for yoga?

Standing on the doorstep of YP at 7.45am (no chance I was sleeping through today), showered, coffee-ed up and ready to practice, I'm trying to work out whether I rang the bell right & nobody answered (should I buzz again? impatience isn't very yogic...) when a smiling face comes walking towards me. "Are you here for yoga?" Yes, I say, I'm not sure if I'm meant to buzz? "maybe nobody's here yet" she says, pulling keys from her bag and opening the door "I'm Cary".

Ahh, the famous Cary, so beloved of the London branch of the cybershala, and very definitely built up in my estimation without my ever having actually met her. Not necessarily a good thing, as far as I'm concerned - great expectations can mean great disappointment. Thankfully I hadn't said anything stupid before I knew it was her (which is always a good start - I am brilliant at putting my foot in it with someone I assume to be the teacher only for them to turn out to be another student and - worse - vice versa). I was surprised to find only one other person there, but Cary talked me through how things work - shower through there, practice room here, tea here, fill out this form, put your money in the box & write your name in the book, pausing halfway through to ask "You've done this before, right?". I explained that I have been practicing in the evenings and it was working for me before but now it's not, which she agreed happens. So I spent the next 15 minutes carefully avoiding starting my practice, taking ages to get changed (why did I put my vest on under my other clothes? it just saved me time I could have done with spending!), filling out my form, and basically procrastinating, not wanting to be one of only two people in the room. As Cary came in to the changing room to light incense I confessed what I was doing, and so bit the bullet and went in to start.

When I was on my fifth sury A I was surprised not to have heard creaking floorboards signalling an adjustemnt, but then Cary came over as I went into downdog and asked where my form was (I was supposed to bring it into the room with me) so I scooted off to get it - of course, no adjustments until she's seen my form to know whether I have any injuries (very smart). As it turned out, lack of adjustments was the last thing I needed to be worried about! Starting on my surya B's I went into downdog again and saw her out of the corner of my eye leaning on the back wall behind me, and my first thought was I'm in trouble here...
I have a deep-seated issue with surya B which I have been trying to get over but just had a feeling I wouldn't be getting away with anything. So my first downdog adjustment was straightforward enough, a push on the hips, just the right amount of pressure, but also a tap on the fingers of my left hand which weren't pressed into the floor. The second one however was new to me and turned things upside down...
Crouching behind me, she put her hands about a six inches further back than my feet and said "DON'T move your hands! bring your feet to my hands", and my first thought was HOW? I have been told once by a sub teacher at AYL that my downdog wasn't long enough, but really that much?? And I have always shuffled my hands and feet in a bit, plus of course the way I was doing it my heels were just able to connect with the floor. But in this new longer stance everything felt different, my head felt like it was practically on the ground and jumping forward from there seemed like I had miles to cover. Of course every down dog after that I was aware of where her hands had been and where I needed to be, and how different it felt. How could I have been doing it this wrong for all this time?
Padangusthasana - another adjustment, knees straightened, arm position slightly adjusted. Trikonasana sequence - surely I was going to get pummelled here? No! Feeling like I'd got away with it I went into Prasarita Padottanasana and realised how much closer the ground is to my head these days. Funnily enough I'd been worried as this was my first full morning in an age (since Sharath in August in fact) that I would have no flexibility but I found it almost straight away, even with my hamstrings still tight from Wednesday's return to practice - something about the energy in the room, I'm sure of it.
Parsvottanasana and again, more flexibility than I am used to through my shoulders, and on to the dreaded Utthita Hasta Pandangusthasana. I am so used to getting a full assist in that pose I am convinced that I'm incapable of doing it by myself. Anyway I got started, but C was soon there and my leg was hoisted higher than ever before to shoulder height. And here's where it got tricky - she stood on one leg and pushed my knee on my standing leg straight with her foot. She took her foot away, my knee bent again. And again. And...yeah you get it. I wanted to scream it's the only thing keeping me upright! As we got to C she held my leg up (at AYL you are left with this one) and then she stepped away and told me to hold for one breath. I returned my foot to the floor but at an angle, got a micro-adjustment to straighten my feet, and then back up through the same thing on the left side as she miraculously gave me about 4 adjustments at a time - leg up, knee straight, head turned, corrected toe grab - and I'm sure there was a fifth but goodness only knows what else it could be. Then it was into Ardha Baddha Padangusthasana without the security of a wall in front of me but although I was wobby going into it I didn't topple, and on the left side actually managed to hold onto my toe until I was back upright (normally I can only catch it halfway down and let go on my way up to stop myself falling).
I had decided to do the rolling out the towel at Dandasana thing to stop me tripping up in standing as I was doing on Wednesday, so I rolled it out and went through my five breaths, and into half lotus for Janu Sirsasana A and was 4 breaths in before realising I had skipped the whole paschimottanasana/ purvottanasana sequence (and this is even after checking this bit in David Swenson last night as I always forget there's a vinyasa in there!) so I went back and in paschimo B got a full-on I-want-to-scream adjustment (I knew I'd be grateful for it later though). And if I thought my inclined plane was getting away with any sloppiness I had another thing coming as she came and leant on my toes, and then I was into seated.
All went well apart from me getting my sides wrong with Marichyasana D, probably because I was distracted and wondering whether Cary would come and help me - I can usually just about bind on the right but flail around on the left and nine time out of ten get help, but would rather have it for the whole thing as the twist is so much less when I only just catch my fingers. Anyway, distracted, I put my right foot into half lotus first and struggled but just caught my fingers, realising this was the side I normally struggled with and this normally comes second. So I went back to the right side, bound around my fingers, vinyasa and into the left and hurrah! I caught my fingers and even felt the twist - so maybe a ratio of 2 left to 1 right is the way to nail it! Anyway it's good to know that I CAN make it without needing assistance (even if it feels better with help).

And then I made my next sequencing slip-up and completely forgot navasana, only remembering when I was already partway through closing - I don't know what this was all about, I very rarely miss anything out or start off on the wrong side, I can only put it down to being distracted by being in a new place.
Anyway bhujapidasana was the usual mess, and I thought about asking for help and explanation but decided against it - I'll just practice it badly and see if she spots it was my chosen approach, so I did it twice (badly) but I do start to feel like something might be coming with it. As I said afterwards I have probably only tried it a dozen times if that, so I don't know why I'm giving myself a hard time that I haven't magically got it yet.

And then closing - at AYL you move to another room to close, so it felt nice to be able to stay on my mat and just flow through it, though it will take a bit of getting used to that there are still all the sounds of people practicing around you - especially as I'm sure I heard Susan doing her famous finger-breaking Nakrasana and I was dying to take a peek! But also being in another room has allowed me the safety net (i.e. allowed me to get away with) doing my headtstands at the wall. I have such a mental block with this: I WANT to be able to do it, really I do, but I also want to get away with not doing it. So am I going to ask for help? no siree. Am I going to do a headstand preparation up on tippy-toes and see if I get caught out? Ohhhhh yes. And for today, no comment and thus, no headstand. But in childs' pose afterwards (hey, I'd still been upsidedown, I still get to do it) Cary throws a towel over me and does this fabulous massage all down my neck and back, and then I'm into full lotus with relative ease (what's going on today?) and my closing three postures, and rest.

And wouldn't you know it, for the first time in absolutely months I get one of those moments in savasana. The best way to describe it is is being like when you are waiting for the sun to come up, but it already looks light so you wonder what difference the sunrise is going to make. And then it breaks and WOW, suddenly everything looks different. That's what these moments are like. I have only had a few of them, but you feel relaxed and then suddenly, the sun comes from behind a cloud and you feel inexplicably calm and peaceful, and a slow smile spreads across your face. The only problem is as soon as it happens, my brain starts with the "oh my god! It's happening! I'm having one of those moments!" and of course it's gone, but the memory of it and the smile remain.

The added bonus of my practice today was that I'd made a plan to have coffee with Globie afterwards - I'd recognised him from his videos and exhanged smiles across the room (Kevin I hope you got that mine was a "yes I'm Mel!" smile!). I was also on the lookout for Susan as I'd promised to make myself known and despite mistaking somebody else for her initially, as soon as I saw limbs bending in unnatural directions I knew it was her - we just had time to say hi before she had to rush off. This is part of what's been missing for me at AYL - I'm sure if you go there all the time it's friendly, but being as sporadic as I've been with it I have barely ever spoken to anybody there. They had a sign up about their christmas party and although I thought I'd be a nice idea, I knew there'd be no point in me going as I wouldn't know anybody. So two hours good company and yoga chat over breakfast in an east end greasy spoon cafe after practice was a welcome change, and it was great to put a name to a face. It's funny that this should come up now though because last night I read this passage in Iyengar's Light on Life:
"Practitioners of the asanas alone often forget yoga is for cultivating the head and heart. Pantanjali talked about friendliness, compassion, gladness, and joy. Friendliness and grace are two qualities that are essential for the yoga student. In yoga class, students often look so serious and so separate from one another. Where is the friendliness?...Where is the joy? Without these, we have not achieved the true yoga of Pantanjali".

So forgive me for the hugely long post (if anybody's still reading), but it feels like today was a bit of a red letter day for me. I think I just found my teacher.


  1. Hey Mel, yes I got the smile across the room. So glad you enjoyed your practice and first time at YP. Cary is great isnt she, so glad your expectations were not disappointed after reading our rave reviews.

    I speak to 2 people at most when I go to AYL (V and S), but everyone seems to be friendly at YP, I like the atmosphere, the space and the mutual encouragement. At YP I certainly find the friendliness and joy Iyengar talked about.

    I am always up for a tea and a bun after practice.

  2. Hi Mel,
    Not posted here before but have read some of your posts,I can almost feel the excitement in todays post.
    Glad you had such a great practice and nice to hear you have found a teacher. I have had many teachers over the years but sometimes you just really connect. Might be just the insentive you need to get back to a regular practice.

  3. Aw, I wish I could have met you when I was there. Maybe next time! I love the Iyengar quote...

  4. Hi Mel,

    Here I am again. I here from Kevin you are coming to the David Swenson workshop on Saturday afternoon. Me too, it'll be nice to meet you. Are you still buzzing from Saturday?

  5. I wish I could have met you too Karen but I spent all of that day asleep sick! Next time :)

    And thanks Helen, yes I am doing two workshops on Friday and two on Saturday (NOT the intro to 2nd!). Hopefully we will be able to meet there, I am catching up with a few people there so not sure what my timing will be but I have Kevin's number so fingers crossed! Are you just doing the 2 on saturday - 2nd series & breath? I'm not so much still buzzing as still hurting, Cary can be re-christened the teacher who reaches the muscles other teachers don't!! It's only been a few days but I do feel like I am already getting back on track even with my home practice, so hopefully this was just the incentive I needed.

  6. Cary's attention to detail is what makes the difference, no part of your anatomy is allowed just to "hang out", in every pose every sinew has a job to do.

  7. Sorry I'm late here, but it was great to meet you too! It's a bummer I have to rush off on Sundays to teach, oh well.

    I'll look out for you this morning!

    No more finger breaking :)

  8. Hi Mel, yes 2nd series and breath WS on Saturday. Which ones are you doing Friday. Glad to hear your back on track.

  9. Too right Kevin, there was no part of my body allowed to hang out today either!

    I think I missed you today Susan, I started practice just after the chant - didn't see you but then it was very busy! Weirdly though saw a girl from my primary (&secondary) school who rolled her mat out right in front of me. Glad to hear your fingers are no longer getting battered though!

    helen - I'm doing Flying, Floating + Handstanding god only knows what i was thinking!!) and Balance, Length + Oppositions of Force ones on friday, then the two on saturday. so I'm trying to be careful not to overdo it before then despite having been told by K that Cary is away after this week!!

  10. P.S. There are some pictures of me on the website for my yoga classes so you know what I look for Saturday. I cut my hair yesterday but I'm sure you will still recognise me from the photo! Sounds like great timing for a workshop for you, they can be so inspiring.