Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Not better, just different.

My new blog resolution is to write a bit more little and often – i.e. don’t leave it weeks between posts and ideally don’t write such ludicrously long ones that nobody will ever get to the end. Brevity has never been a strong point of mine though so it’s going to be tricky...!
Practice has been interesting this week. After an awesome Sunday, yesterday was good too (including me getting my hands to the ground in Prasarita Padottanasana C for only the second time ever!), today was a bit stiffer but still alright, and we are practically mob-handed with teachers so I’ve been getting lots of assists. Cary is heading off to Mysore next week for Sharath’s authorised teachers’ workshop so the person covering while she’s away is in assisting this week, plus we still have Cary and our usual assistant. A couple of things have come up both through this, and in conversations with Cary over the past few weeks that have led me to some realisations. Disclaimer time first of all – I am not saying that anybody is teaching anything that’s wrong (as if I would), nor that one teacher is better than another. What I’m going to say is nothing more than my own thoughts and observations based on conversations I have personally had with a couple of different teachers. OK that’s the legal stuff out of the way ;)
A few weeks ago Cary asked me about Noah (Williams)’s take on something, and whilst chatting I told her two things he very firmly believes in: first: in Marichyasana A, the hand of the arm wrapping around the bent leg grabs the opposite wrist (try it – it’s probably the opposite of what you do), and that this is the only exception to the “wrapper is the grabber” rule. Secondly: he taught us that in savasana (which he calls sukhasana – saying that savasana is a very advanced 6th (?) series pose where you stop your heart) you should keep your arms and legs fairly close in to the body, and that palms should be facing down, rather than palms up and starfish style, all limbs splayed out onto other people’s mats (as my next-door neighbour was practicing yesterday morning!). He said that this keeps the energy in rather than sending it all out of the body, which seemed to make sense. After he taught this in Goa I immediately switched to this method and have practiced it ever since, finding it a lot quieter than with palms up – though I think I forgot his Mari A rule almost straight away after I came back home.
The conversation I had with Cary was very interesting though, as needless to say she didn’t say that either of those things were wrong, just that she had never been taught that way, but that Noah did spend a huge amount of time with Guruji...she also mentioned later that he started practicing palms down around the same time he was getting divorced, which I thought was quite telling. She told me that some days she has her palms up, other days palms down, as there is a clear difference in the energy. So of course I tried going back to palms up, and this was around the time I started to notice having a huge amount of energy through the day (instead of being constantly knackered!!), so I am sticking with it for now, but with the limbs quite close to the body. Mind you, it’s hard to put the change in energy levels through the day down to this one thing, as at the same time I also started really pushing in my backbends, and that’s supposed to give you energy too isn’t it?
Anyway the conclusion I came to was that perhaps Noah was given these changes by Guruji at a specific time in his life, and for a particular reason. So surely following these changes when you are not going through the particular set of circumstances that he was then is a bit like taking somebody else’s medicine – and therefore inappropriate? But short of studying with the source, what else can we do? If we don’t have an opportunity to go right to the source (and this may be a matter for some debate but let’s face it, that is now impossible) then we have to trust in the lineage. And more than that, I realise more and more that we have to build a relationship with one teacher, and stick with them. Because going to a great teacher on retreat is one thing, but that’s only 2 weeks in your life – whereas your regular teacher will be with you for the other 50 in the year, seeing your ups and downs, your good days and bad days, your injuries...so surely they are the one you follow, even if what they tell you doesn’t always exactly match what a more “superior” certified teacher might have said.  
All of that said, I suppose you need to be adaptable to other teachers, so that you wouldn’t fall into the trap of only being able to do headstands with Harmony, for example (yep, that was me – 1 in India, 1 in Antwerp, and then we lived on opposite sides of the planet so I didn’t do it again for almost a year). But what gets tricky is when teaching is the exact opposite of what you are used to, I end up in a sort of paralysis of worrying what is correct. I suppose to a certain degree, you respect the teacher that you are practicing with as long as it doesn’t compromise your regular practice too much (which as a relative beginner, of course it doesn’t for me). This came up as I was adjusted this week in Mari A by our new cover teacher, who concentrated not on my forward bend (that’s another Cary SMACKDOWN!! pose – though I don’t have so far to be smacked down these days J ) but instead on working my hip down to the ground. But I have always been told that it’s supposed to be in the air in A – in fact I remembered a discussion about it on Jaime’s blog and dug up the comments today where Susan said as much (and I checked my Noah notes and he said the same). New teacher (M) also had a very different focus in UHP yesterday, keeping my leg relatively low and working on turning out (opening?) my hip and although I’m not complaining about not doing the splits, it does make it harder to come down to the leg! She also gave me a very gentle version of the supta kurmasana adjustment yesterday and today but that’s most likely because I whimpered to her about my dodgy shoulder on Monday before she had a chance to take my feet over my head, so we’ll see how this goes over the next month. Of course I’d much prefer that than somebody coming in and giving you very deep adjustments when they don’t know you or your practice.

I also got my money’s worth from Cary today before she goes, as I finally asked her about Janu Sirsasana B – the pose in which I have the most confusion and least understanding of what I’m meant to do and how to do it. I feel like my foot is in completely the wrong place, but when I try to put it in what I think is the right place it either hurts like hell, or I can’t balance on my foot. I think my foot is the wrong shape ;) Anyway I had asked one of the assistants about it before and been told to keep pushing into the knee to keep the foot active and mentioned this to Cary who said no, the foot is meant to be soft. So the explanation went like this. Start with your foot as in Janu A – but ah, I said, I was taught that in Janu A the heel touches the inner thigh of the bent leg, not the straight one (Noah), which opened up a whole other conversation. C suggested that just because it opens up the hip more and is more difficult, it’s not necessarily better (because opening the hip is good,so  opening it more must be better, right? NO! The harder the pose, the more good it does you, so let’s make it that bit harder? NO!) and here’s that line again, “it’s certainly not that way I was taught”. So she didn’t say it was wrong, but she then talked about the position of the torso in all of those poses, and how opening your hip out further and having your foot in that alternative position actually changes the line of the torso (she showed me, it really does). So I think this means that as of tomorrow I will revert back to my original version of Janu sirsasana A, also known as what used to be my favourite pose before Noah ruined it! (any fellow PV people reading, that line’s just for you). So where does this leave me for Janu B? Well, it makes a little more sense, in that you move over the foot, keeping it in the same position but softening it. Here’s the bit I really can’t do – then C said you should be able to see the side of the big toe, and the heel should be right between the perineum and the genitals (so presumably not in your happy place...) and...(drumroll) it’s all about bandhas! Ha! I bloody knew it! Just when you think something’s all about your foot, or your knee, or your hip, there they are again. She said that you have to have enough lift in the bandhas to enable you not to rely on pushing down with the foot, and I know for a fact I haven’t even once thought of my bandhas when I’m trying to do this. So I suppose it’s back to the drawing board tomorrow, and I will report back.
All in all though, things seem to be coming, mentally as well as physically. It’s a really interesting time, and in one sense it’s such a shame C is going away now – but in another way, it will be great all round I’m sure as not only will I get some new input (and hopefully tons more when Cary comes back too) but also it will help to remind me what I seem to be realising, that my practice is exactly that: it’s all mine.


  1. I very much appreciate this post and your experiences with savasana palms down, I find it fascinating that the energy would not be dispersed so much, it kind of makes sense intuitively. I have seen people in shalas doing that savasana where all is kept close to the body, and some even go "stiff"... sometimes I wonder about this 6th series savasana....

    I will try the palms down, got all curious now

  2. Thank you Claudia, it's funny how so often we can read things at just the right time, isn't it? I am sticking with the palms up for now, but only because I have to go to work after practice. I think palms down is preferable for me but leaves me a little bit too spacey - in real-life I have to jump up from savasana, take a super-quick shower, dry my hair, jump on the train & race to work...the usual, and the feeling I'm left with doesn't give me the fire to do that. I wonder if it was 6th, as Noah said that nobody knows it, Guruji took it with him as Sharath wasn't ready...maybe it was 5th. I think maybe the close to the body pose is for practical reasons, I don't know...Anyway I'd be interested to hear how you get on!