Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Yahtzee, Supta Kurmasana and being fickle.

This post is long overdue, there have been so many ideas and thoughts I wanted to write about over the past weeks but I still haven’t figured out that direct brain-to-blog uploading technique yet ;)

So what’s been happening? Practice seems to have ramped up a gear or two and become more consistent the past few weeks, and there has been some interesting mental stuff coming along with it. I wrote last month about how Cary was going to Mysore so for the past 5 weeks we have had Mel covering at the shala. More on that to come, but as today was Mel’s last day with Cary coming back tomorrow, last week was her final full week and I decided I didn’t want to miss any of it. I had quite a busy week socially though so I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but somehow I managed to make it my first-ever-in-normal-life 6 day week (outside of a retreat!). I didn’t mention that I was aiming for it to Kevin or Susan when we were emailing during the week (and as Susan had practiced at home a few days that week she didn’t know that I hadn’t skipped my usual Tuesday!), in my mind it’s like that game Yahtzee we so loved when we were children. Did you ever play it? It’s a dice game introduced to my family by our Dutch friends where you roll the 5 dice and try to get sequences on a score card (they’re called things like Three of a Kind & High Straight). The move with the highest score is “Yahtzee!!”where all 5 dice match (I know the plural is die but it sounds weird) and the way we used to play it you had up to three rolls to get it – but let’s say you had three 6s and rolled again hoping to get 2 more, but got a 1 and a 4 instead. You would have to confess that you were aiming for a Yahtzee and it would get crossed through on your score sheet – so because you had already attempted it, even if (by some fluke) you got it later you couldn’t get the points. 
I felt a bit like this about aiming for a 6 day week – once I got to Thursday and was knackered (and going to a gig that night) I just kept thinking don’t say you’re going to Led class tomorrow, you might not make it...but I so wanted to, it being Mel’s last one and somehow I did. I can’t quite believe that I only really started taking Led classes the week Cary left – and only then because I didn’t want to miss her last day. Then I felt bad thinking that Mel (who’d practiced with us on Cary’s last day) would notice that her led class wasn’t rammed to the rafters like Cary’s, so I went to her first one. And then I started to find that I liked the vibe of starting and finishing with everyone else, and having time to chat after practice, which almost made it worth the extra early start.
So anyway the 6 day week happened last week, and I couldn’t quite believe the difference it made to practice. I’m not saying everything was brilliant but I could definitely feel the difference. Also this was while I had an issue with my ears – I was deaf for almost the whole week – which motivated me to practice more as the only time it didn’t feel horrible was during my practice, but it did also make certain postures harder. But by Friday I was exhausted – and I mean “I think I might throw up on the way home from work” exhausted. I booked an impromptu massage which helped, but so did the 12 hours sleep I had on Friday night. And now again I’ve done the past 4 days, and with Cary back from tomorrow for one Mysore practice and 1 led, maybe it’s going to happen again – although I am really resistant to it. 
Susan pulled me up on it today, pointing out that I was like a born-again Christian last week (Oh six days makes such a great difference!) and this week I’m full of “Well I don’t really WANT to do six days..”. What can I say, I’m fickle! I am noticing this resistance to the six day thing, there is a practical basis to it, lugging my big yoga bag around all day every day, having to get to bed a bit earlier (or face total exhaustion), having to prepare lunch the night before and have breakfast at work every day (no porridge!) – it all takes preparation. My flat is full of damp yoga clothes all the time, I need more sleep, I am meant to be catching up with friends in long overdue phonecalls but there just isn’t time to cook, eat, take a salt bath AND chat on the phone in the evenings before I go to bed (or – I spend too long online and then don’t even have time for the bath). There aren’t enough hours in the day! Given that I travel 1 hour each way to work and am at my desk for a minimum of 8 hours a day I just need a few more hours in each day and maybe I’d be getting enough sleep. But then again, this is how I used to feel about practicing in the mornings at all and it really took some time to get my head around it. And then I built it up S-L-O-W-L-Y...starting in January this year I started to practice in the mornings, starting with 1 or 2 days a week plus Sundays. Then I got to the point where it made sense to stop paying as a drop-in, and then, without really realising it, going to practice became the rule not the exception. And I’m sure this won’t be the only time I do a 6 day week so I just need to work through this resistance and do it when I can, but knowing when to listen to my body (i.e. when I really really do need more sleep!).
Before Cary went away I was thinking that I really wanted to see huge changes in my practice in the time that she was away (to use it as a marker if you like). And for the first few weeks it didn’t seem like that was really the case. My shoulder started playing up again so I asked Mel not to adjust me in supta kurmasana and I backed right off the posture, and one week of backing off just became the status quo. I think it was only last week that Mel assisted me to bind my hands for the first time and my shoulder was OK, so from then on she did it each day. But then yesterday she did a bit of a supta k clinic with me, instead of just putting me into it she explained and helped me to understand how to work towards getting the bind myself. I started a few weeks ago to concentrate on getting my chest down flat in kurmasana and not to worry about crossing my feet as I came into supta k (thanks to Helen for her advice on this which has really helped!). Then I checked Gregor Maehle’s primary series book and he suggests having the arms out to sides, level with the shoulders rather than pointing backwards as I had been doing. Again this really seemed to help. So with my arms in this position, and my feet walked in a little with the weight onto my heels, Mel had me turn the palms upwards (“No, the other way...” I was trying to get there the long way round!) to get the rotation of the arms. Then the arms were to stretch right back as if I was trying to touch the back wall (palms down again now) then one at a time bringing the arm high up the back. She then helped me the last few inches to bind my hands, then came around to cross my feet, not lifting them not over the back of my head as Cary had been doing, but instead in the air parallel to the floor while I gripped the bind and breathed. It was probably about 20 breaths later (all in) she said “release it when you’re ready” (probably wondering what I was waiting for!) and I pushed down into the hands, lifting up with my legs somewhere in the direction of being behind my head. No tittibhasana attempt as she gave me a debrief instead, telling me that I’m actually pretty deeply in the pose and offering a few more pointers, and I can’t tell you how energised the vinyasa into my backbends was. Deeply in the pose, really?? Backbends were super strong thanks to the euphoria and I started thinking about trying it again when I got home from work J

Instead I waited until this morning, and at the end of a good-ish practice I was assisted on my first attempt, the same drill as yesterday, with the pushing down on my hands to lift out of it much stronger than yesterday. Mel assured me that my left hand was in just the right spot and that I was only about a centimetre from it meeting my right hand (although she said it moved a bit when the right hand came around) so I decided to give it another try. Why does the second kurmasana attempt automatically feel about a hundred times better than the first? And why do I always forget this when I’m debating whether to do it twice or not? Here’s the rule Mel – always do it twice. ALWAYS. It will be worth it! So a delicious feeling kurmasana, squeezing the thighs into the rib cage as per Mr Maehle’s suggestion, and then I heeded the extra advice as I went into supta kurmasana, remembering how close I was and just where I needed to get my hands on my back – and I could feel my fingers! It’s not the first time I’ve made any contact, I have brushed fingertips once or maybe twice before but this time I could actually feel my fingers, though they weren’t close enough to bind alone. Mel was on hand and just popped my hands together and they happily stayed there, I brought my feet in and crossed them for a less hardcore version than the assisted one. But if I can go from not meeting to touching fingers in just two days, I am feeling really encouraged. Not to mention the actual verbal encouragement and excellent broken-down practical explanation which worked wonders – now I just have to keep practising!

I’ve rambled on for too long already so I will save the stuff about adapting to different teachers for another day. But suffice it to say I was very sad when I said goodbye and left the shala today, and it reminded me of my floods of tears when leaving Purple Valley in January – and the memory just made me even more upset. I think it would be difficult for some people to understand why saying goodbye to a teacher who you have gained so much from (but over a relatively short period) should be so sad (especially as there’s every chance you will see them again). But hopefully you, my fellow ashtangis, will fully understand the strength of the bond you can feel with a teacher through daily (or almost daily!) practice with them. On the other hand, I am so grateful to have had such wonderful teaching while Cary was away, and now tomorrow my teacher will be back – no doubt reinvigorated and inspired by her trip to Mysore. So as a good friend of mine would say...everything is already perfect.


  1. Yey for mel and mel, love the detailed breakdown, gave me some ideas for how to teach it better. Funny how some things become automatic and you forget how useful an instruction can be until you hear other people gaining from them. Mel was lovely, enjoy Cary tomorrow. Love your old friends saying at the end.

  2. WELL DONE, MEL! So pleased to read about your experience. I had a big grin on my face the whole time, happy for you that you're getting closer to it. :)

  3. Glad it helped you Helen...I can't imagine it ever becoming automatic though! And it's not an *old* friend who says that, rather a lovely young school-teacher we both know...

    And thank you Jaime! Although of course supta kurmasana wasn't so easy today but it's all practice isn't it? I have to remind myself I've only been working on it a few months and it's going to take some time, I just have to keep practising and be patient :)

  4. Ha ha, I realised I had written "old" this morning whoops, oh well she's younger than me so I'm sure she won't get a complex. It was extending the arms back that I was referring too, I definitely don't just automatically go in to it! I don't do it from the floor though, as you know.

    Your doing great!

    P.S. Your traffic feed thinks I am in High Wycombe?

  5. Aha, now I will always know when you are reading H ;) I think it thinks I am in Romford when I do it from home!
    And Miss F is wise for her young years.

  6. At least next week is 5 days with Moon day on Sunday, will be easy!

    Yoga washing - don't you have a washing line in your garden with al this lovely weather?

    It's good when a different teacher approaches a posture in a different way, sometimes it sudeenly makes sense.

    We become very attached to our teachers, but at least with Mel being in London the chances are good for practising with her again and Cary is back. Over 2 years on I still feel sad that I don't get to practice with Easter every week and knowing she's probably not coming back. I seriously wondered if I would continue to practice when Easter left.

  7. Yeah Kevin, 2 6 dayers in a row, let's see if I even make it 5 next week! The issue with the damp clothes is that they are in my bag all day, I get home anywhere between 7 & 10pm so there's no time to get stuff out on the line!
    Non-attachment to teachers is as important as making a connection with them in the first place, I'm coming to realise. But I haven't written that post yet!