Monday, 27 September 2010

Falling into place

Over the past couple of weeks I feel like some of the pieces of the puzzle have been falling into place. I’m talking specifically about asana practice here, and the fact that if my practice were a puzzle, I think I might have just found some of the edges. Or, you know, the few bits you find that make the expanse of blue and green suddenly make sense as being a part of a bigger picture...maybe my weak analogy is beginning to fail me now!

Exhibit A (because it’s the most significant): jumping back. A few weeks ago I was out on a Friday night with Susan talking about the led class that morning where we had practiced side by side. I was talking about how my jumpbacks seem to be the same as my friend who was practising to my right, using this as an explanation that it must be the way we learn (i.e. I’m not flaking out and just not trying, I’m just at a different stage of learning how to do it). Having been really lazy with jumping back for months and months I had finally got back into the habit thanks to some friendly prodding from susan (conducted via email, not during practice I should add!). So I was feeling chuffed that I had reinstated my (attempts at) jumpbacks and brought this up with S. But the conversation went like this:
Me: “So my jumpbacks today...”
S: “You don’t jump, you step.”
Me: “I don’t, I jump”
S: “No, you step!”
Me: “No, I jump!” (making the point as I was proud of myself because I didn’t even skip any that day)
S: “Do you jump off two feet and land on two feet?”
Me: totally confused. Sitting in a barstool and feeling indignant. “Err – I don’t know, I think I sort of spring off the side of one foot – BUT I LAND ON TWO!” I began to realise that she had a point.
So as of that Sunday I started to try and do as Susan said – to jump off both feet and land on both. God it was hard work!! Suddenly I started to understand why whole blogs have been devoted to the jumpback, and there was me up until now blithely unaware that I wasn’t even doing it properly! Actually that’s not true, I knew that I wasn’t, I just didn’t really care. I had chosen to take on board the advice of teachers who suggested that it didn’t really matter and that it was just circus tricks to do all this floating business. No doubt I listened to that advice because it suited me...
So that was day one (Sunday) and on the Monday I continued to attempt jumping off both and landing on both feet. Panting and sweating my way through practice I admit I was cursing Susan a bit...surely this was too much to attempt before work? But I stuck with it through the week (and I think it was generally speaking a pretty bad week as far as practice went) and by the second week of attempting to jumpback, I started to notice something: STRENGTH. My practice felt extra strong and bendy. I noticed the shape of my arms changing too (pathetically I told my colleague “I just noticed my arms in the bathroom mirror and I’ve got a touch of the Madonna arms!” realising as I said it how ridiculous it was. “Careful,” she humoured me “You don’t want to go too far, look what happened to her!”...some chance!). I also experimented with trying to find some bandha strength (this is still a huge challenge to me – I’m really not sure that I can locate the bandhas except at the easiest of points in the practice) and discovered what a light landing it was possible to have if I could manage to find that point and engage the locks.
After a good few days of practices where I noticed this newfound strength I said to Susan “I don’t suppose this is connected to starting to jump-back is it?”
“OF COURSE!!!” comes the reply (or sweeter, less” I told you so” words to that effect!). It didn’t make sense, I thought that in started to learn I would feel weaker from the extra effort, and the reason I wasn’t trying to learn was that I didn’t have enough strength. But Susan’s point, and one she says she makes frequently in her classes is that you only gain the strength by trying to learn – it’s totally chicken and egg! So although for now it’s still a lot of hard work, and I am still moving my hands forward before trying to jump off both feet (the lifting up and through will be a LONG way off yet), finally I get why it’s important  – and at least I’m trying now. And that seems to be the main thing.

Exhibit B: Surya B. Earlier posts on this blog will attest to the fact I’ve never been a huge fan of surya B – though in recent months, in fact since I started to have more of a regular practice and got it up from 3 Bs to 5 (ALWAYS!) I don’t really mind it so much. But one day last week Cary came and shook everything up and made it HARD. I was always taught (or so I thought) to step the back foot in as you turn it – I seem to recall being told to move your foot to where your toes were in downward dog (though I may have borrowed that instruction from a flow class where it was perfectly valid!). But Cary came and worked really hard on me to turn the back foot in keeping it right at the back of the mat, and moreover to lift up out of the hip without unbending the knee – in other words, I’ve been doing it wrong all this time. Since she did this with me Surya B has become very difficult, a great challenge (on the first couple today my bent leg couldn’t seem to get far enough forward with the back foot planted at the back of the mat), it’s hard to keep the outer edge of the back foot grounded, it’s hard to lift up out of the hip as she demonstrated, it’s all quite a lot of new instructions to remember so early on the practice, but I suppose the best part is that it’s taken Surya B off auto-pilot (and it will never be the same again). The same principle applies of course to the dreaded Vira 1 which continues to be a favourite (yuck).

Exhibit C: Upward dog. Call me slow but...I just realised on Friday that I lazily allow my thighs to make contact with the ground in updog, and that actually keeping the full length of the leg lifted is probably correct. Somebody please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I just discovered and fixed my very lazy habit. Something else which will never feel quite the same again...(it‘s much harder work now!).

Exhibit D: Something’s happened to my hips. I no longer have to baby my right hip/knee before attempting half-lotus (I used to have to cradle and rock it for 5 breaths first) and I can feel a huge difference in various postures especially upavistha konasana A in Friday’s led (as this is further than I usually practice, apart from in the Led class where I stay for the whole series). The weird knee thing seems to have gone away as inexplicably as it arrived. I can also feel a huge difference in my hips in kurmasana.

Exhibit E: (this is getting lame now): Supta Kurmasana. I hate to write this down in case I curse it, but as of last week this posture has rocked. As in, my few weeks worth of veeeery tentative finger bind and feet which will touch but that I could only cross with assistance seems to have changed to a good secure hand bind and an effortful solo crossing of the feet. Not just once, but two days in a row – including in Led with minimal time spent in kurmasana first! And then it worked again today after a weekend off – so maybe, just maybe, it’s here to stay. The key here seems to have been seeing the Kino video that has been posted on various blogs – it was actually of bhuja, but it was seeing Kino get the action of moving the shoulders under the knees that I was then able to start doing before going into both bhuja and kurmasana. It’s a bit of extra faffing yes, but for the extra depth in kurmasana I think it’s worth it J

So where are we up to? New jumping back attempts, extra superwoman Madonna-armed strength, new approaches to surya B and Vira 1, a non-lazy upward dog, newly more open hips, a comfortably bound supta kurmasana...what’s left? Well garbha continues to be a challenge, the bruises come and go (currently they are not too bad at all), my arms are getting more comfortably through and under my chin (no more weird one-arm-further-forward action where I had to hook my thumbs together to keep the hands in place!) but the rocking in a circle still seems like a impossibility. I have at least been trying (a bit) but after many beachings I am avoiding it for the time being as it makes me panic and feel stupid (all at once).

Ooh I know what else – headstand! So it’s been a good few months now since my headstand magically appeared in a Kino Led class, and I have been practicing it daily, but in the past week it suddenly got STRONG. I now feel secure in it, to the extent I popped up into it a few times while visiting my family this weekend (to show my 3 yr old niece who always wants to do yoga with auntie Mel) and had a conversation with my mum when she then came into the room. Something moved, I have always known that the weight is supposed to be in your arms, but suddenly in the past couple of weeks I felt the strength transfer into my shoulders and arms and I found this whole new level of security in the posture and have been gradually increasing from about 15 breaths, adding on 5 a day until I am now up to about 30-35. Next step – trying again to learn to float into it (currently I tuck up into it) which Cary is bound to get on to me about again at some stage.

I’m not listing all of these things to show off, or because this is “progress” as such, or certainly not on a physical level. It just seems amazing to me that in a time when my life off the mat is actually feeling rather angst-ridden (yes, the prospect of my new job is very exciting but also utterly terrifying – especially as I still know very few details and my anxiety is filling in the gaps!) my practice is consolidating in all of these ways, and simultaneously. I love the science experiment we conduct on our mats everyday! I should also point out that the week before last (when some of these changes kicked in) my practice felt laboured and difficult every day, it’s not like I am having stellar practices every day (though last week that seemed to be the case) but these little pieces of the puzzle seem to keep popping into place, making it all make a bit more sense to me.

Oh and today? Today I got given baddha konasana. I get the feeling this new asana is going to bring joy and pain...but no expectations, I will try to form my own opinions based on my own experience rather than freaking out because I know everybody else does. So it’s onwards and upwards - and sidewards, and backwards, and any-which-way-wards – after all, progress is never linear in this practice is it?


  1. Hahaha, too funny! £20 please ;)

    I would wager that the new stability in headstand has to do with the jumpbacks too.

    It's not important to be able to do a perfect jumpback... at all. But it IS important to work them, working towards jumping instead of stepping, and not moving the hands at all - your next project :)

    It's really the best way to develop strength and the returns are quick. It bugs me when I sub classes where the students are lazy because teachers clearly don't think it's important... and you know what? Those students struggle! Because no one is helping them with this marvellous strength-developing device, they just collapse on their arms in chaturanga. Not like you're even close to being like that, but in gym classes I see it all time. I get them to work at it, and they're so chuffed when they can get their feet through their hands!

    Keep it up!

  2. Thank you soooooooo much Susan for all of your advice & help!! Although I was temporarily cursing you (!) when I was extra knackered the first day I tried, (as I think I said to you on email) I just can't believe the payoff came so quickly: use more energy = gain strength - just like that! I definitely feel the extra strength in chaturanga too (even though I already felt quite strong there, I'm not complaining to improve on it!). Also I suppose it makes sense that building this strength has put me in touch with my shoulders more in interesting, this practice!
    As for not moving the hands - hmm, seems impossible right now, but then we know what happens to impossible with daily practice don't we? Oh typically after posting this last night I got a total mental block this morning and couldn't fathom the jumping off both feet...good job tomorrow's another day!
    p.s. will you accept the fee in cider? ;)

  3. Mel, since you mentioned this jumping back business I CAN'T!!!!! I'm totally bemused as to how i ever did it before...hence, a whole practice not doing so today!

  4. oh no, sorry!! haha! Actually that's what happened to me the day after posting this!! Well I'm not sure I'm doing it right, and today I mostly backed off too as I am full of cold & feeling ROUGH - but teacher-susan says we must try even if it's not perfect :) She can give you a lesson tomorrow night!! I just have to keep thinking jump off TWO feet, land on two. somehow i was doing it before jumping off 1, landing on 2. Also I find a lot of them go very wonky!