Monday, 4 October 2010

Moving swiftly on...

seem to have always written a post the day I get given a new asana, which if nothing else serves as a good bookmark for me to look back on. But when I posted last Monday that I was given baddha konasana that day, I definitely didn’t expect to be new asana blogging again so soon! Actually it was yesterday that I was given upavishta konasana, so forgive me for the slight time delay...but it has brought up some interesting thoughts.
First thing I’ll say is that yes, I follow the traditional practice of being “given” each asana in turn. However I now have a far greater understanding than I ever did before that other approaches are no less traditional – in fact having read in Guruji the method used to teach the first generation western practitioners, actually the reverse is true! But the point is I don’t discount whichever method works for anybody else, but the way I am learning ashtanga is one pose at a time from my authorised teacher, and I am really happy that this method does work for me.
I have written previously about the learning process that seems to accompany each new asana, or for me at least. Back in the seemingly endless days when I was languishing at bujapidasana (actually 8 months from August ‘09 to April ‘10, during which time I had at least 5 months of sporadic or completely AWOL practice!) I desperately wanted to be moved on, but couldn’t see how I would EVER be able to do buja. As it turned out, I still don’t think I can do it even now, but I do have a damn good try at it every day. I spoke to my teacher the day that she gave me kurmasana and supta kurmasana, and she explained that sometimes you feel an energetic space open up and decide that the student is ready for something else. And it’s true that the night before that move-on happened I wrote a post saying that I had made peace with my practice as it was. And as soon as I let go of the grasping – TA-DA!! It happened!
Moving through the supta kurmasana learning process was another difficult journey (as evidenced by the number of posts where it is tagged!). I went through deeply uncomfortable adjustments, a shoulder injury, weeks of backing off completely and then one day I nearly bound it. In fact I had managed to catch my own fingers together a few times – not regularly and reliably, but enough to know that it wasn’t a fluke by any means – when I was moved on to garbha pindasana, and that at a time when my whole life seemed to have gone into a spin. I’d gone from getting kurmasana in April to garbha in August, which felt pretty speedy. I won’t talk again about the lessons which came with supta kurmasana but I think this was a really crucial one for me in understanding that the yoga is the process, not the “achievement” of the asana. What was also interesting was that in moving me forward (although I felt like I still hadn’t full mastered Supta k), somehow the space opened up for me to be able to really get it. And now kurmasana feels like a different pose, it is so much deeper, the bind is securely there every day with my feet touching, and I have even progressed this past week to securely locking my right foot over my left after a good few weeks struggling to try.
Getting baddha konasana last week was strange, because as far as I was concerned I haven’t cracked garbha AT ALL. Yes I can get my arms through my legs, yes I can (mostly) get my hands under my chin, and I can rock, and I can get up into kukkutasana every day now (eventually – after a few times hurling myself at it!) but I am still struggling to rock in a circle. I feel like I write about this every day between twitter & my comments on other blogs so I won’t go on, but I will say that I feel like this will NEVER be easy – let along fun as so many other seem to find it! But the bruising has subsided, the pose no longer feels quite so completely impossible, and somehow after only 1 and a half months (mid-August to September) I was given baddha konasana.
The immediate impact that it had was (again) to take the heat off the previous asana. I love how this works! Garbha did become less of a work-up knowing that I couldn’t fully indulge in it as I still had some work to do. Also my backbends seemed to benefit (as they have done ever since supta k stopped being my last pose – that is one hard transition, straight from an assisted bind there into backbending) and within a day my hips felt different in the rest of my practice. But baddha k came with a warning: I have heard and read so much about the meltdowns that come with it I couldn’t help but feel a little apprehensive. One friend of mine told how she almost begged a teacher on an intensive course to keep on adjusting her for longer and longer so that she would cry as she was gutted that she hadn’t cracked in it yet. Ha!!
Having been given the asana last Monday I was shown it that day but not adjusted. On Tuesday I was adjusted by the new assistant, he’s just learning the assists so although I was nervous that he might not known that I only just got it (Yoga is letting go of your story” fat chance!!) it was a bit tough, but generally OK. But then on Wednesday, day 3, I had the first Cary assist. I was fully holding on for dear life as C kept up the pressure to get me down towards the floor. I felt my knees touch the ground and by breath number 4 I let out a whimper and gripped on to my tension like I didn’t ever want to let it go! “It’s OK,” says C, which is quite unlike her, I know she is different with different people but for me, we rarely speak during assists. One more breath after she reassured me and I came up for air, but as I did so and then went into B all I could do was cry gently. It was HORRIBLE!! Susan heard this from the next door mat and offered sweet reassurances on our daily emailed practice reports, and in a way I was glad that I’d felt the power of the asana so quickly, somehow believing that this would mean I will move more quickly into a time when it feels good!
So the week went on and on Sunday I had the hardcore adjustment again, only this time C successfully managed to get my chin to the ground and both knees fully open. And yowzers - it WAS.NOT.FUN. Then something flicked in my brain and I thought “she’s going to give me the next one” – even though I didn’t believe it was possible after a week, I seem to be able to sense when it’s about to happen. And lo and behold, having walked away while I did the vinyasa after baddha k, Cary came beside me and talked me through upavistha konasana. And do you know what popped straight into my head?
“Nonononononoooooo!!! it’s TOO FAST! That means the end of primary is looming with the horror of BACKBENDS!” So much for being present eh?! Again, the spectre of other people’s difficulties is looming, and all I can think of is that whereas a few months ago I didn’t think I’d ever finish primary, now it seems that I am gaining momentum a little faster than I would like. Mind you saying that makes some assumption that I am going to figure out just how to catch my feet in mid-air whilst balancing on the edge of my bum WITHOUT bending my legs! But still, compared to postures like supta kurmasana, I can see that what comes next in the series is likely to move a long a little faster than what has come before.
I had actually intended for this post to be a bit more a discussion about the different ways in which we might become ready for the next asana, and I suppose in a roundabout anecdotal way maybe I’ve done that, but I guess what it comes down to is this: there is no one size fits all approach. 
Sometimes a teacher moves us on because we have fully “mastered” a pose.
Sometimes it’s because they know that giving us the next posture will make the preceding one a little easier. Sometimes it’s because we showed up on our mat every bloody day for months and tried to do the impossible - TWICE.
Sometimes it’s because we stopped wishing we could get the next one.
Maybe it’s sometimes even because we are about to go away and the teacher wants to give us something to work on before we will have a chance to be taught by them again.
Maybe it’s all or none of these reasons. 
Maybe it doesn’t even matter what the reason is – because as in life, in ashtanga we can’t always control the way and speed that things happen at. All that we can do is to show up and deal with whatever gets thrown at us however best we can on any given day.


  1. You're gonna love those bum balances Mel!
    Love the reasons for teachers moving students on, all true.You are making rapid progress, a tribute to your dedication over the last year.

  2. Sounds like your journey through the postures has been meaningful and perfect for you. I have also experienced how new postures 'take the heat off'. And have also had times where I was reluctant to move on.

    The last part of the primary you are entering I have found really helped bring awareness to bandha and open up the legs helping with the rest of the series. Enjoy!

  3. What a great post. Beautifully timed for me, as I move from thinking that a new pose would be the worst thing possible, to thinking that it wouldn't be all that bad, but still not yet! The change comes from feeling fitter, primarily. My last pose (supta K) is getting deeper and deeper, but that sort of doesn't feel like the point, so it's interesting to read your points about why else you might be given a new pose. I feel myself moving towards it not because I can do the others 'better', but because I begin to see there could be room in my practice for more.

    Thanks so much for writing about this all in such detail, I love reading about your progress in each pose and in the whole 'process'.

  4. Thanks Kevin- weirdly navasana seems to have become harder since started Upavishta, not sure what that's about!
    A - thank you :) It's funny I have notied the past few days how my new poses have changed earlier asana. The janus are completely transformed, suddenly they are about the hips! (as I know they were always supposed to be). Also uttitha hasta padangustasana seems to have changed markedly - it reminds me of a comment I read elsewhere about ashtanga being like a helix - later asanas feed into earlier one and it's an ongoing spiral. Love it!
    R - thank you :) I love it when something seems to appear at the perfect timed for us. Of course the points about moving on are just my impression - but for me each time there has been a dawning realisation that I felt ready,and each time the next pose has come shortly afterwards. And supta k is such a tough one to finish on, but working on it really solidly now before moving on will really benefit you later :)

  5. Dude, i've been stuck on bhuja forever, i dont count my attempt at kurmasana as anywhere near what it should look like but im sure it all counts, being the process and all that. Have been enjoying my backbends recently but easing off now, bad back.

  6. BEAUTIFUL POST! Totally agree with all of your reasons in blue. And... CONGRAAAAAAAATS! :)

  7. Shaf you're not stuck on buja when you're doing kurmasana/supta kurmasana too! It won't get any easier unless you're doing it & of course it counts :) For what it's worth I think your forward bends and kurmasana have definitely got deeper (from what I've seen). I think kurmasana is all in the hamstrings, so anything you can do to lengthen those will help. Doing a standing forward bend (hugging the elbows) before I begin my practice every day has DEFINITELY helped me. And time, lots of time!

    Thanks Jaime :) I'm sure there are more reasons than the ones I gave too, but I don't suppose "reasons" really matter do they?

  8. Really great post- sorry I'm so late to comment. Jaime's right- the blue highlighted reasons are so dead on. I think it's great that a method that seems so rigid is really not. A good teacher sees how to adapt the method to each individual and not expect everyone to have asana like a magazine photo shoot. Dedication is a huge part of it as is non-attachment to the linear.