So once more I find myself in Goa for my annual pilgrimage to Purple Valley, this being my 4th trip in as many seasons (but my first visit was in year zero as it was here that I started ashtanga...so 4 trips equals three years of practice). I’m here with the same teachers as last year, Kino & Tim, but instead of heading straight home from here after two weeks this time I will head to Mysore for my first trip there. The other significant difference about this trip is that back in November I received an email from Tim asking if I would like to assist him and Kino in the shala here...so after leaping up and down and feeling like I’d won the lottery I replied that yes of course, I would be honoured to do so. I count myself especially lucky to be asked as this is my first experience of assisting, and despite my huge resistance (to the point of vehement opposition) to the idea of ever teaching it was a huge honour that Tim and Kino asked, which was apparently based on my having practiced with them both a number of times and them wanting to introduce me to a whole other dimension of the practice (plus of course needing all the hands they can get with our group of 50-ish students).
Three days in to the practice and assisting I am already finding some of those lessons. There are two of us assisting at the moment, me and my friend A who also works here. She completed a teacher training at the end of last year she can help a little more than I can. I assist first for around an hour (6.30-7.30), she practices first and then we switch, and I finish my practice around 9.30. On day one Tim gave me some whispered gems (which for the sake of discretion I can’t share) which made me giggle, and showed me how to assist downward dog. I did a lot of dogs that day. Then Kino told me to assist anyone in UHP who couldn’t get their chin to their leg. I stood looking mystified for a moment before she realised I didn’t know how to assist, so she showed me, and then I tried it on a few poor unsuspecting practitioners...and I totally buggered it up. The following afternoon A and I had a session with Tim where he talked us through a few different downward dog adjustments (and anyone who’s been lucky enough to practice with Tim knows that his version of this assist rocks...) with the main version being using my chest to work the hips up and back, in other words lying the whole body over the practitioner, holding the front of their knees to gently coax them straight. Then he talked us through the UHP assist, thank goodness, and we had to do the assists on him, then on each other, and by the next day I must have done about 10 of them to much better effect.
The interesting part for me is how assisting makes me feel, and how it affects my practice. I feel like in three days, even only assisting one or two poses, I have already learned so much. Tim said that by watching somebody’s sun salutations you can really learn everything you need to know about their practice. Through adjusting them you can feel those who resist you, those who struggle to find an even breath, those to whom their whole body seems alien (and of course those on the other end of the spectrum with smooth breath, strength and flexibility and who seem at home in their bodies). Immediately after finishing up as I unroll my mat in the middle of the busy room, I go straight into a very internal, focussed space. My breath is deep and even. There is a level of calmness I am unaccustomed to. I feel confident in my practice, and that (mostly) my fellow practitioners accept my help (as I have already had some lovely post-practice thank yous), but I also feel a humbleness. My body is warm and open. On previous visits I have worked myself up on the first day of practice, leaving the shala in tears because I’m so happy and overwhelmed to be here. But this time? No drama. My first practice was incredibly flexible and deep, heels popping up in kurmasana (which almost never happens), spying my feet in my backbends from the floor before being terrorised by Tim (yes, I did the death-rattle breathing just a little, but I also got the hug). Monday’s practice was a little stiff and sore, the pay-off for Sunday’s pixie-dust coated practice, and I had a day of awesome Kino-help, a lot more assists than on the previous day (when I assised until almost 8 and then practiced mostly unassisted until the end), culminating in backbending with her. As it was a moonday (but different rules apply on retreats, right?) she was going more gently with the assisted backbending, so I was hoping to have her rather than Tim, who I know always takes me to my edge and beyond. I dropped back by myself and she was helping my neighbour with something, and after doing a little rocking and giving up she told me to stay in the backbend, push right up onto my fingertips (making a sort of stand with my fingers and thumb) and then she gave me the slightest pull on the hips and I came to stand. I laughed, saying that it was less scary then I thought it was going to be, so she said let’s do that again – we did three like that, and I realised that this new technique of course means I need to transfer the weight into my legs to be able to try and go up on my fingertips, which Kino was having me do by myself. I love how you think you have heard it all and then somebody comes along and gives you a whole new technique...anyway I did backbending with Kino again today, and I tried as much as possible to do it by myself, I feel like I’m coming up by myself from about three quarters of the way up (according to Cary before I left I was coming up myself from about half-way down), but right now I’m scrunching up the muscles in my lower back and clenching my bum and thighs to try and move the weight forward. She says that’s OK for now as long as there is no pain, but that I need to focus on pushing my knees forward, and maybe taking my feet wider when I go back. Apparently I have proper duck feet and a super narrow stance, which makes it much harder (as I told her, I don’t like to make things easy for myself...). Having missed out on giving me the backbend treatment Tim instead decided to make me do chakrasana after uttana padasana about fifteen times (and I’m not even exaggerating!) despite me insisting that I really can’t do it...and yes, I got bad lady’d there, and elsewhere in my practice today.
Actually this wasn’t intended to be a practice report but look what just happened...what I was meaning to write more about was how the days are just so packed that I barely even have time to relax let alone to blog, or just to write for myself about how I’m processing my time here. I know this doesn’t exactly sound like the toughest schedule, but the days so far have gone like this...
6.30 – 7.45 – assisting
7.45 – 9.45 – practice
Half an hour of emailing
Adjustment lesson with tim
Err – that was the whole day. The second day I had a massage between breakfast and lunch, and an hour’s nap instead of the adjustment lesson, but so far I haven’t even been down to the pool, left the compound to go to Villa Blanche, or even drunk any coffee yet (which could be why I spent to whole of Tim’s breath workshop painfully falling asleep whilst sitting up). I know woe is me and all that, but somehow I need to shoe-horn time in to write, to be by myself, and yet to enjoy socialising and being around people too. My room-mate said that at Yoga Plus in Crete (where she has been going for ten years) it’s called “sitting on a rock”, and that here there’s not really anywhere to do it. Apparently the other downside to it is that you’re the weirdo who sits on a rock, but still, I would like to be able to achieve some sort of balance. Mind you from what I hear of Mysore it can be even more difficult there to carve out some time. But I’m not talking about finding time for two hours meditation a day (though my ayurvedic doctor has prescribed me twenty minutes twice a day which I should probably at least start trying to do), I’m talking about managing to squeeze in a bit of sunbathing and maybe to email my mum and dad and let them know how I’m getting on (and to write of course). Talk about first world problems eh?
|This pretty much sums it up...|
Scheduling moans aside, I feel so grateful to be working with these amazing teachers once again, and to be given the opportunity to help out a little and learn so much more about myself and the practice in the process. Spending three hours in the shala each morning is definitely taking it out of me, my legs are aching and my right bicep is very sore (people really drop their weight into you in UHP don’t they?!) but I also feel strong and calm in my practice. I’m not stressing so much about what’s going on around me as I normally would, and with a few minor exceptions I am able to view my fellow practitioners with compassion and see that each of us have our own struggles, and our own take on the practice but we all can benefit from it to the degree that we offer our dedication and surrender. Now if I could just find the time for some outings for cake and ice-cream to retox, I think this trip would just about count as perfect so far J
p.s. I just sat writing this with my teachers sat beside me at the wifi table...which feels kind of weird ;)