Sunday, August 9, 2009

Astanga

Hm...*that* was interesting. And a tiny bit intimidating too.

I was thinking about it and I'm pretty sure this was the first time I've ever attended a proper Astanga Yoga class. I went to at least one 'Astanga-style Vinyasa' class with Teacher M, but it was 8 years ago, before YTT. In fact, I think it was part of the entrance requirement for YTT! We had to attend a class with each of the YTT teachers so they could evaluate us. I thought: “How hard can a Level II Astanga class be?” And proceeded to get my ass whupped. Teacher M came up to me, after I had scraped myself off the floor, and said “I think you'll be fine in YTT.” Yeep!

First challenge was finding Shala Central. The Shala has moved around town a fair bit over the years. Because they only teach morning Mysore classes, they rent space from an existing studio. For a short time, they were even located in a studio I was teaching at (before it went out of business). Now they're at a small studio space in a funky, bohemian market area. I locked my bike and headed upstairs. I was 20 minutes early.

First impressions: It's a SMALL room, warm, lots of windows. There were 12 people at this led Primary and I'm pretty sure I was the only 'alien' in the room; everyone else was a regular Mysore student. The room was kept toasty throughout the practice. I was sweating *buckets*. It was cozy, but not overly croweded. We had to do a bit of body-rearranging for some poses.

Teacher R greeted me at the door (I had emailed in advance). I offered a nutshell version of my yoga history: 14 years of practice, 2 of those Astanga. And then came the question I was bracing myself for:

'Where do you practice?'

'Home practice? How did you learn Astanga?'

'From books and DVDs?' *raised eyebrows*

I don't think she really knew quite what to make of me. She and Teacher P certainly kept an eagle on me during the practice. They were never mean-spirited or obvious about it, but I was, after all, a stranger in their shala. It makes sense that they would carefully evaluate my practice.

After standing, though, I sensed a subtle shift in attitude and by the time we did closing poses, Teacher P was quietly making suggestions for me to deepen my poses (I was being rather conservative in my practice since I was in a new space and unaccustomed to the room temperature). He called me by name in a comfortable way. I felt welcome.

Their feedback was *awesome*

- My stance in Utthita Trikonasana is too wide
- My stance in Virabhadrasana I is not wide enough ;-)
- I should take my palm all the way to the floor in Parsvakonasana (I tend to stay on my fingertips)
- My foot is much too close my inner thigh in Marichyasana A. There should be a space of at least 10 centimetres between foot and thigh.
- I need to bring my hands slightly forward into a steeper angle in Uttana Padasana
- In Sirsasana half-bend, my feet are a bit too close to the floor; I can raise them a bit
- Pointed toes everywhere! In Navasana and Halasana (which I knew about) but also Sarvangasana, Sirsasana and Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana (which is pronounced 'PaschiMAttanasana'

And I got some good 'squishes'. I love me a good squish! ;-)

I wisely skipped Setu Bandhasana and observed the other students doing this pose. There were many variations in the room, I asked about these during the question/answer session afterward. I got some good tips for moving into this pose slowly (one variation, which looks like an Upward Table pose, looks doable for me). They shared some strategies for lowering the head in Bhujapindasana (without the faceplant!). The other students brought up questions about the vinyasa sequencing, which I'm fairly comfortable with already, thanks to Sharath's CD.

This session was very valuable to me in terms of feedback, a few small adjustments (Hey! My ankles can cross in Supta Kurmasana! And I stayed bound too!) and doing the Primary Series in a group setting. I really enjoyed it. I actually found it easier to focus on Ujjayi, Drishte and Bandhas with so much feedback (in sound, movement and energy) coming from all around me.

The biggest surprise (it always is) was Sirsasana. It was a non-event. I came into the pose. I held the pose. I did the half-bend. I came out of the pose. This one was my nemesis for years, so it still floors me every time I do it, particularly in a new situation and, in this case, very tight quarters (God help me if I fell! I didn't...).

As I rode home, the sky was dark with thunder clouds. I stopped at the burrito place briefly and by the time my meal was ready, it was pouring. I worried about this for half-a-second before realising, 'Hey! I'm already soaking wet from practice!' and rode home in the rain.

4 comments:

patrick said...

Yes, great adjustments in your list: I've given at some point, almost all of those. You are in good company on "point the toes," on wider Vira A stance, Parsva palm to floor, wider Mari A knee-thigh. Those are adjustments that I've both given and received, and seen many others receive too.

Also, well done, walking into a room of experienced ashtangis as the "DVD kid." That must be tough.

Cheers!

Kaivalya said...

@Patrick:
The 'dvd kid' *grin*, I like that!

Does the wider knee-thigh also apply to Marichyasana B? I was wondering about that as I was doing the pose today. If it is, I won't be able to come down as far...hm.

patrick said...

I'd have to see your Mari B in order to say, really, but I usually have people really emphasize bandhas there (ribs expand, spine spacious) and then the upright thigh touches the ribs. Does that offer any guidance?

word veri: exedoth (awesome!)

Kaivalya said...

@Patrick:
Thanks, that's helpful. I'll work on these things in the pose.