Thursday, August 26, 2010

Astanga

I have a confession: I’ve been to Montreal only once and it was for business. I travelled by train, stayed in a hotel and didn’t really get out much. I’ve never driven there.

As we hit the road yesterday, I didn’t have a route planned or any idea of how to get there, short of heading north-ish on the major highway. I figured I would just wing it.

This strategy mostly worked, but I *completely* underestimated how long the drive would take and the difficulty I would have in navigating a strange city late at night. I’m good at cities, but Montreal is confusing!

We encountered many, many detours driving into the downtown core. We were lost so many times I stopped counting. At one critical juncture, I pulled into a parking lot while my poor mother rolled her eyes in frustration.

“Do you have a plan?”

“Yes! I’m going to ask these guys over here for directions!”

“Who?!”

I had serendipitously parked right next to a couple Montreal police officers enjoying their late night coffee break!

As I meandered through the empty downtown streets, I think my mother was ready to strangle me. When I was younger, this scene might have deteriorated into a screaming match. But 15 years of yoga practice mellowed me out. I just smiled a lot and carried on, remained cheerful and positive, and reassured her that I did, in fact, know where I was going (I didn’t!).

Through some miracle (Thank you, Ganesha!) I found my way to the hotel. And I even managed to get five hours of sleep - an achievement, given that I wasn’t sure we would even make it into Montreal at all.

********************

At 7:30 this morning, I was salt-bathed, dressed and walking down the street to Sattva Shala for practice with Darby and Joanne.

There are two categories of professional recognition for Astanga teachers (granted by KPJAYI, the yoga institute founded by Guruji in Mysore): Authorization is the first level. The highest level is Certification and fewer than 40 people carry it world-wide. The Darbys are the only certified teachers in Canada. I was pretty excited to have an opportunity to practice at their Shala and have new eyes on my practice. I’ve long wanted to visit here.

I first met Darby at a yoga conference a couple years ago. I really enjoyed his energy. He’s warm, humble and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the practice. I was fairly new to Astanga at the time (and a bit intimidated to be talking to the guy who was on my favourite DVD). His approach to teaching Astanga and obvious reverence for it was one of the things that started to ‘win me over’ to Astanga. My attitude towards the practice started to ‘shift’ after that. I left the conference thinking that someday, I would like to visit their Shala.

When I arrived this morning, both teachers were finishing their practice. I stood quietly on the threshold of the room for a moment, then unrolled my mat in an empty spot near the windows. It felt a bit weird to just walk into a new room and GO, but that’s exactly what I did.

I was through the first few standing poses when Darby arrived at my mat. He asked me where I was from and where I practised. I told him I practised at Shala Central, but also home practice.

He gave me a very focused adjustment in Parsvakonasana. He modified the position of my head/neck and encouraged me to push and lengthen through the extended arm (he asked me to push my hand against him and push through the back foot).

This theme carried over into other poses but especially Urdhva Mukha Svanasana. Instead of arching my head back, he asked me to lengthen the neck from the shoulders to the ears then lift the upper-chest forward and up.

Because I was already into my practice the first time he came around, I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for announcing injuries. He walked over as I was starting seated, so I paused to I let him know that I had a two-month-old hamstring injury. He tutted me a bit and said I should have mentioned it sooner. I realised he noticed my modification in Parvottanasana, because he asked me to stand up and repeat that pose. He worked with me on a strategy to get the leg straight with full extension of the torso over the leg without triggering cramping around the site of the injury. It worked!

Darby’s adjustments are light and subtle, but they pack a punch! I had more than one ‘light bulb’ moment as he worked with me. I found myself cross-applying concepts from one set of poses to another and feeling my body respond to the small changes I was making in alignment and direction of muscular energy. I was working so deeply, with intense concentration, that my practice slowed down quite a bit, and I was sweating more than usual.

Darby mostly observed. I didn’t get many of the ‘typical’ adjustments. He brought my hands to the floor in Prasarita C (and corrected my shoulder alignment - the same thing DR is always on me about, but I’ve fallen into bad habits). I was on my own for most of Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, but Darby swung by near the end and gave some very specific cues for the alignment and action of the extended leg. It made the the pose MUCH harder because I was working harder! He crossed my legs over my back in Supta Kurmasana. I haven’t had this particular adjustment since my last visit to Shala North. I *love* it. I savoured every breath of that hold!

Joanne helped me with Setu Bandhasana, encouraging me to come into the pose with straighter legs. I followed her cues as I repeated the pose and it was deepest I’ve ever managed on my own.

When it was time for backbending, I felt stumped. I didn’t know what to do, so I just reverted back to my old Shala routine: six Urdhva Dhanurasana and three rounds of rocking. Joanne came over to work with me in Urdhva Dhanurasana, encouraging me to push up through the hips. Very light adjustment, but it helped me direct the energy of the movement upward and felt amazing. Darby observed my backbending for a few minutes and then asked me to do something very simple in Urdhva Dhanurasana: lift the balls of the feet up while pressing down into the heels. It felt impossible, but when I did it, I felt the legs engage very evenly. So simple!

I did a few rounds of rocking, but didn’t drop back. Darby had told me very matter-of-factly that he doesn’t allow his students to drop back or stand up until they’ve mastered Kapotasana (he asked me earlier if I was being held back from Second Series because I wasn’t standing up. I confirmed this but admitted I sometimes do some Intermediate in my home practice). I think the Darbys use Supta K, along with mastery of the Primary Series, as the ‘gatekeeper’ for Second Series. I understand this is common practice with some of the certified teachers who studied with Guruji in the early years.

I don’t want to get into the politics of this - I’m just providing some context for what happened next.

I did my finishing, took rest. I thanked Darby as I was leaving the room, and let him know that I would be at his Shala for one more day. He closed the door as I left, but opened it up again and said: “Tomorrow, add on the Intermediate poses and I'll tell you when to stop."

I nodded, but the import of this didn’t fully sink in until I was halfway up the stairs to the change room.

Am I being given Intermediate?

I guess I’ll find out tomorrow.


12 comments:

karen said...

Oh boy! I'm so excited to hear about your practice tomorrow! What fun. :-)

C said...

Cool! If I went to a different teacher while on holiday I would certainly practice the new poses while there with glee, but out of respect for my regular teacher I would not consider them to be "given" until I received them from him.

If you are doing a home practice, than you are your own teacher, hopefully guided by the teacher within, right? I think you are free to practice what you think you are ready for. That's the wonder (and the danger) of home practice.

Can you be "given" a pose by someone who is not your teacher? If the person is not your teacher, is it just a recommendation? When does someone become your teacher?

I don't have an opinion and I am no expert on "correct method", those were just some thoughts. Congrats and enjoy your practice; it sounds like it is wonderful regardless of which particular asanas it includes.

fivefootwo.com said...

This was better than watching! Good story telling. I can't wait till tomorrow either...

Claudia said...

Wow, this is AMAZING, what a great feeling I get and I am just reading the post, almost feels like I was there with you. I am loving this tip of lifting the toe and pushing the heel, it does not make sense at all, so I know I will have to actually try it on the mat tomorrow.

Are you being given intermediate? who cares!, i am so happy for you that he will tell you when to stop, might be a good indicator for you, perhaps you are much more advanced than you think, I seem to remember that in your own practice you were already doing some intermediate before you joined shala center.

OK, i will stop least this turns into a manifesto, but I must say I am very happy for you! and feel like going to Montreal myself

ps: congrats on the mom thing! yoga does work!

Kaivalya said...

@C
Thanks for weighing in on this. I was hoping someone would. I've been thinking about it all day.

At the moment, since I'm practising at home, I will likely continue with any poses Darby thinks I'm ready to handle.

But if I return to Shala Central, I would drop those poses. I know my teachers would not approve. I respect their room and their rules.

Eventually, I'll stand up and all of this will be a moot point anyway. But I'm eager to get some instruction for these Intermediate poses. I've never practised these with a teacher's guidance. It's time I learned them properly.

Kaivalya said...

@Claudia
Earlier in the year (before I started at the Shala) I was practising the first five poses of Intermediate on my own at home. It will be a relief to learn these properly under the guidance of a teacher.

Yes, I'm looking forward to this! I feel like I'm adding something exciting and wonderful to my already-satisfying practice.

Kaivalya said...

@Karen
Nothing like a bit o' change to liven up the old blog! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Oh good for you! I really enjoyed practicing for Darby and he was great at teaching urdhva dhanurasana and also changed my urdhva mukha dhanurasana. I hope I will have the opportunity to meet him soon again in Europe!
Looking forward to reading your next blog post!
Have a great time in Montreal with your mom (I was just thinking that 4 years is a long time! In less than 3 years I had 2 babys so a lot can happen in 4 years! :)
Anna

Christine said...

Yay! So excited for you!
You're off on a new adventure.
Enjoy!
:)

Christine

Globie said...

Just proves that with this practice you can turn up anywhere and just do it.

Interesting about doing Kapotasana before doing dropback and stand up. Lifting the balls of the feet in UD struck a chord, someone told me really pushing into the heals helps her to stand up.

Great that you are going to do some 2nd series, a whole new bunch of toys.

Rocaille said...

The part about driving to Montreal - this could have been me! I used to be very nonchalant about planning trips. Finally, I got fed up with the unnecessary stress and bought a GPS system. Did you bring your iPad? You could use it for navigation: http://www.apple.com/ipad/features/maps.html

Arturo said...

Dear Kai
very nice notes. thanks for posting them.
hugs
Arturo