Besides for the occasional picture here and there and generalizations about what I’m working on, I rarely share anything about my own personal ashtanga practice-yet on most days it’s probably the one intangible thing that I think about the most. I sometimes wish that my practice were all I had to worry about. But then I wonder if my practice would mean as much as it does to me without all of the “life” things that often get in the way, or more recently, drive progress.
I was given the first posture of third series six months ago during a Mysore intensive. Shortly after, my best friend Dina began learning third series as well. We were just dabbling, attempting the postures without any type of flow. It was new territory. The dabbling continued until Dina found out she was pregnant. Our teacher, David Garrigues, told her not to worry, keep practicing, drop mayurasana and stop third series. His reasoning was that third series was like having a baby in itself. The amount of energy expended during this mental and physically demanding series is huge. Until the subtle movements and gross dynamics of the postures and transitions are learned, you rely on brute strength to muscle your way through the series (well, at least I do).
I was sad that I didn’t have my best friend to learn the series with side by side, but so ecstatic that a little tiny human was in her belly doing yoga with us every morning. Her and I agreed that she would keep up with her six day a week practice, and I would learn third series and nurture it as if it were my own growing tiny human.
The first 3 months were daunting. Each new pose that I was given seemed like I was adding an entire series onto my practice. I was tired all the time. Anger and irritability became my middle name. I wasn’t comfortable around anyone, even myself- but I practiced anyway.
I made progress during my month long hiatus from work. Practicing with my teacher daily in India proved to be beneficial to my practice, both physically and mentally. I actually was feeling a sense of worthiness to learn such an arduous series. My friend Thad and I had the same practice. We practiced side by side- often pose for pose. We would alternate practicing primary or intermediate and adding third at the end. We would have a short talk after class about what felt good, what felt bad, and if either of us discovered precious gems to make effort effortless.
I had high expectations to be able to sustain my India practice at home. But life caught up rather quickly, and as always, my practice took the back seat to my very demanding career. My worthiness turned into worthlessness. I didn’t know how or what to practice.
Dina was (and is) still practicing six days a week. Her pregnancy wasn’t (and isn’t) stopping her. Instead of giving up, she modified, dropped, or substituted postures. It’s a beautiful thing to see. A few weeks ago during a Sunday practice, I realized that Dina was allowing the poses to serve her. I, on the other hand, was trying to serve the postures. I was approaching my practice completely wrong. I immediately started thinking about ways to rework my entire practice- making the asanas work for me, rather than me working for them. If I continued the way I was going, progress would not happen.
Since I needed to gain strength, I made the educated decision to only practice the intermediate series once a week, by itself. I have a God given flexible spine and open hip flexors. Those “road block” poses of the intermediate series came naturally to me- mainly Kapotasana and Dwi Pada Sirsasana. Don’t get me wrong- the series still needs work, but it isn’t giving me the strength I need to execute the challenging arm balances of third series.
I have begun working deep in the primary series again. I’m taking advantage of every jump back, jump through, lift up and Navasana. Instead of trying to go deeper in my forward folds from my bendy spine, I’m consciously creating resistance in my legs to feel the articulation of the fold from the hip and femur sockets. I’m spending more time in my standing poses to release the tension on the sides of my legs from all of the deep hip rotations of the Advanced Series. My legs are getting stronger, which is helping me to get into backbends further than I ever have before, and with breath. The best part is, it all feels really freakin good.
Besides for the gross physicality of the advanced series (and in my bestie’s case, pregnancy), the mental aspect is possibly the most difficult challenge of all. You literally need to just let go. Let go of fear, let go of limitation, let go of no. Let go of attachment to those feel good poses that may not feel so good anymore. Let go of what was and welcome what is. Let go of excess and welcome balance. And most importantly, have fun doing it.