Monday, April 28, 2003

No class again for me. My oldest daughter called from school stating she felt sick. Uh-huh. So, I picked her up. I could have dragged her to class and made her hang out in the back doing her homework I guess. But, I had already told her that, if she went home sick from school, she couldn't go to her sock hop rehearsal. When she heard that, she insisted that she would just go and "watch", and I assured her that she would not. "Sick is sick," I said in that detestable parental tone we all remember so well from our childhoods. "If you're too sick for school, you're too sick to go to sock hop practice." If I wouldn't let her go watch her sock hop rehearsal, I could hardly insist she hang out in a hot, sweaty yoga shala watching me moan and groan my way thru a class.

Maybe I'll be able to throw together enough character to do some bandha work at home tonight. One of my greatest disappointments in my practice is my utter lack of progress in being able to lift up and jump back. I think I've made significant progress is just about every other aspect of my asana practice, but not that. I have even managed to develop a semblance of a jump thru. But I'm no further along in lifting up and back than I was a couple of years ago.

I used to not really bother too much with trying to jump back or jump thru. I would lift my butt up off the floor and hold tolasana for a sec or two then roll over my knees and step back. For the forward vinyasa, I would sort of hop into a squatting kind of cross legged position, then sit down and work my way into a posture. I didn't bother because I was trying to save my energy for my postures. It all comes down to that internal calculus that goes on during each session, where we make these semi-unconscious ongoing assessments of how we feel, how much energy we have left and how to best allocate that energy to get the most out of that given practice. You would never really know how well you did with that day's "resource management" until you got thru savasana. In my usual state, which is one of fatigue, I generally figured if I spent a lot of energy trying to do nice vinyasas, I would not be able to do as well in the later postures. I held to that excuse for a couple of years but I finally got too embarrassed at how I moved and decided to at least try and do better.

My wife encouraged me to try using blocks. I didn't want to use that "cheat" because I had thought the gradual accumulation of ability was supposed to come from just trying over and over. Having proven that incorrect, I broke down and gave the blocks a try. I had seen one of our teachers show another student how to jump thru using the blocks. After she did it using the blocks, she was able to do it on her own in just two tries. So, I tried it. And it works, after a fashion. I was able to jump my legs thru like I see most of the people do in class. I was able, over time, to do it with shorter blocks and finally just my hands on the floor. And, it only took me one afternoon of trying.

When I watch people do vinyasa, especially jumping thru to sitting, I kind of categorize the approaches. There's the straight leg, full on floaty way that you see Richard Freeman, Davis Swenson and other Uber-ashtangi's do, where they jump through with their legs straight and don't let the legs or feet touch down until they are in a full seated position. Then there's the float-thru-to-crosslegged-sitting approach. It's similar to the straight leg approach in that the people are able to keep their body off the floor until they come into a seated position. They just come thru with crossed legs, sit and then go into the posture. Then, there's the shoot-thru, where instead of floating thru, the person keeps their legs straight and using momentum, jumps forward and kind of shoots the legs thru and slides into dandasana. My approach is sort of a variant to that last one. I call it the "aircraft carrier landing" approach. When jets "land" an aircraft carriers, they're not really landing. They're actually doing a controlled crash landing. That's kind of what my jump thru is like: a semi-controlled crash landing. I will occasionally bounce a toe off of the floor, (that really hurts), off of my arm, crash my knee into my chest or jaw, or otherwise screw it up, but I am getting better each day. At one point, in an Improv class where we were going to be trying to do eka pada sirsasana (one leg behind the head posture), I got so bold as to try that jump thru where one leg goes thru normally and the other leg lands on the outside of the arm where it can then be smoothly moved behind the head. Let me give one piece of advice: don't try that with the aircraft carrier approach. Wait until you can float thru. I almost broke my arm from the impact.

While I no longer feel as much shame at my forward vinyasa, my take-it-up and jump backs are another thing all together. I watch people who are truly able to float and just wonder. What is most amazing to me is not so much that they are able to make the move, but that it appears so effortless. There's one guy I see regularly, (If you follow the EZBoard site, it's JMS), who just lifts up like you or I might lift our foot. When we do the last navasana, or boat pose, more than a few of us crash to the floor in moans of self-pity and then crawl our way back into chataranga. He just lifts his hips up like he has a bad case of helium farts building up and just floats back. I think I must be missing whatever muscle or muscles these bandha people are using to get their rear ends moving back and up. I can elevate off of the floor, though I'm not real good at keeping the feet close to the body, but I have no ability to get my head moving down, my rear end going up and my feet moving thru. I've gone back to using the blocks to try and see what I need to do. I can do it on the larger blocks but that's it. Just need to keep trying I guess. Coming into tittibhasana after supta kurmasana and then trying to transition thru to a jump back without sliding off or falling to my butt is good practice. The biggest the problem I have with working on this is that it's real hard work. It's not like the jump thru where I can use momentum to do all the hard work for me. Practicing the vinyasa back is very taxing (for me). I can only give it so many practice tries, even on the blocks, before I have to call it quits. I guess it's become one of my unofficial goals: land a jump back.

Maybe today I'll work some more on visualization. I've been doing that a lot. It's not as hard as trying to actually do it.

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