Sunday led first series. It's kind of an ongoing competency exam for me. Get out there and do it and see what you're capable of. None of the extra time for brow wipes, nose blowing and extra breaths that are so easy to sneak in during a mysore class. None of the stopping for demos of the more complex poses or the skipping of postures or vinyasas due to time constraints that sometimes pop up in the evening led classes. Just do it the way it's supposed to be done, do it the right way, not my way. It's usually the most crowded class of the week. It's also usually the warmest class of the week. It's led by the big guy, Tim. It's the class where you tend to try to do your best. No excuses for not being able to do any of it. You find out pretty quick where your practice is at.
I have to be very cautious with myself because I find myself becoming pleased with how I'm doing lately. That can sometimes be a bad thing. With a sense of satisfaction, there sometimes comes an unintended, undesired but insidious complacency. It's so easy to feel comfortable that I can finally fold forward without discomfort and can get my chin to my leg. But that doesn't get me into an even better expression of the pose, it tends to get me no farther than that. I learned something about myself and about a lot of other people when I was in college and in med school. It seemed that the better I/we did in courses, the more we tried to convince ourselves that we were just a test away from blowing all chances at getting into med school or at getting a good residency or whatever. I would play the "Not only am I not worthy, I really suck" game with myself. It was just one more way to keep pushing, to ward off the complacency demon. I noticed the same thing when I was playing competitive volleyball (competitive for Oklahoma anyway). As I gradually got better over the years, it seemed to me that everyone else was starting to lose it, they weren't playing very well any more. "Jeeze, I just stuffed Geno. He's getting old." After a while I came to accept that I was getting better, but I didn't let myself know that for a long time. I haven't had to do the same in yoga so far because I haven't been able to do a lot of stuff until the last 6 to 12 months. Now that some of it is coming, I have to get the old denial defense shields up. It's pretty easy to do because there's so much that I still can't do. Actually, I still do suck at most of it, just not as bad as I used to. See, it comes easy.
Today was a (shudder) pretty good class for me. At least it felt that way. It probably looked sucky (ok, I'll stop now) but I felt that I did most things okay. I'm still riding the conditioning high that came from my work in the last couple of months. I've noted before that I traditionally get up after Garba Pindasana to get a quick drink from the sink and catch my breath for a second. There was a time when I really did need this. After Supta Kurmasana, I would be totally cagging. Not a hint of breath control, bandhas, etc. I would get a little settled in with my break and then would feel that I did better over the later poses, especially back bends. More recently, it's been clear that I could get through a first series class with out that break but I would still let myself have it. I'm too nice. When I do mysore classes, I convince myself that with the second series postures still to go, I do need a respite so that I'll feel strong enough to do well at harder poses near the end. When we were in Tulum for the teacher training, I didn't take any breaks when we did just first series. I didn't need them. Plus, getting up to discretely get a drink would have taken too long since I would have had to trundle all the way over to the dining hall to get some water, so it wasn't an option anyway. Today, after I did Garba, I got up like usual to go to the bathroom. As I bent over the sink, I thought to myself, "What the hell are you doing this for? You don't need a rest and you sure aren't thirsty. You're just lazy." So I only took a short drink. As a result of the self-assessment that comes with this class, I've decided no more drinks or rest breaks in first series. Wow, what a tough guy. I'm still reserving the right to wimp out in mysore though.
At the Tulum seminar, there was a guy who studies in NYC who had only been practicing for 9 months or so. Despite that, he had a complete practice. Most impressive was his ability to effortlessly lift up and jump back, jump through, press up to headstand from just about any position, etc. The guy's bandhas had bandhas. He said he had been able to do those things from the first day he tried yoga. That made me feel a little better. It must be a genetic deficiency of mine that, after almost four years of trying to jump back, I am barely able to get my feet through my arms before they inexorably sink back down to the mat. As part of my effort to gradually grow some bandhas, in the last few months I had been working on trying various versions of floating back to Chataranga Dandasana from Uttanasana in the sun salutations. I could sort of do it but it was a cluncky, thumpy kind of thing. In Tulum, the bandha guy and I were working on the correct exit from Utkatasana. Normally, in our classes, we go from Utkatasana into Bakasana. After holding that for a few breaths, we then jump back into Chaturanga. The transition to and through Bakasana is really kind of a "training wheels" type thing for developing the true vinyasa. In led classes, after finishing Utkatasana, Guruji will call out the eighth vinyasa for the pose, "Ashtau, up!". What is supposed to occur is that we are supposed to lower our hands to the floor and press up into a position that looks kind of like a hand stand with the legs still bent in a tuck. It's not really supposed to be a jump up to a bent leg handstand. It is supposed to be a tilt forward of the balance point then a press up into the posture. The legs and knees aren't held against the body or in the arm pits, like they are with Bakasana. They are held free in balance just above the arms. Anyway, the guy watched me and gave me a few pointers about what I should do to get it. I gave it a try today and actually did it and held it the whole time that the rest of the group was in Bakasana. I have no clue what it looked like, but for me it was a significant step forward to be able to press up into it, much less hold it. I had been using that transition out of Utkatasana to practice my Bakasana B, where you jump/float from down dog into Bakasana position. Now, I think I'll work on the vinyasa I did today. It makes me trust my core and my shoulders, neither of which have been reliable in the past. If I can get to where I can float up out of Utkatasana, maybe I can then get it out of Uttanasana too. For what? I don't know. Maybe if I can learn that sense of internal lift and can develop control of the body over the balance point while inverted, it may help me get my jump back.
I got a legitimate ankle cross in Supta Kurmasana today. Not one of those big toe under the other ankle deals, it was an ankle over an ankle. They were nowhere near being over my neck, of course. I've only been able to do this maybe once before and even then, it was pretty marginal. I could tell it was going to go today as soon as I bound my hands. My hips didn't feel constricted. I could shift my body weight to the side and slide my left leg way over towards the right. Once the toes got under, I kind of rolled over to one side to try and seat the foot even farther under the right ankle. Unfortunately, I got stuck on my side and couldn't get the momentum to get rolled back to a neutral position. I had to let the ankles go and re-settle back in the starting position and do it over again. This time I didn't over-do the roll and was able to get the feet crossed reasonably well at the top of my head. I'll have to do it a few more times to get a better sense of what is going to be needed to get the feet back over the head onto the neck. I've watched one guy who can get his feet up on his neck and still bind to the wrist. He starts out with the hands bound, as we are told we are supposed to do, then he brings his feet into a crossed position. Once he's got the foundation set, he unbinds and rolls to one side while sort of pushing on the side of the leg with his upper arm to get it to move up and over his head. Then he rolls the other way and gets the other leg up. Then he re-binds. I'd like to be able to do it without releasing the bind, it seems like it's a purer but harder way to do it. Hips have a ways to go yet. My head needs to get skinnier too, so the feet can get up over it.
Ooooff! Back bends. If anything sucked today it was my attempt at a stand up. No reason for it. I felt like I was in plenty deep, We were on our sixth backbend and I wasn't tired. I had done a dry run of rolling up on my finger tips on the previous backbend. It should have gone. But, no. I guess I must have raised my head or something. I did a mid-stand up twisting bail out. I tried to get back down into a back bend and stand up before anybody could come by and raise me up. Tim had spotted me flailing though and came by for a hand on the chest stand up. As he started me up, my legs were bent more than usual and I had pushed off on my own trying to quickly get up before any intervention. The result was that I came up with a lot more momentum than usual. As I stood up I kept going forward like I had been shoved from behind, slamming into Tim. A little embarrassing. These stand ups are starting to get into my head. I was doing them far better just a few weeks ago. I don't think I've had a clean one in quite a while. I usually consider myself to be trainable, I can learn most things. This, however, is stumping me.
Well, the extended family all went down to Tijuana today, leaving me here to blog away. It's time for me to stop this and to try and figure out how to put together a web site for all the pictures we took in Tulum. I had promised everybody I would do it as soon as I got back but I had to go to the funeral, etc. etc. Since I have no idea of how to best do it, I am open to suggestions. I guess I should have thought of that before promising to set one up.