Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ashtanga and Fear

One thing I'm beginning to realize about Ashtanga yoga is that it really forces you to face your fears. Generally speaking I'm not a very fearful person however, if you throw in the odds of me potentially falling on my face then my fear levels are bound to rise proportionately.

How does this apply to my practice? Let's take for example the prasarita poses in the standing series. Prasarita padottanasana A, head to floor is no problem at all I have my hands on the floor to keep me safe and grounded. Prasaritas B through D, head to floor? No way, no how not without an assist. The funny thing about it is that on good days I can get my head millimeters from the floor but the slight shifting of the weight forward to bringing all the way down is enough to throw me into a full on panic attack. I fear that I'll shift too far forward and end up doing a forward roll onto my neighbor's mat, something that I'm sure he/she wouldn't appreciate.

Then we have my exit out of supta kurmasana, or should I say my pathetic approximation of the pose would be a much more accurate description. It goes something like this, lift up to straight arms, check; move one leg back at a time onto the forearms, check; balance check; look forward, lean slightly forward at catvari out of the pose, fail. There's always this moment of hesitation when my mind says "you want me to do what?" and that's when I bail and gently place my feet on my mat and continue on with my practice. One of the great assistants in the class once said to me "you almost have it, from there all you have to do is breathe". As sincere as she was with her words all I could do at the time was laugh at her advice because my practice still has a long way to go before I can just breathe my way into and out of difficult poses.

I am humbled daily, yet I continue to practice with the hopes that one day maybe I'll be able to face my fears by just breathing.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My, my, my, my, manduka

I had been considering buying a Manduka Pro mat for quite some time especially since most of the advanced ashtangis in my class practice on them. I figured that my practice could use all the help that it could get and what better way to quickly progress than by emulating all of the start students?

So after wavering quite a bit and growing increasingly disgusted by the mats provided by the studio I finally bit the bullet and bought the Manduka Pro mat. Normally the mat only comes in black and while black is a great color and goes with everything I didn't want to purchase a black yoga mat. So when I saw the limited edition Black Beauty model on the Manduka website I impulsively purchased it.

I had to wait a long week before it arrived from California and the color was just as beautiful I had imagined. Today was the first day that I was able to practice with it and that mat is unlike any other that I have ever stepped foot on. Unfortunately, it does need some time to break-in because at some points during practice today it felt more like a slip-n-slide than a yoga mat but I'm confident that with continued use I will fall more and more in love with it.

Oh, the other unfortunate thing is that while the mat itself is amazing it didn't drastically improve my practice by any means as I still struggled through the usual culprits. I did however, manage to get a pretty tight hand bind in supta kurmasana for the first time ever with the help of one of the assistants. Coincidence?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My Yoga Marga

I started practicing yoga regularly almost 10 years ago. I joined a gym near my office and would go after work to avoid sitting in rush hour traffic. I would take a vinyasa yoga class once a week with a newly certified hair dresser turned yoga instructor. Rather quickly I realized that once a week wasn't enough and I started taking classes with different instructors at different locations. My practice quickly improved and for a while I was satisfied. It eventually occurred to me in my gym yoga classes that the classes were always taught to the lowest common denominator, generally those people that were new to yoga and less flexible.

I slowly grew frustrated with my gym classes and I decided to join a dedicated yoga studio (it seemed like the logical next step). For the most part, I always too vinyasa flow classes but every once in a while I would take a bikram class, ashtanga or iyengar class but I always found myself back at my vinyasa flow classes.

When I moved abroad, unfortunately, I didn't practice much yoga even though my body longed for it. Oddly enough it was during that time that I got interested in mysore style yoga classes. Even though I didn't take any mysore classes while living abroad the seeds were planted.

Almost a year ago I moved back to NYC and I tracked down my favorite vinyasa flow instructor and I immediately joined the studio where he was teaching. Taking his class after an almost 2 year hiatus from yoga was humbling to say the least and I remember longing for my more flexible 20something body. Despite constantly feeling constantly achy and sore I quickly ramped up to a 4 day a week practice. After 6 months, I had to move apartments and I found myself living only 7 blocks from my yoga studio. Even though I loved my vinyasa flow instructor I decided that it was time to harvest those mysore seeds that were planted a while back and to check out what this mysore thing was all about.

In October of last year I started my ashtanga journey and I haven't looked back. I started out practicing 3-4 days per week because that's all that my hamstrings could handle but I eventually worked my way up to a 5-6 day a week practice. I regularly wake up feeling like what I imagine an 80 year old woman would but that hasn't stopped me. After 3 months of intense practice I was finally given the last pose of the primary series and on Christmas Eve I practiced my first assisted drop back. These days I'm working on refining my practice, building strength and opening up my notoriously tight hamstrings.