Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Developing a Home practice part 21b, Approaching Intermediate

Last week, in this series, I re posted a post from December 08 that asked 'When to begin Intermediate'. I was given a bit of a hard time in the comments section following the original post for even considering it. The argument being that poses should only be given by a teacher. Or even if you didn't have a teacher then there were certain requirements, gateway poses, that you had to be able to do before you could move on to 2nd. It was stressed that I should be able to come up from Urdhva Dhanurasana, for instance, before I even considered moving on.

Funny, but I didn't realise that I had taken these comments to heart because I just looked at the following January and the whole month is pretty much devoted to coming up from Urdhva Dhanurasana.

I'm always surprised by how insistent some practitioners are that you have to practice in the correct way in the correct order, only moving on when given permission to do so. It's as if, how to practice as well as what to practice, is all set down in stone somewhere. This from David Williams
'I returned to India and I came up to Mysore and I started learning. I was with Nancy Gilgoff and we stayed in Mysore for four months. I learned first series, second series, and half of third series, plus the pranayama....'
'....At the time Guruji spoke very little English. So, the way I would learn was I would come early and watch somebody else doing the practice and memorize the postures that were ahead of me. I set a discipline of tryin to learn eight postures a day and this is how I managed to learn the first two and half of the third series at this time.'
David Williams - Maui 2001 Interviews Friday, 30 November 2007

No mention here of Guruji hitting him over the head with a stick for trying Kapo. If you read some of those old interviews you get the feeling that the method for transmitting the practice was evolving constantly. Full vinyasa up to the 80's and then a shift to half. People being moved along more quickly until the size of classes forced a reapproachment and students became held back longer. But we don't have to go back to the 70's and 80's, how often to we come across this expression "this is how it's being practiced in Mysore now".


There's a defensiveness that I really don't understand, what are people afraid of? I can understand that AYRI wants to keep some control of how the practice is taught, preserved. I hate the idea of just anyone being able to set themselves up as an Ashtanga teacher, as much as anyone else. I actually find it uncomfortable that some young practitioner can practice for a couple of years, go to Mysore a few times, and become authorised to teach, to TEACH. Great you can do the poses but to teach, the psychology involved in that, maturity required, well it gives me pause. I used to teach teachers how to teach, it's not that easy, more to it than just communicating poses.

But then in the end I practice at home and that gives me a lot of freedom to develop my practice as I see fit. I happen to call it Ashtanga and feel secure in that, you can call it what you want. If I went to a Shala I would feel obliged to paractice in accordance with the house rules.

I approached 2nd pretty much in the same way I'd approached Primary. I had Swensons book and DVD, and I worked through the whole series a couple of times following the Video, taking some of David's variations from the book where the poses were too difficult. I'd done that a couple of times in and around December 08 and then threw myself ,with purpose, into 2nd in January.

I started to practice in the evenings. With the time constraints of having to go to work I was struggling with practicing Intermediate in the morning. It was all too disjointed, I was struggling with poses, taking several attempts and still trying to work too many things out. This was fine, and fun, on my day off or Sunday but on a work day it was frustrating and unsatisfying.

Evenings worked well but I began to miss Primary. There was still no flow to my Intermediate and I was struggling with the transitions. I started to practice Primary in the morning and Intermediate in the evenings. This evolved into practicing Primary on mornings when I had to go to work and intermediate on my day off and Sunday. In the evenings I would do a shortened standing followed by Intermediate up to Kapo or Bakasana and work on dropbacks.

Looking back on it now I think that the way the Intermediate is being taught in the Shala's makes more sense. While I think Tim Miller's style of teaching Primary altogether (so I hear) is ideal, I think the method of adding on poses in 2nd is probably the best way of going about it. I just jumped straight into 2nd and my practice became ragged. I lost all the flow that I had in Primary it was no longer a meditation.

If I was to do it again, I would start adding on the Intermediate poses up to Kapo over a month or two until it became comfortable and smooth and stick with that for a month or so. Then I would just start adding poses the criteria being that your familiar with them enough to be able to move into the next with some degree of flow. Maybe Split at Karandavasana. I think a variation of a pose is fine, I really don't feel that you should be held back at a pose for months if not years, it's not Iyenga for Christ sake. The pose will come, you'll bind a little more deeply in the Mari's, get a bit further back and closer to your toes in your Kapo. over time.

I made the split to Intermediate and it becoming my main practice last week. I practice all of Intermediate now, Sunday to Thursday, with Primary on Friday and resting Saturday. I have a bit of a flow going, coming up in Karanda is inconsistent and my Supta Urdhva Pada Vajrasana is still a bit of a joke. Every pose needs work, but it feels a nice practice now. It's taken six months to get to this point, I think if I'd added poses in the manner above rather than trying to switch to it all in one go it would have been a more enjoyable process.

Next : Dropbacks, Coming up, Kapo, Dwi pada and Karandavasana Intermediate transitions.

8 comments:

  1. Hi,

    I think this is a topic so many people have an opinion on. I think your post is great, it's very balanced and considered and you've obviously given it a lot of thought.

    My thoughts for what it's worth are that if you are near a shala and practising with a teacher then being stopped at a particular posture is a great method. It can be difficult and even frustrating but in that there are lessons to be learnt. I also like to stop at and focus on a posture I cam't do and work at it that way in my home practice. The system so to speak works for me most of the time.

    As you said in the early days they were given lots of postures and David Swenson discussed this on his teacher training course. Why it changed who knows....because there are so many people? Because they now feel this is a better way to teach?

    What I think is important is that we don't get to hung up on the theory, if you practice at home you have more freedom. I consider this from a viewpoint of what I do. What others should do is up to them or their teacher, it is a very personal journey.

    Thanks again for sharing your insights.

    H

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Helen!
    I do agree with an element of 'holding' back. At the end of the post I said as much, in that if I was to do it over, I would probably hold myself back at Kapo for a while and then at Dwi pada and at karandavasana. But no more than a month or two, if there are lessons to be learned I'm sure they can be learned in that time, but being held back for many several months even years, that I just don't get. Advise someone to stay at a pose perhaps but unless you really feel they are going to do themselves a serious injury let them move on if they want to, give them a safer variation, we're not children. I guess I've always seen good teaching as facilitating, enabling.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Grimmly! I think that the way you taught yourself was nothing short of amazing (as you know)...and I cannot imagine that it could have been any better had you stopped at the poses that gave you trouble. Why? Because in spite of some times when you kind of lost your prana, you still learned the Series, and after a mere year, you are practicing the whole thing! It doesn't get more logical than that. I also suspect that if holding yourself back were the right thing, you would have. Like you say, you're not a child. You know what you need. No one has to tell you...

    ReplyDelete
  4. I strongly disagree with the view that 'thee is only one way to teach intermediate'. I think by the time we get through primary, we should have a rough idea how to handle our own bodies. At the moment my teacher is trying to teach intermediate all the way to eka pada sirsasana, but I am actually stopping myself at larguvajrasana because I am having that many problems with it. Kinda opposite from what some other people want ie working the whole series. I also find the concept of 'gateway' poses interesting; people talk about kapotasana as a gateway but I find that pose relatively easy and achievable compare to larguvajrasana !

    ReplyDelete
  5. And I fail to see how Kapotasana is a gateway to anything until late-Third Series. I can do every pose of Third Series except Kapotasana (which I have DONE, but I can't bear to attempt to grab toes anymore) and keeping my legs firmly back without the help of a hand in Eka Pada. And I don't see how either one of those "faults" in my practice is any kind of issue in the rest of my practice. That said, I cannot imagine bothering with Third Series without being able to keep my individual legs behind my head, because there are so many LBH poses there. And as for Kapo, not having that in my repertoire will make the post LBH Third Series poses pretty remote for me. So my theory remains...do what you like of a series, but until you can do the whole series, don't move onto the next series.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've been trying to remember where the hell that 'gateway' expression came from. i thought it was Sweeney but I just checked and he uses ''Core postures'. I felt the same about LBH until I got dwi pada and started to think there might be some hope, plus I'm dying for all those arm balances in 3rd so will do whatever it takes. Have you seen Akarna Dhanurasana from 4th? (sweeney's book).You kind of pull your leg back. I've been kind employing that action plus the usual rotation to go into LBH find I can get my shoulder further under my leg and my back a little straighter that way, it's helping.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great post Grim. Respectful of the tradition, the student, the practice in a balanced way without gilding any sacred cows. They're shiny enough already. :-)

    My favorite paradox in this practice is the way that "traditional practice" means "the way they're doing it in Mysore this week as opposed to how they did it the week before that." Tradition = institution. It does not = history. A political rather than a temporal designation. That said... I do traditional practice and like it that way. :-)

    Gateway... maybe a deceptive term? In a sense the gates open to subsequent postures. But maybe they just open us to ourselves. In that sense, sometimes kapo is a gateway. If someone has been able to avoid open the chest/heart region until that point, kapo is the door in the wall and poses an almost unavoidable invitation to opening up. If that makes sense. " I think of it as much as an interior "gateway" as a stepping stone to more tricks. Maybe that's sentimental.

    ReplyDelete
  8. hi Grimmly
    wow, is that your Kapo? well of course, but wow. oh, i see you wrote about the 108 sun salutes. sorry, slow in catching up. i'm with you in all your opinions. i'm teaching myself 3rd. who-hoo. until a teacher appears.
    cheers,
    Arturo
    word verif: declow

    ReplyDelete

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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