Thursday, 23 July 2009

Intermediate Kapotasana Progress

Hard to get on the mat again for Intermediate, I thought I'd got past this last week but I think I screwed up. I took Thursday as my rest day (because I'll be away this weekend) and then did two days of Primary making it a break of three days from my last Intermediate. Sunday was a struggle but I was OK about it but Monday too was a case of grinding out the asanas. Yesterday, being my day off, I started my practice later than usual, and really struggled to get on the mat. I should have stuck to the routine last week, rested on Saturday and just done the one Primary on Friday. Today I took the moon day for probably the first time ever to think about where I want to take my practice

The two days of Primary idea was because I felt I was losing some of my flow by practicing it only once a week. I figured I'd practice it twice and Intermediate four times a week. It seems to be too disrupting though, I think I need to be getting back into a routine and come to terms with Intermediate before I start thinking about mucking around with the schedule. Primary will be fine for a month or two.

The thing is, I don't understand my animosity towards 2nd. The asanas are going well, my Karanda is hit or miss but more hit now, in that I'm managing to go back up and exit properly. It's not pretty or elegant, my chin is still on the mat but it's getting there. Kapo is coming along nicely, I'm proud of my Bakasana, in fact it's only SUPV at the end that's not coming together and I'm OK with that, it'll come. The series just doesn't seem to flow. I find it hard to focus on my bandhas in the way I'm able too in Primary and when I was doing the Vinyasa Krama sequences. I can do all the exits and entrances, the different jump back and through variations, it should flow, no? But I still experience it in stages. The Kapo stage, the LBH stage, the bits and pieces stage, the headstand stage.

Oh well, will try sticking to a 5-1 (Inter. to Primary) routine for the next couple of months and see if that works. Take it slower perhaps and really try to focus on the breath. Give you an idea of how serious this Intermediate situation is, I was actually playing with the idea of quitting Ashtanga altogether and practicing Vinyasa Krama instead. I really enjoyed practicing VK last month, felt I gained a better understanding of the breath, the Bandhas and how one asana prepares you for the next. Sometimes with Ashtanga Yoga, it feels a little like Ashtanga first and Yoga second. Does that make sense? But hey, Ashtanga has brought me this far, I owe it a lot. I love primary and already know that I'll love third, I even love most of the Intermediate asana if not the series itself.

Below is my latest Kapo. I'm dropping back more slowly, able to hang back longer and even getting my fingers to my heels. Was trying really hard here to keep my legs up but it's not really happening. Seem to have reached a barrier here and something about my whole approach probably has to change if I want to get in any deeper than this. Perhaps I should try that rope set up to try and keep my legs straighter..... but then that would disrupt the flow that I'm aiming at. Think I'll just go with it for now, settle for what I have and perhaps work more on hanging back longer and see If I can get to the point of grabbing my heels before my head touches the mat.



  1. Nicely put. Ashtanga can be not really about yoga if it's not careful. But yes, it's been very, very good to you.

    I wonder if the feelings toward 2S have to do with the way the backbend and FBH sections obligate you to let go in order to do them, well, better. Much of the series is overtly focused on receiving (in the context of giving it your all). That's a kind of confrontational thing, some times.

  2. Interesting, would tie in with everyone saying I'm a control freak. BTW Was just at your place : )
    Some uncomfortable thinking to do here, perhaps it ties in with my preferring to practice at home when I have opportunities to practice at a Shala. However, I didn't seem to have any problem letting myself drop back, perhaps your suggesting it's more subtle.

  3. Interesting thoughts Grim.

    Ya know... dropping back can be accomplished either through force of will or through just utterly giving up.

    Some call that surrender or grace, two words that have a lot of stupid baggage attached to them by now. Maybe there's a way to think of being done by the practice, moved along by a larger momentum, that doesn't have the same weenie-ass associations. Because it's not weenie-ass at all. The letting go is tremendous, equal to the discipline, in a sense.

    You have awesome intensity and discipline. I admire it. Don't second-guess that. It's kind of the first skill, one that some people never ever learn. But... afterwards maybe there is another skill to add? Kind of like how in vipassana, insight practice follows after concentration (shamatha) practice.

    You'll figure it out very easily, whatever it is. If 2S shows you a good edge, maybe it's a useful practice after all!


  4. Nothing wrong with preferring self-practice...I think the ultimate goal is to create a sustainable self-practice. Think about the senior teachers...most of them have no one to practice with when they practice at ridiculous-o'clock in the morning before they begin their teaching day!

  5. Maybe a more sketchy intermediate for a bit (vs. the all-out effort thing)? One try per pose, no overthinking, just get on with it? I can usually see the shape of a sequence better if I'm not trying so hard.

    This is all theoretical, of course, because I find 2nd as bumpy as you do. But I can't resist the idea that there's some beautiful shape in it that I'm just not quite able to see yet.

  6. I'm with a stripe of the letting-go argument where 2S is concerned. Kapo is "easier" in a way when I just do it, don't touch my feet or whatever and then do my Kapo dropbacks as if they're a sequence, and then vinyasa, Supta V, elbows touch or knees come up or whatever, take five, vinyasa, Bakasana, and so on.

    That's not, of course, traditional practice.

    I'm not as troubled by the "flow" of it: backbends, arm balances, intense forward bends, and then bandha work (Karanda through Vatayanasana) that makes anything in Primary look PALE. For me a full Intermediate is about pretty intense hip opening, both with the magnitude of forward/back at first, and then the weird laterality, if that's a word, of Parighasana/Gomukhasana/SUPV. Take time to FEEL those in the hips.

    And because, if I'm not beat at that point, the seven deadlies require my strengths, I find them to be beautifully focusing.

    I'm down with 2S, even though I can't fully express ANY of its hardest poses.

  7. I'm with Patrick, I'm "down" with 2s! I've been working on 2nd for awhile now so there seems to be more flow- way more understanding of the connection of primary and even the postures within 2nd. I do think there's something to experimenting with just doing it- sketchy 2s- as Karen suggested. I found myself really not wanting to practice by myself the other day so I made a deal with myself. Just do it any old way- it's okay if all the postures aren't their strongest and full. I whizzed through it and found that setting my intentions of not trying too hard really helped! ha! Usually I enjoy the challenge.

    Control freak? who's a control freak? (many of us, that's who!)

    Grace... a lovely concept when the weenie-ass associations are taken off of it!

  8. No, i don't think there's anything wrong with self-practice either YC. just putting it out there in relation to my being an alleged control freak.

    I like grace to, whatever the baggage, but lean more towards 'No surrender!' and yet am comfortable with 'submitting to', though choosing to submit rather than being forced to. Don't have aproblem with submitting to the practice.

    Thanks for the reminder Karen, helped this morning, we'll get there.

    One shall get 'down with it' too

  9. Patrick, prioritizing the breath and flow over asana achievement sounds pretty well like traditional practice to me!

    FWIW, my experience is that the deepest bends and twists, and the ability to flow through a series without taking breaks come from an abject, irrational, giving-up surrender to movement and change. I can actually feel the willing/intending part of my brain disengage some times, and especially in certain backbends it is only this that releases the last fibers of the muscles that are very intelligently, willfully keeping me from the deepest bend.

    The willing/intending part of the brain is smart. It keeps us from doing stupid shit like kapotasana. But if we decide do override it in a deep way, we have to learn this other side of things. The side that is nothing to do with control or bearing down or discipline or me me me. The part of the brain that knows uninhibited movement, non-doing, and how to be pushed around productively. I'm not kidding.

    Ironically, once I get in to that headspace, I could not care less about the shapes I make there. The surrendering mind is an end in itself--the backbends are relatively not interesting. Which is why I don't post photos of the periodic non-sanity that is my practice of late. That and I'd worry about people trying to effort themselves in to the places I take it by ceasing effort. It's simply not safe on a physical level.

  10. Owl,

    Good to hear from you! I feel like we never talk anymore :)

    Perhaps this is because I'm on planet seventh series now.

    Anyway, in short, I totally agree about the surrendering sort of non-mind, which does the big poses. Yes, the effort mind can exert, but it won't LET itself hit something that deep (words to that effect). I've felt that before.

    Let us talk more about this sometime, probably over at your place or maybe on the 'Book. I have a quite pent-up bit of ranting that I want to do about seventh, at my place.

  11. Patrick, I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing. I'm trying to describe a mental-bodily state, one that took a lot of years to even begin to find.

    The old discussion about archetypes--the epic journey/warrior model vrs the guru model vrs the balanced model--is different. Usually talk of surrender comes up in that conversation, when we're trying to talk about archetypes and what it all "means."


    But this kind of letting go is just a way of shifting gears in the subconscious. It's really specific. It has nothing to do with how smart you are or how special. It's just something that happens. Not woo woo.

    Feels like a combination of parasympathetic nervous system turning on and beta waves getting really small, in a situation where they're usually otherwise very intelligently doing the opposite.

    I starting understanding this after I'd been bored with asana specifics for a long time. I'm trying to put out hints about it because I think I would have gotten it earlier if someone had told me what to watch for (not what to *do*, more like what to allow).

  12. Owl,

    Yes, trying to get on your frequency, but trying to get there from my vocabulary, which as you note, can be pretty woo-woo.

    The most recent at my place has everything to do with me and nothing to do with this (as I think is obvious).

    More soon if I can actually wrap my head/vocabulary around it.

  13. :-)

    Sorry my last comment was so off-putting! I just know we're all of us already beginning to tap this stuff on a micro level, and it seems very promising and rich, so I was trying to steer clear of big language and of the (otherwise great) territory of myth and meaning. Not sure if this makes sense.

  14. Should we keep stealing the thread like this? Oh well, what the heck.

    What set me off in your original post was this dual movement you've described, two tendencies that SHOULD be opposed but aren't. I remember V saying once that ashtanga develops an almost UNSAFE level of flexibility in 6/wk practice scheme (she wasn't talking about safety per se, but intensity, as I read it), and I remember Karen talking about the way that language post-practice can "REMAKE" the practice itself.

    Perhaps these are both not about your angle here, but what I was thinking of was the way I have in the past efforted myself crazy into some uncommon positions, but also, the way those same poses are EASIER with what seems to be "less" effort. Less consciousness overall. As if the pose does itself with my bodymind, very weird stuff.

    IF this is the same item we're talking about, and it might not be, then I think that my experience of it is more gross and yours more subtle. I can't, for example, SEE what that's about, can't understand it, but I can experience it.

    Do you think that one can experience this first and only understand it, begin to see what it is, much much later? Does that gel with your angle?

  15. There is a part of the brain whose function is to engage the nervous system so that it stops you from doing something that the brain perceives as dangerous. Like when you touch a hot iron and your hand immediately flicks away. I can imagine how this would be the same as preventing the body from going past a certain point of depth in a backbend, and yet this can be done without actual harm to the body, because that's the thing: it's PERCEIVED danger, that doesn't necessarily have to materialize.

  16. Steal away Patrick, my place is your place. Besides I'm away and can only really read my mail on my itouch, can't really contribute from here. Thanks for all the birthday wishes.

  17. I dunno. I see it in a few bodies, not others. Which is fine. This is not an achievement, just something you set the conditions for and hope it comes. Practice systematically and whole-heartedly for years (plus maybe read the Bhagavad Gita?) and things start to happen, it seems like.

    It does seem that ashtanga may be a harder practice in which to find it, not only because of the kind of people we are but because of some of our shared ideas about practice. We all love striving and have this shared ego trip about how hard we work (and sometimes about how much others suck, which is immature and pathetically insecure of us, unless we're talking about Anusara of course). And there is the hero narrative, which is awesome, until it's not.

    But in seriousness, I'd say compared to other embodied inquiry/work practices, we're relatively clueless about working with the nervous system in this way. We don't look for the letting go, at least not in a non-grasping way.

    I would really like to figure out a way to encourage it, because there's such peace and joy it brings (I could give a rat's ass about how deep you bend!). The being-in-love-with-existence-as-it-is feeling is wonderful that you do want other people to feel it. There are a few teachers who explicitly cultivate a theta-state energy in their rooms or who are very up on NLP... so far these are the only two things I've seen that sorta work.

  18. The thing i missed about primary was that i'd become familiar with it enough to just let the asana take care of themselves. It was the meditative state I was able to get in while I was practicing that I loved so much and why I wanted the jump back and jump through to be so smooth that it wouldn't interrupt that.
    The asana in 2nd are so intense that it's easy to get wrapped up in the physics of the individual poses and forget about the flow from one to the next. Thanks for the reminder about that. Had a few Intermediate practices now where I've been able to focus on the breath and the drishti and it's starting to feel more like the primary I loved, though perhaps a more intense version.
    A practice viewed that way/practiced that way, does become very interesting when you look at it in light of the concentration aspect of Vipassana practice. I'd always tried to incorporate the insight aspect but concentration practice seems more suited. Trying to bring the insight meditation aspect into play in seated meditation at the end of the practice, want to see how that works out over the next couple of months, guess you could do the same in savasana.

    Ashtanga should be suited to practicing in this way, if not designed for it and yet there's so much that seems to get in the way. So easy to get wrapped up in the individual asana and forget the flow. No one more guilty of this than me.

    But hey, there are so many ways to approach this wonderful practice, if the warrior narrative works for you and helps you get through the day then all power to you and if your turned off by the meditative aspect, but like struggling with and working out individual poses, a kind of physical suduku approach then why the hell not.
    I used to say it's my practice/ it's your practice and was just about to say the same thing but want to say instead that it's your relationship with the practice, work it out together, No?

  19. So you're saying: "whatever floats your boat"? Sure. Cautiously agreed. I am all for being fully apprised of our many options, and then using that information as appropriate and according to what works. At minimum that requires honesty and a good mirror. For me, there's always variation in how honest I am being and how clean a mirror (teacher, broadly defined) I've got.

    But about that, something that does happen is a "banging the head against the wall" phenomenon. That might be good, but it also might be insane and self-punishing. And often is, which is sad. That's the kind of situation where knowing the possibilities for mental shifts could create new freedom and, to be blunt, smarter practice.

    I am so curious about the effects of working with mind in different, very specific, ways in and after practice. Am exploring this too, making a few mental shifts here and there, and super excited about all of it. There is so much freedom, and so many options, in the mind, once I'm strong enough to concentrate it. Looking forward to your eventual report about concentration and insight.

  20. Grim/Owl,

    (wow, what a cyborg THAT would be),

    I don't hear "whatever floats your boat" there. The most recent post over at my place is a VERY roundabout, typically over-intellectualized road of trying to move from "pose" to "flow," and using breath/bandhas/gaze to get there. I'd agree completely that Second has some more "wait, stop, work this physical position" poses than Primary does, but since one begins with Primary, I think that the EXPERIENCE of Primary might have more of that than Second does (it's as Ron/Arjuna says on his site: every begin is hard, so Primary is the hardest sequence).

    Flow and what can be paraphrased as "forgoing the fruits" has really eased my Second, while at the same time (so far), barring me from full expression of any of Second's core postures.

    This, I think, is where the magic that Owl and V have described, might come in (will need to keep practicing in order to know).

    I hear Grim as saying that you CAN, yes, power and effort yourself into a pose. That's how I first got Kurmasana. I basically forced the hamstrings and low back to make the shape. But my experience with Kapo has been effort, frustration and then a nearly magical "ahh fuck it" which actually has done more for my Kapo than all the effort I ever threw at it.

    I'm sure now that I'm reading into it, but I hear Grim as saying (acknowledged or not) that the warrior is a phase of asana achievement. Perhaps the strange unwilled surrendering flowing meditator (or whatever that is; if we personify it we ruin it and turn it into warrior myth) is a more subtle phase.

  21. A friend of mine is teaching at Bryan Kest's Power Yoga, so I was checking out the website in advance of dropping in to support his class. The teacher bios are awesome! Very truthful and perfect descriptions of what they are doing: epic journeys, self-mastery, intense discipline, plus a tiny bit of the baby boomer "Everyone has hu own path: I'm ok you're ok" vibe.

    Some people find that practice and that's where they stay. It's a good practice with serious integrity and strength. I know a lot of people who are very grounded by it, and I really gravitate toward them because of that stability. Others move on when they have worked somewhat through their bodies and then want to grow (1) more contemplative dimensions and (2) more compassion.

    Those are the people I see walking in to our room with excellent body awareness, but a longing to free their minds and hearts in a silent community.

    Weirdly, there is a lot of compassion and love that seems to rise up the more time I spend in the receptive side of my nervous system. This would suck, but strong practice has SORT OF made me stable enough to deal with it. Be warned though.


    About self-mastery, I can't resist throwing in a Genpo Roshi line I heard yesterday: If we don't have an outside agent, we are left with our own ego as a master.

  22. We all make the practice relevant to ourselves, I guess. A warrior/hero narrative can be a great thing if that's what the practicioner's inner self is asking to manifest, I guess. At other times, compassion might be the name of the game.

    The thing is, can it really be measured when a practicioner is practicing in a harmful way to herself/himself? (except for the most obvious cases).

    Scrap that - even in the most obvious cases, maybe that's part of their path?

    Or am I being an enabler? :-D

  23. Is this a philosophical question or a practical one?

    If philosophical, then insert something about karma. If practical then insert something about practicing smarter, not harder.

    Yesterday my teacher pointed out a huge area where I'm allowing myself to experience pain in an ignorant, immature way. I never would have seen it and feel lucky that he did because he's emotionally detached from my practice. My own mirror is still dusty.

  24. No, I was pretty much saying 'whatever floats your boat' Patrick. It pains me a little that there's so much worrying about other peoples practice. I've experienced it myself a little here (though I pretty much brushed it off), being told what and how I should or shouldn't, must or mustn't practice. But you come across it a lot, whether it's judging, belittling or just being patronising about someone else's practice. It's not correct, it's not authentic, not sincere...... Sometimes they are being kind, trying to be helpful, but sometimes too they are just being defensive and can get downright nasty.

    Always loved that SKPJ saying, 'practice and all is coming', it can be taken on one level as the asana will eventually come. It can also be taken as practice the asana and that discipline you develop may lead the other seven limbs to start manifesting themselves in one form or another whether, in a traditional Yogic sense or in a just as valid western version of the same.
    Perhaps it can also mean that, practice the asana from whatever perspective, whether that's the Warrior or Quest narrative, to get fitter, healthier or just look 'fit', or as a spiritual practice and the practice itself will transform your practice through some or all of the different perspectives at sometime or other.

    I'm reminded of a story, now I'm sure I don't remember it correctly, but this is how I remember it. The Buddha is talking to a lay disciple know to be a particularly horny young man. The Buddha promises him that when he reaches Nirbhana, through meditating daily, he will be rewarded with a thousand virgins. The young disciple practices his meditation diligently and of course along the way forgets all about the virgins as he finds other rewards within the practice. That Buddha, wiley!

    But of course Owl is right that we can end up banging our heads against a wall and getting stuck and that we can use some help sometimes. But that doesn't necessarily mean a teacher. You might come across some lines in a blog or an old book in a second hand bookshop, and encountering them at just the right time they might make sense to you and cause you to redirect your practice, there are many kinds of teachers.
    Interesting Owl that you say you might have 'gotten it earlier' you might, but then it might have been the wrong time for you too. I saw Tru Blood the other night for the first time just flicking through the channels, never heard about it before and yet now I find that everyone has been going on about this for ages. Is it you V who's on the eight book already, and hasn't Liz been going on about them too? I never picked up on it. It's a lame example but I can't think of another one right now, sure you all have better examples.

    And I'm rambling.... good thing I'm taking a month off
    Practice and all is coming..................



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from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi

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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