“One of my goals in life is to do the slowest Primary Series anywhere… rather than the quickest”. Richard Freeman

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Tuesday, 1 December 2009

What do I really want from my practice?

Tried to write about this the other night but ended up deleting five attempts so just posted the title/question. A little clearer this morning and just wrote this reply kind of in response to comments. thought I might as well paste it here.

I like to have a clear plan for my practice so I don't waste time at 6 am deciding what to practice. it was my main problem with Vinyasa Krama and it's something about Ashtanga that suits me.

I'm not questioning the whole thing. However there is a kind of chemical reaction between certain potentialities in Ashtanga and aspects of my character that cause me to go down the route of .... over exuberant practice. I like the floaty kind of jump backs, the press to handstands, the lifting and flipping of 3rd. I'm drawn to the extremes of practice, Chakra Badhasana, tick tocks, the arm balances, strange, beautiful asanas. I find it challenging and love the problem solving aspect of a difficult pose.

But that said, that's not really how I want to practice my yoga. Gannon reports Jois as saying that 3rd is for Demonstration purposes and I can see what he means. The Arm balances are cool but taking up a third of the series seems absurd. It's fun, I can do that kind of stuff but it makes me pause and ask if that's how I really want to practice.
The Vinyasa Krama experience was quite powerful, less asana and practiced more slowly, strong breath and bandha focus, everything else stripped away. I tried to practice Primary and Intermediate in that manner but before I knew it I found myself working on tick tocks and arm balances again. It's not a criticism of Ashtanga but of how I end approaching it. It got me through the first couple of years learning the practice though.

It might be fun to practice like that occasionally, in the evening say outside of my regular practice but it's not the practice I want to get up for every morning.

The idea now is to practice Primary and Intermediate a couple of times a week in a simple, unflashy manner with Vinyasa Krama practices in between. Perhaps I'll work out my own Vinyasa Krama version of 3rd without the arm balance sequence.

Said farewell to the flashy practice in style with the Michael Gannon routine from his DVD. It's Sury's, Standing, most of Primary (up to bandha konnasana), almost all of 2nd and most of 3rd. Took him 66 minutes on the DVD without finishing, took me a little longer about 90 minutes (still not sure how I managed to do all 3 series in the time I usually take to do one). Strangely I didn't feel any more tired than after doing one of them, something about the vinyasa that carries you through. Found that interesting.

Tthose two approaches, focusing on the asana or focusing on the Vinyasa, both have their merits.

In the end surely it's about developing a personal practice, this has just been part of that process.

25 comments:

  1. THIS is what I had pegged as "the question."

    Just listening to the first section of Yoga Matrix (MP3 version costs less than $20 on Amazon. Freeman talks about how all practices lead to the same place, but there are some interesting caveats.

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  2. Why did you start practicing? Was it for the physical challenge? Was it for the way the physical stuff made you feel mentally/emotionally? Is it because having something to obsess about gets you out of your own head? All of the above? None of the above?

    You seem intent on perfecting a plan for your practice - defining what to do on which days. I am wondering if this is causing you to question the whole thing. What if you didn't define it? What if some days you did Primary, some days some of Primary and some of Second, some days a whole lot of Third Series, some days Vinyasa Krama...all depending upon what you were in the mood for? Would that break you? Or would it challenge you to live in the moment with your practice? Isn't all of the "Sunday: Second. Friday: Primary" stuff really a way of NOT living in the moment?

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  3. Karen, the Yoga Matrix! Yeah. Highly recommended.

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  4. Because my life feels empty at the moment, ashtanga practice has made me feel like i'm "accomplishing" something; better health, body, mind and spirit. Sometimes I feel selfish and obsessed, other times i feel proud of my dedication.

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  5. RF has got it going on. National (and international) treasure!

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  6. Hey karen, Susan, The yoga matrix thing, I downloaded it a while ago from somewhere. Didn't get on with it I seem to remember, but forget why. I looked for it on my Mac just now but I must have deleted it.

    YC, you seem to have caught me out in my OCD, terrible list maker, I have pages and pages of different practice plans. the most recent was Fri-Primary, Sat-2nd, Sunday-3rd, mon-2nd, tues-2nd, Weds-Rest etc etc and so forth.

    I like to have a clear plan for my practice so I don't waste time at 6 am deciding what to practice. it was my main problem with Vinyasa Krama and something about Ashtanga that suits me.

    I'm not questioning the whole thing. However there is a kind of chemical reaction between certain potentialities in Ashtanga and aspects of my character that cause me to go down the route of .... overexuberant practice. I like the floaty kind of jump backs, the press to handstands, the lifting and flipping of 3rd. I'm drawn to the extremes of practice, Chakra Badhasana, tick tocks, the arm balances, strange, beautiful asanas. I find it challenging and love the problem solving aspect of a difficult pose.

    But that said, that's not really how I want to practice my yoga. Gannon reports Jois as saying that 3rd is for Demonstration purposes and I can see what he means. The Arm balances are cool but taking up a third of the series seems absurd. It's fun, I can do that kind of stuff but it makes me pause and ask if that's how I really want to practice.

    The Vinyasa Krama experience was quite powerful, less asana practiced more slowly, strong breath and bandha focus, everything else stripped away. I tried to practice Primary and Intermediate that way but before I knew it I found myself working on tick tocks and arm balances again. It's not a criticism of Ashtanga but of how I end approaching it. It got me through the first couple of years learning the practice.

    It might be fun to practice like that occasionally, in the evening say outside of my regular practice but it's not the practice I want to get up for every morning.

    The idea now is to practice Primary and Intermediate a couple of times a week in a simple, unflashy with Vinyasa Krama practices in between. Perhaps I'll work out my own Vinyasa Krama version of 3rd without the arm balance sequence.

    Said farewell to the flashy practice in style this morning with the Michael Gannon routine from his DVD. it's Sury's, Standing, most of Primary, almost all of 2nd and most of 3rd. Took him 66 minutes on the DVD without finishing, took me a little longer about 90 minutes. Strangely i didn't feel any more tired than after doing one of the series, something about the vinyasa that carries you through. Found that interesting.

    Interesting those two approaches, focussing on the asana or focussing on the Vinyasa, both have their merits.

    Tried to write about this last night but ended up deleting five attempts so just posted the title/question. In the end surely it's about developing a personal practice, this has just been part of that process.

    ReplyDelete
  7. God, didn't realize how long my comment was until i posted it.

    It's a wonderful practice Anon, been really good for me over the last couple of years. I'm a hell of a lot healthier than I was and it's kept me disciplined since I stopped playing Sax. Is it an obsession or just dedication, not sure i prefer to consider it a disciplined and dedicated practice (yep obsessed). I certainly don't feel the need to apologise for it.

    This is about whether I continue to practice or not but rather the manner in which I practice.

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  8. It's starting to seem more & more "all the same" to me. The only difference seems to lie in how hard I might feel like pushing myself that day. Sometimes I push, push, push. Other times I just flow through it. And there are those days - not too often thankfully - that I just get it over with.

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  9. e"What do I really want from my practice"?For me the real question is what do I NEED.Is our personal BS the fuel or is our practice a mirror.Sometimes it's a celebration of being alive and sometimes we need to be humbled so that our practice,like the bhuddists say,is not just for ourselves but for everyone. I know when I'm on tract the world appreciates that my asshole factor has diminished to some degree.I'm at risk for making everything a BFD(big fucking deal).

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  10. I've been thinking about this today. I think for the first couple of years I was most interested in the flow of the practice and I found that meditative, today was like that doing the Gannon. This year I seem to be more interested in spending good quality time in the asanas. I seem to want asanas that suit that and there are some wonderful ones for that in 3rd. I think the arm balances, tick tock's etc suit the flowing type of practice and i wonder if that's your style, you do flow beautifully through those and it would perhaps fit with you saying you find it all the same.

    I'm certainly not saying one is better than the other perhaps next year I'll be back into flow and want asanas work best with that, or perhaps I'll end up with a balanced focus between the two.

    In bed on the itouch so apologies if this is a mess.

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  11. Fuel or mirror Olddude, troubling. Could be it's both and that it's that aspect of my character that responds to the potentially flashy aspect of the practice fueling me to practice in the first place, All the floating and flipping etc may mirror that aspect of my character for all to see. I'm wondering now if i can sustain a practice without all that. I'm certainly easier to live with when my practice is going well.

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  12. All Astangis are easier to live with when practice is going well...

    ReplyDelete
  13. Ego....

    My wish for my own practice would be that the ties to my ego (as in, a good practice is a good day, a bad practice is a bad day) would dissolve. Sometimes I feel as if it is dissolving. Then days like today, I procrastinate from practicing, and I know in my heart that it is because I am afraid of what practice will "reveal" in terms of my progress and my failures. Ego...

    I hate to sound overwrought here, but I think it is true that having an ego doesn't make the yoga unyogic...but it is definitely an impediment to freedom.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I like what olddude wrote (and I like the name!)-
    The practice does seem like a microcosm of life. The less I'm bugged by things in my practice, the less I allow things in life to bug me.

    I don't think too much about what I want from my practice, I just just do it and see what happens. Doing something daily is a great gage- one day sucks, but maybe the next won't! Good practice in impermanence for me.

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  15. That's an incredibly sane approach Liz! (No wonder why it often escapes me - I seem to thrive on excitement)

    ReplyDelete
  16. oh, I thrive on excitement too, and I'm not exactly sane...

    It probably helps that I'm injured half the time and my momentum in the practice is constantly being stopped so that I have to move backwards for awhile.

    As someone who is very bugged by things, I've really started to use my practice as a way to learn to be more immune to annoyances. (it doesn't always work, but it's a place to start!)

    ReplyDelete
  17. I've been trying to - as much as possible - practice acceptance and being in the moment, as per the book I'm reading now (Power of Now). Today I was assembling a production package & so I went in an empty showroom in order to have table space. I had my iPod on & was dancing around while doing my work. A coworker friend went by & got my attention so he could mimic me. He started dancing going, "I LOVE MY JOB! I LOVE MY JOB!"

    As for now, I think I absolutely & desperately need some Junior Mints.

    [verificaiton: fockslea}

    ReplyDelete
  18. to be able to do deep backbends and drop backs; to put may leg behind my head, no, my back; to do handstands, headstands, and nice neat chakrasana; to land with out a sound in ticktocks; to float, to breath fully in every asana...that is what i want...what have i gotten over the last four years: injuries, soreness, frustration because i can't seem to get past primary...but maybe that's the point, its not what i want from my practice, it's what i need: peace, movement with breath, alone time on mat, even in a crowded room, to be present, to not expect, but rather to accept. i try not to want anything from my practice except to be able to get on my mat and be...

    ReplyDelete
  19. actually, i what i want from my practice is to NOT want anything from my practice...that's what i meant to say...but the truth is that i really want to be able to do all that other stuff too...so that is one of the reasons i continue to practice, injured, frustrated, and sore because i find that as i 'accomplish' one asana, i really want to start to 'accomplish' the next one...anyone else feel that? and does anyone else find that one of the most paradoxical aspects of ashtanga yoga? Its rather linear and goal-orientated set-up?

    ReplyDelete
  20. It's never enough, really, though I finally started turning down poses when I was with Chris last spring.

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  21. Hi Carol. I guess it's one of the differences between learning the practice in a Shala and at home. At home I think we tend to learn a series pretty much in one go (though perhaps with some Swenson variations at first) and then spend our time polishing them.

    In the Shala there seems (goiong by other blogs etc) to be that tradition of holding someone back at a pose which develops a focus on the next pose and then the next which while making sense from the pedagogical may well be counter productive to the overall objective of the practice.

    In the Shala it's the next pose, at home the next series. Why do we want all these extra asanas anyway, hell we probably only need around ten or twenty, no doubt that's plenty.

    Interesting Boodi that you started turning down pose, I seem to be finally getting to the same point, want to be able to justify any new poses now rather than just practice new ones for the sake of it. Don;t know how long that will last of course.

    I'm thinking Primary and Intermediate are enough for me now, though perhaps adding in an extra pose here or there to the series, So add Eka pada raja Kapotasana after kapo in 2nd one day say and the 3rd LBH's after the usual LBH's in 2nd another day. Perhaps add Purna Matsyendrasana after the Ardha version. Vinyasa krama works in this way adding the more complicated variations on to each other, Starting to make more sense to me than adding another series.

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  22. The part of 4th I'm at just has more increasing intensity of LBH poses... I don't want it! Not right now....

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  23. thank you, grimmly and boodiba for your responses. i actually learned the whole primary series in a 6 wk intro to ashtanga class, and for the most part was relatively successful with it, but then started going to workshops and then, sadly started getting injured (2 hamstring tears and a broken rib). i have now decided to pursue a home practice. i have to thank you and yoga chickie for both inspiring and encouraging me to trust myself in this endeavor. i whole-heartedly agree with the idea or concept of saying no to poses and/or adding one or two, out of sequence, that feels right. for instance, i really enjoy the back bending sequence of intermediate and so include it in my practice. my hamstring injury and broken rib, disallows the last few asanas of primary, so i leave them out. being at home allows this flexibility in my practice. your dedication to the practice is inspiring as is your willingness to so honestly document your journey. thanks again!
    oh yeah, i also wanted to add, that my earlier posts were relating to the asana limb of yoga and not to the other limbs...

    ReplyDelete
  24. Thanks for that Carol, hamstrings ouch. Touch wood I've had no injuries practicing at home to speak of (slightly bruised knee falling out of karanda and the odd twinge in the hammies) I think a little common sense and body awareness is all you need. I love the flexibility too though from what I hear teachers seem to allow you to adapt your practice in the case of injuries, to work around them.

    Talking of flexibility, going to practice Primary to Badha Konasana then Intermediate today, Nice practice for a day off and when you have a little more time. Didn't they use to practice both series together back in the day, they do seem to make more sense when you put them together.

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  25. Thanks, Carol. I am glad that my home practice inspires someone. I am finding it incredibly rewarding lately. Been making obvious progress in many areas, which I attribute to practicing it my own way - adding lunges, splits, Second Series poses and other stuff where I feel inspired and where I feel my practice leads logically to it. Inspired by Grimmly, I even tried the ankle breaking poses he showed on video the other day and was shocked to see that they are easy. EASY! I guess ankle flexibility is not a thing for me. I could NEVER have tried that in a shala. And who am I hurting by trying it at home? I found yesterday that doing an ankle-breaker after Janu Sirsasana C it enhances my leg-behind-head poses later.

    I also always skip Setu Bhandasana now, or at least rise up into it using my hands - because doing it on my head makes me get a burn mark on my forehead and breaks the hair at the top of my forehead. NOT worth it, vanity-wise. And you know what? Who cares? My backbends are only getting better, not worse for it.

    So, yeah, home practice rocks. If you have the time and discipline for it, it is an amazing way to practice.

    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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