Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mysore at Kino's Workshop, Part II: Pincha Mayurasana, fear of falling on one's face, and saying no to karandavasana

In my last post, I said that I went through some struggles in the mysore sessions at Kino's workshop. A lot happened during the mysore sessions; rather than bore you with the details of every single little thing that happened, I'll just focus here on two things: My experience with Pincha Mayurasana and my non-experience with Karandavasana.  

(1) Pincha Mayurasana

With some guidance from Kino, I just barely managed to pull off the standard pincha mayurasana jump-back exit to chaturanga. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, this basically involves transitioning to chaturanga from pincha mayurasana without touching one's feet to the ground before chaturanga (and without landing on one's face in the process, of course). Sorry if all this sounds very convoluted; I guess I need to find a more concise way of describing this transition.

First, a little back-story. For the last couple of months, I always "chickened out" whenever I came to this transition in my home practice. Whenever I was done with pincha, I would just lower my feet to the ground, and then move into chaturanga. I guess I was afraid of landing on my face, and possibly flattening my already flat Asian nose :-) 

Anyway, on the first mysore session at the workshop (on Saturday morning), I basically did the same "chicken out" move after pincha. In what appeared to be a coincidence, Kino walked by my mat about five seconds after I did that move:

Kino: You did Pincha Mayurasana?

Nobel: Yes.

Kino: Did you jump back from Pincha?

Nobel: Uh.... not really.

Kino: Why don't you do Pincha again? I'll help you with the jump back.

Nobel [Silently groans to himself]: Sure...

Have you ever noticed that senior teachers usually don't notice your most impressive postures, but almost always catch you when you try to skip those postures that bring up the most fear in you? So, I dutifully went back up into pincha, and guess what? I did that chicken out move again, because I still couldn't bring myself to try to pull off the standard exit, despite the presence of Kino. Kino advised me to try the following: Before doing pincha mayurasana, do modified chaturanga (chaturanga with the forearms on the mat). From modified chaturanga, push the elbows into the mat, and hop back into regular chaturanga. The idea is that this is supposed to serve as a "training wheels" version of the real transition, since in this version, the feet are on the ground the whole time, and one can manage more effectively the fear of falling on one's face. She suggested that I should do this for three times before actually trying the real transition during my next practice. I thanked her for this tip, and went on with the rest of my practice.

When I got to pincha mayurasana during next morning's mysore, I decided to simply go for the actual transition without going through the training wheels version, as Kino had suggested the day before. I don't know what made me do this. Maybe it was sheer ego; maybe it was the fact that a senior teacher was present, and I felt motivated to do more than what I considered to be my maximum (I call this the "Senior Teacher Effect").

In any case, I went up into Pincha, stayed there for five breaths. I then pushed my elbows into the mat, and lifted off. And then the weirdest thing happened. My nose touched the ground very briefly, but then it kind of... bounced off the ground, and I landed perfectly in chaturanga. And no, my nose did not become flatter :-) I was so surprised by what just happened that I made this weird surprised sound (I don't know how else to describe it). Kino came up to me, and asked me if I succeeded in doing the jump back. I said, "Barely..."

(2) Karandavasana

Then she said, "You want to try Karandavasana?" Normally, I would have jumped at the chance to get a new posture. But I told her that my knee was feeling a little tweaky, and I don't know if it's wise to risk trying to do padmasana while upside down without using my hands in this state. This is actually true; some months ago, I tweaked my right knee while attempting karandavasana. As of right now, it has recovered to the point where I can do padmasana and all its variations without pain or discomfort if I enter the postures with proper attention to alignment. But I don't yet feel ready to try to get into padmasana while in pincha mayurasana. She said that I should work on slowly trying to get my knees into padmasana in shoulderstand without using my hands. Once I've succeeded in doing this, I will be ready to attempt karandavasana safely. I thanked her for the suggestion. I'll work on this.

Well, this is the first time in recorded history that I have actually said no to being given a new posture, and to a senior teacher at that. How's that for being self-realized? :-)

I can write more, and there's so much more I would like to share, but I'm getting hungry, and need to go make some food. Maybe I'll write more later (or maybe not :-)).


  1. Hi Nobel!

    Glad you enjoyed the workshop!

    When I was starting karandavasana, I also had a tweaky knee (from years of running)...it still has tweaky days. My teacher had me work on doing the no-hands-lotus from a headstand base for several months before I starting putting all the karandavasana pieces together. I don't know your knee situation, but the "lotus-from-headstand-base was super helpful for me. My headstand base is much more stable than my pincha base so I could work on exploring the lotus without worrying about toppling over!

    The other thing that helped with the lotus early on was spraying my feet down with water...yes that was probably cheating!! ;)
    ...but it helped me with sliding the feet in, instead of doing the sort of throwing the feet in thing that works for some people and it reduced my worries about tweaking something from that angle.

    Are you teaching over the summer or are you off? If you feel like visiting friends in G-ville this summer, David Keil will be here teaching Mysore July 18-22 this year (usually he's here in the fall). Class size is limited to 8 students per class so lots of individual attention!...thought I'd throw that out in case you're free from work over the summer :)

  2. Thank you for your comments and suggestions, Christine. Yes, my teacher in Milwaukee had also suggested the lotus-from-headstand thing. Although I think lotus-from-shoulderstand (as Kino suggested) is easier, since I can recruit my hands to help me get into padmasana if I need to. You see, the trouble with me is that I somehow don't have the hip flexibility (or whatever flexibility involved) needed to bring my right foot all the way to my left hip crease without using my hands. Because of this, when I try to get into padmasana without my hands (in karandavasana or in headstand), my right knee tends to be unstable. Which is probably what caused the tweaking in the first place. So this is why I have decided to work with the shoulderstand version first.

    I am actually thinking about possibly going to Florida in the summer, if my money situation permits. I was thinking about going to one of Kino and Tim's weeklong workshop at Miami Life Center in June, but Kino tells me that these workshops fill up really quickly. Maybe I'll also consider David's workshop, so I'll have more options. I will get back to you about this. Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. David Keil is the one who showed me the "training wheels" version of the Pincha exit. It didn't take long from there to be able to do it from Pincha consistently--maybe 2 weeks. So, if the exit is still not coming, keeping the training wheels a little while longer might not be a bad idea. :-)

    Interesting comments regarding your knee in Padmasana. I too can't bring the right foot high enough--though I can't even do it *with* my hands. I lack flexibility in the quadriceps, particularly in the right leg. However, I find coming into Padmasana on the forearms or in Headstand many times easier than doing so from Shoulderstand. Of course, you can use your hands in Shoulderstand, but the point is to learn to do it without using your hands. I needed an assist with this for a while, and then in January, it was Kino's husband Tim who convinced me that I could actually do it on my own. Lo and behold, I could! It's still not super tight because of the knee/quadriceps issue, but it was enough that I was immediately able to pretty solidly work Karandavasana on my own, several times in each practice, and also be able to land it consistently (maybe I'll be able to come up on my own after a few more years...). The repetition has really helped me to develop a lot of strength, which I was sorely lacking.

  4. Hello Frank,
    yes, I think you are right that keeping the training wheels version for a bit longer is a good idea. It's just that, at least for me, I find it to be a bit of an unwelcome detour from the pace and flow of the practice. But maybe this is just my ego talking...

    Quadricep flexibility? Interesting, I never thought about that possibility. It's great to hear that you have made so much progress in Karandavasana.

  5. Yes, tight quads. I have a lot of difficulty closing my knee joint--it takes a lot of coaxing, and doing so at the angle required for Padmasana is rather difficult. This has presented an issue in anything with lotus or half lotus, as well as Tirieng Mukha Eka Pada Pascimottanasana, Krounchasna (especially), and Bhekasana. I have learned to work around it, often compensating by opening my shoulders, chest, and hips even more--and those were already quite open to begin with. I've also focused on opening up my quads, though it's tough to do during the practice itself (except in Bhekasana, really).

    Yes, Karandavasana is definitely the monster of 2nd Series--I've heard that some who practice all of 4th or into 5th series have called it the hardest pose in any of the the first 4 series. It's sort of like, if you haven't failed at anything thus far, prepare yourself to fail many times. You may be kept at the pose for a very long time or moved on faster than you imagined; either way, you will most likely not be able to do it in full, and it will be something you will struggle with for a while. Even if until now you haven't really had to spend extra time on anything before your last pose, most likely you will continue to have to spend extra time on Karandavasana even once you are moved past it, so it makes sense that if you haven't dropped the Primary already that you would do so by this point. You don't want to invite the excuse that you're only going up to Pincha today because you're short on time. Dropping Primary will ensure that you have time to work on Karandavasana. :-)

    Coincidentally, I also denied Karandavasana when it was offered to me. But I had my teacher every day. I think that lasted about 10 days before Karandavasana was pretty much forced upon me. :-)

  6. Thanks for the advice on Karandavasana and dropping primary, Frank. I suppose in my position, it is easier to deny Karandavasana, for the simple reason that I don't get to practice with a teacher most of the time :-) But yeah, I know this is lame... I have just written my latest post on this issue too. Check it out.