Friday, August 19, 2011

Intermediate as a series of psycho-somatic puzzles; the Return of the Yoga Teaching Charlatan

First, I'll say a few things about my practice. I did second only this morning up to Karandavasana. Have been doing second only for about three weeks now (except on Saturday, when I do full primary). Had another little breakthrough in Karandavasana this morning. For the first time in recorded history, I was able to land the duck (i.e. landed my lotus knees on the backs of my upper arms) on my very first Karandavasana attempt. Which meant that I did not need to do a second attempt. Well, I probably could have done a second attempt if I really wanted to, just to see if I would have better luck coming back up. I still can't quite find the leverage/strength/whatever-is-needed to go back up to Pincha after I have landed the duck. Will keep working on this.

I have realized that the trick to landing the duck lies in striking a balance between establishing a snug, stable lotus in Pincha Mayurasana, and rushing to come down. If one stays too long in lotus in Pincha Mayurasana, one wastes energy; energy that could have been put to good use in activating the muscular control needed to land the lotus. On the other hand, if one rushes to get the lotus to the upper arms, one simply crashes to the ground. The key to finding the balance between holding too long up there and coming down too soon, I have discovered, lies in the breath. For the last few days, I have been using my breath to guide my lotus down to my arms. Starting from lotus in Pincha: Inhale, stay, exhale, curl/lower the lotus towards the arms a little more. Keep repeating this process until the lotus touches the back of the upper arms. Very good exercise in Uddiyana bandha, I must say. On average, it's been taking me about four or five breaths to get from lotus in Pincha Mayurasana to landing the duck. I'm quite sure that this way of landing the duck probably ends up taking more breaths than the standard vinyasa count. But well, it is what it is. I got to work with what I can do at this moment. Maybe when I get stronger/more proficient at Karandavasana, I will be able to reduce the number of breaths I need to take to land the duck. In any case, I don't see myself doing led second anytime soon, so no need to worry too much about this, I think.   

Be that as it may, I can already see and feel some tangible physical benefits from my work on Karandavasana thus far. For one thing, I am able to feel more strongly, and have more control over uddiyana bandha. I also think that I may finally be starting to get some of the action needed to perform nauli kriya (is this what it's called?). Yesterday morning, after practice, I was looking at myself in the mirror (yeah, I do have a narcisisstic streak...). On a whim, I decided to try sucking in my belly, and then to see if I can move it around in a circle. It worked! The movement wasn't very conspicuous, but it was definitely noticeable. Not that this matters, since nauli is not part of my daily practice. But it's kind of fun to do anyway ;-)

Just thought I'll share my latest practice insights with you (not that you really care anyway...). In his recent post, Grimmly writes that he sees his journey through the second series as involving a warrior narrative, as a process which involves "confronting and defeating one foe (read posture) after another such that I've never, until now, been able to relax with the series." I think this is a compelling narrative, and it was true for me for a while; confronting and working with Kapotasana certainly felt like climbing a tall mountain for a while. Right now, for me, Kapotasana (and of course, Karandavasana) are still challenging postures, but I feel that something has subtly changed in my relationship with these postures: Without being fully conscious of it, I have increasingly come to see them not as foes/things to be conquered or defeated, but as psycho-somatic puzzles to work through. The idea for me is that each posture in the second series is a puzzle or combination lock which can gradually be opened if one obtains the appropriate key to work with and "open up" the posture. For me, the key to opening up Kapotasana lies in hanging back for as many breaths as I need to until I see my feet, and then diving for them: For some reason, seeing my feet is the "cue" which tells me that the posture is ready or "fully cooked". Of course, I am quite sure that taking those few extra breaths to hang back probably is a violation of the strict vinyasa count, but whatever; as I said, I don't see myself doing led second anytime soon. And the key to landing the duck in Karandavasana, as I mentioned, lies in using the breath to engage the bandhas to guide the lotus towards the back of the upper arms. Now all I need to do is to find the key that will unlock the secret to getting back up into Pincha Mayurasana...


In other news: I am going to be teaching an Ashtanga class at a local yoga studio here in the fall, after a two-year hiatus from yoga teaching (or, perhaps more precisely, charlatan-yoga-teaching). I am not an authorized teacher, nor have I ever been to Mysore (although I hope to make the trip there in the near future). But I'll do my best to share whatever I know and practice with whoever wants to learn. Or as the Japanese would say: 頑張ります (がんばります) (Ganbarimasu: "I do my best!") 

For personal reasons (for one, what self-respecting yoga teacher would call himself a yoga teaching charlatan?), I'm not going to post my teaching schedule or teaching location on this blog. But if you happen to be or live in my part of the United States (i.e. Moorhead, Minnesota or Fargo, North Dakota), and would like to come to my class and/or practice with me, feel free to email me at siegfried23 at hotmail dot com 


  1. I don't think you need to worry about led 2nd. I don't think that class keeps up with the vinyasa counts on Kapo or Karandavasana, because Sharath goes around and puts people into Kapo (I hear it's rough if you can actually get into it quickly 'cause you end up staying there a while) and helps people with Karandavasana (to what extent I'm not sure, since he's now apparently requiring men to come up from it before moving on). Of course, he's always getting stricter, as I noted, but I don't think it's really something to worry about.

    Possibly of interest:

  2. Thanks Frank. Yes, I've actually seen this video before. It's just that I've never noticed the not-strict adherence to the vinyasa count before :-) It looks like Guruji did not even require people to land in Chaturanga when exiting from Karandavasana. Interesting. But of course, as you mentioned, things may be different now, as Sharath is getting stricter all the time. Wow, if he's actually requiring guys to come up from landing the duck before moving on, I'm probably going to be at this posture for a while ;-)

  3. yes he is getting stricter. i got stopped at dwi pada & i'm in 3rd series (all postures given to me by lino miele legitimately). i did a 2 week lead intermediate class in australia a couple years ago. out of about 30 of us, there were only 4 who got to complete the 7 headstands.

    why do you stop at karandavasana? my teacher never let me do partial intermediate. i was taught the old fashioned way-all of primary, and all of the intermediate postures i was given, which meant sometimes a 3 hour practice to get it all in. when i was finally given the headstands, ONLY THEN was i allowed to do only intermediate.

    my times have changed.
    and i've never been able to do karandavasana alone.

    best of luck to you

  4. also, when i was in mysore, (guruji was still alive then but shrath was running the show pretty much) it took weeks for him to move me beyond pasasana even though i was finished with intermediate. he moved me to kapotasana & the next day took all the postures away from me because he did not remember giving them to me. when i questioned him, guruji yelled at me HEY! you do! the sad fact of the grossly overcrowded ayri now. that's why it's better with lino & company in kovalam. way more attention, way more certified teachers assisting. sometimes as many as 8 teachers for every 30 students.

  5. Thanks for sharing, Bindy. Well, the reason why I stop at Karandavasana and do second only up to that pose is because Karandavasana was the last pose my teacher (PJ Heffernan of Milwaukee, WI) gave me, and he had split me at Pincha Mayurasana before that. Also, last April, when I was at Kino's workshop in Richmond, VA, she offered to give me Karandavasana, but I declined, citing knee issues. She told me at that time that once I start working on Karandavasana, I can drop primary.

    Actually, even now, on one or two days a week, I still do all of primary and second up to Karandavasana. But that takes a great amount of energy. I have respect for you for being able to do that on a daily basis.

  6. wow. i have never heard of a teacher giving postures at a workshop.
    doing all of primary up to karandavasana is gruelling. but it does do one thing-it gives you an immense amount of stamina which one desperately needs when delving into intermediate on a daily basis.

    i guess there's old school teachers & the new wave.
    thanks for sharing this stuff. it's all very interesting to me.

    of course lately i'm lucky to get through the standing sequence.

  7. Thanks for sharing again, Bindy. Yes, I believe you when you say that doing all of primary and second up to karandavasana really builds strength and stamina. The difference between old school teachers and the new wave is a very interesting one. This might be interesting material for a new post...

  8. Doing all of Primary & all of 2nd is pretty much unheard of nowadays. My re her, who was certified in '96, said Guruji split people in the Mayurasana-to-Vatayansana range. He split me at Pincha, though. And he's got people doing just half-Primary then 2nd to Eka Pada now. He also
    OKed someone to do half-Primary then 2nd to Bakasana. But she explained hat she was getting to a point where she thought she couldn't get through it otherwise. For me, well, I never said anything, and I think he almost forgot to split me, 'cause the day after we added Pincha, I remember--quite vividly--being on one of the Janu Sirsasanas, and he was like "Frank, do you LIKE doing all that Primary before 2nd"? And I said something deferential like "Oh, I'm just doing it." So he inally said I could split. Kinda funny.

    Anyway, the general trend is to split earlier. After all, Ashtanga is now being billed as yoga for householders. No more 5-hour practices (I know a certified teacher who had theft a while). Sharath is now saying that 2 hours is kind of a limit. Not even 2 months ago, I was in London and saw people split to 2nd, half-split to 3rd, and full-split to 3rd way before I'd have expected., even by what I hear Sharath is doing. I debate whether I should use this fodder for suggesting to my teacher for half-splitting soon. I am doing 13 poses of 3rd after 2nd, and while I'm OK stamina-wise, it's 1:35 on a good day, 1:40-1:45 if I'm having knee issues, and I am starting to get to a point where I just don't think I can do a longer practice--I have to get to work! Will have to see how things go in the next couple of weeks....

    In any case, the general trend is splitting earlier. But how are teachers who were certified a while ago to know this? This system is not known for knowledge-sharing... :-)

  9. times are changing. nothing wrong with that. thx 4 sharing frank. the topic is interesting. i never really liked my 2.5 hour practice. it's just too much 5 days a week (primary on fridays)