Yesterday morning, I went to my friends Derek's and Brenda's studio in downtown Fargo for Saturday morning mysore. I did full primary. I observe that my left knee seems to be getting better: Over the last few days, I have discovered a way to get into half-lotus and lotus with little to no discomfort. But I need to remind myself to go slow with these things. The knee is a tricky creature.
Being somebody who practices mostly at home, I can definitely feel the difference between home and shala/studio practice. When I practice in a studio/shala, my pace almost always picks up. Yesterday, for instance, I got through full primary in about an hour and twenty minutes. Which is nothing to write home about, considering that Sharath's led is, what, an hour and five minutes? But it's still at least ten minutes shorter than my usual home primary series practice.
As I was practicing at the studio yesterday, I also noticed something interesting, despite my best efforts to maintain drishti (it seems that I am not doing very well in this department lately, both in the cybershala and in "real" life :-)): I noticed that most of the people practicing around me yesterday were still learning the primary series. Quite a few were looking at "cheat sheets" placed next to their mats. Which is cool; I think we should all use whatever method works for us when learning. But there's also a part of me that can't help feeling that it must be pretty disruptive to the flow and rhythm to be bending or squatting over to look at a piece of paper every couple of postures.
Which made me reflect on my own learning experience: How did I learn the primary series back when I first started practicing Ashtanga? I attended my first mysore class in the summer of 2007 on Maui, at Nancy Gilgoff's studio (House of Yoga and Zen). At that time, I had just completed Eddie Modestini's and Nicki Doane's three week asana intensive at their Maui studio. After the intensive ended, I spent a couple more days on Maui, and then spent a few more days in Honolulu visiting a friend. I used those last couple of days on Maui to do some yoga tourism, and decided to visit the legendary Nancy Gilgoff's studio. Nancy was away teaching a workshop in Europe, and one of her assistants was teaching the class. I didn't know the order of the primary series at that time, although I was familiar with the individual postures from my own Iyengar-inspired practice. The teacher was very kind, and simply kept standing around and telling me what the next posture was. So, in a space of a couple of days at Nancy's studio, I had gotten a pretty good idea of the order of the postures in primary, even if I did not get the exact order down.
And then I went to Honolulu. During the few days I was there, I went to mysore every morning at Purple Yoga. Again, the teacher there was very nice, and very kindly told me what the next posture was when my memory failed me. Since I didn't have very much to do in Honolulu during those few days, I would spend part of the afternoon at a nearby bookstore, where I found a book on Ashtanga yoga. I can't remember who the author of that book was now, but with the help of that book, I succeeded in memorizing the postures in the primary series, so that by the time I left Honolulu a few days later, I had the primary series down pat. I guess it also helps that I am quite good at visualizing things in my head and committing them to memory in this way.
Because of my rather unique learning experience as detailed above, I had the good fortune of never having to use cheat sheets when I first started learning Ashtanga. But what I saw yesterday got me thinking about how it must be like for many other people who are beginning their journey of Ashtanga yoga practice.
As I haven't really been to that many shalas, I really don't know what the norm is at different shalas for beginners who are learning the primary series. Is it "normal" for beginners to learn by looking at cheat sheets? I have heard stories of certain teachers who discourage the use of cheat sheets, but I'm not sure if these teachers are the norm or the exception. So maybe I'll leave you with a few questions here:
(1) If you practice at a shala (or used to), is it common for beginning students there to use cheat sheets to learn the primary series?
(2) What is your teacher/s's policy on the use of such cheat sheets?
(3) Do you have any personal opinion on the use of cheat sheets? Did you learn primary using cheat sheets?
As always, I'll love to hear what you have to say.