Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I am a Floating Clown who is slowly going crazy (but I may not be alone)

I'll start this post with a confession: I haven't been doing yoga for the last couple of years. I've actually been doing circus tricks. What do I mean? If you have been following some recent conversations in the blogosphere (including on this blog; see this post), you'll know what I'm talking about. But if you don't, here's the sparknotes version of the whole thing. It all started with Sharath declaring at a recent conference that:

"some practitioners have started doing handstands all over the place. Ekam, dwe, then trini you lift up to handstand. This is not correct. It’s a way of showing off. It’s not yoga. It’ll make you crazy (and on a purely physical note, it’ll make your shoulders tight)."[This is Ellie's paraphrase of Sharath's words, by the way.]

So all that fancy floating back and forth in the Suryas is "not correct", and will "make you crazy"! In a recent comment on my floating post, Kiki also independently verified the truth of Sharath's words. She writes:

"Floating is showing off...and here's why - the floatee changes their breath (the vinyasa - the actual "yoga" of the technique). So the vinyasa technique is abandoned for the sake of appearance or for that "aren't i groovy" feeling.
The jump back to chatvari is an exhale.
Can you tell me that on you way back you are exhaling UP to your float?
Or, like a hundred others I have witnessed, do you add an extra inhale to rise to the fancy extra float?
Prove me wrong...but here's what Kiki Says."

Which brings me back to my confession. During this morning's practice, despite being aware of both Kiki's and Sharath's admonitions, I nevertheless continued to float back and forth in the Suryas. Why did I do that? No particular reason; it just felt really groovy, even though nobody's watching. Especially the float up to Nawa position; it just feels so good to be able to land with so much control. It's like I have rocket boosters under my feet that fire off just before they touch the ground, enabling my feet to hover there for a split second.

I won't even bother to defend myself here. I'll admit that I had to take an extra inhale to rise to the float, thereby messing up the vinyasa count. Which also means that I wasn't doing yoga, but circus tricks, and that I am slowly going crazy. So I am a floating circus clown who is slowly going crazy! Actually, I may already be crazy... Have you noticed that my last few blog posts have been a bit "off"?

This is me doing Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana a few years down the road
[Image taken from here]

But... I may be in some pretty good company. Have you noticed how many big name Ashtanga teachers float a lot? There is David Robson, of course, who recently released his floating DVD (maybe it needs to be renamed "How to become a floating clown"). And I'm pretty sure I'm seen Kino float in a few of her videos. Actually, even Richard Freeman floats! 

So what's going to happen from this point? Well, maybe in the next few weeks, all these teachers will release official statements declaring that they do not have to take that extra inhale in order to rise to that fancy extra float. Maybe David Robson will even add an extra chapter to his DVD, in which he will explain how to float up without taking an extra breath. 

Or maybe all these teachers will just erase all their floating videos, and pretend they never existed. And floating will, from now on, become a lost art...

I don't know what's going to happen: I'm just idly speculating. In the meantime, you will know that there is at least one floating clown out here...


  1. Hi Nobel! First off, I wanted to say that I'm fairly new to your blog and enjoy your writing a lot.

    I also float in the suryas, this is how I was taught. However, I do not float up into a handstand, nor do I see anyone in the practice room at my studio do this. The closest I've seen is one guy who has a really strong and graceful practice just float forward and hover his feet for a second.

    I used to think that the floating was purely about building that strong core connection and strength, not to mention it feels like it helps me actively engage the bandhas. It does do all of that, but after doing a Yoga Mala (108 sun A's) at the end of my teacher training, I realized that it does more than that: it helps build up the energy and momentum of the practice. During the Mala, for the first 30 or so sun A's, I was stepping back to plank and forward to the "trini" position, instead of jumping/floating because I thought it would help save my energy and strength. Once I started jumping/floating it actually felt easier and lighter moving through the rest of sun A's. I didn't even realize how much energy had been building until I decided to start stepping back and forward again towards the end. It immediately felt wrong, like I was moving against a current.

    I don't know how it would feel to add in a handstand to all of that (I have no where near the muscular/core strength and control for it), but that's how I see the purpose for just the basic floating (no handstanding).

    1. I'm very happy that you enjoy my writing. Always a good thing to hear :-)

      Wow, you did 108 Sun As? I know, lots of people have done it, but I haven't tried it before. And I can totally see how floating is very useful when you are doing so many Suryas in a row. If you don't float, there will be that much more impact on your joints from all that jumping and/or stepping.

      "I don't know how it would feel to add in a handstand to all of that (I have no where near the muscular/core strength and control for it), but that's how I see the purpose for just the basic floating (no handstanding)."

      The trouble is, I'm quite sure that floating is technically a handstand: Although it's not as "handstandy" as a handstand, the mechanics (and, I'm guessing, the muscles involved) are pretty much the same.

      Well, maybe somebody over in Mysore needs to ask Sharath what his view is of floating during the next conference...

    2. There's definitely a lot of the same muscles involved but I think there's a lot more when you're in a full handstand. It's like the floating is a step towards a handstand.

      I would be interested to know Sharath's view on floating, I have friends there now, maybe I'll ask them to ask him ;-)

      And yes, I did 108 sun a's :-) Although for the 1/4 of it or so I put my knees down and did low cobras (a.k.a salabhasana b position in the ashtanga world) instead of the chaturanga to up-dog transition, both to let my body warm up slowly and save my arms as well as to get the back muscles working so my arms and shoulders were more supported. I wrote a blog post on it if you want more details.

    3. Yes, I would love to hear what Sharath has to say about floating ;-)