Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Kino on strength and a floaty practice, Holy Grail posture

I just watched the above video in which Kino responds to a student's question about how to achieve a floaty practice. As I understand it, the student has been practicing for three months, and wants to know if three months is enough to achieve such floatiness.

Kino's answer, in a nutshell, is: In Ashtanga yoga, there is no fixed amount of time that is needed to achieve anything. Some people take longer, while for others "achievements" like being able to jump back or lift up into a handstand come relatively quickly. The key is to keep working on the practice with patience, persistence, dedication, and an attitude of surrender, and things will happen when they do; whether they happen sooner or later, they happen when they happen.

I have written quite a bit about floating and jumping through and back (see, for instance, this post). I agree with Kino: You just have to keep working on it, and it will happen when it happens. I might also add that it really helps to have a playful attitude towards the whole thing: Try to have fun trying, and it will make the whole journey lighter and quite possibly, more fulfilling and less angst-inducing.

But in a way, this might be easier said than done. I may be speaking only for myself, but I have the feeling that many Ashtangis have a "Holy Grail" posture on their practice horizons: Basically, this is the "Wow, how can any human being possibly do this" posture that first got you intrigued about Ashtanga, enough to start the practice and begin the journey down the waking-up-at-stupid-o'clock-to-do-funny-things-to-your-body road that many practitioners (including myself) find themselves traveling almost without their being aware of it. What the Holy Grail posture is varies for different individual practitioners: For Kino (and probably many others), it appears to be having the ability to jump back and also to lift up into handstand.

My Holy Grail posture happens to be tic-tocs. At least, I think that's what it's called: You know, the one where you drop back into a backbend, kick up into a handstand from there, and then drop down into downward facing dog. And then reverse the process from there. Come to think of it, I've had a fascination with backflips since I was a kid. But as a kid, I lacked the proper training to be able to execute a backflip. And then I got into my teens, started practicing Tae-Kwon-Do, and wasted a few good years doing high kicks and trying to kick other people's faces without getting my own kicked... Anyway, to cut a very long story short, soon after I discovered yoga in grad school (see this post for the sordid details), I bought myself a copy of B.K.S. Iyengar's Light on Yoga. I flipped through the asana section of the book, saw those pictures of Mr. Iyengar doing tics-tocs (I think he calls it Viparita Chakrasana), and re-kindled my childhood fascination with backflips. I also found it really intriguing and cool that somebody in his forties (that's probably how old Mr. Iyengar was at the time he published the book) could actually do that. I remember thinking to myself: If what they say is true, that you are only as young as your spine is flexible, then yoga must be the freaking fountain of youth! I was sold on yoga from that point on, and started a daily practice immediately. I mean, think about it, the fountain of youth: Who doesn't want to be forever young?

So yeah, as you can see, my motives for starting yoga weren't exactly the noblest of motives. But really, we only have so many years on this planet, and whether we like it or not, gravity is pulling down on our bodies every single moment. We can let this gravity pull our bodies closer and closer to the earth with each passing year, resulting in sagging skin (and sagging everything else), brittling (is this even a verb?) bones, and atrophying muscles. Or we can find a way to work productively with gravity, slow down this atrophying process, and in the process, age a little more gracefully and, with some luck and a little bit of grace from whoever's or whatever's running this whole cosmic show, die a little less painfully. How is this an ignoble or bad thing?

Well, as usual, I see that I have seriously digressed from what I set out to say in the beginning. Before I got sidetracked by my own thoughts (talk about chitta vrtti), I meant to say something about how most Ashtangis probably have a Holy Grail posture or two on their practice horizon, and that because jumping through and back was never my Holy Grail posture, I wasn't particularly attached to nailing it either. It took me a couple of years of practice to be able to jump back, and when it happened, I was, like, "Wow, my body can do this? Nice." And then I just moved on. And if you must know, I still can't do tic-tocs (then again, I haven't really been trying that hard either). But it's okay; do your practice, and all is coming, no? :-)

Maybe I'll end this post with a few questions for you. Do you have a Holy Grail Posture or two on your practice horizon? Have you achieved it, or are getting closer to achieving it? If you are not, how do you feel about it? Please feel free to share. I'll love to hear from you.    


  1. Well, I have mentioned this many times, but I guess my holy grail posture would be Karandavasana. The sort of duck pose that has made me feel like a mammoth. Although jumping all the way back and tic tocks have also mesmerized and baffled me, Karandavasana has definitely been the most humbling posture I have ever encountered. My angst and agonizing about the posture have often been excessively dramatic which hasn't helped the posture or my psyche. What I used to hate the most about it when I was practicing at a shala was having the teacher right on me as soon as I got to it. I would get really self-conscious, like I was performing. Then when I'd get assistance I always felt like I was letting them down, and that I was way too heavy for them. Blah, blah, blah. Etc. Sometimes a posture can turn into a whole person. Or a mammoth. Oh well. There are still many lessons to learn from Karandavasana, but I think my best bet is to approach it as lightly as possible and to accept and celebrate the small and modest progress that I have made over the years. Love the "Holy Grail" concept, Nobel. Have a great day, Erica.

    1. Ah, the duck that turns you into a mammoth when you touch it... very troubling ;-) I haven't practised Karandavasana since I injured my knee last year. The knee is now much better (I can get into lotus comfortably on the ground and with my hands assisting in shoulderstand), but I don't know if it is better enough for me to actually try Karandavasana again. So I guess I'll hold off for at least a couple more months.

      I also hear what you say about getting really self-conscious when getting assisted in a challenging pose. Back when I first got Kapotasana, I used to get assisted into a heel grab or mid-sole grab all the time, and I always got a bit nervous and self-conscious whenever I got to Kapo ("Oh gosh... here it comes again", I always think to myself.). Then my teacher went to Mysore for a month, and I figured out how to grab my heels by myself while he was away. After he came back, he saw that I had figured this out, and rarely assisted me anymore.

      I just thought of something that you might find useful in Karandavasana. Instead of trying to lower all the way to your upper arms in one breath, have you thought about possibly lowering a little step at a time, taking short punctuated breaths with every step? This was useful for me when I was learning to land the duck.

  2. I haven't gotten to Karandavasana yet (I'm at Eka Pada Sirsasana) but I'm sure it will land on the list of the Holy Grail (especially since my knees are still tweaky as well). I would say that for me, right now, the Holy Grail poses include:

    Laghu Vajrasana
    --it's a very humbling pose for me, lol. A lot of poses tend to come quickly or easily for me; this one, I have to work for. Ever since I stopped running (first due to injury, then because all I wanted to do was yoga) and ended up at a desk job where I sit for 6-7 hours a day, my legs are no where near as strong as they used to be. Which makes me feel a little sad and annoyed (mostly at having said desk job)...but that's going off on a tangent. The point is, there are some days where I'm able to hold it for a quick 5 breaths and manage to come back up...and then there are still days when I collapse into the floor.

    Dwi Pada Sirsasana
    --I'm not technically AT this pose yet, but my teacher has been having me work at coming into Supta Kurmasana from it (put both legs behind the head from seated then lower down). Between balance, back/neck strength and one hip being tighter than the other, this one will take much time... close, but somehow, still so far...The closest I get is hanging at about mid-jump and then a little push into the toe and I'm good. Most of the time, I barely get to the mid-jump. Although, I guess if I'm being honest about it, I'm not trying as hard as I could be. It's something I would like to be able to do and baffles my mind that my body can't seem to figure it out (especially since the jump-throughs are now super smooth and easy), but it's also, surprisingly, not something I'm super attached to...

    Think that's about it. There are others that I'm working on too, but they're either pretty close or I'm just not very attached to "getting" them and am content with knowing that they'll come once my body is ready or once my mind gets out of the way. Which I guess is what you could say about ALL of the poses, lol.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Tara. Yes, Laghu is a challenging posture. I don't know if you've tried this, but some people build up the strength to come up in Laghu by not lowering the head all the way to the mat, but only to the point where they can come back up. The idea is that if you work on this consistently, you will be able to progressively build the strength to go all the way down and come back up. Kino has a video on Laghu. Some time ago, I also wrote a post on it. Maybe you will find it useful:

      I also suspect that the muscles that are used in running don't really have that much to do with getting back up in Laghu anyway. I think Laghu uses the same group of quad muscles that you used to jump or to perform squats. So unless you are a sprinter, I'm guessing that running probably wouldn't have helped much anyway. I don't know... does that make you feel better? ;-)

      As for dwipada and jumpbacks, I really don't have much else to add beyond what I wrote in the post: Just keep working patiently at them, and have fun!

    2. Thanks for the response Nobel! I've seen Kino's video on Laghu Vajrasana and really like it. I was working on only lowering to the point where I could come back up and eventually made it all the way to the floor. It just hasn't been very consistent. During my last semester as a collegiate athlete, I did a mix of sprinting and middle distance running (I was on a small track team, so I was used in multiple events).

      It does, obviously, feel very quad intensive, but sometimes it also feels like it asks the hamstrings have to do a bit of though being able to engage the hamstrings in that pose helps to stabilize the lowering down and the holding, like it helps to balance out and take off some of the intensity of the quads or something. I'm not sure if that's accurate, but it's something I've been noticing when I do the pose.

      Your post on Laghu Vajrasana is awesome, thanks so much for sharing it with me! Thanks again for your response and advice :-)

  3. Hey Nobel:) Hope u r well:) I would have to say, my "Holy Grail" asanas are, as of today.....Dropbacks,Kapo and Pincha:) It used to be Mari D and Supta Kurmasana, but alas, I have found those "Grails":) Just plugging away, in time or not, they will happen, even if I'm 80:)

    1. Goo to hear from you, JayaK :-) Thanks for sharing. May you keep finding Grails, and seeking new ones.