Thursday, September 26, 2013

Practice bloopers, the primal potency of breath, movement and vinyasa

During practice this morning, something which had never happened to me before happened: In Prasarita Padottanasana C, while trying to bring my interlaced fingers to the ground, I lost my balance, fell forward, rolled over and landed in that region somewhere between my butt and legs. It didn't hurt at all, but I think it would have been pretty funny to watch, if somebody had been watching. I'm not sure why this happened this morning, when it has never happened in all these years of practice, but I won't try to analyze this here. This makes me think that somebody should maybe put together a Youtube video consisting of practice bloopers (falling out of the prasaritas, falling out of handstand/headstand, landing heavily on one's butt when jumping through into Bhujapidasana... can anyone think of anything else?). Might be fun to watch :-)


Tim Miller's latest post on his blog is a great read. He relates his struggles with his Monday evening Intro to Ashtanga class. The entire post is very insightful, but the first few lines caught my attention:

"For the past 25 years I have been teaching an Introduction to Ashtanga Yoga class every Monday at 5:30pm.  This class began when we opened the North County Yoga Center in 1988 as my attempt to initiate beginners into a practice that is very challenging on many levels simultaneously.  Over the years I have attempted to present the practice in a user-friendly format, but if the practice is watered down too much it loses its primal potency."   

That last sentence ("if the practice is watered down too much it loses its primal potency") struck me as being a very apt description of what the practice is about. There is something about moving the body in accordance with the breath and a strict vinyasa count that gives a primal, potent transformative character to the practice. In her book, Sacred Fire, Kino observes that you can't beg, borrow, or fake your way through transformation (I'm paraphrasing here, as I don't have the book with me, but I'll be doing a proper review of the book here soon, so stay tuned). The only thing to do is to move and breathe with the vinyasa count as honestly as you can, and let the practice transform you on its own terms.

At his Montana workshop this past weekend, Lino emphasized the same point as well. He said that, in the early days of his studies with Guruji, he knew nothing about the vinyasa count; he didn't even know the names of the poses! He didn't have to, because he had memorized the sequence of postures, and all he had to do was listen to Guruji's instructions on when to do what during practice. The whole time, Guruji was saying a whole bunch of things in Sanskrit (what we now know as the vinyasa count) that nobody understood anything about. Somewhere in the early nineties, Lino began to spend more time studying with Guruji and asking him questions about the practice and the vinyasa count. And this led eventually to his publication of that book detailing the vinyasa count of the primary and intermediate series which is now almost a bible among many Ashtangis. By the way, Lino has published a new book, which I purchased at his workshop. This new book has the vinyasa count for primary, intermediate, as well as Advanced A and B. It also has a Q&A section at the beginning, in which Lino talks about his experiences with the practice and with Guruji. Perhaps I'll try to share excerpts from this book in future posts.

Anyway... that was a whole bunch of neither-here-nor-there thoughts about everything and nothing about the practice and vinyasa and breath. Maybe I'll have more to say later, but for now, there are a whole bunch of things that I need to get done for the day. So I'll leave you here with these thoughts.    


  1. Thanks for sharing the parasarita C experience, had always wondered what would happen if I fell out of that, afraid my arms would snap off or something, good to know you survived it intact.

    Re blooper videos, I made one a few years back

    1. Very entertaining video, especially with the soundtrack :-) But that first one where you bumped your head against the mat upon dropping back sure looks like it hurts...

  2. That was my second ever dropback attempt, first one went OK so called M. Over to watch, resounding Crack as I hit the floorboards with my head. Luckily my hands landed at the same time as my head so sounded worse than it was. Think it was three months or so before I tried if again.

  3. Re bloopers: include inappropriate swear words and associated expletives that explode at the tipping over point when attempting handstands, punctuated with the eventual thump on the other side (half ticktocks still a nebulous dream)... And then comes the embarassed laugh trying to cover up aforementioned expletive, hoping noone heard but alas...

  4. Getting flipped over in a Prasarita C assist is always a good time.

    Lino's first book the standard text on ashtanga vinyasa practice, but his 1999 demonstration video is the gold standard, a mesmerising display of the subtlety and refinement possible on the mat.

    Watch and learn.

  5. My first real blooper was in the Prasaritas as well, specifically Prasarita Padottanasana A. It was one of those days when my adductors felt really open and I thought the floor was a lot closer than it actually was, so I folded forward and kept going till I lost my balance and rolled onto the next mat! Never felt more goofy and silly in a Mysore room :)

  6. Mine was prasarita D! I was really deep, head on the floor and then I lost my balance and all my weight was on my head and not my feet so I was stuck, because I was scared to let go of my toes and ended up just being stuck there for ages, I had such a bad neck for 2 days following! :)

  7. My worst blooper was a handstand by myself in the early practice years when I fell and crushed my eyeglasses - double the problem- falling and needing to replace glasses. I took a lot of care with handstands from then on.

  8. if there's going to be a blooper reel made, it has to be with the benny hill theme song if you ask me. also, about the watering down piece: last year i watched a fascinating documentary about mma fighers called fightville. highly recommend it even if you don't dig mma. anyway, the coach of the subjects of the documentary said just about exactly what tim said: "to make it for everyone is to make it not what it really is." there's a tricky notion to reconcile, huh? we do this thing that's ostensibly for everybody but on some ultimate, profound level it really isn't.

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  10. I've been flipped over in a Prasarita C adjustment (landing on the student next to me), but the more awkward bloopers happened at home with noone watching:

    i) Hand slipped in a pool of sweat during lotus jumpback. Since the lotus was not releasing, the only option i could think of was to extend my chin to prevent damage to teeth or nose. Lots of blood, but it stopped after a few minutes and i finished practice before heading to the ER to get stitched up.

    ii) This would have been very embarrassing had it happened in a Mysore room: in Pada Hastasana my weight shifted forward beyond the tipping point. With the weight fully in my toes, there was no way to release the hands and i could not think of a graceful way to save the situation. I challenge anyone to try this (at home) and report on the outcome.

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