Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sharath in Sydney: Week 2, Day 5

I found it hard to concentrate today. Had to extremely consciously focus on the drishti, or I'd find my mind wandering off to random places.

Following yesterday's conference and Sharath's awesome display of bandha control, bandhas were also of particular interest in today's practice for me. And the importance of bandhas was again hammered home to me after sitting in on today's intermediate class.

So before I get into the intermediate class, these were internal observations of my practice today:

1. Jumpbacks
With bandha control on my mind, I was wondering how I'd apply this to my jumpbacks today. I usually lift bum up off the floor (similar action to Uthpluthi), but it's that curving/ rounding your body to tilt it forward before shooting your legs back that I'm still working on. Feels like I'm lifting bandhas up on the lift, but when it comes to tilting forward I can't find how that works yet, then I cheat by dropping one foot on the floor to give me a boost to tilt me forward before shooting legs back. Kinda like KMB's Shuffleback. Feels more like I'm hauling myself through, through sheer brute arm strength than with the ease of bandha control. It's that bloody tilt forward.
(Side note for Liz: I tried looking back through folded legs before, which kinda helped, but got scolded by a previous teacher who insisted drishti should be ahead of you instead. I think I'll go back to trying it your way again!)

So today, I consciously thought of engaging bandhas the whole jumpback (instead of giving up and cheating with the foot) and it kind of made that initial tilt forward a little bit easier. Just a little.

2. Sirsasana
Held till his NINTH count today! Longest yet. So... I don't think I'll be able to hold all 15 counts by the time he leaves (last workshop is tomorrow), but at least it's baby steps to increasing confidence and strength in the pose. Do or don't do, there is no try (why am I quoting Yoda?!) tomorrow, I WILL hang out in Sirsasana for all of his 15 counts.


First off, while the lights were still off and the intermediate cool kids were setting up their mats and getting ready, it was beautiful with the sunlight streaming in through the windows, so I whipped out my camera and took a shot (I was far away in the back of the hall, so all you could see were silhouetted bodies). And I immediately got blasted by Sharath. He yelled out from the front "NO PICTURES!!"

Eeks! I was so embarrassed. I won't even post the picture here since it's illegal. I feel so guilty I feel like deleting it completely from my camera. Remove all evidence.

There were about 30 people practising intermediate, including my teacher and her 3 assistants (one of them has just recently been authorized to teach! YAY!) It's rather awe-inspiring watching your teachers go through their practice. I have so much respect for them as it is already, and even more so after today.

I realized today that I've never just sat and observed a class. Ever. Even during my teacher training when we took turns teaching, the rest of us would be assisting with adjustments and watching out for the students; there was always something "to do". So it was an extremely interesting experience today just sitting and watching people in their practice.

First off, you can so tell when someone is "in the moment", completely internalizing the practice. Their eyes almost have this glazed over look. Coz when someone is struggling or isn't quite present, you can totally see it in the eyes. It is amazing to watch that moment when someone fixes his/ her drishti, everything looks sharp and in focus, and then the glaze comes over the eyes at that point when they go within. Pretty damn cool.

It was great seeing everyone lined up in Trikonasana and it would've made for a great picture. The alignment even in this basic pose was sometimes a little bit off, but it was interesting to see how different body types end up having different kinds of alignment issues (how someone needs to rotate the torso more, or how someone needs to tilt the pelvis more...) I have a fixation on alignment, especially with my rotated pelvis issues. Sorry for going off-topic here.

Everyone got up to Eka Pada Sirsasana, and then the last row of people dropped off and didn't practice Dwi Pada.

A few people were told to stop at Tittibhasana. While everyone was in the A version, someone was already wrapped up in the B version. Sharath looked up, pretty annoyed and said "What are you doing?" He kept repeating "What are you doing" several times coz the person didn't realize this was directed at them. Everyone else had to hold A version the entire time. He told this person "you stop after this".

B version walk forward & back: Everyone had to synchronize each step to his slow count. I felt their pain!

A couple other people dropped off at Pinchamayurasana. By the time they got to Karandavasana, there were about 18 out of the original 30 left. Out of this group, only 3 were able to do the full Padmasana lift back up. Of course all 3 were boys. How annoying! (Sorry, I struggle with arm balances and like to think it's the guys who have it much easier in these!)

Sharath went round the room and gave everyone else an individual assist to boost them back up again, and this same group continued all the way till the 7 headstands. (I'm struggling to hold my ONE headstand for longer, and now there are 7 more to look forward to. Oh Yippee.) (Of course, that is if and when I get there)

During the 7th headstand, Sharath motioned for the others who dropped off to join the group again, and everyone then went into 3 regular backbends, followed by 3 unassisted dropbacks/ standups.

EVERYBODY could dropback (I'm just thinking of Grimmly's earlier question here). Some people struggled with coming back up again on their own, some people struggled with doing it a 2nd time, but most were dropping back and standing up like they were doing it all their lives. Interestingly, I looked over at Sharath at this point, and he was watching the people who were struggling. I can't tell if he seemed a little distressed or worked up, but the expression on his face was definitely tense. And he was definitely watching the students who were struggling. I don't remember seeing him assisting anybody here - he might have but I might not have seen this.

The energy in the room during the Intermediate class is definitely a lot more serious than in Primary. No jokes from Sharath, it feels like your asana needs to be completely buttoned down before he'll let you move on to the next one.

So, in wrapping up... it was completely inspirational to watch the Intermediate series in action. The amount of strength and CONTROL it takes to do things so seamlessly, so effortlessly. And this also goes beyond just physical strength - you can see how much mental strength it takes as well to master the series. Respect to the discipline and dedication it takes to get there.

Listen to me, I am head over heels in love with Ashtanga again.


  1. My stomach did flips for you when reading about being busted for sneaking a photo!!! I would have died. I probably would have been to chicken to even try, but like you, would have been so tempted with gorgeous light filtering in. ah well. You can keep your pic for your own memories.

    So great on the headstand!! Nine long breaths! see! see! You're already stronger in a matter of days! Really great. I also loved reading about the importance of bandhas. I can't get enough info on that subject.

    Juicy notes on intermediate. I've never observed a class either. I'd love to. When I'm near a super advanced person, I always want to watch out of sheer awe, but of course, that's not appropriate! How lucky you are to have watched 30 people.

    Sorry to leave such long comments- it's hard not to, your posts are so good! (oh- and the lift up, jump back drishti deal, yeah, you gotta get to where you don't keep your head tucked- not a good way to land in Chaturanga. Just another element to a hard task! ha!)

  2. I have been reading your conference notes with great interest. Thanks so much for taking the time to post them!

  3. Yeah, your notes are great. Thanks for taking the time to post them every day!

    I can't believe he's letting them do the 7 headstands and didn't let us in London! 'Too many beginners!' Oh well.

    I agree with Liz about the jumpback, looking back at first helps, you can think about looking forward later. The main thing to work on in the beginning is keeping you hands grounded flat the whole time, so you have to somehow get your feet through there, whatever it takes, on the way back and forward (don't sit down till your feet are through). After that it seems to be all just working at lifting the hips more and more bandhas, but this method definitely makes us stronger over time. Letting the hands lift doesn't.

    I never thought I'd do karandavasana. Never ever - no way. And now I can do it every day! I never even tried it till two years ago, I'm 41... practice is a life-long endeavor, so have an open mind :)

  4. Hey Liz, I <3 your comments (that is a geeky "heart" in twitter speak. It's a sideways heart that gives me the creeps from how geeky it is but I also find it funny.) So please comment as much as you like, I really like reading what you've got to say. About the photo - um yeah, I felt really sheepish that for the first 10 minutes of the class, I was actually curled up in a ball, hugging my knees to my chest (the human equivalent of "tail between legs").

    Maya & Susan, thanks! Glad you like the posts. Jumpback today: I was so focussed on getting the correct drishti, that I forgot about bandhas. I'm female. I can multi-task. So why didn't it happen today? If anything, this practice is teaching me patience (something I don't have a lot of).

    So it's heartening to hear your Karandavasana story. Someone recently said even Lino Miele only started learning Ashtanga when he was the ripe old age of 38. And look where he is now. It's possible!

  5. Hi Skippetty - watching the cool kids do intermediate sounds amazing! My teacher has one class a week where you can stop at your regular place and then watch the rest of the class go on to intermediate. You can also close and leave if you aren’t interested, but I think it is a nice option to have, and it relaxes the “watching” taboo (for that one class only – any other practice it is eyes to yourself!).

    I love the description of the glazed-eyes, in-the-zone yogi.

    Thanks for linking me in your post :-) I feel your pain with that “bloody tilt forward”!

  6. That sounds pretty awesome, to be able to watch that one class a week. It's a good idea I think, coz it's certainly inspired me, seeing what people are capable of!


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