24 May, 2012

Breaking down the flow

Today was Power Vinyasa Basics with Cassandra.

Just as every instructor has their own flavor of "regular" class, the same is true of the "basics" classes. I've taken four of them now, each with a different instructor. To do Power Vinyasa, (almost) everything starts with "Sun A" and "Sun B," but even with those absolutes, there are still many ways to break down and focus on the elements of those two sequences. Cassandra started with Chaturanga. That's a good place to start, because it's like the "hub" of a multi-terminal railway station of flow. Everything comes through Chaturanga. In a full-speed Power Vinyasa practice, this transition happens so quickly, that you might never actually get the opportunity to see or understand the shapes the body is supposed to take. The tricky thing about it is that failure to properly learn Chaturanga can very quickly lead to injuries, either to the shoulders, elbows, or low back (and I can attest to this, since I've now got all of those injuries).

I found it to be poetic justice that Cassandra, whom I've mentioned previously as being someone who typically leads a fairly fast flow in her classes, took this Basics class as an opportunity to slow it way down and focus on the nuances of Chaturanga. She emphasized a number of elements: keep your hips up, keep your hands completely in contact with the mat (not lifting up knuckles), get an inner rotation of the forearms (the insides of your elbows end up facing forward) to engage triceps, drop the knees if you feel the shoulders hiking up. To just be in a low plank requires a lot of steps. With the mirror at our side, I have to say, I was not thrilled with the way my body looked in this position. I imagine myself as a solid line, but the reality is that things are sticking out here and there. My back is less flat than I think it is. My stomach is less tight than it feels like it ought to look. I am not going to stare and berate myself, but it certainly is humbling.

We spent a lot of time working on Chaturanga. Half the class, to be precise. Holding in the low plank, it is most definitely a relief to go to Upward Dog. The longer the low plank, the better that Upward Dog feels. Downward Dog? Not so much. Planks of any sort fry the deltoids and core. And no matter how many times an instructor tells me "Downward Dog is a resting pose," my reply is still "Resting compared to what? Compared to climbing a tree?" But maybe it's me. I'm a guy. Guys have the bulkier upper bodies, and tight shoulders. Maybe the lanky females find Downward Dog to be just Dandy.

We learned a bit about use of core. Pretty much, it seems, it's supposed to be engaged 100% of the time. I am not sure (because it was one of the few questions, I didn't ask) if we are supposed to have our core engaged in Forward Fold. I presume not, since that would be awkward. But I wouldn't put it past the yoga gods to expect me to have my entire torso draped over my legs, yet still have abs engaged. I might need to ask that question next time. I expect my abs to hurt tomorrow, since I made a major effort to keep them completely engaged on Halfway Lift, Chair, and Downward Dog; normally, I don't think much about what my abs are doing in these poses, because a full-speed class doesn't give me enough time to ponder every inch of the body.

As I started saying in the beginning, every instructor has their own little spin on what it means to be a teacher, a guide. Whether they teach Hatha, Vinyasa, Basics, or probably even if they taught Salsa Dancing, the essence of that person would shine through. That's part of what's so awesome about having 15 instructors to choose from. One of Cassandra's trademarks is really sharing herself and her own experience as a yogi, with her students. We are constantly humbled in our practice. There are poses we can't do for various reasons; either inexperience, lack of strength, injuries, fear... you name it. There are days we're too tired or sore. There are the myriad ways our own minds can get in the way, and humble us through expectations, comparison, distraction... again, you name it.

When Cassandra shares some of the struggles she's had in her practice, and talks about some of the poses that have played in her humbling moments, I think it makes us all realize that we are all taking this same journey, whether we are seasoned yoga practitioners, or sitting on the mat for the first time.

It's a journey that has its individual aspects. But it's a journey we are all on together.

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