One of the great things about the change of living in Gillams vs. New York is the amount of time I can devote to my yoga practice. In addition to teaching more group classes, I have the opportunity to really dig into my own personal practice. Traditionally, ashtanga is practiced six days/week, with a rest day on Saturday (as well as full and new moon days and the first three days of a woman's menstrual period - "lady's holidays" as they are called).
The beauty of doing the same sequence of asana-s over and over each day is that one moves from the gross to the subtle. At first, the series is just about trying to remember what comes next and trying to get one's body in the correct position. Then, as that is mastered, the breath becomes more important as well as engaging the bandha-s and keeping the mouth closed and face relaxed. The gaze (or dristhi) needs to be steady and focused. Noticing, day by day, how this changes is fascinating. Some days everything is clear and I can really focus on the more subtle aspects, other days I am falling over and tight and just making it through the series is enough challenge for the day. As I practice more consistently, the days that are less pleasant feel less dire. I know there will be another day when everything is flowing beautifully and with strength. It is easier to be less judgmental and hard on myself those days because I know they are, ultimately, just as important as the so-called good days.
The downside of practicing yoga here is that I have no access to teachers. Thanks to the wonders of the internets, however, I discovered a very good ashtanga yoga blog where I learned about this dvd - the full primary series led by R. Sarnath - Sri Patabhi Jois's grandson. It isn't necessarily a good choice for raw beginners because he offers little real instruction, but it is a perfect accompanyment for someone who already knows the series but wants to experience a led series or needs some extra motivation to keep going. Also, he demonstrates the correct postures and transitions, which is helpful as the basics are mastered. Between these two resources, I feel like I have some support even as I don't have someone actually making adjustments while I am practicing.
There are two particular asana-s that are my challenges for 2011: bhujapidasana and sirsasana. Here is a nice demonstration of bhujapindasana:
This asana comes immediately after navasana, which is the traditional stopping place for newer students, so it is the first posture that people learn as they begin the second half of the primary series. My teacher in NYC is pretty adamant that people master bhujapidasana before moving on because it requires both the strength and the fearlessness that will be required for the next asana-s. For me, this posture surely has been as much about getting over my fear of falling flat on my face as I lower down towards the floor (the video shows the most advanced version - at first, you bring the crown of your head to the floor) as it has been about having enough arm strength.
At first, I placed a blanket on the floor in front of me so if I fell, it wouldn't matter. Once I was able to do that a few times I realized that going down was actually the easy part - getting back up is the hard part! After once getting partly up and falling hard back on my head (I turned my face so I landed on the side of my head but still ouch!), I had to backtrack a little and put the blanket down again to soften any falls. Ever so slightly, day by day, I see small differences and improvements. I have taken the blanket away again and some days, I actually get down and up in a somewhat graceful manner. However, as for getting up into bakasana and jumping back from there (as the guy in the video is doing), well, it is good that I have 365 days to work on that.
Sirsasana (headstand) is part of the closing posture sequence and considered one of the three most important asana in yoga (according to Khrishnamacharya). I had never done one, even as a child, so it has been quite a challenge to take up this practice in my mid-40s. In ashtanga, sirsasana is never done next to a wall but slowly built up so that when you actually get your legs up, you are strong enough and sure enough of your balance that the wall isn't necessary. This is where I cheat. I have no intention of crashing down on my back, so I shift my mat and do my headstand next to the wall, more in Iyengar style, slowly moving the mat away from the wall until it is no longer present. Again, ever so slowly, I have been able to stay up longer without using the wall...some days. As with the other asana-s, some days my headstand is amazing and some days I can't find it at all.
Perhaps the real goal for 2011 will be to accept the ups and downs equally - no need to fist pump the good days or cry over the bad days. Practice and all is coming, as Patabhi Jois was known to say.