Tim's been gone for a few days. But we followed his Thursday habit yesterday and stopped pranayama halfway. Pranayama has been much more manageable since Tim's been gone. I secretly suspect he has bellows instead of lungs.
Following pranayama, Sequoia led the group in singing kirtan. She has an incredible voice, and is a pretty accomplished harmonium player. She got very caught up in the moment, too, which strangely enough made me uncomfortable. I don't quite know what to do when someone displays that level of devotion and fervor. I have no frame of reference or experience with anything like that in my life, which is kind of sad. But I'm glad to be experiencing it now, in a genuine way, because it's meaningful to me, and not a meaningless routine or habit foisted on me during my upbringing.
The dread Thursday improv class came after pranayam. Allison led it. She worked some arm balances, shoulders, hips, and then moved into back bends. The arm balances are usually no problem for me, although on this day we moved into karandavasana right away. My hips were not fired up, so I couldn't slide into lotus while in pincha mayurasana. It's almost easier from vriksasana, too, which is odd. I think the extra clearance and balance in handstand gives your hips and legs more room to maneuver into lotus.
It was good, though, because just when you think you have something dialed, there's another pose that builds on previous poses, plus adds new and challenging twists. Literally and figuratively. It definitely keeps your ego in check.
No matter your flexibility and strength, there's going to be a point in one of the ashtanga series where you're going to be challenged, if not stopped cold.
More than poses, though, I also think the genius of ashtanga is in the sequencing of those poses. It's not enough to pretzel your leg behind your head -- you're asked to do it as part of a full series of poses.
My favorite definition of yoga comes from the Bhagavad Gita, which defines yoga as "skill in action." Repeating a set series, day after day, develops "skill in action." Where does your mind go once you've built a steady practice?
My other favorite part of the improv class was the hip work. Allison led a series of eka pada raja kapotasana variations -- the more traditional version, one lying on the back, cradling the shin, that is a precursor for kasyapasana, and one standing and cradling the shin that's a precursor for darvasana.
From there we moved into eka pada sirsasana. I can't help it, I love that pose. I don't have the most open hips in the world, but for some reason my legs fit behind my head rather comfortably, and from there I can really work the hips by expanding my chest and straightening my spine.
It was a satisfying practice. I took that energy into this morning's Mysore practice. The Sutra I picked for the day was "prayatna saithilya ananta samapattibhyam." For today's practice, I exerted effort to the point where I felt resistance; at that point I tried to relax into the pose. It was helpful to repeat it occasionally when I felt my attention wander.
My old nemesis baddha konasana is slowly weakening. With Rich's assistance, my knees and face hit the floor. And then I looked up and slid out four inches further. It felt really, really good.
It's interesting to compare now to six months ago. I've sprained both ankles so many times and so badly I couldn't even put my feet together and then open them. There was also a giant knot in my right hip that hurt so badly I often wondered if I would need surgery to have something removed. It felt like there was a lump or peach pit or rock lodged in there. It hurt like hell. But constant practice and dedication has smoothed it away.
Practice is always good. Even when it's an off day. Every time I walk out of the shala, energized and hopeful to face the day ahead, I'm thankful I'm able to do it.