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My Advanced Asana Practice

By Peg Mulqueen. To See the original post and to  follow Peg on her blog , go here

On day five of an Ashtanga Intensive with David Garrigues, I knew I was in deep trouble as soon as he made me move my mat – out of the back row, away from my friends, front and center.

After a rather laid back summer, I was already worn down from four days of practice. And in this hot, crowded room, all I wanted to do was hide in the back, surrounded in the comfort of people I knew well.

But hiding in comfort was apparently not part of the DG plan …

Maturing in practice and progressing requires more subtle knowledge – a hidden knowledge that’s not quite there in front of you … You begin noticing the situations that cause panic and fear and an onslaught of vritti activity (misconceptions) – and learn to stop that. You see what is unnecessary and doesn’t belong then clear through that. (David Garrigues)

Rather than bore you with the details of my practice (and trust me, it’s pretty boring) I’ll just fast forward to the part where I fall and I cry – because you already know that part’s coming and that’s always the best part when you’re just the reader.

But I don’t fall by accident, it’s my teacher who actually instructs me to fall.

Forget the posture I was working on because it doesn’t even matter. My half-hearted attempts were never going to get me there anyway – and I knew that. I figured, like I usually do – better to be in control and hold back rather than risk a tumble.

You see, you know that zone where you are really stretching and testing your limits? The place where you teeter on imbalance and you’re all vulnerable?

Yeah, I don’t generally go there.  And it suddenly dawns on me: David already knows this about me. The tears begin as soon as I realize I’m not getting out of this without falling.  Someone’s going down, and that someone’s ME.

DG: You need to learn how to fall.
ME: (insert muffled sob)

If you’re reading this, you’re already one of my yoga tribe and an enlightened crew. So I’m not going to tell you that falling is inevitable. I don’t need to convince you that to grow, we must take risks. And that making mistakes is part of the process – some of which are not just uncomfortable, but also painful.

But remember, vrittis are not rational. And in daily life, mostly not even conscious. Yet there on my mat, I could no longer hide or pretend to not notice.  Neither my practice nor my teacher would let me off the hook. pincha

So I fell four more times after the first one – and I got better at it each time. David teaches me the fall like it’s some advanced pose. Like every other asana, he tells me to dig deep into my core to bring more control. He explains here as he does everywhere with me: it’s not all or nothing. Find the space in between.

My final fall is my best one yet.  David says, “Super!” and for a ridiculous moment, I’m proud of myself.

I did then attempt the original posture I was going for fully believing I was going to just fly right up into it with ease. But I still couldn’t do it. I looked up to see if my teacher was watching, but he wasn’t.

Apparently he didn’t care about (insert some fancy asana here). He’d already moved on to the next student. My lesson was over and I’d done “super!”

Because in my teacher’s mind, mastery of the pose, or any pose, wasn’t the point. And I’m not sure it really ever is. But one thing I DO know is I’ll remember that lesson on falling for a long time to come – and no doubt, be trying to practicing it more.

Someone asked me yesterday (oh, and every day) why we focus so much on the physical practice.  THIS is why.  Because suggesting I practice taking risks and falling/failing in real life first is just crazy talk.

But maybe if I get real good at it here on my mat, I just might.  In fact, I probably will.

 

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

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