Monday, October 15, 2012

It Takes One to Ashtanga

Did we all come through the weekend alright?  Have we decorated for Halloween yet?  Chosen your costume??  Eaten candy corn???  (Yes!)  I find that Fall is a great time to try new things.  Last Thursday I took my first ever Ashtanga class!  It was an hour-long class leading us through the first half of the primary series.  With Ashtanga, there's a greater emphasis on the goal of learning to practice by yourself.  You might start in a led class, then progress to a Mysore practice, where the teacher is present to give you adjustments and advice, but isn't leading the class in the traditional sense, or you might go straight into the Mysore situation, and the teacher will introduce you to the poses a few at a time.  This way, it doesn't take long to be able to practice on your own, anywhere, anytime, which is good, because Ashtanga is traditionally practiced six days a week.

Another thing that sets Ashtanga apart is that the only prop you use is your mat.  No blocks, no bolsters, no straps, no blankets.  Just you, and your breath.  I optimistically tucked one little block at the back corner of my mat, but my instructor, Arthur Roldan, was onto me, and back it went.

That's an aspect of Ashtanga that intimidates a lot of people, but Ashtanga is just like any other yoga class in that you aren't there to force your body to do things it's not ready to do.  Arthur offered me modifications when I needed them, and truly amazing adjustments that allowed me to find space in my body I never would have found on my own.  He was very cognizant of my reaction to his adjustments, and constantly checked in that the part of my body the adjustment was applying pressure to wasn't feeling pain.

Ashtanga is like Bikram, sometimes known as hot, yoga in that the exact same series is followed every single class.  When you eventually can do the (entire) primary series completely, and in the fullest expression of each pose, then you move on to the secondary series, a proccess that can take years, or might just never happen.

That's another aspect of Ashtanga that intimates a lot of people, but just like the first intimidating aspect, it's not all that intimidating if you can successfully check your ego at the door.  No one, least of all your teacher, is going to look down on you for needing to modify a shape since blocks aren't an option, and no one is going to down on you, or be surprised for that matter, if it takes you years to master the Primary series.  That's just the nature of the beast.

Ashtanga definitely felt more demanding than the typical hatha-vinyasa classes I frequent.  We had to move quickly to get through half the primary series in an hour, and there was no talk of child's pose, or skipping a chaturanga.  You still could, of course, and by the end I did, but there's a level of expectation that you came to party, and you're really going to put it all out there and do as much of the asanas as you can.

Maybe that sense, too, is just my own ego chatter, and in time I won't feel compelled to take every single jump back...but I did take every single jump back, without bashing my chin on the floor even once, and I'm only going to get stronger, so why not do it again next time?

As I tied my shoes, and shook out my sweaty hair, preparing to leave, Arthur asked me what I thought of the practice.

"It's great," I said, exhilerated.  "It's so different from what I'm used to.  I'll definitely be back!"

"Good!"  Arthur said, then added, almost hesitantly, "As soon as you can, take a hot shower.  You're going to be a little sore."  I nodded and thanked him, knowing there was no room on my schedule for a hot shower till late that night at the earliest, and anyway, I'm an aerialist.  A little yoga is not going to make me sore.  After late that night turned into a promise for the next morning, I rolled over to go back to sleep after kissing the husband good-bye and realized, 'a little sore' was the understatement of the century.

My hamstrings and triceps both were unbelievably stiff, and sore enough to make walking without a severe limp impossible.  When the husband massaged arnica into the backs of my legs, serenaded by my groans and whimpers of pain, he said my muscles felt like bubble wrap under his fingers.

So, yes, take a hot shower, you guys.  As soon as you can.
Also arnica, coconut water, pineapple, a hot water bottle, and a massage partner.

Live Omily,

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