I went to practice with Sydney's only certified Ashtanga teacher, Eileen Hall this morning at her shala (which is really a boxing studio but nevertheless is quite nice). I had been to see her a couple of weeks ago but she wasn't there so it was her apprentice Mark Robberds (authorised teacher) and I'd really enjoyed it so I wanted to go back.
Well, Eileen was scary. I think it's always quite difficult to see a new teacher because you learn to do things the way you're taught by one teacher and then another one comes along and tells you it's all wrong wrong wrong. Which was what Eileen told me.
There I was in kurmasana with my legs outstretched, feeling a slight weirdness in my hamstring (though less than I was feeling so it's on the mend) and a new strange sensation in my left shoulder, which was odd and she comes over and tries to bind me.
"What are you doing with your arms" (they were still outstretched)
"Err.." (thinking - being tentative, waiting to see how my body feels)
"Grip your fingers, you've got no consciousness girl. You new students coming from other schools with all your bad habits"
The shoulder was feeling okay so I yielded to her accusations and smiled to myself.
"Turn your palms and grip your fingers!" She shouts again at me
"I'm trying!" I laugh
And although this sounds a bit cruel, I did appreciate her pulling me up on a few things. As she said to me at the end I've got a few 'sloppy' habits which I've probably picked up because I've had the same teacher for such a long time and he doesn't pick me up on things like that.
"Straighten your arms in ubhaya pascimottonasana" she bellows at me across the room!
At the end of the practice, she was quite different, softer with a wry smile. She told me 'You have to find a balance, the strength and the grounding and the lightness the balance.' I wasn't 100% sure what she meant, of course I know about the need to have the combination of strength and softness, but I wasn't sure what she was saying to me in terms of my practice. When someone (very senior and qualified in ashtanga) looks at your practice and casts a new light on it, sometimes it's hard to know what she means, I mean I practice and practice and think I'm doing the best i can but.... Maybe she's right, perhaps I'm unconsciously falling into patterns of sloppiness.
The thing with ashtanga is that we do it over and over and over and over again.
I think this can be a great aspect of this yoga, because sometimes I feel like I completely fuse with the practice. I feel light, fluid contained within it and almost like I've left my body (to sound a bit wanky).Other times I'm not really paying attention. Going through the motions.
Doing the same thing again and again gives you the opportunity to perfect and hone things, to discover new depths to postures which, if I were practicing another type of yoga, I might not actually practice again for a week or so (because the postures change week to week). I practiced Virabadrasana 1 today with a new depth. I mean, how can you discover newness in that posture which I must have done 3 million times. But I did. I found a connection in my front knee, hip and the sole of my foot, like I'd shifted my awareness into the sole of the foot which helped the femur draw back. Specific! Yes I know, it always is. How about bhujapidasana, I worked something internally which allowed me a slightly smoother transition onto my head. Again, what it was, I've no idea or the language to explain, but the subtle awareness required to understand and go deeper in poses, to progress, find that all important balance of softness and strength, blows me away. What's happening. It's like putting a magnifying glass on how we learn.
Anyway, I hadn't intended to post today, but I'm glad I did.
Sorry it was a bit technical, but it's what I felt like talking about today.