It felt like a memorable practice this morning. Pranayama to begin first thing. At his time of the day it is dark outside and the lights are off in the room with just a small candle in the center. Everyone maintains relative silence in a combination of still waking up and to honor the tranquility of remaining introspective. Tim is taking us through the full pranayama routine every day. I am so grateful for this. For obvious reasons, when Tim teaches pranayama in workshop settings he often does an abbreviated routine and with gentle breath holds, so that when one is learning this for the initial time it is beginner friendly. I enjoy those elemental sessions with him because you have the chance to have him give explanation regarding the technique and philosophy behind the art of breathing. The first time I joined into Tim’s pranayama circle here I was so unbelievably nervous. Here in his shala he practices the full routine and you just begin and see what you can do. He does use hand gestures to explain whether to inhale or exhale, and he uses his index finger to point the direction of which nostril to breath in our out of. Mainly you listen to the sound of his breath and try to follow his routine. He does explain that if you are having a hard time that you just need to squeeze moola bandha more. This often seems tongue in cheek to me because when your whole body is sweating profusely and you are quivering and just staring at his hands waiting for the transition to come, moola bandha is last thing I can think about. Herein must lay the secret! Often we hear in the asana practice that really it is a breathing practice with some movement incorporated in. It seems to me that the pranayama practice is a moola bandha practice with a some breathing thrown in. When you try to not cheat and actually follow the routine it can really bring so much emotion to the surface.
As a child I was blessed enough to grow up free diving with my family around Florida and I always enjoyed the experience of holding my breath under water. I remember bringing my watch into the pool and timing how long I could hold my breath for in the effort to train for diving deeper. I also enjoyed the practice of holding my breath for as long as possible and just floating face down on the surface with my eyes closed and body completely relaxed and just enjoy the feeling of silence in the water. I say all of this because I feel drawn to the pranayama practice. I love the moment after a big inhale and you use your right hand, thumb and ring finger to close off the nostrils and tuck the chin in deep to the throat and just sit and hold. The thing that I never did as a kid was try to hold my breath after exhaling all of the air out of my lungs. That just never occurred to me as a very good idea. I enjoy taking a deep breath and floating and then exhaling all of the air and letting the body sink down to the bottom but then coming back up pretty quickly. So the pranayama routine takes things to a whole new level with exhaling the air out and holding close to the same amount of time as the inhale retention. This is when things get really interesting and I must say, some panic can arise. Today I felt a bit more brave and pushed the edge and feel kind of stoked right now from the experience. I can’t wait for tomorrow morning to give it another go.
Today felt really sweet in the Mysore practice. I am so sore that I had to slow down a bit but that was helpful because I felt a little more calm in the breathing. Yesterday when I got to Kapotasana I got so close to catching my heels. I mustered up the gumption to ask for some assistance and Atsuro, Tim’s instructor (who is amazing by the way) came over and pulled me all the way in. So when I got to Kapotasana today I decided I would do it on my own. I got to that intricate point when you are so close but the most tiny bit more seems like it is yards away. This is one of those precipice points where you either give up or you give it that little bit extra, and then even a little bit more, and bam you nail it. It is these little moments that are so entertaining.
After Kapotasana Tim assisted me in Supta Vajrasana. That is the one where you put your legs in lotus and then cross your arms behind your back and grab a hold of the feet. Then your teacher holds down your knees so you can back bend and touch your head on the floor and you don’t let go of your feet. Midway through I struggled to keep my grip and lost it. When I came up Tim made joke and asked if I ate to many cookies? I said, Tamara’s grandma is an incredible cook. Check out this photo of some key lime pie she made for us. Being a Florida boy I am a sucker for some homemade key lime pie.
When I got to Kasyapasana, Atsuro assisted me perfectly. It is one of my favorite poses. You put one leg behind your head and then lay on your back and try to straighten the extended leg so the leg comes down to the ground and simultaneously extend the spine and open the hips as much as possible. It is one of the poses that assistance seems so essential to make some progress in. This is a key ingredient to the Ashtanga practice. Hands on assistance done intelligently is a truly a form of art.
In our Teacher Training session we covered the details of the remaining standing poses from Ardha Baddha Padmapaschimottanasana (Half Bound Lotus Intense Pose) through Virabhadrasana (Warrior Pose). Typically nowadays if one is going into the second or third series you would make that entry after Parsvottanasana (Side Intense Pose). So there were many questions as to why is Tim is having us cover the remaining standing poses after that. His thoughts are that they are very beneficial poses and that it could be a good idea to still do them. He made reference to the point that we think that there are these hard cut in stone rules that actually don’t really exist. I took from his points that he is encouraging us to keep an open mind. I really appreciated that fact that he took the time to include them into the study. I learn more each time and hear different things when the details are explained again and again.
Today we began our foray and investigation into the poses of the Third series. We covered Viswamitrasana and Vasisthasana. Tim has such an wealth of knowledge regarding the mythology of yoga and can recall these very lengthy stories in a concise way that cuts to the essence and conveys the deeper meaning behind the names of the poses and how they relate to yoga as a whole. Plus we get to sit and listen to these stories after taking a lunch break and avoid the inevitable…..practicing these poses and possibly getting adjusted in them. After a full day of practice I started to wonder, how in the world are we going to pull this off. I have faith Tim has a few tricks up his sleeve.