The first time I did a led second series class I didn’t know what I was in for — not even all the poses. The second time was different; or, rather, I was different:
I knew too much.
In the past year or so since moving to Utah I’ve practiced and progressed with a commitment and intensity I never possessed so consistently before; there I found someone to guide me through the end of second series and hold the phone — now I’m dancing with third. Three years after that first led second in Philly I walked into the same class, but this time with Sharath in LA — and without my beginner eyes. As it turns out, there was oh so much more to learn — or perhaps I should say, “unlearn.” So here are five lessons from practicing led second series with Sharath in LA:
1. Correct Vinyasa Counts. “Correct vinyasa” — dear God, that sounds so school marm-ily rigid, doesn’t it? Correct vinyasa (as in, movement coordinated with breath, or inhale you lift your body up, exhale, you jump back), I’ve found, frees: it liberates me from the thoughts that get in my way and along with that, unleashes the poses to come hither, unhindered by the weight of my preconceptions, fears and other soap operatic yoga dramas. Let me put it this way: I think too much. Correct vinyasa helps get me out of my own way.
I learned this at the beginning of my ashtanga life; it’s what hooked me. I was taking a weekly led primary series class in New York years ago. When my teacher training required me to record and transcribe a yoga class word for word, I naturally chose this one full of Sanskrit counting I had oodles of fun phonetically spelling. But the process gave me a gift: the correct vinyasa for primary seeped into my blood (even if not into my movement). Correct vinyasa was always there, like a map when I got lost.
With second series, on the other hand, I learned the correct vinyasa, sure– then I forgot it. Ok, so I haven’t been that bad! I’ve just been working on getting the foot behind my head or balancing on my forearms while I put my legs into lotus and trying not die in this crazy headstand– correct vinyasa hasn’t exactly ranked highest on my list of concerns.
So did I get my assana handed to me with Sharath’s count?
Nope. (Well, in a way I least expected, yes.)
A funny thing happens when in a room with dedicated practicing yogis, a single voice calling out breath and movement: you have to get there (but do not rush!) by “sapta” or “astau.” So I did. I got my leg behind my head and I got into my forearm pretzel without the usual fanfare, habitual mental machinations and angst and guess what happened: the poses.
Sure, the endorphins and the energy of the room helped — but it was more than that. The postures came more easily than they had in awhile and more efficiently. Then to some degree, I can’t even assess how my postures were. The correct vinyasa map kept me moving and pausing where prescribed– there was no time to angst going in, there was no time to autopsy the postures on the way out. The present moment was there and the next moment just kept on coming.
It turns out that correct vinyasa both stills the mind by giving me something to focus on attaining; it also makes the poses happen by getting my thoughts (and pose preconceptions) out of the way. I’ll go back to taking time to work certain aspects of these postures, sure, but I’m inspired to stay more cognizant of the value and possibility of one day jumping through and getting into position (even those crazy ones) with just an inhale.
2. No Practice is Ever Wasted (home practice too). I worried about practicing led second with Sharath, oh, just a little. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t curb my enthusiasm and I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe I didn’t belong there. It’s uncomfortable to admit but practicing with these lovely people I didn’t know… I felt validated — Not in the sense of hey look what i can do, but in the sense of, hey, I know how to practice. I have practiced practicing, as David Robson once said, even if only in my own bedroom. I saw the fruit of this commitment not in the actual poses but in my ability to practice even though my insides felt like an active game of pinball.
Oh sure, it didn’t hurt to see where that practice has paid off; indeed, three years ago in that led second I was more of a 4-day a weeker (or six days with two of those days being pretty short). During those three years I moved houses four times, I’ve moved across the country, I’ve gone from the mother of toddler to a big kid, I’ve had two surgeries, multiple losses, a dozen bouts of doubt, not to mention fatigue and some serious cases of the f–k-its. All those phases brought me here and I am glad I kept practicing on some level throughout all these times.
Three years ago my teacher teased my 4-day a week practice, saying, “5 years, six days a week, you’ll have a sick-ass practice.” Ok, so “sick-ass” is still in the works and maybe beyond the stars, and five years still another two away, but I’m getting the stars in view– even (and especially) with 3-5 days of my practice taking place at home. The lesson: take heart; stop minimizing and scoring yourself. Don’t wait to do what you can. “No practice is ever wasted.”
3. Delight of a Distraction-Free Practice: Confession: I use music a lot in my home practice, for fun. I also take videos as a self-teaching tool and — who am I kidding?– for fun.
(Oh go on, judge me. You know you want to. I’ll wait).
But this isn’t the practice I want. It isn’t quite it. Because it isn’t a ride on your own breath, where 90 minutes goes by like nothing and something all at once where you are with all these people but it’s a blur, where the only thought you can recall having space for in what is normally a traffic jam of mental maneuverings otherwise called your brain is this: please god, don’t come down early from this never-ending headstand.
Home practice has dominated my life for the past three years. Since my return from LA I’m now creeping into a regular 2-3 times a week in the mysore room. I’ve also tried waking up super early to practice before the little one awakes, providing for a first thing, music free, other creatures’ poop-free, sans-morning-business-thoughts practice. You might say I returned from LA inspired to bring things back to the beginning, to the way I felt during those led primary classes years ago.
4. All the Postures Matter. When I began practicing second without the aid of full or half primary, I quickly realized that I had to milk those initial standing postures for all they were worth. Still, I quickly began downsliding once I got close to finishing second. But oh when faced with the very real possibility of Sharath stopping me somewhere in the midst of second, those initial postures– with their hip opening and hamstring wakings — took on a serious and lovely significance that they kinda always have. There was a time when I got bored during prasarita padottanasana– oh, not when krounchasana is lurking around the corner! It’s all in there. And let’s not forget the irony of being done, happy to have made it to the last posture in second, only to face a new challenge: the finishing poses. That headstand, that utplutihi, held for fifteen or ten breaths (duing which I was able to count to 200 in my head) — no joke. Really, the most difficult part of class for me was the finishing sequence. The takeaway: it’s time to stop breezing through the closing sequence, and well, everything. It all matters.
5. I have to go to Mysore. Turns out that in my second led second with Sharath in LA I unlearned a lot — dismissing correct vinyasa, devaluing postures, courting distractions, minimizing and scoring my practice — not to mention my habit of listing all the reasons why a trip to Mysore would be impossible.
I finished class with Sharath a month ago and my first thought was, “f–k I have to go to mysore now.”
So I applied.