Just coming back from a month the Nancy in Maui I would like to reflect on some of my experiences. It is always very enriching for me to be around Nancy and at her studio. My first week there a person from out of town was practicing 2nd series 6 mos pregnant–so I got to see the modifications Nancy gave her and how you practice 2nd pregnant 🙂 so now if you are practicing 2nd and get pregnant you can continue your practice through your second trimester if you like 😉
Also experiencing Nancy working with me I have come to realize its very important to stick with one teacher for “the long haul” as you get to see a progression . . . For example, years ago when I first started with Nancy in drop backs and backbending she had me take my feet wide, turn my toes out and do whatever I needed to do to get “there”. Now several years later she is getting very strict on my form with backbending, making me keep my feet parallel and internally rotating my thighs in every back bend! Not just urdhva but all the 2nd series backbends as well–very challenging for me but it feels so good and I can feel the difference in my sacrum–it feels good. So just because you can “do” a pose does not mean you have mastered it, there are many levels to work on within the pose–refining the breath and bandhas as you get stronger in the pose and then even the “fine tuning” and little adjustments. When we first learn a pose we learn the gross movement patterns, through years of practice you learn the very subtle movements in the poses that make a big difference. Too many times teachers who have years of practice and can feel those subtle movements try to teach them to beginners in their classes who can only feel the gross movements and the beginners become frustrated. I am very fortunate to have found Nancy as a teacher and experience how she takes me from the gross movement patterns to the more subtle.
And I can feel the experience all over again In third series . . . there was a pose I was keeping strict alignment in and not getting very far in it . . . Nancy looks at me and says “what are you doing?” I told her and she said “don’t go Iyengar on me now!” she said let your hips twist and do what you need to do to get your foot to the floor! So my foot is now on the floor even though I am not in perfect alignment . . . I guess in a few more years she’ll adjust me on that one too . . .
The Softer Side of Ashtanga
I feel fortunate to learn Ashtanga yoga from Nancy. Nancy went to Guruji sick, she got to experience the so/er side of ashtanga yoga and Guruji in how he taught her the practice. Most of the senior Ashtanga teachers went to Mysore with strong yoga practices so Guruji was able to satisfy their hunger for even more advanced yoga; they did not get to experience the so/er side of ashtanga yoga. Nancy did get this experience and it comes across in her teaching. I have learned from Nancy the real ashtanga yoga is very forgiving–even though you follow the framework of the practice there are many different ways to do each pose, learning to suit the pose to the individual (NOT the other way around as it is so often taught) makes ashtanga yoga doable and enjoyable for anyone who wants to do it.
Remember “Ashtanga yoga is not militant!” and you can teach ashtanga yoga to someone in a wheel chair–it will just be modified to suit the person while still honoring the framework of the ashtanga practice.
Reflections on the practice and the different series of Ashtanga Yoga
You have heard me liken the series of Ashtanga yoga to a car; Primary series is like the body work– the frame, the wheels–getting the structure sound and strong. Second series is like the electrical work–cleaning the wires so the ignition works, the lights, the locks, etc. And third series is like giving the car gas–third series gives you strength–now that you have a good solid frame and wiring the car can handle some speed . . . third Series gives us energy.
In my body I have felt this similar pattern but I have also noticed Primary series I feel in my muscle bellies–in what is known in anatomy terms as the elastic tissue, stretching the tissues and releasing toxins from them. Second series too I feel some work in the muscle bellies–especially around my hips, but with second I also felt some work getting into the skeleton–the spine. Second series started the work on my spine. With Third series I noticed the stretching effects of the asana (one of the many effects of the asana!) were more in the joints–working with the ligaments and what is known as in anatomical terms as plastic tissue–tissue that is less pliable. A/er you get through the strengthening asanas of third you get to some poses that work deep into the joints, and the spine– there is a section in third where you alternate between intense forward bending and intense backward bending. Nancy has given me two fourth series poses and thus far my experience with them is even more intensely working into the joints. The first pose she gave me works deep into the hip joint–I feel the asana deep into my hip in a very pinpointed place, the other fourth series pose I feel the effects of in my feet! Yes in the bones of my feet along the inner ankle and arch of my foot. Certainly not a place you expect to feel a stretch!
What is the purpose of working into the joints; well this is only my opinion based on what I know about anatomy and the body, but I deduced this will be very healthy for the joints. As we age spider web like tissue grows around our joints preventing mobility, third and fourth series poses will keep this tissue from forming, and will help to get blood flow into the ligaments–tissues that rarely get blood flow beyond the age of 20!
At any rate I figure I’ll give it a lifetime and let you know. Please check back 😉