If you're new to yoga or you haven't tried it yet... don't let her experience intimidate you! She didn't start out this way. We all don't... it's one step at a time. It's a journey! Practice and Patience :)
I just love how playful and balanced Meghan is in this short yoga video. I've seen videos where yogis show you everything they can do without it actually being a fully balanced yoga flow. Not Meghan. :) She's got it down.
If you're new to yoga or you haven't tried it yet... don't let her experience intimidate you! She didn't start out this way. We all don't... it's one step at a time. It's a journey! Practice and Patience :)
The Mysore Style of Teaching - Explained
Take a glimpse into my daily yoga practice here in Mysore and KPJAYI via Kino MacGregor.
“Quite simply, every growth process unfolds according to a natural rhythm, just like the growing seasons of a tree, or the life cycle of a flower. Think of yourself like one of those plants. If, for example, you considered the fruit the “ultimate” life stage of a plant — and therefore looked upon new shoots and buds and flowers as failures, as signs of incompletion — you’d be mistaken.
All stages are necessary, whole, and perfect within themselves. Just because you don’t see the fruit right now, it does not mean that the plant is doing a bad job... Or that you are.” ~ (Laura Rosell)
Why am I here? Why am I choosing to practice Ashtanga Yoga at the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India? A place that is so many miles from home. A place where my language isn't the first language and it's almost impossible to find an American product... or a cheeseburger. (Mmm... cheeseburger... doesn't that sound lovely for you carnivores out there? I'm a mostly veggie eating carnivore living off a yummy, but strictly vegetarian diet now, so being surrounded by all these holy cows is, well... an interesting experience.) So back to the question. Why am I here?
I'd like to be honest here and admit that I'm at KPJAYI because I'd like to do cool poses and this is where you come to learn how to float into handstand and put your feet behind your head and the like. Why do I want to learn to do these things? Why not?! I've received a great deal of education in the world of the Yoga Sutras, yoga spirituality, Ayurveda, the Bhagavad Gita, etc... and I'm so grateful to my teachers. So now, I'd like to master asanas, particularly the ones I can already do and then work towards learning the ones that I've found difficult, like turtle pose and floating up into handstand. So... imagine how my ego feels. It's lying here dormant throughout each asana, but it's ready to pounce at any moment!!! At any sign of failure or success! It's such an interesting battle keeping it in check lol ... And so it waits.... I wake up each morning wanting to learn funky, awesome looking poses in sequential order without losing my breath....
And I'm 'failing'.
Seriously... I'm totally clueless (temporarily). I realize I am only 4 days into my training, but still!!! Do you have any idea how hard it is to memorize almost 60 poses in order? And all by yourself since you are your own teacher in this course (there's no one leading the class). Or, as I learned this morning, how hard it is to get into a handstand with the right leg on the ground and the left one floating up, when you've been practicing it the opposite way for the last 10 years... with your left foot on the ground and the right one leading both of the legs up? I'm like a newb! I am literally not able to do it; YET. ;)
Here's the best part about temporarily "failing" at my handstand this morning... I laughed. It just came out of me... I actually laughed out loud at myself. "How ridiculous is this!?" And I smiled. I'm learning so much outside of just cool poses. I'm receiving a lesson in: Patience. Persistence. Diligence. Discipline. Ahimsa. Satya. I'm learning to be equanimous and present and open hearted!
If you had seen me years and years ago in my first yoga class (and some of you probably did), my reaction would have been totally different. You would have known me as 'the perfectionist'. You would have seen me frowning. You would have probably seen my cheeks red with embarrassment and my mind obviously running around like a crazy monkey, mentally beating myself up because I couldn't do a pose. There would be no practice of Ahimsa here. No way. No open hearted patience. But yoga has taught me a few things...
There seems to be a theme in my blog lately. Ahimsa. Without a sense of humor in my life I could easily be hard on myself during this intense training. However, I think that because I've developed a pretty solid foundation in this particular Yoga Sutra, I am more easily able to laugh at my current hiccups and hurdles. And because of the second Yama, Satya, I am more willing to be honest with myself and with others about my reality, my intentions, desires, hopes and dreams. I want to learn cool poses. Okay. I am not perfect and I am not a master yet. Okay. *siiiigggghhh... Wow, getting that off of my chest feels so much better! Now I just need to keep practicing!
"Practice, Practice, Practice."
Did you know that there are japamalas, made up of sacred beads strung on a thread which are used in prayer for counting and keeping focused on the repetition of a mantra? In Christianity, it's better known as a rosary and used for repeating prayers. Did you know that here in India, there are pushpamalas, which are garlands of vivid flowers, smelling of jasmine and other scents, that are strung in the form of wreaths and offered in worship to deities in homes and temples?
Pattabhi Jois offers another kind of mala, which is ancient in tradition, as sacred as a prayer, and as beautiful as flowers. His mala is a garland of yoga, in which each vinyasa, is like a sacred bead to be counted and focused on, and each asana, is like a fragrant flower strung on the thread of the breath. Just as a japamala adorns the neck and a pushpamala adorns the gods, so too does this garland of yoga, when diligently practice, adorn our entire being with peace, health, radiance, and ultimately, self-knowledge.
So... I may not be able to do turtle pose yet... or a handstand with the opposite leg up first and then with both legs coming up at the same time, yet... or remember which pose in the sequences comes next, yet... but with practice I will be able to do it someday. And with more and more practice of each asana within Ashtanga yoga, or ANY yoga for that fact... I believe I can expect to learn more and more about myself... and continue to develop into an equanimous and strong yogi. And so can you!
Now check out these turtle poses and transitions to chaturanga and handstands. Crazy huh? It's hilarious.
Today was my first day at the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute here in Mysore, India. I'd love to share my day with you, at least the yoga portion of my day... maybe it will give you insight into this school and what they offer as I continue to write about this experience as time progresses.
I woke up this morning and rolled over into childs pose and took conscious deep breaths and stretched. After stretching myself awake I got up and lit an incense (sandalwood today), boiled just enough water for a cup of tea as well as a cup of plain hot water to help the toxins flush out of my body. Then I brushed my teeth, took a shower and drank the hot water as I made breakfast. Oatmeal again, with cinnamon, cardamom, tulsi and raisins as well as a boiled egg with cumin on the side that I had boiled the day before. I finished the hot water and made a cup of tulsi tea with honey. Then I sat down and ate it all while reading more of the Jois book, "Yoga Mala".
After that I sat there a while and closed my eyes and meditated until I felt that I had meditated enough. I got ready and grabbed my things and jumped on my scooter and drove to the school. When I got there I was apparently late, but not really. Everyone was just really early. The room was packed though. 70+ people, mats maybe four inches apart. I found room and then made more room for two more students. My neighbor to the right was a 9-10 year old boy. Quite possibly the most flexible little thing I've ever seen. Very good at yoga. Very serious. He's obviously been practicing a few years. To my left was another flexible little thing. An Asian woman that was tiny and strong. Seeing these people work around me by the way, it didn't make me feel less about myself... I'm proud of them and what they have accomplished physically through yoga. It's inspiring to be surrounded by such strong individuals.
When my teacher, Saraswathi Jois came out everyone stood up so I did too. See, there isn't much direction here. They don't hand out a manual or textbook. They don't really offer much in the way of direction at all. You just join a group of yogi's in a room and follow along...
The room began chanting something I hadn't heard before. It's common for most people to start to beat themselves up about not knowing a mantra or a pose or this or that. I've found overtime and throughout my practice as well as throughout my time as a teacher, that it really doesn't do you any good to beat yourself up for not knowing something just yet or because you aren't able to do a pose easily at the moment. I think it's important to just smile and tell yourself, "this is the first step"... and then take that step courageously.
So... I just smiled and told myself that I'd learn it someday. Mantra and chants aren't necessarily taught... did you know that? Traditionally, you just listen and over time you pick it up. So I listened and participated when I could vocally, and then spiritually the rest of the time. At some point though I heard something familiar though and my heart soared! The student teacher chant! (I've shared it with you below... and you can click on the button and scroll down to hear it sung).
Student Teacher Prayer
ॐ स॒ह ना॑ववतु । स॒ह नौ॑ भुनक्तु ।
स॒ह वी॒र्यं॑ करवावहै ।
ते॒ज॒स्वि ना॒वधी॑तमस्तु॒ मा वि॑द्विषा॒वहै॑ ॥
ॐ शान्ति॒ः शान्ति॒ः शान्ति॑ः ॥
So I smiled and sang as joyously as possible. After the chanting, which probably lasted five minutes, Saraswathi began. Luckily I've picked up some understanding of Sanskrit and was able to follow along when she gave the Sanskrit word for an asana instead of an English word... for example, "urdhva mukha svanasana" instead of "upward dog". Also lucky for me I had the Ashtanga teacher Soni (from Devi Yoga in Sedona, AZ) as my first teacher. See, the whole first half of this class was almost exactly like Soni's flow and also part of my own flow that I teach to students. Give or take pieces. This made me feel in my element immediately.
Then the class moved onto the secondary series. This section includes advanced binds, handstands, arm balances and the like. At some point Saraswati asked if there were any new students and if so they should stop here and raise their hands. No one raised their hands. She asked, "Really, no new students?" I raised my hand. "How many poses do you know?" "Quite a few," I answered. She nodded... "Continue".
I continued and I'll tell you, I put my body in the weirdest binds ever and my ankle went places it's never gone before and I've never held lotus pose for so long!
Finally and thankfully at some point she said to me and a few other people, "Stop here, rest... watch." I did... I was sweating buckets but my breath was never once short and for this I'll admit I felt some pride. After a short time she asked others to stop and watch... to rest or to do this or that... and then when it was time for bridge pose she brought us all back into the practice.
It was difficult at first to sit still. An asana would occur and I couldn't help thinking to myself, "But I can do that!"... finally I just let go and watched and enjoyed resting. I am definitely going to be sore tomorrow, but I'm looking forward to being in that room again with all of these yogi's, breathing in unison, practicing as one. I feel so grateful that I'm here. This place truly does make my heart soar. There's something amazing about being in a room and listening to the group inhale deeply together... exhale fully together... it creates an energetic connection between us all. I feel so alive. Present. Aware.
I've been practicing yoga for almost 10 years now, and maybe I am a slow learner but nothing came without consistent hard work. I admit I could sit here and beat myself up. I could let my pride get in the way. I could NOT practice Ahimsa emotionally and mentally... but instead I think I'll keep telling myself as I watch these amazing yogis around me and as they twist and turn themselves into little pretzels, that I may not be able to do that pose right now, but I will be able to do it someday... and that truly, what's most important to remember, is that it isn't the asana that is the reward, but the experience inside the journey of this practice... and I'll smile and patiently wait.
"Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
I found this article on the internet this morning. It's pretty impressive. I hope you enjoy it! If you gave it a shot, let me know how it went! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask as well. :)
Do you have a mini panic attack when your yoga instructor says it’s time to work on Headstands?
Whether you’ve tried inversions a hundred times and can’t stay balanced for more than half a second or are too intimidated to even try, here are five reasons Headstands aren’t happening for you and how to get started hanging upside down.
You’re Scared of Falling
This is a very real fear and a valid reason for not even attempting Headstand, but how will you know whether or not you can balance upside down if you never give it a chance? There are many ways you can do a Headstand and avoid the risk of falling. Try one of these: do Headstand in front of a wall, have someone spot you, slowly lift into Headstand instead of kicking up, or start with a Bound Headstand Prep where your feet never leave the ground (it’s still a Headstand if you’re balancing on your head!).
Your Base Is Unstable
Whether you’re doing Bound Headstand (shown in the photo above) or Tripod Headstand with your palms on the ground, your base needs to be strong and stable in order to support the weight of the rest of your body. In Bound Headstand, make sure the heels of your palms are pressed against the back of your head, and your elbows are a few inches away from your ears. In Tripod Headstand, keep your elbows at 90-degree angles. A strong base is the first step in building up to Headstand.
Your Upper Body Is Weak
Although Headstand takes a strong sense of balance, a strong upper body is also essential. If you feel like your upper body is weak, you won’t be able to create and hold your stable base. Tone up those biceps, triceps, shoulders, and the muscles in your upper back by doing upper-body sculpting poses, and throw in some of push-up variations.
Upper-Body Sculpting Poses:
:: Three Legged Dog
:: Sage Pose
:: Crow Pose
:: Wheel Pose
:: Bound Headstand
:: Forearm Stand
Your Core Is Weak
Slowly lifting into Headstand rather than jumping into it will help prevent falling, since the momentum of your flailing legs tends to make you lose your balance. And although getting into Headstand this way is much safer, since you’re moving slowly, it takes a whole lot of core strength. Start in the Bound Headstand Prep position, with your legs straight and your feet on the floor. Try bending your knees into your chest in the Tuck position, and eventually you will be able to lift your legs straight into the air. If your midsection isn’t strong enough yet, practice Boat pose and scissor abs to target your core. Try these five core strengthening yoga poses too.
Your Alignment Is Off
From the photo above, you can see that your hips should be stacked over your shoulders, and your feet stacked over your hips. If your torso isn’t in a straight line with your abs engaged, it will be impossible to balance, even with a strong base. Ask your yoga instructor to watch you do Headstand so they can help you get your alignment right.
Want to Stand on Your Head? Here’s A Yoga Sequence to Get You There
Headstand is really intimidating if you’ve never attempted it before, but if you’ve always longed to stand on you head, here’s a series of yoga poses to get you there. Don’t worry if it scares you to go upside down. This sequence will build up your strength and courage. If you practice these poses regularly in this order, you’ll feel ready (and excited!) to invert.
Wide-Legged Forward Bend
Walking into headstand instead of jumping into it not only prevents you from kicking too hard and falling over, but it also strengthens your core. Flexible hamstrings are key to walking into headstand, so start with this Wide-Legged Forward Bend. This pose will also open your shoulders.
Stand with three to four feet between your feet. Turn your toes in slightly and interlace your fingers in a double fist behind your back. Inhale to engage your abs and pull your hands away from your shoulders. Exhale to fold at your hips, keeping your legs and spine straight. Hold for five deep breaths, trying to lower your hands toward the floor.
Walking into headstand also requires strong abs. This pose is all about your core.
Sit on the floor, bend your knees, and pick your feet off the floor. Sit with a straight spine and straighten your legs as much as you can before your back begins to round. Extend your arms out in front and hold for five deep breaths.
This pose will strengthen your core as well as your upper body.
From Down Dog, lower onto your forearms and walk your feet out. Your body should be in one straight line with your shoulders directly above your elbows. Hold like this for five breaths, but if it’s too difficult, lower one or both knees to the floor.
Tripod Headstand Prep
Now you’re ready to try the easiest version of headstand. Since your hands and head are on the floor, the greater surface area helps you stay balanced. If it hurts your head, fold your mat up, making sure your head and hands are on the same thickness of mat.
Sit on your knees and place your head and hands on the mat. Your hands should be directly underneath your elbows, not in line with your head. If you’re doing it right, you should be able to see your hands in front of you. Straighten your legs and place your right knee on your right tricep and do the same with your left knee. Bring your feet together. Hold here for five deep breaths. If you’re feeling ready, start to use your abs to lift your knees off your arms. Lift a few inches, and then lower them back to your triceps — this is a killer move for your core.
Bound Headstand Prep: Straight Legs
Now you’re ready to learn the prep poses for Bound Headstand.
Come to sit so your back is a few inches away from a wall. Interlace your fingers and tuck your bottom pinky in front. Place your hands and the top of your head on the floor so your palms are cupping the back of your head. Lift your knees off the floor and straighten your legs. Walk them toward your face as much as you can, trying to shift the weight of your hips over your shoulders. Hold here for five deep breaths.
Bound Headstand Prep: One Knee Tuck
Now you’re ready for the next challenge.
From that position, bend one knee and tuck it into your chest. Hold for five breaths and then switch sides.
Bound Headstand Prep: Tuck
This prep pose will really strengthen your core and upper body.
From the last position with one knee bent, try shifting your hips even further over your shoulders so the toes on the floor begin to lift off the mat. Bend that knee, tucking both knees into your chest, and hold for five breaths. To challenge your core, practice lifting your knees a few inches and then lowering them. At this time, if you feel ready to lift both legs up into Bound Headstand, go for it. If not, continue reading for the next step.
Bound Headstand Against a Wall
Using a wall gives you the support you need to work on headstand without the fear of falling.
From the previous position with both legs straight and your feet on the floor, step both feet onto the wall, walking them up so your thighs are parallel with the floor. Keep your legs straight to increase flexibility in your hamstrings and lower back, and draw your navel toward your spine to work your abs. Holding here for five breaths will allow your upper body to feel what it’s like to hold headstand. This pose might look easy, but you’ll really feel your upper body burning after holding for a while, which is exactly what you want.
One-Legged Bound Headstand Against a Wall
Here’s a one-legged version against the wall that will further strengthen your upper body and open tight hamstrings.
With both feet on the wall, slowly lift one leg into the air, keeping the other foot pressing against the wall. Be careful not to lift your leg past your head or you might lose your balance. Hold here for five breaths, lower your top leg, and then switch.
You’ve made it! Now you’re ready to try the full expression of the pose.
Sit facing the wall. Place your clasped fingers and head on the floor about eight inches or so away from the wall. Straighten your legs and walk your feet toward your head. Bend one knee and tuck it into your chest. Using your abs and hamstring flexibility, lift your other leg off the floor so both knees are tucked into your chest, so you’re in the pose practiced previously called Bound Headstand Prep: Tuck. With complete control, slowly lift and straighten both legs up, coming into Bound Headstand. If balancing is hard, bend one knee and place the sole of your foot on the wall. Hold for five breaths. Then slowly bend your knees into your chest, lower your feet to the floor, and rest in Child’s Pose.
I watched this video yesterday morning and thought to myself:
1) Her transition choices are so lovely, I'd like to try them...
2) I wish I had a spine that flexible, maybe I ought to work on that...
3) How could I add hip openers to this sequence.
4) This is a lovely practice. I'm glad she shared.
What were your thoughts??? Leave a line in the comment section below!
I had to post these videos, not only for the demonstration of postures, but because of the commentary and truth behind what the teacher, Anne Nuotio, expresses regarding practice. What she said deeply resonated and rang true for me in many ways.
Love is the essence of our life. I have written this blog with love, and I offer it to you, dear reader, with the hope that the suggestions offered here will become a vital part of your self-healing and continued well-being.
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