Thanks for your task. Please see my reflections below and your final task of the year Task 13 – Recurring themes
Reflections Task 12 – Likes and Dislike
This task touches on something that I have been wanting to address for some time in relation to our respective Yoga practices, yours being Iyengar and mine being Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. I want to start by highlighting that I find these separations between different Asana systems tricky territory as they are founded in the same Eight Limbs (Ashtanga) yoga system and talking about them antagonistically feels wrong. I have also practiced yoga ‘Iyengar style’ and found it hugely beneficial and informative for my own practice. I think that what shapes by practice and teaching is precisely learning from other styles and disciplines. What seems to distinguish them is mainly different approaches to how to execute postures and the order in which they appear in a practice. With that caveat in place I will continue.
As you may be aware, the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga system is built on set sequences. When I first began the practice, I wasn’t really aware of this as I just followed the teacher. But when I started the self-practice system called Mysore I realised that the postures were set in an order that was practiced exactly the same every time to a particular breath count. Primary series starts with Surya Namaskara A continues to Surya Namaskara B which is followed by Padanshustasana, Trikonasana, Parsva Trikonasana etc etc. (See the image for full practice chart). In the beginning, you practice up to Navasana in the seated postures and then slowly as you get more proficient, more postures are added.
And now I come to address your Task: Because the series of postures are the same every time I am bound to do postures I don’t like. I avoided postures like Supta Kurmasana and Marychasana D for a long time, I simply skipped them because I had decided ‘I couldn’t do them’. I needed the set practice (and a patient and insisting teacher) to confront me with my ‘dislikes’. Beginning to do these postures was a painful experience both physically and mentally. I have tight hips and these two aforementioned postures are deep hip opening postures but doing them eventually started to break down my assumption that there were things in life I would never be able to do. I wrote a blog post about the challenges of the sequence in the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice in 2012.
My current practice is less orientated towards sticking to the exact sequence of postures (as a full practice is time consuming) but I think the psychology of having gone through the set sequences for years has primed me for being aware of confronting and engaging with postures I do not ‘Like’. There are however still postures I dread or look forward to. There are postures I dislike and some I really like.
Here is my list:
This deep back bend requires openness in the back and shoulders and a lot of control and strength. Part of me loves it because it so satisfying after I’ve done it but I find it difficult to breathe through the discomfort in my back and shoulders. I actually try and practice this posture most days as I feel it keeps my spine healthy and mobile.
Bringing both feet behind your head at the same time seems like an impossible thing to do, even unwise some might say. This is what this posture asks the practitioner to do. I struggled for many years to cross my ankles behind my neck. When my hips finally were open enough I one day sprained my sacroiliac joint which gave me pain and problems with all forward bends for a long time.
Due to a knee injury I have a difficult relationship with this posture. It is practiced on both left and right side. On the right side, I have made good friends with it because it’s a deep twist and hip opener which is intense but satisfying. On the left side, this posture has caused me knee pain and possibly contributed to more damage to a meniscus tear.
This has been my number 1 mental and physical challenge for many years. It is an extreme back bend and shoulder opening. I lose my breath in this Asana and can only focus on pain. It sits like a looming posture waiting for me a third into intermediate series in the Ashtanga Yoga system. In all honesty, I haven’t spent time on this posture for a long time.
This posture is agony on my stiff shoulders and I always get a cramp in my calf muscles. It just feels impossible to do.
I wasn’t sure if I could classify this posture as a dislike as it is –for obvious reasons– a very pleasant and relaxing posture. I do find it very hard to give myself time to do it and stay in it for long enough to feel rested at the end of the practice. I suppose it feels hard because it is an act of kindness towards myself I rarely take time for!
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog)
This is my default yoga posture that is easy to do anywhere: I find myself doing it on train station platforms, airport lounges and when I pick up my daughter from nursery. It does so many things for me: stretches my hamstrings and calves, opens my shoulders and mostly it helps me connect with my breath and focus my attention.
In a similar way to Adho Mukha Svanasana this can be done almost anywhere and relieves a sore back and helps me relax my jaw. I will do this before going into a situation I’m nervous about.
This twist and lunge is a deep posture that squeezes my lungs and organs and wrings my spine. I always find myself doing a version of this posture when I do my practice. It leaves me feeling detoxed and refreshed.
Task 13 – Recurring themes
For the final task I invite you to look back at the 12 tasks we’ve done so far since September 2017. Printing them out and looking at them would be ideal but perhaps not great for the environment! So perhaps you can skim each of the posts and write down or draw the following on a big sheet of paper:
- words and phrases that are recurring throughout the posts
- a diagram or mindmap that shows themes and subjects that reappear
- your own brief reflections on what stands out for you
If you find time after this take a moment to lie or sit on top of the sheet and do a short meditation/relaxation on your reflections.
Can you find any threads that run through the posts and that tie them together?
 Primary series is the name of the first sequence you learn when you begin the practice. For many practitioners, it is also the only sequence they will ever do as it is quite challenging.