2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back
Last week when I first worked with J, I asked her what her preferred system was for working with Primary plus Intermediate (i.e. doing full Primary, or only up to Navasana, or to Supta Kurmasana) since I'm hearing different things from different teachers. We talked a bit about the different approaches, then she asked me how long I'd been practicing Ashtanga. "Since February," I replied.
J's eyes bugged out of her head for a quick second and then she said with conviction, "You do ALL of Primary." She says I haven't been doing it for long enough to leave any of Primary behind just yet. She was firm but apologetic about insisting I stick with such a long practice. I assured her, however, that I don't mind doing all of Primary. Actually, I prefer it. But it is a very long practice and sometimes I can feel the life force simmering down to nothing as I trudge through the 2nd series backbends only to emerge on the other side of Kapo as a soft, wet, submissive sponge.
I float through the rest of 2nd series in a haze, completely surrendered to the rhythm of the breath. Funnily enough, I think this surrender has been a great boon to my practice of Bakasana B. I used to prepare, bouncing up and down a bit to build momentum for the jump, but now I don't bother. At this point, I can see the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel so I just stick with the breath count. Exhale Down Dog, Inhale jump! And it's working! I've been landing it on the first try almost every time.
The leg-behind-head postures are still something of a circus. No matter what I do, I cannot seem to get my leg to stay behind my head. This is strange to me because both legs are easy enough to get back there, but as soon as I let go, the leg shoots out from behind me as if it were spring-loaded. I've been reading up on these postures in Maehle's book, and it seems as if I need to get the leg below the C7 vertebrae in order for this to happen. I asked J for any advice on this topic yesterday, and she said essentially the same thing: work the leg further down the back. She also took this opportunity to take Dwi Pada and Yoganidrasana away from me for the time being.
J says that until I can let go of the leg and perform Eka Pada Sirsasana with both hands at the chest, I shouldn't be moving forward. I have mixed feelings about this: on the one hand, nobody likes to regress. On the other hand, she's right that it seems pointless to struggle through Dwi Pada if Eka Pada is still giving me problems. However, I've grown to love Yoganidrasana and I don't want to give it up. I feel a big, warm opening sensation deep down in the hips in this pose, a depth of sensation I have not accessed in a long while. I happened to read in Maehle's book (I really love his take on Intermediate) that if one is struggling with the leg-behind-head postures, Yoganidrasana may be practiced instead of or as preparation for Dwi Pada. So I may tack Yoganidrasana on at the end of my practice while omitting Dwi Pada entirely, at least when I practice at home. I intend to ask J her opinion on this tomorrow.
Here's a strange observation: Sunday, when I practiced at home, even though I had the windows open, the AC off, and in spite of the hot, muggy weather we've been having, I didn't break a sweat until the seated postures and I was practically dry when I finished. Last night in J's room, I was sweating so heavily that I had prune fingers midway through my practice. My mat towel was completely soaked and it's not even a heated room! By Setu Bandhasana, thirst-driven fantasies of cool, clear, delicious water were regularly hijacking my mind. During Sirsasana, all I could think about was the water fountain that stands not 15 feet from the studio door, glowing with an aura of gold. So thirsty! Haha! Man, this practice can be intense.