Yesterday I made my acquaintance with the Intermediate series by starting on Pashasana. All I can say is first, “Yippee!” followed by “Wow, this is much harder than it looks!” I am realizing why it is an Intermediate rather than Primary pose…it feels like a deep forward bend and twist at the same time.
My regular teacher Andrew is away in Mysore for 3 months. So we’ve had two wonderful substitute teachers (Aimee Echo and Lisa Schempp) filling in for our regular ones who are studying at the source with Sharath. At first I was quite anxious about Andrew leaving, as I felt that I was on the verge of a breakthrough — I finally got over the fear of dropping back, although coming back up was still a challenge. In scary instances like that, I felt as though it is crucial to practice with someone whom you trust after time and knows how your body works as you flow through the asanas. He told me to keep practicing — it is the practice itself that will bring the breakthrough, not the teacher. Now I realized this was true. I had some reluctance as I was driving down to the studio after Andrew and David left, but went anyways because I knew that, no matter what, my body and mind always felt so good afterwards.
Maybe I was a bit sneaky about Pashasana. I guess technically I should have waited for my regular teacher to return and teach me the pose. But after dropping back and coming back up consistently, I asked Lisa about starting the 2nd series. She was a bit cautious at first, saying that it was not just a matter of dropping back and coming up, but also how consistent you’ve been going to practice, and how you flow with the breath and asanas, and how well you’ve mastered the poses in the Primary series. “You know,” she said, looking at me intently, ” we’re not supposed to give away poses here. Some teachers just give away the poses in the 2nd series, and Guruji was always selective about who he advanced and who he wanted to wait. Still, you’ve been coming in regularly, plus dropping back and coming back up. I can show you Pashasana, and when David or Andrew come back, let them know that I thought you could try this, and see what they say.”
So I began by squatting down onto my heels, which wanted to come back up despite my best efforts to keep them flat against the floor. It was one thing to squat down and put your heels to the ground, but to twist and bring your back and arms around both your knees?? So I tried to reach my front arm over both legs; it was the most alien and foreign feeling to me, signifying that I have truly ventured into new territory. Somehow Lisa managed to wrap my other arm around my back and bind both hands together. Or rather, it was more like clasping my fingertips together and praying that they didn’t come apart. My whole body was trembling from tension. It was all I could do to balance without my arms flying out of their sockets and me toppling headfirst onto the floor. Then I had to repeat this on the other side, and hold again for five eternal breaths!! I was barely breaking into a sweat through the primary series — how quickly the body adjusts, but Pashasana had me soaking as though I had just come out from a sauna. Lisa chuckled, “You see, they add Pashasana first in the Intermediate series to discourage people from wanting to advance into it.”
I nodded wearily before going through my vinyasa to begin my backbends and dropbacks, which — I never thought I’d say this — actually felt like a somewhat familiar friend. OK, I’m lying. My body was screaming, OK, you put me through pashasana, and now you want me to do backbends and dropbacks?
Well, I did make it through the dropback and coming back up part and got through that unscathed. I always worry about injury nowadays — my 40-something body isn’t as forgiving as it was when I was twenty-something. When that fear flashes through my mind, I take it as a signal to slow things down and really listen to my body. For example, sometimes I step back and up instead of jumping through and all that jazz. I mean, the main point is that you finish your poses as your body will allow, and isn’t it more for the mind than for the body as Guruji had said? I remind myself of this when I start falling into that “Type-A” mentality of wanting to do more or stretch more. Anyway, I find that slowing down helps with the fear…taking things incrementally lessens that challenge, too.
So I finished through the inversions and survive Sirsasana — I can do headstand fairly well now, but I have to admit that it is one of those poses that also sparks anxiety in me. I realize that there are 7 headstands in the end of 2nd series!!! But I am not going to worry about that now.
Finally I melted into Savasana, feeling gratitude and relief. Afterwards, it always feels like, Thank you, thank you, thank you! from the body and soul. No matter where or how far you go in yoga practice, the world just feels like a better and more beautiful place after you step off the mat.