So, after the practicum finished, my nerves were fried. I felt so emotionally unsteady that I didn't know how I was going to get through the rest of the day without breaking down. Enter the Yoga Mala.
I've done a Mala before, with Natasha actually. It's 108 straight Sun Salutation A's, and it was hard. The first time I did it with Natasha, my shoulders started aching around the mid-to late 20s. There was no consistency to how I did them (step back vs. jumping; low cobra vs up dog, dolphin vs. down dog, etc) and my hamstrings and shoulders felt like a wreck the next day. This past Saturday, my right shoulder started bothering me again, and it felt like a struggle to hold down dog. So, that combined with my unsteady emotions and fried nerves, I was not sure how well this one was going to go. I was pleasantly surprised. It was magic.
I ended up practicing between Jennie (the trainer I've been with during the last 3 weekends) and Tamara (teaching assistant and fellow Mysore Ashtangi). Usually, Natasha treats to a rarity in the YogaWorks world: music, played during the 108 suns. However, the music gods were not on our side as no one could figure out how to get the stereo and Ipod to work. So, we practiced in "silence," no talking outside the one person saying the number of the sun that we were on (she was pregnant and practicing made her overheat). It was like the best possible example of a Mysore class. I felt like it was so much easier to "drop in" to the flow of the suns, as well as to hear and feel my own breath...which is the whole reason Ashtangis and other similar styles practice without music. The "silence" felt like it heightened all of the other senses: the sound of everyone moving, of my breath and Tamara's breath (Ashtangis tend to be louder breathers, lol), the cars and the Duck boats outside, the gentle, steady count of the Suryas, the breeze coming in through the windows. It was very peaceful, very calming. Just what my nerves needed.
I was also pleasantly surprised at how strong I felt. I ended up not modifying. I started out by stepping back and lowering to a low cobra, pass through all fours and then to down dog. Jennie was actually doing the same thing. I kept stepping back and lowering until about sun number 54 (I started moving between chaturanga and up dog somewhere between 20 and 30, and added the jump forward from down dog somewhere between 30-40, I think). Jennie started jumping to chaturanga before I did, but I waited until my body felt ready to add the jump back. And here's a funny thing: the jumps make it easier. It felt like less muscular effort to jump forward and back than it did to step. It certainly helped to build up the rhythm of the flow. Once I started doing the full Surya A (jumps, chaturangas, up dogs) I feel like I "dropped in" even further. The whole time, my primary focus was on my breath. Not just in keeping it consistent and steady, but letting it help support the weight of my body, so my arms and shoulders wouldn't get as tired. And it felt so much smoother and easier than it did back in January during the first time. I'm sure I'm probably physically stronger than I was then, but I also feel like I was really being supported by Jennie and Tamara...like they were my "wing men" (well, wing women, lol).
Speaking of being supported and moved by something aside from my own efforts, there was something really cool that happened towards the end. Somewhere in the mid-90s, after seeing Jennie resume stepping back to plank somewhere in the 80s, I thought I should probably start stepping back because (a) my shoulder was starting to ache, and (b) we were almost done, so I thought I should start bringing the energy down. From the moment I stepped my leg back, I could feel that it was wrong. I felt like I had been moving along a steadily flowing river and decided to stop and go against the current. I evened out on the other side during the next sun and then resumed jumping, doing full Surya Namaskar As until the very end. It was like something said, "No. You keep jumping." I have never felt that kind of energetic connection before, it felt like such a gift and I feel so touched to have been able to experience it.
When we finished our 108 suns, Natasha gave us the go ahead to do whatever we needed to cool ourselves down. My first thought, "bend the knees." So I held Utkatasana for several breaths. Aside from needing to bend my knees after so many forward bends, my energy still felt really high. After Utkatasana, wide-legged, extremely bent-knee Pada Hastasana (where you stand on your palms, usually in a straight-legged forward fold). Boy, did my hands need it! After we finished the suns, I tried to move my fingers and my hands were so tight it felt like I had been clenching them for several hours! I didn't realize how strongly I had been grounding my palms into the floor--which was needed in order to keep me from sinking into my shoulders. What followed was a mix-up of Ashtanga binded-twists to release the back and shoulders and gentle hip-openers and a modified Viparita Karani (legs up the wall, except in the middle of the room with the sacrum supported on a block--because I wasn't near a wall). It felt hard to settle into savasana when it was finally time, like my energy was still too high. When I finally started to settle, that's when the tears came. This time, I just let them come, quietly, but I let them come. All the frustration and disappointment from the practicum, the confusion as to what to do next/where do I go from here, and the sadness at the training ending...they needed to be let go.
When we sat up, I felt calm and I felt strong. I also felt like I had experienced something so special, as I said before, like it was such a gift. Everything: the Mala itself, getting to practice next to a teacher I came to really admire and next to my "fellow Ashtangi," I feel like she's been quietly supporting me during this whole training; doing the Mala in silence, it was like I got to share everything that I love about a Mysore practice with my fellow trainees (even though I had no control over the music not playing). Me, Jennie, Tamara and even Natasha (who was to the right of Jennie) were totally in sync during many parts of the Mala. It was really cool to be moving at the same pace and in the same rhythm as the people that I admire--like there was no difference between us. This was definitely one of the highlights of the training, almost like it was the culmination of everything that I had learned. I feel so amazingly grateful for that experience and to see that there is that kind of strength in me--both physical strength and to be able to connect to that energy. It's a very good feeling, a very special gift :)