This has been quite an intense and awesome practice week for me thus far (and I still have 2 days left!)
One big part of the awesome is how fluid my practice has felt, due largely to all the straight-leg jump throughs. About a month after my teacher training ended in August, I did my first ever straight-leg jump through (after close to 2 years of practice). But, while I could do it on my own at home (and not while doing dozens of vinyasas) I couldn't seem to incorporate it with any consistency in my Ashtanga practice. I usually caught a few of them near the beginning of the seated poses, but my arms would eventually tire and I didn't do them throughout the rest of the practice. Well, on Sunday, I just started doing them! It didn't even feel like it was a conscious choice, as in "hey, I think I'll jump-through with straight legs." I just started doing them, as if I'd been doing them like that for months and it was the easiest thing in the world! And it's continued throughout the rest of the week, I don't even have to really think about it, I just do them. One thing I've noticed is that if I take extra breaths between when I do the jump-throughs, it's like I lose the rhythm and my feet will skid. I also noticed that I do my jump-throughs on the inhale, it's like the breath in helps to lift me through. I don't know if that's the "proper" way to do it, but that is what seems to work for me.
I've also started working more consciously on actually attempting to jump back. In the past I've usually just lifted up, put my feet down and stepped back. Now, I actually put more effort into lifting up AND bringing the legs back through to chaturanga--even if it means my feet give a little push when I get stuck. In the past, that always felt like cheating so I wouldn't do it. Now I realize that it's helping me to get a feel for the motion of the jump back and they're starting to feel quite light.
But, one of the best parts of my practice right now is that I can do nearly all of the lotus positions! I haven't been able to since I started because my knees (particularly the left one) have been bad. The doctor even thinks that I have a "degenerative tear" in the meniscus of my left knee. But, the right one was good so I've usually been able to do at least the right side of any lotus/half-lotus type poses. Well, for some reason, when I was practicing on my own back home in Arizona, my left knee stopped hurting! I was floored! I couldn't believe that it could just simply stop hurting like that! Could have been the dry air, the break from having to walk every where or just simply being more relaxed. Whatever the reason, it feels so good to be able to do the full version of those poses. It's like I can actually feel what those poses are doing in the sequence and to the body. Is it weird to say that I love feeling my heel pressing into my abdomen? It feels fantastic, like a pressure release. Since I got back to Boston, the knees have still been holding up, for the most part. They're starting to feel a little tight since I've been doing all the lotus positions. Not painful, just tight. Actually the right knee (formerly the "good" knee) more than the left! Sometimes, I think my body is either, weird, confused or screwing with me, lol. Anyways, the tricky part right now is that in a full lotus position, the left leg sits directly on top of an old shin splint left over from my running days. It was the last one out of about 3 areas on each leg to develop. I was surprised at how tender it still is, even though it's been 3 years since I last ran consistently. I know the compression is good for it, because it's going to help break it up, but damn it hurts, lol.
My teacher also moved me further into the Intermediate Series and gave me Salabhasana A and B (the 3rd pose in the series). The first version is done with the hands back and arms straight, keeping the hands on the floor. Then you lift the chest and the feet off the floor for 5 breaths. After 5, you keep the legs lifted and move the hands forward as if you were going to do a low cobra. Stay there for 5 breaths. After that, lift straight up to up dog and vinyasa through. Not exactly a "hard" pose but definitely one that my body needs. It strengthens the muscles in my back which tend to be my weaker muscles and back bends have been feeling pretty good afterwards. It feels like a good prep. My spine was about the only part of my body that didn't respond well to being back home in Arizona. Backbends, twists...they all felt tight and achy during my week of self practice back home in the desert. Add in 2 days of driving, 3 nights of sleeping on a thin futon and 2 plane trips...no wonder my back was resisting backbending! It's still felt pretty tight and achy since coming back to Boston last week. So, the addition of Salabhasana feels like it's really helping to uncurl my spine from all the travel and whatever it didn't like about being back home.
Supta Kurmasana has also been feeling amazing! About a month ago, one of my teacher's assistants was able to get my hands to clasp--and stay clasped! And a couple of weeks ago, when I spent a week practicing on my own back home in Arizona, I surprised myself and got the hand clasp by myself! Tricky part, I could no longer get the feet on my own once I got the hand clasp. But, when someone else wrangles my feet into the clasp, it's really deep--and it feels so good! On Monday, my teacher noticed and decided that it was time for me to work on it differently.
Since Supta Kurmasana is now coming fairly easy to me, she wants me to work on coming into it from seated. Meaning she wants me to clasp my feet behind my head, while seated upright, by myself, and then lower down to Supta Kurmasana and clasp my hands. In other words, come into it from Dwi Pada Sirsasana (pictured below, just minus the arm balance)
I don't know why I thought even for a second that it seemed simple. It's not. It's hella hard, lol. I got my left foot behind my head and couldn't sit myself up straight enough to even attempt bringing the right leg up on my own. Every time I'd try, I'd fall over. I kind of felt like fish flopping around on land. Except that I've bound up one of my fins and only part of my body can flop around in what can only be a comical sight. It's quite possibly one of the hardest things I've ever had to attempt in yoga (along with eka pada bakasana and bound ardha chandrasana). It makes the entire backside of your torso work. And it hurts. My newly recovered neck muscles are a bit sore and I've had a persistent muscle cramp on the left side of my back since my first attempt on Monday. And only the left side because you're "supposed" to put the left leg up first. And since I can't get more than the left foot behind my head without falling forward/over, only one side of my body is cramped. I don't think my body has been this sore from Ashtanga since I first started practicing it 2 years ago and my hamstrings were screaming for mercy. Oiy.
I usually give it 3-4 good tries before either someone helps me or I resort to doing Supta Kurmasana the "regular" way. And by the time I get there, I'm so tired from the attempts at the new way of coming into it that I have to struggle a bit more to get the hand clasp and then just collapse into the floor for the remaining 5 breaths. If someone wrangles my feet together, great. If not, I'm content to just stay there curled up without my feet clasped, lol. Oooff. It's amusing when I think about it and talk about it, but when I'm attempting it, it's hella frustrating and exhausting.
But, this is Ashtanga. No avoiding the poses you don't like. You can either let the knowing that you have to "face" the hard pose (and probably get no where close to it, despite your best efforts) ruin the rest of your practice or you can take it however it comes when you get to it and then let it go and move on to the next pose. I love my practice. So, I'm doing my absolute best to not dwell on how that pose might be on that day...or how sore I'm probably going to be afterwards, lol. Good news though is that the body adapts pretty quickly and even though the left side is cramped, it's not quite as bad as after the first time. Interestingly enough, I've kind of felt like I've had more energy this week. I don't know if it's the practice being more fluid from the easeful jump-throughs or the addition of new poses and backbends starting to feel better; but I have definitely noticed that I've felt less "comatose" post-practice this week and more alert--even though I'm getting my butt kicked in there. And even with the "growing pains" (ouch my back muscles and shin!) my practice feels like it's made some significant strides just during these last 4 days. And I've felt so much more focused during my practice. It feels like a bunch of little things have clicked together and my practice has grown and deepened in some way. And that's a pretty cool feeling :-)