Autodidact

How to learn asanas is important

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I’m much more interested in how to learn an asana or vinyasa than in what to learn next. The next asana is not that important. The next step forward is important. There are 6 different forms of asanas:

  1. forward bending asanas

  2. back bending asanas

  3. side stretches

  4. twists

  5. inversions

  6. balancing asanas

Everybody can start with an easy form. With time and exercise one can get deeper into forward bending, backhanding and so forth.

How to learn the asanas and how to speed up the process is my question these days. The method of Ashtanga Yoga is not up to date. To practice 2 and a half hours till I could focus on the one asana that I was not able to do was not successful. I want to exercise the difficult asanas rather early in my practice this is why I alter primary with second series. That way I can practice the challenging back bending asanas when I’m still full of energy and not at the end of 2 hours, after primary……

These days I do at least 3 things differently:

  1. I hold the asanas that are difficult for me longer than 5 breaths. The body needs time to relax. The body needs time to stretch. This is known in many other disciplines. I usually use a timer and set it to 1 minute for one forward bending asana, one backhanding asana, one twist…….. Sirsasana I want to hold for 2 minutes. Today I held it 1 and a half minutes. Then I got out of the pose. There is still work to do….This tiny alteration to the classic Ashtanga flow makes already a difference.

  2. I do preparation exercises before the challenging asanas and I repeat them. My body tells me when it’s enough. I listen to myself. Rules are guidelines and no laws.

  3. I use as minimum props as possible. I use them when it makes sense. The wall is my favorite tool, especially when I bend backwards.

An asana is accomplished when it has the wished form and when it feels good. One must have the feeling that one can sleep in an asana. Then you’re there.

More than anything else it’s important to establish a daily practice.

I keep practicing at home. It gives me the liberty to adjust the practice to my needs.

Self-study

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How to be an autodidact?

Those who practice at home are autodidacts. There is no teacher who can give feed-back. No adjustments are given. Nevertheless learning takes place. I think it can make sense to understand the learning process. It can accelerate it.

When learning a new asana it can make sense to divide it in tiny steps. Most of the time interim steps can be exercised. To progress slowly is not so frustrating than trying to perform the end form of an asana that is not yet possible.

Sometimes it’s also necessary to vary an asana due to injuries. This was not the case in the pose in the picture (ardha baddha padmottanasana), yet I know other poses that were not possible anymore after my SI joint issues.

How to understand an asana:

  • The first step is to define the asana. In the above picture we see half lotus, a forward bend and a balancing challenge. To learn lotus pose might take time. To open the hips is not done in a few sessions. To bend forward means to lengthen the body first. The movement starts from the hips. In order to facilitate any balancing pose it makes even more sense to breathe evenly. to engage the bandhas, to gaze at a point and to keep the eyes calm. These hints can be a guide. They are instructions.

  • The vinyasa is important, too. Often several ways to get into an asana are possible. The above pose usually begins with posing the leg in half lotus. If this is not possible to look for variations starts here. I.e. one can put the foot against the leg. To do this the hips have to open much less than they have to when performing half lotus pose. This might be a first step.

  • It’s important to find out the own limits. Then one can push them. Forcing oneself into a position that is not yet possible makes not so much sense. Observe your face. Is it relaxed?

Performing easier poses that are doable or exercising interim steps is not the recommended strategy of the Ashtanga yoga community.

Due to my back injury I was no more able to perform asanas that used to be easy for me. I had to exercise variations. I had to omit asanas. That’s why I withdraw from classes. I had to….. This helped me to heal. Yesterday I practiced primary at home with no back pain at all. I could do all the surya namaskara A and B. It exhausted me, but I could do them. I got so weak, but I got stronger already. Patience is necessary. I’m more than happy that I can practice again. That this injury would last 2 years is still a shock for me. I’m so happy and thankful every time I’m on the mat. I see much light at the end of the tunnel. It has been a lesson in being patient and trusting that everything can get better again.

Summary:

Define the asana and find interim steps to get to the final pose. If the final pose is easy, one can search for asanas that are more demanding. Listen to your body.

To document the practice

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This year I started documenting the frequency of my yoga practice. Of course, if one doesn’t write down the practices, the document is of less value. I had to get into the habit to document it. So this calendar is only an orientation. I got into the habit to put the calendar on the table next to my yoga mat. At the end I make a sign that I practiced. A1 stand for Ashtanga primary. A2 stands for Ashtanga second series. It’s indeed satisfying to jot this down. ‘Done’ is the thought that comes up. It gives a feeling of accomplishment no matter how the practice was.

  • Three practices in a week means that there is the possibility to progress.

  • Less than three practice a week, means that one still hasn’t forgotten to practice.

  • Less than one practice a week means that one loses abilities. One gets weaker very fast. Soon one gets stiffer and less flexible, too. The discipline to step on the mat weakens. As a consequence of this all the motivation to practice drops Yet it can be of psychological value to practice here and then. It can mean one is still into it.

More is not always better. This is also true for the asana practice or parts of it. For instance the strength community agrees that after a strength training the body needs a day off in order to integrate the training. Stretching can be done more often, pranayama and meditation as well.

Looking back I think that my body needed the breaks to heal, also the long ones. One cannot find out 100% what was the cause for this back pain that lasted that long (2 years). The character of the pain changed over the two years. Lately it felt as if something was torn. Each time when I practiced I scratched on the wound till it bleeded. Then the healing process had to begin again. In the beginning of the year when I had finished a yoga practice I couldn’t take the steps here without pain. I had to hold myself on the handrail in order to take the steps. This was a bad situation that didn’t motivate me to practice often. Perhaps these forced breaks allowed the body heal.

The frequency of my yoga practice of the last year was not often enough to get back to my level of 2 years ago. Healing came first. I pick me up where I am now. Every day.

As mentioned, sometimes breaks are the best what one can do. I kept the fire burning for this body art also when I practiced only once a week or even less often. That was enough. And since several weeks my back feels so much better. I even forget it when I practice. Sometimes I make a movement that feels awkward. My back quickly reacts with pain, but as quick as the pain comes, as quick it disappears. I always sigh and I’m glad. What progress.

To document the practice can be very useful:

  1. It tells me where I am. The frequency of a practice is often the reason why no progress can be seen. Or the opposite.

  2. It gives me hints for the activities that could make sense to do.

  3. It can help to spot mistakes and to avoid injuries even.

What to document:

  1. The frequency of the practice via a calendar.

  2. The progress of the asanas via pictures and films.

  3. Also the nutrition can be documented.

A calendar, a camera and a blog or journal are the tools.