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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

sometimes smaller is better

after reading this description of yoga class levels, i'm clearly a level 2 student who's working her way up to a level 3:

INTRODUCTORY is for beginning students to introduce them to the fundamentals of alignment and breathwork. Primary poses and yoga basics will be taught, including the use of props. Emphasis will be on the standing poses, stretching and strengthening the legs, back and shoulders.

LEVEL 1 is for students having completed the Introductory level. The emphasis of this course is on refining and building endurance and introducing more advanced standing poses. It does not include shoulderstand. This class is suitable for students who have practiced other styles of yoga, but is not suitable for those who have never studied yoga before.

LEVEL 2 is for students who have completed Level 1 and focuses on refining the standing poses and introduces the revolved standing poses and shoulderstand. Preparations for inversions (handstand, headstand & shoulderstand ) will be introduced, as well as preparatory actions for backbends and forward bends.

LEVEL 3 is for intermediate/advanced students who have completed Level 2. Headstand, forearm balance, and full arm balance (handstand) will be introduced. Additional backbend poses and mini-arm balances are also included. Regular practice outside of class is strongly encouraged.

note that the key difference between level 2 and 3 includes the poses that i'm having the most difficulty with, that is, headstand, handstand, and mini-arm balances. and why? because i have a fear of falling. falling on my butt, falling on my back, falling on my face.

doing a headstand and handstand against a wall gives me some sense of security, mainly because i know that there's no way i can fall in that direction. so if i concentrate on leaning my body weight against the wall, i can somehow get into and stay in the pose without having a panic attack.

many of the classes that i've taken are so large that the teachers don't deal with headstands and handstands, either because stopping to do them breaks the flow of the class, or because there just isn't enough wall space to handle the crowd. there are a few teachers that do manage to throw in those harder inversions, but the students end up having to do them in the middle of the floor. that obviously doesn't work for me. at least not yet.

what i need are the smaller classes that have 20 or fewer students, where everyone can comfortably drag his/her mat to a spot along the wall and the teacher, an assistant, or even some advanced students can assist "stranded" students. like myself.

recently, i found two such classes.

both heath house's level 2/3 class at yoga works in westwood and peter barnett's level 2/3 class at black dog yoga in sherman oaks were just what i needed. both teachers helped spot me as i kicked myself clumsily into position. they made sure i was stable, then left me to hold myself upside down for as long as i could. eventually, i would let myself down gracelessly, then sit there and wonder how i could do that maneuver once again on my own because i was expected to try it again at least one more time without the teacher's help.

but being the wimp that i am, i'd make a few weak (and unsuccessful) attempts, then just go into child pose or downdog and scold myself for not trying to make a more valiant effort.

the same went with arm balances such as crow/crane pose (bakasana), scorpion (vrischikasana), and other poses whose names i can remember just about as well as i can do the poses themselves: i can't. am i unable to execute these poses because my arms and abs are too weak, or is it because i'm not trying hard enough?

the only way i can move along with my practice is to do more of what i can't do, rather than spending time perfecting what i already can. i think it's time for me to spend less time in classes that focus on the music and more time in classes that focus on the poses themselves.

it's time to roll up my sleeves, so to speak, and get cracking... and hopefully not my head nor any of my bones!