We have successfully completed our second week of training! Here I highlight little bits of the week, in a style I’ll be the first to label as ‘rambling’:
Last Wednesday I took advantage of an opportunity to go paragliding with my instructors. Everyone was invited, and I had never been paragliding, so I was excited to go. When it came time to go, none of my other classmates were interested, so it ended up just being me and my instructors (they hadn’t been paragliding either). The four of us piled in a tiny taxi, got to the office to fill out paperwork, and then got shuffled into a van to head up to Mount Sarangkot for take off. I was directed toward Gary, my tandem jump guide. As he made sure my harness was secure with some easy-to-follow instructions: don’t mess with these buckles. I watched others take to the skies under the big sails. Soon it was our turn, we walked down the hill, had to pause for a good wind, and then quickly shuffled toward the edge. The wind caught us and smoothly lifted us into air. We slowly curved, looking for thermals to bring us up. My stomach contemplated the strange sensations but luckily I didn’t need the barf bag Gary had nicely stowed in my front pocket.
High above and down below us other paragliders and vultures made slow circles, looking for the thermals. We managed to catch one and slowly, circling, we were lifted up to catch glimpses of the Annapurna range. The whole time we had expansive view of Pokhara and Lake Phewa, so even when the mountains were blocked there was plenty to look at. We floated our over the water and made our way down to the landing spot. When we were coming down, Gary said something along the lines of ‘oh shoot, didn’t want to do that.’ The landing area was right next to the lake, and we were headed in the direction of the water. Were we going to go for a swim?
Luckily his seven years of tandem jumping experience came through as we gently touched down, without even having to run. Lovely! The guys were waiting for me, and we enjoyed watching others land while waiting for the van to bring us back. After a quick snack of momos while they transferred our pictures to cds, we were on our way back to the hotel. We went up and came down safely – our paraglide adventure had been a success! I also learned that my instructors are really fun loving and goofy when they aren’t in ‘intense teacher’ mode. It was a great time. I’ll have more pictures to show you when I’m back at a computer, as my flight pictures are on a cd.
The classes have continued, each with their own challenges. When it comes to practicing the asanas, my body has definitely gotten stronger, and I am more flexible in some ways but less flexible in others. I been coming to terms with the ‘this is what my body can do today, now’ versus the ‘but I could do it yesterday’ trap. I still struggle with bubbles of frustration these occasions, but I have been practicing my self-compassion skills. I am doing my best to not strain my joints as we have two more weeks! For some asana the mantra is ‘I’m nowhere close to doing the whole asana now, but maybe in ten years I’ll get there.’ Our instructors are very good at consistently reminding us to not look at how others do their versions of the pose – we need to learn what the pose is for our own bodies. For me, that includes straps, blocks, and modifications!
I imagine that going through these own struggles with my body will help me when it comes time to share the practice with others. My instructors frequently swing by to adjust my poses, helping me get much deeper than I realized I could with minimal pain, and I am always thankful for the guidance! Sometimes however, this results in funny things happening: yesterday my Ashtanga teacher came by and tried to help me push my hips knees down in a hip opening pose. My training from judo kicked in and I started to tap (in judo you do that to get someone to stop whatever they are doing – a choke, armbar, etc – so that you don’t break or pass out). He didn’t stop (this isn’t judo), and I ended up going ‘stop stop stop!’ with a laugh, since my body was indeed not broken.
Asanas are a small part of the training. We practice them because, as one instructor says if you ‘torture the body the mind will follow.’ This sounds brutal, but traditionally yoga is a tool for managing the mind (along with other tools that I’m sure I will discuss at a later time). Physically practicing the asanas is an accessible place for people to start, building up a strong will in times of discomfort as well as a healthy body to carry us through this world.
In our alignment class we have taken four days to cover two poses: samisthiti, which could be mistaken for standing upright at attention (but is way more complex, and I’ll give a detailed description so you can take a break from your blog reading to try it out ) and child’s pose (a back extension pose crouching on the ground). Many of the other asanas include the body positions in these poses, so they are a good spot to start.
‘Stand upright, toes and heels together, pressing both the inside and the outside of your heels and the balls of your feet together, toes spread wide (lift your three middle toes on each foot if you’re fancy, or put the weight on the outsides of your feet if you have flat feet). Engage your legs, lifting your knee bones up. Tuck tailbone in and engage the glutes. Shoulders are rolled back and down. Look up slightly, and then bring chin down so it is parallel to the floor. Gaze is forward or at the nose. Arms are straight and by the sides. Fingers are spread, active, pointing downward, palms toward the body.’ Fun, eh?
We normally have Sundays off completely, but this week we got to go on a field trip to Australian Camp, and spot just outside Dhampus. Sunday we piled into the bus and headed up to the village, and then hiked the hour and a half up to the camp. Here we stayed in a guest house, and it was rainy most of the day so we had some forced family fun in the little cafe on site. Guitar, cards, journaling, drawing: people found ways to amuse themselves by the little stove that kicked out a small amount of heat.
It stopped raining for a short while in the evening, though it was still cloudy. A few of us, including the instructors, went for a short hike to the next village, which was very quaint. I also learned valuable tips from one on how to avoid an angry Indian elephant. These teachers are full of useful information! We had dalbaht, a bonfire in the evening, and the sky cleared enough for a beautiful view of the stars. We curled into our chilly cabins with hopes that the weather would stay clear for the morning.
Morning came and didn’t look very clear. I unfolded my curled up body and crawled into the crisp air of our unheated cabin. Outside the light was nice, even if you couldn’t really see the mountains in the clouds. People slowly emerged from their cabins and a large thermos of tea appeared. Practicing Ashtanga yoga seemed like an awful lot of work on such a cold damp morning, but our teacher bounced out of his cabin and soon we were rolling out our mats on the damp grass.
Uffda! I was stiff. A week of yoga, a little hiking, then sleeping in a ball to stay warm had done a number on my mobility. Thankfully the clouds parted as we practiced and the sun came out, warming our bones and producing a magnificent view of one of the Annapurna peaks. I had no idea she was so close! I was wonderfuly distracted by the view, and spent much of shavasana hoping we’d still see her when we opened our eyes.
After pictures and some breakfast in the sunshine we packed up and hiked back down to the bus. It was a very lovely walk, with sweeping views of the valley, lots of stone steps, and bursts of red rhododendron around many bends. I was sad when it was over! It was a quiet bus ride as we were tired from the adventure and the reality of going back to an afternoon of classes (including more Ashtanga).
So much happens every day that I’ll have to write more later when I have more time and mental energy. Even now, it is already Friday by the time I have gotten this posted! So much goes into every day. Delving into the mind (or attempting to) through pranayama and mediation has been especially interesting, and deserves its own post (or more). It is likely that this won’t happen until after the class is done, as most of our time off is spent studying! Until then, Namaste!