Wow, had a great day yesterday. I actually carried off my plan and went to Mysore practice with Juan at noon, and then home for a meeting with Kelly and then to Gioconda's flow class at Bodhi Yoga at 5:30. I had a really great time in both practices yesterday and a fantastic evening out to the Springs. I do have to say that Barton Springs is really cold. I know its a blinding flash of the obvious- 68 degrees spring fed and all that- but wow- that, to me, goes beyong refreshing into, well, damn cold. Next time I am bringing my wet suit.
Anyway- after a great night's sleep and a lovely pranayama, mantra and meditation practice this morning I am finishing up a cup of chai and looking ahead into this lovely day. On the agenda is the first day of my new class at Castle Hill at 4:30. I am pretty excited about that. Level 2-4 is how the class is listed on the schedule and that is a kind of interesting span of levels, really. Especially for a 75 minute class because it gives less time to build the poses is stages.
Also level distinctions really mean something different studio to studio and regionally. The hardest public class I ever went to was back 1999-2001 when I used to drive to Phoenix for Desiree Rumbaugh's Level 2 class. That class was really just 2 hours of strong standing poses, lots of arm balances, deep back bends, deep forward bends, long inversions and was, well, shall we say, a huge leap from her level 1. She used to say, "Level 1 means feet on the floor. Level 2 mean feet in the air." And that was pretty much it. It was a "hanging around upside down" kind of class. Oh, but what fun.
She told me one time that the inspiration behind that class was that when she was a student the only time she got to work on advanced poses was at workshops and so she wanted a public class where she could teach people those things and they would have the opportunity to learn how to do them in class not just at workshops. And she did. And we did. And it was so fun. So, in this case, that stuff is the Level 4 aspect of the class. But the level 2 aspect of the class is the bridge between "feet on the floor" and "feet in the air." Somewhere you have to learn how to get them off the floor, it seems.
And at Breath and Body Yoga, while those classes are all called "open level classes" their practice is so strong and powerful, there is no way I would call the average class there "level 1" or "beginner friendly". Although I have to say that I went to Desirae's Saturday morning class over the weekend and she did a remarkable job managing the room while I was practicing, her teacher trainees were practicing and her long time bad-ass students were practicing and so were 3 brand new students. Really, it was quite impressive. And she was super friendly and all of us felt worked and inspired, so it can certainly be done!
The truth is no matter what every class is a mixed level class and we have to educate ourselves, and if we teach we have to educate our students, how to skillfully manage our self in class. There are always modifications and substitutions that can be made. There really are. But at a certain point if we are in a "feet off the floor" class and our skill level is "feet on the floor" probably, a different class is going to be more enjoyable and beneficial. Or if we have have a wrist or shoulder injury and we always going to flow classes, well, it's just going to be counter productive at best, injurious more likely.
It is such an obvious yet elusive thing about yoga practice to embrace. That is, that we benefit the most from the level of practice that we are truly at- not the level we want to be at, not the level we think we should be at, not the level other people think we are at, not the level we were at a year ago or will be at a year from now. The level we are truly at is where our biggest potential for growth exists.
My spiritual teacher says The Path is like a maze of rooms. The key to the next room is hidden somewhere in the room we are in and the key to the room after that is in the next room and so on. So we cannot skip a room. We have to really cover the territory of the current room, find the key, find the lock, understand how they work together and then enter the new room. And then we are a beginner to that room. Not un-practiced, not without transferable skills, but still, in a whole new room.
Same with asana, each of the basic asanas is like a key to the asanas that follow on the syllabus. We can "skip" and use props and assists and neglect the alignment principles and so on, but at some point, if we have done that (And we all do it, so don't feel bad here) we find our self in a room lacking the skills to find that particular room's key. (Many times this is called injury.) It is not the end of the world, we just have to back track and revisit the other rooms and find some key that we had overlooked.
I like this about the practice. There is always something we are mastering and there is always something to which we are a beginner. Really its never dull.
Anyway, the Castle Hill 4:30 class is both- feet on and off the floor- so come and join me. Breath and Body Yoga 6:30 class tonight is a forward bend and hip opening emphasis. We back bended like crazy up there last week. (Must... work.... for balance...)