There were questions this morning about sequencing/teaching, about where and how I learn what I teach. Befuddling question, and I think I gave half a dozen very lame answers. Other teachers. My own practice. Trying to answer student's questions and their 'challenges' or interests in the form of a sequence. You tube. Books. A better answer is this: I meditate on it and I work on it really hard. The impetus or inspiration comes to me from those various sources (my practice and what I've learned. How I learned that tree pose can be done on your hands. What pose taught me how to use my hands to deepen forward folds. What the big toe is for...or the day I felt my heart both breaking and healing itself by it's willingness to break in ustrasana.) (my students and what they ask: how do I find ease in my low back? What's wrong with my knee? Why do I feel so vulnerable in hip openers/rageful and energetic after corework, terrified of inversions, blissy after backbends?)
The birth of a sequence is usually either a pose I want to teach, a body part I want to experience, or an idea. An idea such as you are grounded and the floor is solid, all is okay. Or, as in the last few weeks, exploring the yamas. I am teaching Bhramacharya, for example. I ponder and write and ponder more while I chop my brussel sprouts and watch pots coming to boil: what does Bhramacharya mean for us, for me? What does it feel like when I am practicing it? What are the things in my life that keep me from it. Abstinance. Chastisty. The self as sex. The sex as potential, as gift, as precious. Or as waste, as promiscuity, as escape, as taken-for-granted. To walk with god, to see body as temple. To act and move and feel as if my every moment were holy, and doors to the sacred were everywhere. If those feelings were a pose, which would they be?
To me, they would be deeply rooted and embodied and grounded, as the truth of every day moments has a lot to do with everyday things like floors. Getting out of ideas and ego and dreams and coming back to the way feet touch the earth. But from that rootedness there would be an awakening of the raw forces, powers, and pitch of passions inside. The force of muscles and urges. The power of a foot. These things led me to think of tadasana, rooted like mountain, and finding tadasana in all the other poses; side plank vashithasana, on our backs, in our warriors, all through chataraunga dandasana, staff pose, purvotonnasana. Even handstand and headstand: they are upside down, but the strong lines of energy are the same. Just flipped.
But body as sacred also involves wild emotions, opening up, the bravery of relationship and intimacy. The ways our bodies have slowly closed off over the years. Physically opening them up again happens in heart, shoulder, back opening. Emotionally opening the body up again involves feeling that heart lifting and owning it. Being willing to explore, to give, to let go into we know not where this is going.
Kapinjalasana - partridge or bird drinking raindrops pose - is a combination of vashithasana (side plank) and padanangustha dhanurasana (extreme wheel pose). It is an extremely challening pose - one that Iyengar rates at 43 on a difficulty scale that goes to 60. Now, most human beings will never hit a ten. To look at a 43 in a standard issue yoga class is damn near insane.
BUT: the elements of the pose are things that a student can experience and feel in the poses he already knows. Tadasana. Chattaruanga. Dhanurasana.
The way to kapinjalasana is made of practicing those things we already know. Just as the route to Bhramacharya is ownership and acceptance of everyday moments - floor, sex, age, body - and practicing them with an effort towards learning. Holding them with an attitude of revenence and gratitude and ultimately, sanctity. The burgeoning billowing ideas of life that flow from that.
St. Theresa de avila writes that the whole way to heaven is heaven itself. We become more alive when we accept the here and now as our path, our own circumstances as our training ground.
The word vinyasa means 'to place with intention' or to place mindfully. Like poetry, or music, vinyasa involves a very practical and scientific understanding of how poses work, that poses prepare the body for next poses, and that poses have counterposes and sister poses and relatedness. Building a sequence is practicable and meaningful: you are learning (maybe not consciously, but on the level of muscle memory and fascial capacity) every step along the way). This aspect of sequencing is learned: teacher training, reading endlessly, learning the ashtanga series, reading and rereading the books that break it all down.
But vinyasa is also like poetry, like jazz, in its creativity: there are many ways to approach the same end. There is joy in suddenness and compliment and contrast. There is revolution in challenging our stories and considering the writing of new ones.
However, sequencing is NOT choreography. It isn't just made to look pretty, to impress, or to reach some dramatic crescendo. There is a difference between the arts of ballet or gymnastics or even baseball and that of yoga. The point is not to be pretty or to perform. The point is to find that path, to re-form the body, to slip into the body and realize it is, itself, our soul.
This is what I do: I have that idea, I try to feel the idea in my body and brain, and then I try to understand how to build to that pose. I read Iyengar and Jois again. I journal about it endlessly. I take long walks with my dog.
And I think about my students. What their bodies are good at, where they hold back, what they love to do, what they are capable of.
I come up with poses that link all these things together, like breadcrumbs. And then we wander around.
I doodle. I go back to my books. And I get my hands on the mat.
And then I stand in front of a class and I say things, sometimes planned, sometimes spontaneous, always more dialogue than it appears (I am speaking to YOUR left foot, oh student hiding in the second row. Yes, I mean YOUR body holds fear and joy, you lady who will not look me in the eye).
Sometimes I horrendously screw it up. I have to back track. I have to let my whole wonderful jazz riff go. I have to swallow my pride and start over again. I have to somehow explain what my toes are actually doing in warrior one and not only explain what they are doing but what muscle groups to fire up in your legs to make them do what they are doing, and this comes off horribly.
It is art, and study, and practice. It is always practice. It is an effort at communication and intimacy. The secret is I usually have to drop all my plans when faced with the different students in class - they want to be challenged more than I was planning, or have a sudden injury that means we can't be on our knees all class, or they are clearly wanting to do core work when I intended to play with knee alignment. So I fail, but those very failings are what I then start to wonder about. And that births the next class. And we go on.