By: Jodi Fischtein, 889 Yoga Teacher
889 Yoga is a warm cocoon for many of us. This is helpful as our yoga path calls for deeper self attunement, with an opportunity to understand the powerful effects of metta, gratitude and compassion.
With self introspection (pratyahara) we can reformulate our thinking patterns and bias, regarding the way we view ourselves and those around us. The shifts in our mind and body patterns arrive in our daily lives, meditation and asana practice.
I was asked to write about advanced asana, or the level 2-3 practice. As a student, I enjoy the heat generated in a vinyasa practice. As a yoga teacher, I feel the only way to share the level 2-3 practice is within the context of safety and security. As a mother, I tend to blend the qualities of seeing and listening deeply to each student, observing the spoken and unspoken language.
Sometimes we refer to this as “holding the space” for our students. We appreciate kindness when it flows our way, and perhaps we feel the therapeutic presence amongst some yoga teachers, as they guide us to an intention of personal attunement.
“What does a level 2-3 vinyasa yoga practice mean to you?”
My feelings around the rigours of yoga asana evolve alongside the joy and humility. Some days I am strong and content. Other days I could roll myself into any random mat like a sushi roll, and hide there.
Is this the flux of hormones?
Could it be a healthy sense of doubt about myself or the practice?
Is there a full moon?
Did I need that second cappuccino?
Do I judge myself about consuming caffeine?
Just as I contemplate this, I shift back the sublime thoughts and contentment. I try to sit with myself, as we are always advised to notice what comes up. There is little success with letting my thoughts “go” but there is enormous success with letting my thoughts “be”.
“Nosce te ipsum.” “Know thyself.”
Our yoga and meditation practice should feel similar to the goal of the Buddhist, which is to maximize human potential. Taking a mindful approach, we may embody our yoga practice with the freshness of a beginner’s mind. I have often said that I am a protozoa within an amoeba swimming in the meditation and asana pond.
We now look at 889’s level 2-3 practice. A typical vinyasa session warms the body, linking breath to movement. Over time we explore the peaks within the asanas. We begin to add layers of complexity when our practice has been cultivated over a period of time. We experience humility when faced with an asana that takes months or years to understand.
There should be a familiarity with pranayama (breathing methods) and a visceral understanding of the bandhas (groups of muscles that engage in a way to move energy, such as a lock or valve).
Our yoga practice, once we contemplate it, means something personal to each one of us.
What do we choose to see?
What resonates for us?
The glory of an intense vinyasa arrives as my liberation. Vinyasa flow sequences hold a place in my daily grind. The utility of vinyasa begins with the simple analogy of a strong horse in the paddock. I am that horse pacing within the paddock. I am content, yet sense my confinement. The paddock represents the big life chosen, and the commitments as a mother and wife. Still, I have the urge to run wild, to get out of my head. All the pent up aggressions I held in my muscles are drained away. I leave the studio vibrating and relaxed.
More questions will arise within the evolution of our practice, such as how we honor the deeper meaning of our life.
Once we harness this vigorous asana, will we feel content?
Will we grasp for more sensation, validation?
Balancing our physical practice with a bit of stillness is logical. Guided meditation is the natural compliment to a level 2-3 practice. Our intention, or our sankalpa expresses a commitment to knowing our true nature. We seek to better know ourselves, which will sustain us long after we’ve mastered the peak expressions in a level 2-3 class. The sankalpa becomes a testament to us reaching for our most compassionate selves.
Some of us live for our yoga practice as an identifier, as it is everything, it is all things, and it lives deep inside.
Is your love of yoga perceivable to your friends and family?
Is it a purely secular practice or approached with deep reverence?
What is tangible for us?
Is the arm balance easier than finding stillness?
Some of us will gravitate to the theological and metaphysical aspects of yoga, while others will dilute the practice into an expression of secular. Some will preach only to their lineage of yoga, while others seek refuge in deconstructing the practice as based purely on the physiological, seeing only ligaments, bones, fascia and soft tissues within the yoga asana.
The teacher holds the space and sets the tone for the class. If it is one of warmth, then the group will integrate those feelings amongst themselves within the space. If it is rather quiet, serious and clinical in its instruction then these sentiments will exist in the room. We gather with the intention of satsang, a sense of being with the truth amongst your kula, your yoga tribe.
In my 2-3 vinyasa flow class I will say “Sthira sukham asanam.” This Sanskrit sutra indicates the desired countenance of contentment, steadiness and equanimity within your practice. There is less chatter from me on the basics of asana in an advanced class, as each student is expected to have an understanding of fundamentals. If there are health concerns, sporting injuries or pregnancy, there should be increased awareness on my behalf and on that of the student.
If a new student finds their way into my advanced class, I will offer simple variations for every “apex” pose. We should come to the space with lightness of heart. There should exist a collective patience and kindness. This is the framework from which we may find a sustainable practice.
On Sanskrit: I often share yoga asanas in Sanskrit with deep reverence. I am humble in my pronunciation and always seeking guidance. I share Sanskrit so that the students become comfortable listening to new sounds that comprise the matrix of yoga language. In this way, we can find ease in yoga studios abroad where English may not be spoken, yet we can recall the poses in Sanskrit.
Some yogis are seekers of the glorious cardiovascular surge and strength resulting from advanced asana practice. They have invested the time to immerse themselves, and for many this feels delicious. I mention delicious as in the rasa, the sweet nectar of a sensory experience within the fluid practice of vinyasa. We feel our body buzz, breathe and vibrate. We marinate within a transformative edge. The ongoing question to ask ourselves should be, do we imbibe the gospel of Yoga Sutra 2.46?
2.46: The posture (asana) for Yoga meditation should be steady, stable, and motionless, as well as comfortable, and this is the third of the eight rungs of Yoga.
(sthira sukham asanam)
The experiential learning associated with advanced physical asana is fantastic yet with limitations if not embracing all aspects of a well rounded practice. You can find yourself mastering the peak poses, yet still ask yourself, “what makes a meaningful life?”
The physical prowess of advanced asana indulges a healthy sense of ego, so as long as we lead a balanced life. We can’t truly maintain any extreme approach to our life, as it may not likely be the way to the truth or feel deeply satisfying.
I close this essay by offering feedback from various practitioners on what a level 2-3 practice means to them. The sensible means of assessing one’s abilities leads us back to “know thyself.”
What does a Level 2-3 yoga practice signify to you?
Heather C. Toronto, Physiotherapist & Yoga teacher & movement therapist:
“I consider level 2/3 students to have the self awareness to modify practice as needed. Meditation, pranayama are included, there is expectation that fundamental postures don’t require breakdown, they’re comfortable exploring inversions. Sequences can be intricate, advanced postures can be played with, and more importantly, folks are comfortable learning intricacies.”
Audrey S. 889 Yoga teacher, yogini & chef:
“As one moves deeper into it, a sense of ownership and responsibility takes place and leads the practice.”
Jennifer A. Toronto, Yoga instructor & physiotherapist. Resides in Abudhabi teaching yoga & pilates:
“Level 2/3 requires an understanding of postures and stamina. Practitioners should be able to modify and push through challenges rather than blindly follow into pain or injury. 2/3 pose challenges require integration and body awareness.”
Jennifer Birenbaum, Mother of 4, Co-owner & Director, Camp Walden, recent yoga teaching graduate:
“A practice where the foundation is strong and the flow moves at a good pace.”
Laura G. LCSW, MSW. Mother, Therapist, Colorado:
“Level 2/3 for me is holding poses until it burns, meditation, and an inversion.”
Marni L., BEd Physical & Health Ed. McGill, Toronto Realtor:
Tara T., MBA, HR Manager, mother to be:
“For me yoga is the embodiment of lifelong learning. I promote and enjoy the concept of lifelong learning in my professional life and yoga is one of the ways I do this in my personal life. Level 2/3 opens up new poses to be “imperfect” in and therefore a new place of concentration and excitement.”
Ariel W., Toronto. Mother, Aerial yoga, Yoga Instructor:
Level 1 your eyes begin to open. Level 2/3 you stop for a moment. You remain still and it’s time you begin to walk and work backwards. You begin to observe the flaws and the greatness, you begin to manifest change. Why I go almost everyday. There is no stillness in yoga, it’s always vibrating, everything is vibrating.”
Posted on November 30, 2015