Inhale, exhale, inhale right leg, hold, exhale, hold, knees chest, inhale, exhale... One...two...three.... And so it goes on. Again. Repeat. Day after day. Are we on the left or right side. What's my neighbour doing? Oops nope I'm on the wrong side.
Bloody hell, another vinyasa? I wonder if Vinay will notice if I skip it? Will the other students notice? Actually I'm only cheating myself. I'll just damn well do it! Now which side am I on? The right. So I start with a bent left. I think...?
Broken. Mended. Only to be broken all over again. I felt for the people alongside me. My jaw was in a permanent grimace and I was oozing anger and frustration.
This was my ongoing inner turmoil whilst participating in the Prana Vashya four week intensive. A dynamic yoga practice originating in Mysore, by Vinay Kumar. It's tougher than an Ashtanga class and you sweat more than a Bikram class. Within the first few days I'd already signed up for an extra week.
After our morning practice of the primary series and pranayama we eat. Then I needed to sleep. Then it was off to the shala again to repeat!
Prana Vashya is a 4 week intensive where for 6 days a week you practice the Prana Vashya primary series (2 hours), pranayama (1 hour) and a backbending practice (2 hours) in the afternoon.
After this particular practice of the primary series, one of my fellow students commented that he had observed me staring blankly at the sequence sheet throughout our morning session in the hot and sweaty shala. Ouch. People were noticing my frustration. This was a turning point. A reminder. To surrender.
So I surrendered. And the practice got a little easier. I felt like I was starting to ‘get it’. This lasted a day, possibly two. Then it was back to locked jaw and a permanent grimace throughout my morning practice.
The primary series is a static sequence of 60+ asanas and is similar to the Ashtanga primary series, with the key differences being that the sun salutes (which become the vinyasas) are different (they have a right and left side) and two movements are made with one breath. So each movement has a half breath and no breath is wasted. Confused? I was! For those of you that practice Ashtanga, you understand the need to take a vinyasa after performing one side of each asana in the floor series, in the case of Prana Vashya you take a vinyasa, but you have to think about which side of the asana you have performed to determine which side of the vinyasa you are to take. At the same time you are processing this, you aren’t allowed to waste a breath!
Prana Vashya is practiced Mysore style (practitioners start with the opening chant and sun salutations, the rest of your practice is done at your pace, holding every asana for five breaths). Once or twice a week Vinay would lead a Led Practice and when he was feeling strict, he would announce at the start of practice that if he caught anyone wasting or sneaking a breath, you would be down on your mat for the rest of practice! It was boot camp yoga! This caused me a lot of stress. Isn’t yoga supposed to calm the nervous system?!
I’ve never been one to shy away from discipline and when I set my mind to something, I am very focused and determined. I was determined to master this practice (hence signing up for an extra week within the first few days). However, I never did. And of the people I met (some who return to Mysore on an annual basis to practice Prana Vashya) I got the impression that they were still working on mastering this practice! They have felt in ‘the flow’ with it only a handful of times of all the years they have been practicing.
For me, asana practice is about using the physical postures as a moving meditation. Honoring and respecting the uniqueness of my body on a day to day basis. I’ve been blessed to practice many styles of yoga in as many countries, and have found many practices that have met this goal for me, using asana as a moving meditation.
The perfectionist and stubbornness within me was determined to master Prana Vashya, however in hindsight, I wasn’t being true to myself. As someone who has to actively manage energy and stress levels, this intense style of yoga wasn’t right for me. Instead of letting my ego get in the way, I should’ve honoured the needs of my mental, physical and emotional well-being and known when to let it go.
By the time I had completed my 5 weeks, I had a huge dislike for yoga. To dislike my passion was difficult to come to terms with. It was 2 weeks before I could return to my mat!
This account is my personal experience of the primary series, Vinay is an amazing teacher and cares very deeply for his students. He is compassionate and often has a cheeky twinkle in his eye.
I loved the pranayama and backbending practices of the intensive. Already having a daily pranayama practice, I enjoyed spending on hour focusing on the breath. Everyone is prescribed a program depending on their level and lung capacity including full yoga breath, nadi sodhana (with different counts and breath retentions), shitali, brahmari and kapalabhati.
And as for the backbending, we would all warm up together and then Vinay works with you individually to work up towards some very funky backbends. He had me doing backbends I never imagined myself capable of. If I ever return to Mysore, then I would certainly do the backbending classes again.
If you have any thoughts, comments or questions, please feel free to get in touch!
Love Lili x