Mala report: Nancy Gilgoff-style Sun Salutes are hard

So… how’d your yoga mala go today? (Feel free to comment below.)


While we normally eschew “practice reports” — how what I felt or experienced relates to you is beyond me, unless I really think something more “universal” transpired — I think a few things did occur this morning that might be worth your time.

So let’s get to it:

  • I mentioned in my build-up to the mala post that when Bobbie and I last did our one, on New Year’s Day in India, I experienced the greatest sense of prana — flowing and moving through the body — ever. Although not quite a repeat, this morning’s practice felt extremely energetic. The body tingles, the sweat pours (I was on my 17th Sun Salute when it started, to give you a sense of the cold room I was in), the muscles at times rebel and at others are willing partners. I assume a good deal of this has to do with the extreme vinyasa nature of the practice: lots of breath, lots of movement, and thus lots of movement. My less rational side can see where being able to harness that energy in a controlled way could lead to “feats” like melting snow, staying awake, etc.
  • In some ways, the mala practice is like Ashtanga on steroids. What I mean is that one of the distinguishing characteristics of Ashtanga is the set routine; knowing what’s coming is one reason, I’ve found, that I can focus more inwardly than in other styles of yoga. I wouldn’t call it zoning out; I’d call it zoning in. (A nod, I suppose, to Tim Miller’s “Working In” workshops.) Just repeating Sun Salutes heightens this; I also find that you immediately realize when your mind is wandering (outward). How? You forget what number you’re on. Which stinks.
  • I’ve done malas now both solo, like today, with Bobbie (quite a few times), in a group that just powered on through it and then in what’s perhaps its most “traditional” form: Setting clear intentions, up to and including something being said before each Sun Salute. (Diana Christinson did one this way in honor of Guruji after he passed.) Each has its own particular strengths and, I suppose, weaknesses, although I can’t say I really think about them. The “full version” really can be a moving experience.
  • But you’re really waiting for me to justify the headline. OK, here goes. I broke — I think in the traditional manner — my mala into four sets of 27 Sun Salutes (the first five included the five breath down dog that begins the Ashtanga practice). The second set I did in the style/form that Nancy taught in her “How I was taught” workshop. Most critically, that means hands on the floor during the forward fold, even if that means bending your knees to do so. Given my lack of flexibility, that means bending my knees. And as a result, two things: 1. my quads got the extra workout of, essentially, mini-Utkatasanas; 2. because I wasn’t extending out as much as if I were bringing my hands to my calves (as I do), I had a lot less open space to breath. And so those 27 Sun Salutes were hard. I’m interested to see if there’s physical after-effects tomorrow. (So far, I’m not too sore.) At the same time, there was a notable sense of being “grounded,” one of those words I hear all the time in yoga circles and don’t really “get.” I get it more now. (And, no, this isn’t my most “universalized” moment of yoga reflection.)

A more succinct way of saying all that is: I’m a big advocate of this four-times-or-so-a-year practice. If you haven’t ever done one, give it a try come the Summer Solstice.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

One thought on “Mala report: Nancy Gilgoff-style Sun Salutes are hard”

  1. I celebrated my first spring equinox with 108 sun salutations today in a group of about 10 people and it was beautiful. powerful. deep. i am so amazed by this type of practice. afterwards we had a lovely brunch together 🙂

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