Tuesday, February 19, 2008

getting split

In ashtanga yoga, "getting split" is when you stop doing the full primary series and instead go right into the intermediate series. There might be another, cooler-sounding Sanskrit term for it. I've only heard it referred to this way though, making it sound like I've just been cracked in half. Actually, there are quite a few poses (in both primary and intermediate series) which do feel quite a bit like getting split in half.

By the time you get split, you've already been doing the full primary and half of the intermediate series, which means a very long practice. I would take nearly 2 hours, sometimes longer when I was feeling sluggish. So getting split should be a nice relief, cutting at least 30 minutes off your practice. It wasn't a nice relief though, at least at first -- I felt tight, weird, and out of sorts. It felt like going through physical withdrawal, as though my body was craving primary series.

And maybe some ego withdrawal, too. Primary series is all stuff I've worked on a long time, and gotten somewhat capable at doing. Intermediate series is all the poses where I flop around like a fish out of water. So getting split meant getting tossed right out of my comfort zone, and into my asphyxiating fish zone.

Well, maybe not quite that bad. It is nice to get finished a bit earlier, and we still do full primary on Fridays. Mostly, I think it's the shock of doing something new, after being in the same routine for so long.

The same principle applies to practicing a musical instrument, I think. We have to follow a routine, work on the same exercises consistently for months or sometimes years. But just as important is knowing when to move on, to replace it with something new -- and not get too attached to that heady feeling of competence. Because once you've mastered an exercise, it's only going to plateau, and then become self-indulgent. It's no longer training the mind, just stoking the ego.

And an overly-stoked ego means it's time to get split.

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