Thursday, 17 June 2010

Fear and loathing in triang mukha...

I know it’s called triang mukha ekapeda pashimottanasana really but isn’t that just to much of a mouthful?
As I may have mentioned before, I have some serious issues with this pose. Innocuous as it may seem to others, for as long as I can remember I have been experiencing overwhelming emotions when practicing it, mainly on the second side. I remember asking Noah about it when I was in India in January, at which point my issue was anger. Now I always preface this with “I’m not an angry person, but...” which I am beginning to realise is a false statement. Just because I don’t consider myself an angry person, we all get angry, it’s just what we do with the anger that makes a difference. Some shout and scream and swear or break things (of course nobody reading this blog would do any of those things I’m sure...) but I suppose I fall into the "burying it" category - so which is healthier? Unless I’m at work that is, where I seem to just explode momentarily and then get back to normal quickly (and I’m going to blame the office environment for that!). Anyway, a few months ago I wrote that I got a really really strong adjustment in the pose and got so angry I actually thought I was going to yell or hit my teacher. For such a long time afterwards I would dread the pose just in case I got adjusted, and was probably rushing my 5 breaths – after the first side I would always think “yes!! I got away with it!” knowing I was unlikely to get adjusted on the dreaded second side as nobody likes an un-even adjustment. 
And so this continued, right up until I went to Edinburgh to study with Kino. And while I was there, the anger changed to border-line tears, which then became the status quo. Just as I approached the fifth count I would almost reach the point where the breath would become the deep inhalation that precedes sobbing. But as this would hit just as I was about to come out of the pose I would breathe my way out, relieved to have dodged it for another day. I was even modifying the pose to make the feeling less extreme, and something my friend J said about Cary spotting that she wasn’t flexing her whole foot made me realise I was doing exactly the same, with my right leg outstretched I could minimise the depth of the discomfort in my right hip by easing off the stretch. So all the while I was half wishing that the tears would come, and that this thing would shift and be gone, I was also cheating and backing off. This wasn’t a huge feature of my practice, just one of those many little things that goes on every day but has peaks and troughs. Until last week that is...
I have been reading this amazing book called Awakening the Buddha Within (sorry to those who know me, I have been raving non-stop about this for weeks) which started opening my eyes to a lot of things. So there I was during practice last Thursday morning, and as I reached triang mukha and I slipped into my recent routine where as I experienced the pull in my hip I started my mental trick of telling myself that it was actually a lovely feeling. I think I was doing this on and off for a few weeks, just trying to play a game with my brain and make it believe that something unpleasant was actually pleasant – it should be possible shouldn’t it? Surely it’s just conditioning? So there I was, pretending it was OK, and as I got to about the count of 4 I had a profound thought. My own voice said very clearly: “You can’t hide from pain, you have to experience it.”  And BAM! There it was, the floodgates opened.
I stayed in the pose for a few more breaths, trying to fight the tears, but also remembering what I had been taught that when these things come up, you have to let them (it was Kino who really emphasised this, she talked about “letting your ego bleed” though that may have been in a different context!). I moved through the vinyasa struggling to keep the ujayi breath going, but it turns iut it is contraindicated by sobbing. I moved into janu sirsasana A on the first side, I caught my foot, I bent forward, I took a breath...I realised I couldn’t breathe and it would be ridiculous to keep going. So I did something I never ever do, I got up from my mat and I left the room. I walked into our open plan changing room and I stood with hands on my knees and I sobbed. Just for a minute or two, but I let it go. And there was nothing specific happening in my mind, I wasn’t thinking about anything, or anyone, or even a situation, I was just crying. Then I found a tissue, took the pack with me for good measure, and went and got back on my mat. And the rest of my practice was OKish, though I thought I was going to cry again in savasana, but the other thing that was strange was post-practice. In the past when I have had tears, I’ve felt OK afterwards.But last Thursday this wasn't the case at all - I felt wounded and vulnerable. I just wanted to curl up into a ball until the world went away. Later my colleague said that I looked like I was smiling because if I didn't I might cry - and she hit the nail on the head. as the day went on the mood shifted slightly, a trip to Starbucks for a mocha helped, and by home-time I was feeling fine again. But what about the fear of what would happen next time I had to do the asana? Well Friday is led primary, so feeling like I wasn't doing the pose my own, there was no issue – in fact I had a great practice.

Then on Friday afternoon I went to see my wonderful acupuncture/holistic Chinese medicine/ osteopath guy (I need to come up with a snappier title for him) and I spoke to him about it. He believes fully in the theory that the body holds “trauma” (to use a very generic coverall term) in specific areas of the body which could relate back as far as since birth. Through yoga we start to rub up against these kleshas (this from Kino) in a way that we don’t in normal life which is why sometimes bizarre emotions can come to us unbidden during a yoga practice – for me, extreme hamstring stretches can make me feel intensely bored, instantly! A very long time ago I was told that hips relate to family issues, so my feeling is that this lock in my hip is the huge can of worms I DO NOT WANT TO FACE for fear of having a complete mental unravelling....hence the fact I have been completely backing off from it and just hoping it will go away without a big drama. So he did lots and lots of work on my hips as I have been experiencing some knee pain and other hip issues, and practice on Sunday was madly open – I felt like I was wearing somebody else’s hips. But when it came to triang mukha I got a sweet, gentle assist, and I was absolutely fine. And the next day, the same thing happened. In fact today was the first day since the meltdown that I practiced the asana alone. Getting adjusted in it these past few days felt like I was a child having my hand held through a bad dream. I had the overwhelming feeling that I didn’t have to go though it on my own, that I was being looked after. And having had the monsters chased away from beneath my bed for a few days, I was less terrified to try it by myself today.

So I suppose the big question is, how did it feel today? The total genius of the situation now seems to have moved to my left side. So I suppose I just have to keep breathing, keep working through it, and hope that this means something is shifting...and tomorrow is another day!


  1. I used to do exactly the same with Baddha Konasana, rushing through it, hoping not to be adjusted by the teacher, that "got away" with it feeling. I am sure we tense up when we come to one of "these" poses, which just makes it harder. The anitdote is repitition, visiting the pose every day and at some point an acceptance comes and the fear dissipates and everything in the garden is rosy.

  2. So did you ever hit the breakdown in badda k kevin, or was it more gentle and gradual? I have heard it's a really common one to have the issue in (a friend of mine told of how she almost begged teachers to make her cry so that the thing shifted...).
    I'm not saying that having hit it I feel better (today was bad again) but I do feel like I'm working with it rather than against it now.
    (by the way I just had to re-edit as somehow when I posted this last night a big chunk got lost and it made NO sense!! Should make a bit more sense now...)

  3. Never broke down in Baddha Konasana, but dreaded the pain in my feet, if I got away with doing it on my own I could pull back from that edge, but being adjusted in it the intensity almost became overwhelming.

    I don't remember if I ever mentioned it on my blog, but when I was first able to do Supta Kurmasana on my own, Cary gave me the "splat" adjustment and had me hold the bind for what seemed like ages, I was uncontrolably physically shaking and felt completely gone when I came out of it, I ended up on the toilet throwing up.

  4. Wow Mel. Thanks for posting that. I hope that having reached a kind of watershed that things continue to get easier in the excessively-named-asana. (I can remember one of my earliest teachers deciding he was going to test us by only announcing each pose in sanskrit. When we got to "triang mukha ekapeda pashimottanasana" I accused him of making that one up.)

    I'm always interested in the way some hate the poses that I love - sorry Kevin, but I love love love Baddha Konasana, have been known to randomly sneak it in at the end of my home practice. For me right now it's mostly standing poses that make me want to scream. Not even head stand, despite beind difficult and scary, because at least it's so good when it works. But some of the standing stuff even when I'm working really hard I still get that 'right, and the point is . . . ?' feeling, that makes the pose a 'hump' in the practice that just has to be got through.

  5. Thanks R :) I'm not saying they're getting easier (today, no way..) but maybe things are on the move.
    Baddha K is a funny one as it's a hip opener so those are supposed to induce all sorts of emotions aren't they, from tears to giggles (or, just love of the pose). I don't go as far as that in my practice but have been advised to do it in extra-curricular practice to help open the hips - sitting upright & just hanging out for 15 minutes, I love it (though in led primary taking the head down is more of a challenge). I know what you mean about standing though, my WTF?? poses have moved through my time practising, you know the ones that makes you say "Why do I even do yoga??" - every single day. I think this is an interesting thing as it's not a conscious thought, it is involuntary so again is showing some sort of bodily connection to resistance. Last month vira II gave me this feeling, of wanting to run screaming from the room and never come back, so I feel your pain :)
    And Kevin, interesting you are talking about physical reactions when I am talking about emotional - for me the feeling *starts* as physical, in the hip, but it is intrinsically linked to to deep-seated emotional stuff, which I think is quite a different thing. Please god don't let me ever run from the room to be sick though, it is my biggest phobia.

  6. I wondered if the shaking I experienced was an emotional reaction, it wasn't like the muscle shaking from an intense asana stretch, it had never happened before while I was still trying to do a Supta K, with the sickness it felt like everything had come to the surface. I often have the "what the hell am I doing this for when i could still be in bed or doing something easy?" debate in my mind, but every time I finish practice I know it was completely the right thing to be doing, the equilibrium feeling I get I find in nothing else.

    I actually don't mind Baddha Konasana now, when I first practised with Cary she adjusted it nearly every time and I worked out that instead of resisting her pressure, I had to try and breathe and relax and just go with it.