Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Feel the resistance and do it anyway.

This post has been swirling around my mind for weeks and changing and being added to as my experience changes.
It all started when regular teacher C went to Mysore for the authorised teacher training and we had a new teacher in to cover (at the risk of repeating myself to those who read regularly, this is the “previously, on ER moment”). Just before C left I started to feel a bit worried about how I would handle being with a new teacher. Although from the first moment I walked into Yoga Place I felt that Cary was my teacher, in the time since I started practicing at the shala 9 months ago I have found myself starting to understand what it really means to work daily with the same teacher. And having made this connection, and it having taken all that time to build, I really didn’t want to have to start all over again. In the last week with C I got some really great information and help from her on the poses that I have long held doubts about, all of which made me start to worry about getting conflicting information from the new teacher, and how it could end up being “wasted” time where I was being encouraged to do things differently. But these were just my fears and concerns with no basis in experience or fact, so I diplomatically (cough cough) wrote the post Not better, just different.

So now for total honesty time. Cary went away, and the next day at the shala went like this. Walked in – everything felt different. No incense burning, the door to the practice room was open (it was usually closed). Was that a window open? Could I hear a radio?? Half the regulars were missing. There were several people in the room I’d never seen before. Walked in to start practice and got a big smile and hello from our new teacher, M (OK I don’t remember if that happened – but it happened every other day afterwards, so let’s assume it happened on day 1 too). Started practice and my mental voice went like this: “Idon’tlikeitIdon’tlikeitIdon’tlikeit...everything’s different, why’s it so different? I’m just going to start going back to AYL in the evenings with R, at least I know her even if it means I can only do a few nights a week...” and then I gently took over my mad brain. No, I decided. You are not going to bail out. You are going to stick with this and see exactly how differently you feel in five weeks to how you feel right now. And so that’s what I did.
And how did I feel 5 weeks later? Mel left and I walked all the way to the station crying my eyes out because i was going to miss her so much. What was so interesting here was the mental process, and to me this shows real progress and change – sod whether I can bind in supta kurmasana (I can’t yet, by the way!!), being able to watch my mind having a freak-out and make it stop by gently saying “No, this is OK, you’re going to come out the other side of this feeling, just keep working through it and don’t allow it to overwhelm you.” Surely that’s the yoga, isn’t it?
The other thing about this that’s been so interesting is how I felt when C came back last week. As it was midweek it felt really strange to have an emotional goodbye one morning and the next morning walk in to my regular teacher, fresh off the plane. She came out to say hi and a big hug and a kiss, it was lovely to see her, then I went off to get changed and it was business as usual. No smile or greeting on walking into the shala to start practice (this is the norm) and although I thought it would be rammed with everybody there to see her back, it was quite quiet. And I got relatively few assists, though I was reminded on Mari C at the strength of the assists (having had much gentler versions for the past 5 weeks) and then again a very strong adjustment in D from the assistant, both of which genuinely made me want to scream “TOO MUCH!”. Then we got to supta kurmasana, which I had been feeling so fabulous about after starting to feel I was working towards binding it myself thanks to Mel’s help (and the injury was doing soooo much better after backing off it almost entirely for a month). But instead of having an unassisted attempt first, on my first go my legs were somehow ON my head, with an immediate feeling of panic and claustrophobia that I have never experienced before, it felt like all of the weight of my legs was pushing down onto my forehead and I did not like it one bit. Talking to a fellow practitioner on the train the next day she said “and I LOVE the new supta kurmasana adjustment!” making me realise that it didn’t just feel different to me, it had actually changed. So I came away from the first day back to Mysore practice feeling a bit blah...and as I mentioned in my last post with a massive resistance to practice another 6 day week. But I didn’t want to miss Cary’s first Led class after coming back, what if she told us some huge news and I wasn’t there to hear it? Then I started to recognise this need I have to not miss anything (this is also the reason I end up spending so little time alone when I have been on yoga retreats...what if I miss something?) and I was questioning if this was something I have become attached to that I should try and overcome. So I was basically playing Jedi mind games to talk myself out of talking myself into a 6 day week ;)
But I ignored the crazy voices and went to the led class, only to find that instead of being inches between the mats there were only about 12 people there (less than half what I’d think of as normal). And with the exception of some breath retention work during padmasana (not a fan) nothing really seemed to have changed, except that C said at the beginning “I will be counting only in Sanskrit from now on...”, giggles when there was the odd slip-up or mis-named asana, we all knew what was meant to come next, but every class needs a few giggles.
Sunday being a moonday (and my birthday!) there was no practice, and I spent the day eating cake, so as I was reluctant to go to bed on Sunday night I decided to skip practice on Monday morning. There’s that resistance again. But with the benefit of an extra ninety minutes sleep (allowing enough time for some gentle asana and a short meditation-ish practice before work) and not so much rushing around, I arrived at work more knackered than on a practice day, and I realised that it actually GIVES me energy to sleep less and go to yoga rather than costing it as I had thought all along. Bugger it....there’s no going back now. But subconsciously I think I already knew that skipping practice on Monday was to do with not being back in the swing of things with C, but having felt crappy from lack of practice I turned up on Tuesday. 
And what happened? The shala was quiet again, and I had lots of help. I spoke to her about supta k and the new assist (after receiving it and feeling like I stopped breathing through panic – my breath as I spoke to her afterwards was ragged), and had a great discussion about how you don’t have to cross your feet over your head. She said this is often introduced because people are on second series and start coming into it in dwi pada etc, but there is actually no need for the feet over the head stuff for supta k. And then she said that she could see how much this pose had changed for me and that I now get into it really easily. REALLY?? J J 

It was amazing to be told that something had visually changed in such a short space of time, and the vinyasa and backbends that followed were easy and strong...what is it about compliments that does that to my backbending? I suddenly find all this energy from nowhere! And then after practice C came and sat beside me while I was putting on my makeup and wished me a happy birthday, and shared news of my wonderful first teachers who she was in Mysore with (which made me very very happy), and we talked about being in your thirties and all of the changes which happen in these years, and it was all wonderful and >click< there it was. I reconnected with my teacher. It wasn’t just one thing, it was a combination, but it took until after yesterday to realise that a bond with a teacher might not always just arrive and stay forever. It can wax and wane a little and sometimes you might have to work at it.
But adding this whole experience together I feel like I have learnt some hugely valuable lessons; that connecting with a teacher is one of the most important things when practicing ashtanga, but simultaneously so is not being too attached to your teacher. Because if C left the country tomorrow, what would I do? I wouldn’t want to stop practicing, that’s for sure. It has been so interesting to observe my own mental battles with regards to this attachment, and the changes, and having to learn somebody else’s ways, and what has been really interesting is to observe these things without acting on them. I wanted to run away and practice elsewhere: but I didn’t. I didn’t want to do a couple of back to back 6 day practice weeks: but I did. 
So if I can overcome the wants and don’t wants here on my mat, surely that means I can conquer some of them off out in the wider world? Time will tell, but let's just say: so far so good.


  1. "Just keep working through it and don’t allow it to overwhelm you.” Surely that’s the yoga, isn’t it?" Yes!

    Your blog has really changed recently, I think because you are changing. It is wonderful to see.

  2. I LOVE THIS POST!! And herein lies the yoga. Can definitely connect with the mindgames I play with myself too. Feel really pleased for you, Mel! :) xxx

  3. Ahhh you're all so lovely!!

    Helen - that's the nicest thing you could say, thank you. I can feel the changes too..even y my parents have commented on it. though I feel a bit of a fraud today as I have been having some dramas and have been very very unyogic!!
    Thanks Susan :) You probably heard most of this already on email anyway!
    Jaime I nicked the Jedi mind games tag off you, sorry I didn't credit you!! Although in an extra mind-games twist, what do you reckon I thought might happen today having written "sod whether I can bind in supta kurmasana..." - it's getting closer, but it didn't magically appear as I thought it might!

  4. Great post Mel, the sense of loss at C going away, then finding a connection with Mel despite the initial resistance. That's how it was for me when E left and I started with Cary. We are all on the same road, just different teachers have different ways of helping us towards the same result.

  5. Have just nipped home on lunch and read this word for word.. I adore your honesty Mel. This post is fabulous. Thank you for being you! xxx

  6. Good for you on being so adaptable. I'd have struggled.

    "So if I can overcome the wants and don’t wants here on my mat, surely that means I can conquer some of them off out in the wider world?"

    I'm seeing lots of virtuous circles like this. I used to have a tendency to 'catosrophise' - see every bad thing as an out and out disaster. I can't tell whether I'm better at that in other areas of my life because I'm learning it in yoga, or if I'm getting better at it in my yoga because I'm learning it in other areas of my life.

    I love (and will steal) the jedi mind games expression!

  7. @kevin: Hmm, same road, different road...I love how it's different for everyone but we can identify with one another's different experiences.

    @Jen: what can I say, thank you :) xxx

    @Ragdoll: Oh catastrophising, SO true!! I've been thinking about this the past few days (maybe it's a whole other post) as I've had minor domestic dramas turning me into a mental patient. I've started to realise that I have long-since lived my life as a drama queen thinking that making a bigger deal of something means you will get more sympathy - but actually it just - errr makes a bigger deal of it.
    And the "virtuous circle" of learning it on your mat/applying it to life and vice versa is all part of the magic. THIS IS THE YOGA! We don't know which bit comes first but truth is, it doesn't matter.

  8. Beautiful post, again! Absolutely uplifting and positive, thanks for taking us along your journey of transformation, it's really inspiring for me. And yes, the 'meta-awareness' of your resistance is the real yoga. I recently pulled myself out of a slump when I noticed I was headed down a slippery slope of negativity - it's amazing how telling oneself to "snap out of it" can be so liberating.

    Happy belated birthday!!