Thursday, 25 November 2010

More things I learned in Thailand - Part two

This is continued from part one....

Asana specifics – these are all changes I have noticed in my practice since coming home. I'll say that of course not all changes or lessons become permanently ingrained, and even since I started drafting this post some of these things have changed...but let's go back in time and consider what I learned before I started unlearning it again!

  • Clayton explained the hip opening action in the janu sirsasanas – I’ve often heard these explained as hip openers, but until he talked about rolling the bent leg hip back and down, and came and adjusted me in it, I never really felt it. I also found a feeling of opening in the straight leg hip crease which I’d not experienced before, and in B I finally took the weight off my poor underneath foot (which has a scar to show for all the weight that’s been loaded onto it this past year) by working into my hips instead.
  • Mari A – I was left with some latent uncertainty about the foot position actually in all of the marichyasanas as this was tweaked in almost every practice by the assistant teacher. However one day she also talked me through pushing down into the bent leg hip to open the psoas – I have been taught in the past to push down into the foot, but pushing the hip down towards the floor seemed to produce a new feeling of opening there.
  • In teaching headstand to beginners, Clayton emphasised how important it is to keep the elbows close together and move the shoulders away from the ears. I didn’t realise that this had changed until shalamate Susan, covering the first mysore class after I came home, whispered whilst giving me my balasana massage “I really liked the way your elbows were close together”. Well I never had a compliment during child’s pose before! I have also found that my headstand feels a million times stronger than ever before through a combination of Clayton’s teaching and the conversation I had with Susan after that practice, where she said that pushing into the inside of the elbows (even if you can’t move them closer together) also really helps. So I tried it and you’re right – thanks Susan! And actually even in this past week I have been really working on the shoulders which introduces so much stability that I have even begun working on floating the legs up – up until now I have been tucking my knees to go up into sirsasana.
  • I videoed the last full practice of our retreat and through this I learned ALL sorts. One was that I massively hyperextend my elbows in downward dog, which is why my head is getting close to the mat, and also why I had a strange adjustment almost every day from Elonne, the assistant teacher. It wasn’t until I saw the video that I understood the adjustment itself, and why I had been getting it. And on returning home and trying to adjust myself to correct this what did I find? As if by magic, my heels were able to reach the floor much closer to the floor (somehow they have risen up again since I wrote the first draft)! A less fabulous thing I discovered from watching the film is that I am a million miles away from being able to jump back properly, somehow I am still launching off one foot, and my legs are kicking way up in the air. Having seen this I was really discouraged and it did actually make the process seem harder though my practice for a few days. But generally speaking seeing the video was a positive experience, especially as I got more adjustments that day than I got the whole of the rest of the week! It’s quite weird to watch yourself being adjusted and my mum was horrified by Clayton’s full-body downdog adjustment when I showed it to her (“but he’ll hurt you!”) – I just told her it feels great!
EDIT: I did originally post some of the video here but as it features other practitioners I can't decide if that's good blogging etiquette or not - any thoughts?
  • I learned that chakras aren’t a load of hippie claptrap. Sorry but that’s what I had always thought! I put them in the same camp as crystals and aura reading and know, kind of weird bullshit. But as part of the daily breathwork as well as chanting the bija seed mantras (which we universally loved!) we did the internal sunrise meditation (which I misheard as ETERNAL and now can’t separate it from the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind...but anyway!), working through each chakra point, visualising the chakra as a disc and breathing at 4 points around it before moving up to the next point, and then sitting and breathing for a few minutes at the end. I think it was on Tuesday, so three days into the course (and a day that we had a led class) that I had a very powerful experience in this meditation. As we moved up to the third eye, and then the crown of the head, I felt something really moving upwards in a very powerful way. I needed to sit with it, which I was able to do for a few minutes, but then we were told to come to stand at the top of our mats to begin the class – but I really, really needed to stay where I was and sit with whatever this thing was. Of course it wasn’t possible, so I did stand up and practice, but after coming out of savasana I still felt that I wanted to sit quietly. I went to breakfast but really just wanted to be by myself, so I cancelled my plan to go out for the day with my roomie and took my lovely Argentinian friend’s advise (“Maybe today you need some lonely time...”) and I did just that. I walked along the beach with my camera, I lay on the sand, I swam and I read, and later I felt able to rejoin the group for dinner. I was a bit scared though that this shouldn’t have happened, and was apprehensive about doing the meditation again the next day. But I did it, and then after the class had finished I spoke to Clayton and explained what I had experienced. I said that I am vata, and recently went through an experience of having too much vata at which he said “Oh me too...” and he then went on to talk about feeling like there was nothing to anchor you to the earth, feeling like a balloon that could just float away, and needing a lead weight to be tied on to keep you here. Now this was strange in the extreme, because in my life before yoga I often had this feeling, that I needed to be anchored somehow and that it was only through the way other people saw me that I could be pinned to the earth (as in, being somebody’s girlfriend, somebody’s friend) – those were the things that stopped me from floating away, and without them I was so insubstantial it was like I barely existed (such were the existential crises of my pre-yoga life!!). It was just really odd that he used the exact same analogy that I had thought, but never vocalised, for years and years in my early twenties. As I walked away I couldn’t even remember the full extent of this conversation with Clayton, only that he hadn’t said “oh my goodness, how WEIRD... you probably shouldn’t do that again “ which was of course what I was afraid he would say. He talked about engaging mula bandha to give that feeling of being grounded, but I think the most useful part of the conversation was feeling that what I had experienced was OK, and that it was normal.  And even that it had happened to him!

The last thing I feel I learned on this trip was something which came up in my very last few hours in Koh Samui. As I mentioned while I was away, I am not a very strong swimmer, but having ventured into the sea on my first day I was determined to make the most of the wonderful location and enjoy being in the water. I have always had a fear of deep water, so in a regular swimming pool I could never swim lengths because I wouldn’t go to the deep end – as soon as I know my feet won’t touch the bottom I start to panic and feel like my arms won’t come up high enough to swim. Likewise I was never particularly keen on being in the sea, not knowing how deep it would get, if anything was lurking on the bottom, and of course there are no edges to stay near to for safety. But just being in the water every day (if not really swimming much) was such a joy. Towards the end of the week my roommate and I cottoned on the fact that going swimming right after practice (on day 1 of this – IN our drenched practice clothes...though I took of my yoga pants and went in in my vest & knickers in full view of everyone, haha!) was where it was at, and often we would just go into the water and then hang about chatting. So it’s not like I can’t swim, or that I’m completely afraid of the water, but I don’t like going under, I don’t like getting water in my face, and I am definitely “on edge” when in the water. But there I was on my last day, my case was packed, and about an hour before I had to leave I decided to go for one last dip. Heading out into the clear calm water I lay on my back and just floated as I often do...but realised for the first time that in doing this you don’t have to keep moving your fingers to keep afloat. You don’t have to strive and can just lie there, arms outstretched in a T shape and the water will support you. And the thought came into my head: If I can just float, what is there to be afraid of?
Doesn't exactly look scary, does it?
BAM! Amazing realisation...and (of course) this is not about swimming. Just think about it: every fear you can imagine, if you just hold in your heart that belief that you will be safe and supported, then there is nothing to be scared of. The moment shook me, it was a profound realisation, but also a completely calm and lovely one. So I lay there a little longer, then I headed up for one last outdoor shower before I headed off for the journey home. And all through my three flights and 30 hours travelling home, instead of thinking constantly that I was going to die (no really, this is what normally happens when I travel) and gripping onto the armrests for dear life during takeoff and landing, I thought back to lying on the water, safe and supported. And I wasn’t afraid.


  1. I have just spent the majority of lunch reading your Thailand blogs Mel! But Part 1 you said that your practice was revolutionized HOWEVER, you have been given FULL primary now??

    I LOVE the final paragraph of Part and supported indeed :) xx

  2. Thanks Mel,

    Love having something to read at lunchtime,You obviously got a lot out of Thailand. Well done on learning to float without fear, water still scares me.

    Would love to see some of the video.

  3. jen that is the big news i was saving for another post, haha! ;) And Kevin I just wasn't sure about posting it on a blog where people could link it to me (and therefore the other people), but have put it on youtube (way more private, haha!!) which seemed more anonymoous somehow. I can mail you the link...or might post it later if I decide that's OK, etiquette-wise...

  4. It must be the place to encourage reticent non swimmers or nervous swimmers into the water, can't believe Kathryn got me in that pool.

  5. Lovely!

    Thought it was interesting that you've always had that ungrounded thing, like a fear your feet would float up off the ground and you'd just float away... and never liked deep water because the bottom seems sooo far away and you might not be able to touch it. Not surprising really, just kind of struck me! Don't worry, you will not float away, you have lots of strong ties here to keep you safe :)

  6. Oh yes, how could I write about two different kinds of floating, one good and one bad, and not even make a connection? Hmm, interesting - well, we were told yesterday that self study is a hugely important part of the 8 limbs, so maybe I should give this more thought - thanks for pointing it out Susan! Though it's true,the floating away feelings are few and far between these days, my tethers are pretty solid I think :)