Sunday, 19 December 2010

Happy shalaversary

The alternative title of this post could be: for all the posts I haven't written.

I find myself entering again into one of those phases where it seems there is so much to say here that I end up getting overwhelmed and saying nothing. Some of these things are pretty landmark occurrences though so if for nothing more than my own benefit, I do want to mention them (even if I don't have time right now to elaborate). Outside of my yoga practice there is a huge amount going on too, perhaps mirrored on my mat, but discussing that will have to wait for another time.

1. I had my shala anniversary. Thanks to having written about it here, I was able to tell when it was exactly a year to the day since I first practiced with Cary and proclaimed that "I think I found my teacher". Funny to see now how right I was. 
2. I was given setu bandhasana, the last pose of primary (wait for it) - ON MY SHALA ANNIVERSARY! I didn't actually realise until a few days later (when I checked the dates), but even though I try not to attach any great significance to this, it seems interesting to me. One year ago, I rocked up at Yoga Place with a very shaky practice, finishing at bujapidasana, not able to get into headstand, not able to jumpback (no change there then!), and certainly not willing/capable of the early mornings needed to enable a daily practice. At that point (just to recap) I had been practicing on and off for 8 months, but having not found a teacher that I gelled with AND could actually get to regularly (I loved the evening teacher, but never managed to get to more than one class a week) my practice had become more off than on. 
I'll save the evaluation of the past year of practice for another time, but I like the fact that these two events coincided; it does seem to have some significance. When I had a moment to chat to Cary later that week (this all happened a few weeks ago now) and told her, she said that it is said that it should take a year to do primary (by which I assume she means a year of daily/almost daily practice, which discounted my on/off once a week period). And she finished by saying "and next week we're doing dropbacks!"

So, the thing which I have heard and read so much about. The thing which I began to fear about 5 new poses ago. The thing which (if I am honest) a little tiny bit of my brain illogically thought "maybe you'll just be able to do them easily - even though that happens to NOBODY, maybe you'll be the first one ever!". It's easy to have these thoughts when you have never tried something. So I turned up to practice last Sunday fully prepared to start dropbacks, and I have to say I was filled with anxiety. But the shala was busy, C wasn't around when I was doing my backbends, so I hung about for a while lying on my mat and then did the vinyasa into my forward bend. But later she came and told me, "tomorrow after your backbends, stand at the top of your mat and catch my attention". So there was to be no escape!
My overriding emotion though, aside from anxiety, was not to make too big a deal of it. Easy to say before having started them I know, but I did not want my entire practice to become about this, just like when I was struggling with other asanas I didn't want to give disproportionate headspace to them. My practice is my practice, it is not about one asana. I may need reminding of this in a few months time however ;) One further disclaimer - as I am trying to bash this blog out in double quick time it IS just about dropbacks. Of course for every day mentioned, there was a whole practice attached...I just don't have time to talk about all of that now!

So day one - C teaches it this way: hands in prayer, inhale, exhale go back (as she holds), hands touch the ground, inhale she brings you back up. Repeat three times. No fuss, no screaming or grunting, and actually no fear. My overwhelming sensation was that this was very like another big "first time" (think about it) where prior to the event you have so much build-up, and people in your class are separated in your mind into those who have done it and those who haven't...and then when it happened all I could think was "Is this it? It just feels WEIRD!!". 

Day two was much the same - it really didn't feel like it was about my back at all - at this stage it felt like it was purely about faith.
I should have known things were about to get more challenging...

Day three and we added in some extra tricks. Three dropbacks as before, then three supported hangbacks (arms across the chest), then a final dropback where you hold for 5 and walk the hands in. Coming up from there felt difficult, and for the first time this all started to become about my back. 

Day four was the same physically, but mentally a lot more difficult. I was feeling strange, and I just wanted to skip the dropbacks - but I stood up and waited for C anyway. And the drill was the same, but I felt like she really had to haul me up. After the first three dropbacks I tried to ask a question but was silenced with a one-word answer and told to do the hangbacks. After it was all over I had to fight the overwhelming urge to walk out of the room, skipping closing. I felt irrationally irritated and angry. I cried in paschimotanasana. The only reason I stayed in the room was because I knew that there would be no more adjustments through the closing sequence - i couldn't bear the thought of any more.
And then on Friday, when I would normally have done the led class (and hence no dropbacks), I was in Brighton for work and so I took my practice to another shala. The teacher there was wonderful, and gave me some great help, but I very very nearly went straight from UD to forward bending, feeling again that I just didn't want to do it. She has a different style, and had me move my legs much closer together so that I squeezed her leg between my thighs - and oh my god it's a lot more difficult! By the time we got to the final dropback where I held for 5, she practically had to winch me up. As she brought me back up I staggered around and grabbed her, making a load of noise, then told her it had got harder every day, nearly losing it as I said it. She gave me some lovely feedback, told me my back was very open and that I was doing amazingly for only having been doing them for a week. I think I needed to hear this at that point.

So today I was back the the shala, and silly me for thinking that it would feel easier after the difficult Brighton leg-squeezing version! Today as C came to the top of my mat she said to me "now we are doing the next phase". So now I have to hangback as far as I can with my hands in prayer on the exhale, inhale there, and then she takes me down to the ground on the exhale, and inhale back up to standing. We do this three times before the assisted hangbacks, then the final dropback I have to do the same again before she takes me right down and I hold for 5, walking the hands in. All I can say is that it very literally felt like somebody took away the safety net as I tried to hangback without her holding me. There were a few false starts but I tried to just get on with it and not think too much, but that overwhelming sensation was of the missing safety net, and that I was trying to do something which was wrong (you know, like that urge to step onto live train tracks...or walk the wrong way up an escalator). So I think the lesson I am taking from my first week of dropbacks is this. Just as soon as there is anything approaching a comfort zone, it gets taken away, The honeymoon is over, the hard work starts here!


  1. You are doing well with the dropbacks Mel, I reckon you will do it by Easter

  2. Wait till Kino gets hold of you :)

    It's all about the mind, see what a total mind**** it is already? LOL.... I think you're coping with it really well, and from the corner of my eye they look quite nice too :)

  3. I like the way C is working you through these. It's SO different from my shala dropback/standup experience (well, mine didn't involve dropping back - I think I would have had an easier time if it had). Faith makes the difference!!!

  4. I'm not imposing (or even trying to think of) any timelimits kevin, so no putting any in my mind!! But thank you for the encouragement :)

    Susan...Kino....this is my next fear!!! At least I'll have had some time to work on them before she gets her hands on me. And hope you didn't see the shite effort yesterday, dunno what happened, my hangback was more like tipping my head back and that was it!

    It's interesting Kai, as I wrote that I wondered if everyone teaches dropbacks in exactly the same way - but clearly not. So what were you being taught - just to try and stand up first? Is this the old school way?? But faith is a huge part of it...yesterday I made the fatal mistake of starting to think about it (from about surya B onwards!) and what would happen if i fell on my head, would my 7 month pregnant teacher be able to catch me?? I think this is probably why I ended up finding them the hardest yet.
    Also it's mad how I can be "missing" the fully assisted dropbacks of stage one so much when I only had a few days of doing them that way....

  5. Happy shalaversary! I'm still feeling rather new to yoga. I've only been practicing for just under a few months and have much to learn and experience. I'm also still trying to determine which teacher works me the hardest and makes me walk away feeling great about my time on the mat.