Predictably enough, after taking almost all of last week off practice due to working away, two days into this 6 day week C ramped up my backbending another notch. Actually Monday was just "one of those days" (or should I say practices) where my brain wouldn't switch off, I kept reminding myself of things I had said or done which were out of place, my chitta vritta was trying to beat me with all of my mistakes, and getting my brain to calm and quieten down was proving impossible. I kept thinking that it would ease off once I got into the seated postures (nope), then I hoped that maybe after supta kurmasana I'd be feeling calmer (nu-uh), so when I got to backbends and C told me "Today we're doing something new" I was barely even surprised. Also (just to add to the moans) my body was feeling so sore that day, but most noticeably my lower back, right on the waistline on the right hand side - a new twinge which started on Sunday. So after doing my urdhva dhanurasanas I discovered that last week's break has given me just enough time to unlearn the ability to breathe in a hangback - I'm sure it'll come back, but for now the solo hangback comprises of 5 scratchy attempts to get my breath while I ponder whether to REALLY push it and see how far I can go, countered with not being crazy and breaking myself, and remembering to keep the legs engaged...which is a lot to think about at once, no wonder I can't remember how to make the space in my ribcage to find an easy breath! Anyway, after this Cary appears and says it's time to add something new...THE WALL.
|A sunnier (but probably less deep) backbend in Thailand|
I am instantly none too happy about this. Partly because I really don't want to add anything new (of course I don't!), partly because I have seen a shala-mate panting their way down the wall in a crazed and innefectual manner and don't want to put myself through the same thing, and partly (I admit it) because Susan says she doesn't see the point (and she is the crowned queen of backbends, afterall!). But of course I go with C to the back wall, and she talks me through it; lean back with one hand so that you can judge the distance, you might need to move your feet out as you go down, then go back to the wall, walk all the way down (remembering to breathe), hands right on the floor as you reach the bottom, then walk all the way up again, still breathing!! Well of course the breath thing is tricky, because in the assisted dropbacks I have been really using the breathe...inhale raise the arms, exhale go back, inhale come up...but here I am breathing in-out-in-out all the way down, and all the way back up again. And while I have seen video of peopl bouncing off the wall, of course mine is more like a hectic clamber, hands at different levels, trying not to slip and fall right on my head. Anyway I do the first two, then on the third one (apparently, I don't remember) C says I did great because I dropped straight back to the wall which takes bravery and that's half the battle - so she says.
So right after my experiments at the wall I come back to my mat to go through the whole normal routine of assisted dropbacks, but I am FECKING exhausted. Each dropback is too fast and uncontrolled, I land on my hands more heavily than I'd like, and by the end I am shattered. A big lump comes up in my throat that I can't decide whether it's an asthmatic style wheeze or a huge sob waiting to happen. I just about manage to sit down for a paschimo squish but can barely even catch my feet in the first instance...
And day two is a repeat. The main difference is that on my third attempt at going down the wall (or rather, at coming back up again), shortly after lifting off from the floor I fall down onto my head. Ouch. Luckily it wasn't far to fall ;)
Today, day three, after leaving out every jumpback through the practice (stepping instead) as I felt like that's what's hurting my lower back, I feel like my first hangback is MEGA deep (again, that knife-edge of "can I go a bit further?" versus "Am I pushing this too far?". Going to the wall I struggle to get the angle of my feet right - we have very few available walls in our shala and the ones we do have are narrow and at funny angles (plus of course there are people practicing in front of them). Without a mat under my feet I feel insecure and slidey on the wooden floor, and the walls (ick) are slippery with condensation from all of the hot bodies on the room. None of this feels very good. And again when I'm done, I am exhausted.
So I decide to tell C that I'm not liking this (even though I sort of know what she will say). I manage not to use the word "hate" but as she comes up I say "I really don't like the wall." Luckily she's not in a mood today where she just wants me to be quiet and get on with it. First of all she says that she never used the wall, which instantly makes me wonder why teach it that way, and she also says that I don't have to do it - that I should only do it if I feel it's teaching me something. Inside my head the arguments for and against are along these lines:
...it's definitely helpful to experience the initial dropping back to the wall part on my own...
...but if I don't have to do it then why would I?
...but isn't that just giving up?
...Remember feeling this exact same way about every other stage of this process so far? (and in fact, a lot of the rest of primary...) And how did you get through to the other side of that - by giving up? I don't think so.
Meanwhile C says that it is exhausting, and pushing your limits of endurance is part of the practice. Ashtanga asks us to go further...she talks about junior doctors working 70 hour weeks to train themselves to work intensively and says that not everybody chooses to do this, some people will never do it and are happy just to work a regular week. But then she says that exhaustion is a real issue, when she used to do half of second she was exhausted but now she can do all of it "just like that" - which of course makes me feel that I should just suck this up and get to the point where I'm not fall-down exhausted by it. But then she also says that this is difficult, and her friend J says "you just have to let some things be difficult".
In other words by the end of the conversation I am none the wiser. My over-riding confusion is that first off, I think I should just do it because that's the only way it's going to get easier, but if she didn't learn it herself, and S has her doubts about it's validity in learning, then maybe I shouldn't wear myself out trying?
The dropbacks after the chat (and the little rest it allowed!) were more controlled than yesterday, but with more sound effects too (and more grabbing of C's arms as I come up instead of keeping my arms overhead) but again I staggered to the ground for paschimo like an old lady, actually even worse than yesterday, and the big throat-lump was there again. The first two days I did this I also had an instantaneous and massive headache at that point too, so I suppose it's progress that I didn't today even if I was stiffer in my body. But the finishing sequence followed the same pattern as the rest of today's practice; super-focused and inward looking, and I had time to lie in savasana until I felt like I was tripping out a bit (that's my favourite way of telling if I've been there long enough...if I start not knowing where I am, whether it's night or day or I'm awake or asleep then I know it's a good-un.), also incorporating lots of beautifully controlled dropback visualisations.
So now all that's left to do is to decide whether or not I head for the wall tomorrow? Or maybe I do it tomorrow, as it's the last Mysore practice of the week, and re-evaluate on Sunday. I think this is all about figuring out the difference between finding my edge, overdoing it, and just being lazy. But can't somebody else decide for me? It's just too hard to tell! Either way, I think the fact that in just over 4 weeks I will be heading out to Goa to study with Kino and Tim for 2 weeks could not be more perfectly timed, considering that she is considered by many (well, me!) to be the ashtanga world's high priestess of backbending!