Thursday, 17 February 2011

Dropbacks and Doublethink

When I was walking around London this morning visiting shops (or trying to, I should say) I realised that I am guilty of so much doublethink. I spend half the time thinking I have the greatest job in the world; the freedom it gives me is incredible, I get to travel around and see different places all of the time and meet new people and I can pretty much write my own success story. On the other days it seems relentless and impossible. I can’t get appointments, nobody wants to see me, they reduce their orders rather than increasing them, everything’s a problem. Whilst travelling around and seeing different places I also find myself imagining living all kinds of different lives, whilst being incredibly contended with my own. I picture myself being happy with no money, whilst wishing I had more money to do all of the things I want to do. I long to live in a huge house in West London; I fall ever more in love with East London (where I actually live – not in a huge house!). I feel like this life I’m living, where no two days are the same, could just be the perfect lifestyle for someone like me who is fascinating with things around them. I’m getting to know London in a completely different way, I’m getting to really appreciate it, but I’m also getting out of London (and dare I say, becoming confident with driving!). My new favourite time of day is the hour before sunset, when the light is just *perfect* and everything I see is awash with beauty. And then I have days where nothing makes me happier than imagining resigning. I think I can sum up my current state of mind as unsettled with moments of unbelievable happiness. I think I need a holiday!

As for my practice, there’s a bit of doublethink going on there too. Though I absolutely swore I wasn’t going to become fixated with dropbacks, what do you think might have happened? Oh yes of course, I am utterly fixated.  I have been working on dropping back now for almost exactly two months, though with over a week off at Christmas and another week off in January when I was staying away for work it’s not been an entirely consistent two months. What’s so interesting is how things change. I’ve written already about the different phases and levels that Cary has had me working at. This past week we have moved onto another new method, and with each new approach I have “found” new parts of my back or my body and been able to tap into them or move in a different way. The latest method is in assisted dropbacks; I go halfway back alone, inhale & exhale, then she places her hand between my ribs (pointing upwards – just on top of where the bra line would be if I wore one for practice!!) and (according to her) “grips with her fingertips to pull me forwards”), I inhale again then on the exhale I go back. To all intents and purposes I am “dropping” without assistance in terms of her taking me down gently, but there is a HUGE difference between this and me just dropping alone.
So here is the fixation: doing it alone. Last Saturday I did a rare practice at home (having missed a day in the week), the entire purpose of which was to attempt to dropback whilst not in a room full of people (and with padding!). It’s funny how much this motivated me to do self-practice! I used the audio of Sharath’s counted class up to the Maris, and it moves along at quite a clip – it was great! Really excellent to have that to practice to, I found my mind was completely on my mat, perhaps even more so than in mysore practice at the shala, whereas normally a home practice is an endless barrage of crazy-brain-itus. Then from bujapidasana onwards I videoed my practice (as IF I would video navasana!!) as I have seen the first half of my practice (you can see a clip here - from a led class in Thailand), but never the second. And very illuminating it was too... I became convinced that the reason I can’t do buja is that my bum is too high in the air – what do you think?

Also I get stuck once I’m down there, though this was a slightly-less-bad-than-most-days version!

Seeing myself in supta kurmasana was fun too. And yes with my giant ego I posted an album of pictures on facebook with screenshots from the video for all to see (not my sucky buja of course, only the good ones!!). I’m not sure why I did it, but I know I enjoy seeing other people’s asana photos so what the hell...

Anyway the main event that I wanted to video was backbending. Even though it was half out of shot it was good to see how my urdhva dhanurasana looks when I’m not just faffing about on a beach (which is the only way I have ever seen it before). Then of course the hangbacks – I have to say, they feel really super-deep, more so in the past few weeks, but when I saw the video I was almost disappointed – they feel a lot deeper than they look! The only reason I care about how they look is that in my mind I have become convinced that when I hang back I am so close to the floor I only need reach down and I will touch gently and with great control. Putting the sofa cushions down for safety I soon discovered that this isn’t quite the case – the floor is MUCH further away than I thought! Also having watched my first ever attempt to dropback solo I can deduce one major thing: I just DROPPED. This was not a backbend! It just reminds me of that line in Toy Story – “that’s not flying, it’s falling with style” – that was me!

(haha god that video's boring - and it goes on forever!! But it took too long to upload so I'm not editing it now ;)
So having tried this at home, not broken my head, but having become a little less confident in my readiness to do it, I went back to the shala on Sunday and we started working on this new hand-grippy pull-forward by invisible secret powers method. The first day with this method I think Cary also put her hand on my back as I landed so the landing was still very gentle and controlled. The next day she introduced the extra cycle of breath here and told me to really push into her hand, and bring the awareness there. The week has been up and down, and I have been feeling all sorts of niggley injuries since then, but today was OK. The thing that I am fixating on is that several of my lovely shalamates have said to me after practice that I am ready to do it alone, and that I should just do it and what am I waiting for? So I think yes of course I can do it! Tomorrow I’ll just dropback on my own! Then when I get to it, I just don’t. When S asks me what I am afraid of I say that I’m not, but in that moment when I am hanging back thinking “shall I go?” I don’t do it. It’s as simple as that: do, or don’t do. My brain can intellectualise it all I like, but in the moment something is stopping me. Primarily I think I am waiting to be told by Cary that I am ready, but for now there are so many other things at play in my head. Next week I am heading off to Goa, and of course I want to do it before I leave, especially as C will go on maternity leave while I am away. And I want to do it with her! And my ego is also wanting to learn it as quickly as possible – 2 months!! But on the flip side, think how great it would be to do my first dropbacks in Goa with Kino? And that will be super-fast in the grand scheme of things. But I have constructed this whole reasoning that I MUST do this before I go, which is ridiculous. But today I think I let that go. C was out of the room and S was assisting, and watching me hang back. I turned and laughed knowing that she was watching and willing me to drop to the ground, but then Cary came back in just as I was ready for assisted and we told her that I’d been talking about it. But instead of saying “Yes you’re ready, do it!” she showed S the new assist she’s been doing. And the first one was good, the second not so good, the third better, and the fourth I just fell with style. As she gave me the paschimo squish, Cary said that the only difference in her hand being there or not being there is awareness. Once I am used to it I will go back like a hinge from the hips (apparently) but for now I need to learn to separate the torso and bring the awareness to moving that part of my chest forwards. She said it’ll just take time. What she didn’t say was you’re ready, do it now – so I think for now at least, I’m going to let go of the idea of having done this before I leave for India. But of course in the land of doublethink, I’m already thinking this will be the secret to suddenly being able to do it...and saying it here jinxes any possibility that I will. Double-cross-doublethink!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Looking out for Spring

My great aunt died two weeks ago, and this week I travelled to Norfolk for her funeral. I won't dwell on it too much, and I'm doing fine, but I wanted to share this poem from the service, which I thought was perfect...

Sorrow Has it's Season
Mourn not with a broken heart when friends and dear ones go.
For you the night of loneliness
For them the morning glow
For you the daily burden of the years that are to be
For them a new adventure in a world you cannot see

Sorrow has it's season. Nothing lasts,not even grief.
Every winter has it's ending - then the greening leaf
One day you will wake and say that time has eased the pain.
That is how God's mercy works
Spring always comes again.

I also found it so interesting that once again I was able to work through an experience like this thanks to my yoga practice (or maybe I should say "the perspective I have gained from my yoga practice"). No doubt it helps that, like with my grandmother last year, she had lived a long life (she was 92) and had reached the point where a recovery from a fall would have meant no longer being able to live at home. And afterall, this is the natural order of things. 
But in the church I was struck by something; to get the joy (thinking specifically of my beautiful nieces), you have to have this too. Without one the other cannot happen; it's the circle of life (damn you Elton John for making that impossible to say without inducing an earworm!). I also found myself feeling again this spiritual sense, remembering the words in Surya Das's book (to explain to cynics about reincarnation, he asks how is it any more incomprehensable than the fact that we exist at all? I think this can be applied to all spiritual concepts) when the vicar said that Elsie had been called Home. I thought that was a pretty beautiful thing to say.
Just as an aside, my fabulous auntie, though living in Norfolk, was originally from the east end of London, and grew up and lived around my adopted home, and the place where I practice yoga every day which makes me feel more connected somehow. The church was absolutely beautiful, in her quiet seaside town and overlooking the duck pond - but a very long way from Bethnal Green as I said to my sister. I also discovered via her eulogy that she attended a spiritualist church (I knew that) and trained as a healer (news to me). So not only did she live through the Blitz in the east end (and was in Bethnal Green when the tube disaster happened - and talking to us about it one day she rubbished the claims that the lady blamed for starting the hysteria would have done such a thing, Else knew her well) but she lived a pretty fascinating life, being bombed, living in a pre-fab, moving out of London under some sort of council relocation program in the 1960s, I believe I was once told that she had an Indian spirit guide, and is best remembered for doing high kicks at her 70th birthday party and generally being a very funny, fabulous and glamorous lady right up until she was 90 and her health started to fail. I'm only sorry I didn't take more time to hear her living history and to visit her in the last couple of years, but it's too late for regrets now, so instead I shall just think of her with a smile. And it's hard to be sad when you do that, and think about the words of the poem :)

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Meditation and cake

I went to a meditation class today which runs once a month at our shala - after meaning to do it for ages (but always forgetting, or being busy the day it was on) a chance conversation over breakfast meant that I went along with two friends to the second class of the year.
I'm always a little scared of the idea of meditation classes, feeling like the urge to run screaming from the room is going to arise approximately six and a half minutes into a two hour class - but at the same time I have been feeling the desire for ages now to learn more techniques and to make the time and space to sit.
With mats arranged around the room facing into the centre (having come in late) I found myself beside the teacher, an older German (I think) lady with beautifully coloured hair, a white outfit accessorised with fabulously blingy heart-shaped earrings and a soft sing-song accent.  Before we began she spoke a little about meditation, and I loved what she said (I'm paraphrasing...):
Don't let enlightenment be your goal. Sure, if you really want to then by all mean go for it, But for me, meditation is about learning to cope better with daily life without being thrown off course by the things that come our way. And also to be able to make other people's lives a little better by the way I interact with them.
She also spoke about just building in time throughout your day to sit, don't think about extended periods as finding several spots of time to sit for 5 or 10 minutes through the day can be really powerful. Something which made immediate sense to me was when she described her day as rushing here and there, teaching morning, lunchtime and evening classes meaning that she comes home a lot during the day - and immediately that she closes the door and feels relived to be home, she feels more demands on her time. Given my new work situation which means that I am working from home, going out to see people and coming and going quite a lot,  I realised immediately that when I get home from a halfday trekking around and am exhausted, sitting straight down at my computer to catch up on all of the emails that have accumulated while I've been gone is maybe not the most productive approach. Instead, if I take the time to sit just for 5 minutes before I stick the kettle on and head for my desk, I'll most likely find I feel more refreshed and less pressured than I do right now. So far so good.
We then lay on our stomach, becoming aware of our breathing, before spending some time in childs pose, again putting awareness into our breath, and then moving through some gentle seated stretches to prepare us for sitting. All the while she spoke in her lovely soft way, encouraging us to concentrate on our breathing, and making everything seem incredibly accessible and taking away the mystery. Halfway through the 2 hours she suggested a bathroom or water break before we moved on to the sitting portion of the class, and even though I know I can do it I felt some anxiety when she said we would sit for 5 minutes at a time - it sounds like such a long time to just sit! But of course it is more than doable, I can sit happily for almost 15 minutes and do so every Friday after our Led class, so this is very much a case of my conscious mind trying to tell me I'm not capable of something which I absolutely am.
As we neared the end of the class I found myself feeling very sleepy, and when given the option to lie down I was there and wrapped in my blanket in no time at all. After a very heavy feeling savasana where I completely forgot where I was, the class ended with her suggesting we might like to stay for tea and cake. How much more perfect could this be!
Feeling very chilled and more than a little spacey, J, A and I shared green tea and cake before heading off for an early dinner at our favourite veggie cafe. It felt rather strange to emerge from Yoga Place into the darkness, instead of arriving in the dark and leaving in daylight, but seeing the sun set in the shala as opposed to seeing it rise was a lovely and welcome change. The next month's class will be when I am away but I'm definitely looking forward to attending more of these classes over the coming year, and am already feeling inspired to take time to sit on a regular basis. What a wonderful way to spend Saturday afternoon!
My bedroom windowsill (complete with gifts from Susananda and The reluctant ashtangi!)