Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Two years on

And so much has changed. Two years ago today I rocked up atYoga Place and practiced for the first time with my teacher, and I claimed to know there and then that she was my teacher – I usually have notoriously appalling judgement based on first impressions, so I’m glad this time I was right! And one year ago today (coincidentally) I was given setu bandhasana, the last pose of primary. 
Clearly in my first year of practice with C there were major changes – I arrived practicing up to bujapidasana, unable to stand on my head, with unreliable binds in Mari D and (more to the point) I was practicing a few times a week if that. By the end of year one I had gained a lot of strength and flexibility and a 6-day a week practice, the marichyasanas proved no problem, I was more than happy standing on my head, after many months of fretting and injury (and finally a letting go) I was able to bind supta kurmasana, rock around in garbha, get my knees grounded in baddha konasana, and satisfy my teacher that I was ready to get to the end of primary. Dropbacks were added in a few weeks later, around mid December if I remember rightly, so I am still just under the year for working on those. Of course thinking about today being my shala-versary I got to wondering what has changed in my practice in the last year, and whilst the changes don’t generally come as headline news, they are probably more profound for the fact that they are more subtle. Things that have changed that would be noticeable to an outsider are that I’ve added in some fancy party tricks: lotus jumpbacks after garbha and utupluthi, getting my legs behind my head from the floor in supta kurmasana, and of course my backbends have changed since a year ago when I was just doing three little urdhva dhanurasanas (and Susan would frequently comment that she’d never seen me do backbending, and thus deduced that I was rushing through them and would come to regret it later – and how right she was!!). More subtle changes, or at least one which has come about only very recently but feels like a complete game-changer, is working on getting my chin to my knee – from my teacher encouraging me to touch the chin (not the nose!) to knee in ardha baddha padmottanasana I found a whole new hinge for forward bending, and am now able to look up towards my toes in the janu sirsasanas and Mari A. My jumpthroughs are coming along, I am now working on Mari D with both hips down, and over the past year I have – of course – been working on dropping back.

And what a fucking journey that’s been. Excuse my French, but I think it’s warranted. After the pure joy of my first solo dropback on my last day in Goa in March this year, things took a turn back when I accepted that the heaviness of my landing was seriously hurting my wrists. A month or so later I came back to assisted dropbacks, only to injure my lower back on the right side in a poorly judged attempt at dwi pada to get into supta kurmasana, and again the dropbacks went out of the window. Many months later (I lose track...and wasn’t keeping notes) after patient daily work with my teacher, I started to drop back by myself while she worked on helping me stand up. The closest I came to standing so far was to rock up a few inches off a bolster while I was practicing with the very fabulous renegade teacher at shiny yoga HQ, but in my daily work with C we just keep going, no props or tricks, just daily effort.
Then about six weeks ago when my shala fees were due to be paid, I decided to take a little holiday from YP and practice at one of the shiny centres to save some money (as I work there I get almost free classes). At the point that I finished up at YP I felt that I was this close to standing up, and maybe this wasn’t the right time to go away, but I did it just the same. And whaddyaknow, the teacher I went to did very little backbending with me (just three totally assisted down and ups, doing the work for me), I got an attack of the lazy and stopped working on it, and two weeks later when I came back to C (having skipped more days that I was away than I had practiced) my backbends had completely regressed. I felt that the opening I’d gained in my back was lost, and I was once again overwhelmed with fear at the idea of dropping by myself. So C allowed me to work on completely assisted dropbacks, and as the time went on I realised that this enabled me to work more on the standing up – because by the time I got there I wasn’t already whacked out on the terror of having dropped to the floor. After a few weeks of me just loving the assist, she took on a new tactic and started, instead of holding my waist as I dropped, to guide my hands in closer to my feet to increase the backbend. The first day she did this I immediately lifted my heels which I had never done before – a sure sign that this was one of the deepest backbends I’d ever experienced. The desire to freak-out was IMMENSE. But the next day I noticed that my heels wanted to lift, but I didn’t let them. Each day it felt more challenging, but each day when I laid down for my first backbends from the floor I felt this whole new opening – I really felt like I was bending my back which felt new...it felt like it was only my arms and legs holding me back, that if a strap was around my waist suspending me from the ceiling I could hang in a perfect tall backbend. You know, a bit like this:
(photo credit here)
So as it went, I wasn’t working on my dropbacks, but I was very definitely working on my backbends. And in a different way it was hard work, but of course the one thing I shouldn’t have done was grown comfortable with it, because yesterday Cary came to the top of my mat and said: “you want to try on your own?”
I sort of whimpered and so she caught me as I dropped, but without taking my hands in, and after the whole routine had gone the same way, I was left feeling a bit disappointed in myself that I hadn’t really worked on either thing. So with the thought that today was a bit of a special day (even if only in my head), when she asked again today, I said yes. And I landed more gently, and with more control, than I was doing before I stopped dropping back 6 weeks ago. She offered to help me on the next one, but I said I was ok, so I dropped back all three times, and afterwards told her how much better they felt. She agreed that I seemed to have a kind of “bounce” to come back up. On the final dropback she assisted me, took my hands in, I felt the openness in my back, and after five breaths she brought me back up for me to (as usual) groan and creak my way through the squish in paschimottanasana.
And why do I feel the need to report of all this asana-asana-asana? I don’t know, sometimes it feels worthy of sharing, or maybe I just want to mark the day, or to come back out of blogging hibernation (again!!), but really I just want to remind myself that the whole point of this practice is that you can’t just expect huge changes every day, or that you can always do something which challenges you straight away just because you reeeeeally want to. For me the whole point of this practice is the fact that it is every day, and that 364 days a year you might feel nothing is changing until one day – BAM! You nail the thing you’ve need working on. But where does the work come from to have the breakthrough in the first place? Yep, of course, it’s the 364 days when “nothing” happened – the almost imperceptible gains that we make, even if we feel that nothing is ever changing. If you want overnight success then maybe this isn’t the practice for you. But if you are prepared to come up against your fears, your challenges and your limitations day in, day out; come rain, shine, snow, illness, redundancy, bereavement, and any other shit that comes your way, then your mat is ready and waiting for you.

Backbending with Tim in Antwerp this August

So for today, and every day, I am grateful to all of the teachers who set me on this path and to those friends, fellow-students and teachers who keep me inspired and motivated to stay on it. Peace out.