Sunday, 26 February 2012

A challenging Sunday

Led primary hurt today – physically and mentally. My ribs hurt, perhaps a tweak from assisted dropbacks on Thursday, Friday was ladies’ holiday so today was my first practice since then, and taking a deep breath induced a small flash of pain. I saw an open spot, congratulated myself once again on how stress-free this whole “getting a good spot” is, only to realise too late (like that kid’s party game, once all of the chairs had been taken away) that my mat was now covering not just one but a whole confluence of bumps and ridges – and massive ones at that. With my feet at different heights as we chanted the opening mantra the Pollyanna in me wanted this distraction to take my mind away from the breathing pain. And for the first standing postures I suppose it did, but all I could think was that I wanted – no needed – to leave. But how would you leave a led class in the shala without it becoming a major incident? You can’t, that’s how, so I knew I just had to suck it up and get on with it. So up to a point that’s what I did, but reaching bujapidasana the pain reached a crescendo – it is located on my left side, somewhere between the side of my body and the base of my shoulder blade, and tipping forward to the floor induced a flash of pain, followed by the realisation that I still had to get out of the posture after 5 breaths. I have no idea why it was so painful there, but it truly was – and coming out was the most difficult part. I vinyasa-ed to start kurmasana, realising that there would be some challenge here too, but I slid down into kurmasana with relatively little discomfort, only to find that while I could still hitch my feet behind my head by raising them up with my shoulders, I couldn’t catch the bind with my hands. For the first time in two years I was unable to do the pose (so screamed my ego), and not only that but I was in agony. I stayed prone on the mat, and as I moved into baddha konasana hot tears came. I stopped, skipped the vinyasa, held my sore ribs and quietly cried, and my sweet neighbour (I don’t know you, but thank you) stopped to make sure I was alright, and somehow I made it to the end of the primary series, limped outside for a coconut then headed home feeling miserable. I self-medicated with a delicious breakfast, coffee and some ibuprofen, cancelled my big jolly lunch-plans, and headed off for an early conference. And what should happen but the Boss was in a super-light mood. He had the packed-out room (admittedly the easiest crowd in the world once he takes the floor) laughing frequently, at one point doing an impersonation of somebody singing mantras with a guitar (instead of chanting them with correct breath and intonation). But more than that, somehow so many of the things he said today resonated with me so clearly that on the spot I made choices about how I want to live my life and things I want to change. He reiterated today:
Yoga is a four wheel drive car; one day life is up, the next day down, and only with yoga can we cope in all terrains.
Somehow this, or other topics that came up today, made me realise a few things that I needed to look at in my life. These seem intangible now I come to try and write them down, to spell them out, but perhaps that isn’t the point; I don’t need to share every thought, just to say that something in the way that this gentle man speaks sends a laser pointer of focus in to my own thoughts and understanding of my life, and gives me a direction, a feeling of which way to move on.
One particular thing did stick in my mind. “Always we say ‘oh look at him, he is wrong, he must not do this, she is doing that incorrectly’, but we do not look at ourselves to see what we must change.” Oh yeah...I gotcha. This is probably my specialist subject. But self-awareness is the first step, so I’m there...and now I need to start really looking at it.
I realised too that questions asked in conference seem to follow one of two themes. First is the philosophical/historical question (which to a certain extent says: listen to what I know, then tell me about it). The second, probably the more common, says “I do this: please tell me it’s OK?” We travel all of this way, we give up our lives, maybe our jobs, our families, a lot of our comforts (and certainly a lot of money), and we want this man to answer all of our questions. We want him to tell us that what we do, whether it’s choosing to practice sports alongside yoga, or to also take martial arts, or to eat meat, or drink milk, or to spend more time with our children than on our asana practice (his answer to the last one: “of course”), somehow we need to hear him say that it’s OK. And most of the time, of course, he does not. We feel that we need to ask, in all likelihood, because we already question these things ourselves, and yet we think that he will make it all alright. But the ongoing answer to any question posed during conference is just as we know it will be; take practice, be sincere, don’t mix it up or try to copy-write yoga, or say that you know best. Practice with sincerity, with your teacher, for a long time, and don’t think that saying you are a yogi makes you a yogi. The same applies for having a certificate.
But all in all conference was sweet, and light, and just what I needed to contrast with my practice. And as the day went by I got over myself, I kept the ibuprofen topped up, and of course no matter how crappy this morning felt, tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

As week three in Mysore begins...

On a daily basis I see that although what I “get” in terms of direct hands-on adjustment, or verbal correction is totally minimal, still I am learning so much. How is this possible – learning without teaching? I suppose to say that suggests that teaching only happens in one way: I tell you, I move your body, I help you. When in fact teaching in this method, through this lineage - it seems to happen in this room. Sharath talked in conference the first day I arrived about how in the West yoga is seen as something you “do”, but when you are really understanding and practicing yoga it is something which happens inside of you. 
We were also reminded by Kino towards the end of the retreat that this practice is not somewhere you go to to get something tangible from another person “it’s not about what you get, it’s about where you go”. She described reliance on a teacher as being like a key to open a door. You need the key initially but over time, as you become grounded in the practice, you don’t need that support in the same way. She said that the purpose of the teacher is to “hold the space” that opens the door to the lineage – sometimes through adjustment or instruction, sometimes just through an energy that they bring. 

It’s not until I looked back at my notes that I saw that what Kino was describing is exactly what I have been experiencing the past two weeks. 

At most, Sharath told me “no no no, this is not correct” in my first led class (relating to my hand and arm position in uttitha parsvakonasana), he told me to go back when I was futzing around before dropping back, one day he told me that I was too slow, and he did his funny disapproval grunt when I went into a warm-up bridge before a backbend one day (and I won’t be doing that again!). In two weeks, c’est tout. 
Bougainvillea love-in 
But I am far (far) from voicing any concern about this. My first two practices were just a sweaty blur, I couldn’t honestly say what went on whilst I was in that room. I was in a state of overwhelm. Then each day since that has started to come into focus a little more. 
I had a eureka moment in realising last week that internal rotation is EVERYTHING. When teachers notice or correct the turning out of the feet through vinyasas, it seems to me that this is why...I think I have probably been guilty of this myself, but realising that when I inwardly rotate my thighs and engage my feet throughout  my upward dog (and take care not to allow them to splay out), I have a strong feeling of engagement throughout my lower back and hips (instead of "escaping it" - just like if you lift the heels when backbending you somehow escape the icky place you don't want to go). Turning straight over my feet (instead of letting them roll over the sides) keeps the rotation firm. As I move into downward dog I notice that I also want to inwardly rotate my arms, engaging the shoulders strongly to keep the foundation strong.
Another eureka moment came a few days later in realising that I can (and must) engage my quads throughout the practice, pulling up the legs strongly in most of the standing poses – especially in trikonasana which my teacher has been adjusting me in consistently for two years and trying to help me understand the action I need to find. In working alone, in true self-practice, but in this space held by Sharath, I think I am somehow finding the answers to some of these ongoing questions. The reason I’m saying all of this is not because I want to tell you to do the same, or even because I think I have discovered something impressive, or clever, or even if it would feel the same or as monumental to anybody else. I suppose I am just keen to express the place I find myself in, almost three years to the day since I first discovered this practice, moving from the gross to the subtle, finding that in the right space that the practice is the teacher, but of course that comes about only because this place and space is so charged, so magical somehow, and (I have no doubt) also because Sharath is here, preserving this lineage, watching over us as we work through and make these discoveries - sometimes with help, sometimes for ourselves.

So maybe another day I’ll find the time to write more about the more general experience of being here: the strange shock of arrival, the settling in, my inability to avoid the constant possibility of socialising, the food, the people; the utterly insane dreams I have every.single.night; the perceived insanity of led classes, and the moment where everything crystallised into one perfect moment of stillness and ease in urdhva padmasana; the fear struck in my heart sitting in the foyer on my first few days realising that I could ignore the fact that “One more!” was finally referring to me. Maybe another day I’ll find the time for all of that, but not tonight.
I couldn't put it better myself.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


Once in a while I am capable of brevity (apparently).

So I landed in Mysore late on Saturday after *that* car ride from Bangalore - four a half hours of the craziest driving, during which I went through every emotion on the planet, from pure joy to total despair, wondering why on earth I ever decided to make this trip, thinking I was going to die, realising that in the end there was no getting out of it and that I just had to suck it up and experience it (yeah yeah, it's all yoga, I know). My arrival and first morning were awash with tears as I wondered just how and why I ended up here, I cried through my first shower, I ran round the corner to my friend's apartment where she fed me while I cried some more, and then once I was done eating and crying she took me to my first conference with Sharath and the social whirlwind that is Gokulam began. That first day I was passed from one sweet friend to another, so as it turned out I was out from 8am to 7pm and had many adventures in the time in between. Yesterday I had my first practice in the shala and yet more social and culinary adventures to fill the day. There is so much to say about how I feel having arrived here, and so much to say about the past two weeks in Goa and how much I learned and experienced with the wonderful Tim and Kino, but somehow I just can't summon the energy to do any of that right now - hopefully as I feel myself growing more settled here the words will come. 
But for now I just wanted to say a quick hello from Mysore, that I'm alive and well and figuring out how things work, and that I'm so so grateful for having so many wonderful friends here - some from home, some from retreats I have taken in the past, some friends I hadn't met yet, but on every corner I run into somebody I know. I have a feeling that this is going to be a big part of the whole experience. Speaking of which, I'm just waiting on Susan for breakfast before heading off on a moonday outing to Mysore palace and into the city, but first I need to run some beetroot and banana bread over to K's apartment in exchange for some home-made vegan chikoo ice-cream. Life is pretty tough, isn't it?