Click Here to read 25 Random Things About Yoga…on the Huffington Post.
Kind of a rhetorical question. I mean, if my hips were flexy enough, I would put my leg behind my head and it would just be happy to stay there. As it is, it feels like my leg muscles are made of really really strong rubber bands…I can get the leg there just fine. But then….sproing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
At least there is some possibility, I suppose, whereas with Kapotasana, I just don’t see it ever happening. My body just doesn’t want to bend that way. Even Ustrasana is getting painful these days, when I try to keep my legs at right angles to the floor. Wonder what that’s about. Perhaps having been forced to take the summer off from backbends? Or perhaps I’m just starting to really feel my age. I want to say that without shuddering. But it’s painful. Yes, it is. Better than the alternative. But painful, nevertheless.
The truth that you don’t want to acknowledge is soooo much more interesting.
Lisa, aka Bindi, or Bindifry has suggested, quite wisely, I might add, that I practice Second Series but execute a soft Kapotasana and not feel bad about it. I am intrigued by this idea. But it scares me. Is it an acknowledgement of defeat? Or worse, if I wave the white flag for one pose, is it just a matter of time before I begin applying that rule to another pose? And then another? Until I have lost all semblance of discipline? Until I have spun totally out of control? Until I am just a lazy blob sitting on the sofa eating bonbons? Until I’ve gone catatonic and the kids no longer know me. And the kids become derelicts. And they end up in jail. And so on.
Silliness, I know. But the notion of really committing to letting go of fruitless effort (notice, how I qualify “effort”; it would be too much to ask of me to let go of fruitFULL effort, and why would I want to anyway?) scares me. There’s comfort in repeatedly slamming my head into a brick wall. Really. There is. It’s a form of denial. Running full steam into that wall, time after time, allows me to forget that I am failing to conquer this particular challenge. Allowing myself to “go soft” would require fully accepting that it’s never going to happen. Imagining endless horribles arising from simply letting go of effort in Kapotasana and moving onto the next pose as if Kapotasana either weren’t there at all, or simply didn’t matter, distracts me. It keeps me busy and keeps me engaged in the effort.
Well, enough already.
This summer, after a stalled effort, I finally tapered fully off of my SSRI. I spent the entire summer slowly, slowly calibrating smaller and smaller doses until the level of drug in my system was below 1/100th of a milligram. On the whole, I feel fantastic. But I am still getting used to being able to cry again, something I have barely been able to do in the past seven years of SSRI-gobbling. And I am still getting used to feeling my feelings, in general. But it’s good. It’s worth it, I think. Even if it’s not forever, even if someday I decide to go back on something because I now know how peaceful life can be when you’re just a little numb, I’m liking feeling my feelings again. Maybe letting go of Kapotasana can be like that.
Maybe without the veil of effort, I will actually be comfortable saying, “No, I can’t.” Maybe I’ll find that it’s okay, and the parade of horribles never arrives. Maybe I’ll be able to take the lessons learned there and apply them to my life in general:
– No, I can’t stop myself from getting older.
– No, I can’t stop my kids from growing independent of me.
– No, I can’t love what I’m doing 100 percent of the time.
– No, I can’t burn the candle at both ends.
– No, I can’t make one choice and still have the other choices available to me.
And speaking of maybe, I MAY BE, scratch that, am SUPPOSED TO BE, going to the CT Shala tomorrow morning, bright and early, 8:30 a.m. Will I be able to do it? I want this one to be “Yes, I can.” Hold me accountable to this. Please. Make fun of me mercilessly, if it turns out that I sleep through.
In any physical endeavor, there will be a point at which linear progress is no longer possible.
When I ran marathons, I came to a point where I understood that I had already run the fastest I was ever going to run, at least at that distance. I also came to a point where I understood that I had already bested myself at every other distance in which I was interested in attempting. Progress was no longer possible, at least not with the level of work I was willing to put in (50 mile weeks seemed like plenty good enough, and running less didn’t seem like an option at the time, although looking back now, I wonder if I might have been able to beat my fastest time if I had tried “easier” instead of trying “harder”…hmmmm).
So it is with the shape of my body. I will never be tall. I will never be lanky. I will always be muscular and sturdy (reflecting my lineage of Russian peasant stock!). Even at my absolute skinniest, I have always been a mesomorph. I suppose that I could test the theory by simply dieting down to 90 pounds and seeing if I was tall and lanky yet. OK, well, at least short and lanky, assuming that is possible. But why would I do that? I like my weight. If I were any smaller, I would not be able to buy adult clothing.
When I began practicing yoga, I never really thought about the logical ending point for linear progress. I assumed, simply, that I would keep getting stronger, keep getting more flexible. Until what? I don’t know. Until I was able to spontaneously levitate? I don’t know. As I said, I never really thought about it. I just kept at it.
When I discovered the wacky-cool poses of the Ashtanga Primary Series, I knew that I wanted to “conquer” them. And I knew that the only way I was going to do that was to go to a Mysore-style yoga shala and get individualized assistance on each pose that posed a challenge. My goal was to complete the Primary Series, unassisted.
I checked that one off the list of Things To Do Before I Die about two years ago. Not too long afterward, some new poses were taught to me. These poses are part of the Intermediate Series.
(As an aside, I would like to add that the names “Primary” and “Intermediate” are serious misnomers, given that the Primary Series includes at least six poses which are anything but elementary in nature, which the name “Primary” would seem to imply, and given that one of the most difficult backbends of which the body is capable is included smack in the middle of “Intermediate” Series.)
These new poses were fairly easy for me to learn, and much easier than many of the poses in Primary Series, several of which took me 12 to 15 months to learn. And then I got to Kapotasana, the ninth pose in the Intermediate Series (Stand on your shins, bend backwards and touch your feet with your hands: Ninth Circle of Hell, anyone?) Suddenly, I was completely incapable of progress. Sure, I could get into the pose if someone assisted me into it. And by assisted, I mean practically ripping my arms out of their sockets. Or having two assistants, one at my legs and one at my arms, simultaneously pulling my legs in the opposite direction from my torso and arms. But all of that was so traumatic for me that I began requesting that my teacher to NOT help me into the pose anymore. And I began not showing up in class at all. And after more than a year of backing off, I still shudder to think about the ripping feeling in my triceps.
At home, in my self-practice, I began to stop before Kapotasana. I would practice right up to it, and then stop right there. Or kind of go into the pose, but limply, with no effort.
Not long ago, I realized that, to paraphrase Woody Allen in Annie Hall, what I’ve got here is a “dead shark”. For me, my yoga practice has always seemed to be a “shark” – needing to move forward. And when it stops moving forward, that’s death. A marathon runner would call it “hitting the wall”, except that most marathon runners can muster up the energy to “push through” the wall (if that were not true, the Willis Avenue Bridge would be known by runners as “the saddest place in Manhattan”).
As anyone who has been reading me can guess, this is a very very bitter pill for me to swallow. It is sad and painful and disturbing and disheartening to know that I have gone as far as I am ever going to go in backbends. Ever. Finito. OK, so fine. I’ve also gone as far as I am ever going to go in lawyering, in baby-making, in French cooking. So then why is hitting THIS wall so painful for me? Why is it making me cranky and bitter and sad?
The answer occurred to me yesterday as I wound up my self-practice, alone in the peaceful yoga room I installed in my house this summer, with lilac walls and French doors looking out onto the garden. In my stretched-out, sweated-out, blissed-out, post-yoga head zone, the answer smacked me in the face so hard that it literally brought tears to my eyes:
Fear of death.
Fear of death!
I had a teacher a long time ago, really a teacher’s assistant, but still a teacher to me, who would say “Fear of death” matter of factly, whenever I would express my fear of getting assisted into one particularly scary pose (Prasarita Padotanasana C, the forward bend with legs straddled and hands clasped behind the back, where the height of the pose occurs when the hands end up on the floor behind the head). And I got it. But somehow I forgot it in the four plus years since I last saw him.
Having hit the point where I can make no further physical progress in backbends, I come face-to-face with my mortality. Like, this is as good as it’s ever going to get, it’s all downhill from here, and after that, I die.
Strange really, given that I came to yoga as an affirmation of life after facing a life-threatening illness, the treatment of which was essentially cell-murder, good cells, bad cells, indiscriminately. Perhaps I feel betrayed by a system that seemed so life affirming, but is now insistently (nay, cruelly!) reminding me of my limitations as a mortal, reminding me that you start out young and innocent and full of hope, and then at a certain point you realize that you have achieved everything that you are ever going to achieve.
I suppose that I can find a new physical endeavor that will challenge me and fill me with the false sense of hope of endless self-improvement (read: immortality). Or I suppose I can face my limitations (read: aging) with grace.
If only there were an injectable for this.