Click Here to read 25 Random Things About Yoga…on the Huffington Post.
Me to a really good backbender, “Any advice on doing better backbends?”
His advice: “stop hiking and running; you’re tightening up your legs too much.”
Said to me by a yoga-practicing friend who lives in a place where “nobody walks”: “How can you walk so much? It must be hell on your yoga practice.”
These are the seeds of my discontent. They have blossomed, yes. But it started with statements like these.
Question: what happens when a healthy activity, a hobby, turns into an all-encompassing obsession that interferes with your ability to walk your dog, to get places on foot, to improve your cardiovascular health (don’t tell me Ashtanga is cardio. In many ways it is LIKE cardio, and portions of it might include cardio, but it is NOT cardio; it is anaerobic exercise, period, start and stop, high and low, the definition of anaerobic)? That interferes with your social life (no partying on Saturday nights), that confines your social life to people who “get it” (inevitably, your shala mates)?
What happens when you want your life back? (Do you become like me? Aggressively anti-cult? Do you close your eyes and pretend this never happened? What makes one person turn away in anger, and another in peace?)
What happens if you DON’T? (Do you give up all of your possessions that no longer make sense in your life? Does vodka become a distant memory, organic wine (blech) taking its place? Does every interaction with those who don’t “get it” become a strain? Something to gradually filter out of your life?)
A few weeks ago, I made plans to meet a friend at the CT Shala. I made the plans in good faith, thinking how nice it would be to meet up with him (we went to college together although we only know each other through the cyber-shala world) and to see some real life friends who practice with Val regularly. Ah, good intentions. Apparently, they are exactly where the rubber meets the road: I woke up on the appointed morning and couldn’t get myself out of bed. I tried, at first, to blame it on being tired. I wasn’t used to waking up early to practice within someone else’s time frame.
It bothered me to think that I didn’t have the discipline to wake up and get out of bed for practice. It bothered me so much that I couldn’t stop thinking about it…until I realized that not being able to get out of bed for shala practice was the symptom, not the problem. The truth? I just didn’t WANT to anymore.
I sent my apologies and noted, “My practice is just not shala-ready.”
But even as I wrote it, I knew that it wasn’t exactly true. I mean, when I started my Mysore-style practice at Guy’s shala (actually, my very first practice ever was at Eddie’ Stern’s, but Guy’s shala was my first habitual place of practice), I was very much an Ashtanga beginner. I could barely bind Marichyasna A or B and couldn’t bind C or D without help. Supta Kurmasana was impossible without a towel between my hands. I couldn’t really even get to Supta Kurmasana without getting winded. I had no almost no backbend practice at all, and my Upward Facing Dog was nearly flat. Yet every day, I went to practice. Every day, I relished the experience, looked forward to it. On the rare occasion when I couldn’t get to practice for the late morning session, I went early. Or I came in the evening. It didn’t matter that I was humbled by the practice. I went anyway. It didn’t matter that it was difficult for me, and that I didn’t know if I would ever be able to complete the Primary Series. I went anyway.
So, not shala ready? What did that even mean?
What it means is that I am no longer willing to put myself in the hands of a Mysore-style teacher. Not that there is anything wrong with Val or Guy or Kimberly or any of them. It’s me. It’s my unwillingness to have my practice interrupted with assists I don’t want or need. It’s my unwillingness to NOT add in a set or two of Jivamukti-style sun salutations between Surya Namaskar A and Surya Namaskar B, if I want to. Or to add a set of Gomukhasana arms in before Parvotanasana. Or to add in a set of pigeon poses and a Hanumanasana before the Warrior poses. Or to do Pasasana after Marichyasana D instead of waiting until MILES later, after my body has long since forgotten twists. Or to add in all the leg-behind-head poses either before OR after Supta Kurmasana, just because I feel noodley and want to explore. Or to save all of the backbend poses for dead last so that I can warm up my back and my arms before having to press up into full wheel.
It’s my utter lack of receptivity to hearing that my breath should be louder. Or that I might want to consider bending my elbows in Upward Dog. Or to being treated to a midpractice jump-through workshop.
I just want to do what my body wants to do.
But truth be told, there is more than that. There are things that make me cringe about shala practice, things that I never thought would make me cringe. Things like American teachers pretending to speak like Indians (“you take”, “you do”). Things like practicing before an altar with a photo of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Things like students bowing before the altar, putting their hands in prayer over their head. Why? Why the bowing, sure, but WHY the prayer over the head? What does that even MEAN? Things like that requisite “Namaste” and bowing to the teacher upon leaving the shala. Things like being required to take Savasana. I NEVER take Savasana. I’ll sleep when I’m in BED.
And the worst thing of all: the impetus to perform. I. Just. Can’t. Anymore. I just can’t. I don’t wanna. People who comment here sometimes ask me, what happened to me? Who hurt me in the Ashtanga world? Who insulted me? Who made me feel small? Honestly? Nothing and no one. It’s all me. I just started waking up to the fact that I don’t want my workout (and YES, I have never been anything but honest about the fact that this is my workout) to be under someone else’s scrutiny. I want it to be for ME. I don’t want to do it for YOU, or for YOU or for YOU or for Teacher. I want to do it for me.
Yet…there I am on my mat, at home, but still imagining the audience. I still imagine what Teacher would think, what Teacher might say. When I practice Pasasana after Marichyasana D, I imagine the Hypothetical Teacher saying, “Yes, but it is EASY to do Pasasana when you’ve JUST done two deep twists before it. Try doing it COLD. Then you’ll REALLY be an Ashtangi.” When I do all the backbends in a row, same thing. And sometimes I become present enough on my mat to remember that there is no reason why it has to be done THAT way, instead of THIS way, except that someone said it. One person said it. And that person changed his mind quite often.
Until I can get to that place where I know I am doing this practice for me, until I get to the place where that Hypothetical Teacher is accepting of my body exactly as it is each day, and doesn’t mind when I give that body exactly what I know it needs, I won’t be comfortable doing my practice in a shala anymore.
In truth, I hope that someday I WILL be able to practice in a shala again. I’d even like for that day to be tomorrow. I just know that it isn’t. For now, I’m in recovery. Shala recovery.
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.