Monday, May 08, 2006

The proper prescription

I've been a bit remiss with my blogging these past few days, and I am inclined to feel guilty, but then I don't want to turn blogging into yet another "thing" in my life - something that I feel bound to do, whether I want to or not. Kind of like my practice lately. In each case, it is something I enjoy, and I feel good after having done it. But there is something missing, something I would call tapas if it weren't for the fact that I was literally drenched with sweat today despite the cool temperatures we are having here in New York City. Neither my blogging nor my Ashtanga practice has become a "chore", and yet nor are either filled with joy or hunger.

I can see it in my writing, which has grown flat, whereas it used to sparkle (I believe!). I can see it in my ujjayi breathing, which has become rather anemic, whereas it used to be robust (I used to be one of those loud ujjayi breathers). I can see it in my defeatest attitude toward Supta K; it is as if I am entirely without hope. Only, it's not about life, it's about the pose. It sounds so dramatic (melodramatic). But that is only because I am sitting here forcing myself to write and pondering this cloud of ennui which seems to have fallen over me of late.

Something concrete I have been having trouble with lately is a sort of crisis of trust in the system. It is simply this: it doesn't make sense to me to stop practicing at Supta K when to do so gives me no opportunity to release the muscles and joints of my back body. There is a reason that Garbha Pindasana comes right after Supta K. Whenever I have practiced in a led class, I have felt wonderful rocking around on my back with my arms stretched through my lotus legs. And then Badha Konasana finishes the job. After that, it's smooth sailing. I could finish primary, or I could go straight into backbends. Either way, I feel good.

But the way it is for me now, I am expected to backbend immediately after Supta K. And let me tell you: it is TORTURE. Not only is it is impossible. After Supta K, I lie on my back and press my spine into the floor and try to visualize reversing up into a full wheel. Sometimes I bring my knees into my chest and quietly rock a bit on my spine. Today, after all that, I crossed my legs and folded over my shins. So then...WHY NOT GARBHA???!!!! WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY??????

Perhaps it is just my particular body - the joint stiffness from my medication (Arimidex) makes it hard to u-turn from backbending to forward bending and vice versa. I know that other people say that the same is true for them. But I have the meds working against me, not just the rules of anatomy.

And so I find myself doubting this system of stopping after a pose without having done its counterpose(s). And it is making me want to practice at home more, where I can easily slip into lotus (almost without using my hands) and then slide my hands into the spaces between my shins and my leg-flesh (without even bruising! finally! I cracked the twisted code of the anatomy of the arm!) and rock away without offending anyone. And I can then bend my knees, put the soles of my feet together, open those feet up like a book and press my chest down, without fearing that I am cheating or disrespecting the system. At that point, I can backbend because my back is now neutralized.

And so I doubt the system a bit now. Would anyone do a full wheel without paschimotannasana or some other posture that neutralizes the spine from a deep contracting? Rhetorical question. Then, why would anyone take the exact opposite spinal oosition (Supta Kurmasana) without a spine neutralizer?

There you have it: Yoga Chickie's existential Ashtanga crisis. Prescription? Two days of at-home practice per week for now and call me in the summer.



Julie said...

Here's my honest opinion... you either buy into the system or you don't. Doing some other practice 2x per week isn't going to really help you except perhaps on a physical level. After kapotasana my back feels horrid... everyone says "oh wait til you get supta vajrasana..such a great counterpose." I'm sure it is, well I know it is because I've done it in other classes... but I have no desire to be given the pose... it will come with time and until then, do a long downward dog between supta k and backbends, that's what I do... I take a few extra breaths, I round my spine while doing it to sorta work it out... then I move on to backbending.

It's super easy to convince yourself that your personal situation gives credence to doing "other" things... believe me, I know this ALL too well but, truly, if you ask me, the system is as the system is for a reason.

Let me ask it this way... if what you are really looking for is a new pose to counterbalance you... do you think that if Sir knows you are at home doing those poses 2x a week that he will then give them to you?

Jenna said...

So perhaps this is precisely why many teachers don't give backbends until after primary is complete.

samasthiti said...

You need an existential yoga detective...

yoga chickie said...

Hey Julie - I agree with you in theory. I just feel so crappy after Supta K now and so frustrated. I suppose this is the moment I've been waiting for all along, like hitting the wall in a marathon. I just feel sorry for myself at the moment. This is the yoga. I know that. But I am struggling. I usually pull myself out of these things eventually - I am hoping that when I hear enough comments like yours that I will start to emerge from my dark cloud. I guess that's why I posted about this stuff today. As for Sir, I am almost 100 percent certain that he wouldn't give me a new pose just because I was practicing it at home. I have already told him about practicing it in SKPJ's workshop, and he is the one who told me that the reason I (used to) bruise my arms is the way I was working them through my legs (without twisting to accomodate the way the forearm is articulated from the upper arm), and he's even said to me that he figures that garbha pindasana will be no trouble for me WHEN I am given it. He also said to me that that may be two years from now (!).

Jenna - I have never heard of not getting backbends. What teachers don't give backbends before Primary is done? Do you mean dropbacks?


yoga chickie said...

S - that is HYSTERICAL!

Julie said...

YC -- I assumed that would be the answer about Sir. I know it's hard but have you tried just telling yourself "you know what... this is right now" and just letting go of what you think should be the way it goes for you, your practice, your body... just let it be. From one thinker to another -- this might be the real wall of your practice.

Overhead in Mysore last week while a student was doing something I didn't note.

"No thinking." -- Tim Miller

Anonymous said...

Hey Lauren, don't give up.....hang in there,

DK said...


You could go somewhere else and just do full primary the first day.

You could tell the teacher this is what you do. You are a yoga teacher right? I mean, no one is going to stop you.

But that would not be the same would it?

Oh, and Lauren, despite the great myth that ashtanga is dangerous and injury causing you haven’t been seriously hurt yet.

You have your experienced traditional teacher to thank for that.

You will be doing full primary soon. Within weeks.

So after you get through primary it will be blatantly obvious that you need to start second to counterbalance all that forward bending in primary.

Oh, and after you add pashasana to your practice, it will be crucial to add in the magical bhekasana.


Oh—and a little tip—every urdhva muhka svanasana is a counter pose.

After the more difficult poses hold urdhva muhka svanasana for a few breaths.

And every Adho Mukha Svanasana is a neutralizing pose.

Try it more iyengar style—really lengthening the sides.

And then lengthen the sides.

And then lengthen the sides some more.

Oh, and I know Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is extremely difficult to feel.

So practice it.

I have been there.

Actually I still am:)

yoga chickie said...

DK - right on! It would SO not be the same. When I first came to my shala, I did what I wanted to, and it was as if something was missing. It was only when Sir took away all of the poses after Mari C (I guess he waited until I was "ready" - how ironic is that?) that it started to really "work" for me. When I got Mari D, I felt like I was really ready for it - I also got Navasana at the same time, and it made sense to me. When I got Bhuja, I felt like I had "earned" it in some way. Same with Kurmasana and Supta K. It wouldn't be the same if I just "did" the poses I wanted to do. I can complain 16 ways to Sunday (that's 10 more than 6...), but I still want to do it the traditional way!

Thanks ivdp!


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Northern Westchester, New York, United States
I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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