Monday, January 29, 2007

The Opposite of Not Demoralizing

Today began like any other day. I got my kids to school relatively painlessly, took Lewis on a walk and got him into his doggie den rather painlessly and got my car from the garage. Unfortunately, someone who had driven down the FDR Drive before me did not do so painlessly. One of three Southbound lanes was completely closed to traffic, and what with the rubbernecking, my ride down to Shala X took more than 40 minutes, where it should take no more than 20. By the time I walked into the Shala, I realized that the gluteal stiffness from two hours of ice skating yesterday was starting to set in.

No matter. I set my mat down and set out to practice nice and slowly, nice and smoothly, since I knew I had no hope of any adjustments, save for maybe Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana, which I could have really used, and which I didn't end up getting. There was no point in rushing. It was going to be the same as a home practice, only I was borrowing (paying for, really) the energy of the shala and the hope of maybe an adjustment or two before Sir left the room.

Practice wasn't bad, really. It wasn't the bendiest or the strongest. But it was fine. I took as long as I needed to get into each and every posture, and I like it that way.

It's my practice, after all.

Can you guess where this is heading?

I should stress that I didn't add any prep or R&D postures into the mix until Janu Sirsasana C - I just did my practice, albeit slowly. Then, the clock struck 10 a.m., and Sir was preparing to leave the room. I knew I had my work cut out for me in Supta Kurmasana, so I figured that it would be a good idea to get really deep into Janu Sirasana C - a nice Sacrum-opener. As such, I saw fit to take my leg up behind my shoulder in order to super-externally rotate my hip.

It's my practice, after all, and I was about to face my hardest postures on my own, without assistance from a teacher, and knowing that everyone else in the room was settling into their finishing postures or already in savasana. That alone is a recipe for tossing in the towel. But I wasn't going to toss in the towel. The plan was to plug along.

That is, until Sir came up to me and mocked me: "You think that putting your leg behind your head is going to make Supta Kuramasana easier?"

I was mortified.

I stammered something about the knee in Janu Sirasana, but I managed to censor myelf from making the excuse that the medications I am taking (Arimidex, in particular) can make me arthritically stiff, and so sometimes I need that extra stretch. I've been thinking about that all day too. Is my body simply not cut out for Ashtanga, with its rigid requirements of NO PREP poses and strict adherance to a specific sequence that does not leave room for the possibility that maybe, just MAYBE, someone in the room is on a lifelong prescription for medication that is KNOWN TO CAUSE JOINT PAIN, and oh, by the way, it was like 11 degrees Farenheit today with no humidity?

Sounds like I am making a big deal out of a little dig, right? Sounds like a chord was hit, and I vibrated to it. Right? Well, no, actually, because it didn't stop there. Sir went on to say that I should be able to get through Supta Kuramasana in 45 minutes (which was all I had today after the traffic debacle, which he knows nothing about, and which isn't his problem, and which I had no intention of making his problem; hence, my relaxed approach to practice today, with no expectation of assistance in the tough poses).

Forty-five minutes to Supta Kurmasana?!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Not this body. Not at this point, at least. Not in the dead of winter, with a bottle of Arimidex on my dresser, turning my joints into concrete since the summer of 2003. That's nearly four years of joint damage at this point, damage that I have been trying to alleviate through yoga. Maybe the young, or the middle aged with no health issues or even the elderly with no health issues can plow through Primary with nary a hesitation. But not me. My body is not the same as the 41-year old next to me, even if it LOOKS the same.

"You need to go to your backbends now," I was told.

And so, I wasn't even permitted (permitted?! whose body is it anyway? whose practice?) to finish my practice in the remaining half hour. I resisted the urge to give all of my reasons for my difficulties in practicing "quickly" enough - the meds, the cold, the ice skating - because Sir had already made up his mind that I spend too much time "playing".


And so, I did three awful, painful backbends, one horrible forward bend, a pathetic set of finishing poses and high-tailed it out of there.

I went home, curled up on the sofa, shoes and jacket still on, and passed out for the rest of the morning.

This isn't supposed to happen. It isn't supposed to be this way. My practice was not only ruined, but so was my day.

I have no insights about this. I don't know how to go back to the shala tomorrow. I don't know how to practice with any teacher if this is what it is going to be like for me - with my body being different INSIDE than it LOOKS on the outside, with a practice that seems to require adherence to a set of rules that my body does not adhere to exactly according to plan. I've been a good student. I've been diligent in my practice. I don't want to turn to Viniyoga, or the disciples of Desikachar for a "personalized practice" because it's never athletic or vigorous enough for me.

Like I said, I'm the opposite of not demoralized.

Advice, gently given, is welcome.



karen said...

I'm sorry you feel so bad.

Here's what I'd do. I'd ask Sir if I could book some time to talk to him. And then I would *ask* him about all the issues you are bringing up. I wouldn't *tell* him, I would ask him if he thinks these things can or should change your practice of Ashtanga.

And then, I'd listen to what he had to say.

And then I'd wait a bit for it all to settle, and see what I thought.

I hope you feel back in good spirits again soon.

Patti said...

I am also sorry you feel bad. I had a practice last week that left me feeling defeated, sad and a little hopeless. Upon reflection, it seems that this too is part of the yoga. I do need to realize that there are some things that I may never do to the degree I would like, and that gives me the reminder that it is the practice, the journey, not the destination that is important.
On the other hand, it is quite frustrating to have Sir dictating what you can and cannot do in your own practice, and it is your practice. I am not a fan of that type of teaching as I feel you, with all the intuition and knowledge of your body which you have culivated over the years, know when things need to be "changed up" a little.
Your internal voice is wiser than any external teacher could be. Maybe talking with him would help, or it may just frustrate you even more. There must be other options for you in that big beautiful city if you should decide that a change is necessary. You do have special considerations. You have worked too hard to have your practice denied you. Ashtanga is not the only game in town, and maybe your body needs to have the freedom and the therapy of a slightly different practice. You could approach it with an open mind and heart and see what it brings you....

Anonymous said...

If he doesn't know about your meds then you probably shouldn't take the comment personally. It seems that a series of things (not getting adjusted in h.p., the comment, being told to go start backbending, today's stiffness, not enough sleep?) have had a cumulative effect. I get why he wanted you to do BB's (if everyone must be out of there at a certain time, then you SHOULD be finishing up with 30 minutes to go. Every teacher I know says the standing and closing sequences are the most important and the latter, when done properly, takes about a half hour). The comment is typical of a "traditional" (rigid) ashtanga teacher and is best ignored.

Of course you should do ashtanga if that's what you like. But if you go to a traditional teacher, don't expect do do research poses in their class, and learn to love the pose you're on. It's not about the poses, anyway, or you'd be doing anursara or vinyasa flow or some other feel good-y yoga. It's about the breath/bandhas/moving meditation, right?).

Anonymous said...

Sorry you felt so bad YC, but I have to are regressing! Go to the shala, stand on your mat and do the damn practice. No extra prep, no extra poses no extra NOTHING. Every day. That's it. It may not feel great, but it seems to me that its in your head. If you do the practice - this practice - then it will happen.

There is no need to talk to Sir. He's already told you what you need to do. Yes, 45 minutes to Supta K. End of story.

What the hell happened here? Sounds like an old post from a year ag0 where you thought you knew better, where, b/c of your body and your meds and your joints, you knew how you should practice ashtanga. You knew you were wrong, you moved on and began to practice - and things have been great! Don't go back to your old ways! Stick to the practice.

Or don't - but then don't go back to Sir.

Anonymous said...

What everyone else sees is that photo on the right:: Yoga Chickie, A Different Perspective. If you can do that, why the pity party? Sir is holding you to the standard to which he thinks you are capable. If you believe otherwise, tell him, and I'm sure he will modify his expectations of you.

"YC" said...

The second to last comment from Anonymous kind of stung, but it is true. Guilty as charged. Ego, I guess, is the problem...I want to DO the poses, as opposed to doing the practice. I wish I didn't have to have been called out on it like that today, or ever, but I guess it's part of the process. I wonder what it will feel like when I practice and don't care whether or not I can do the postures, if I am true to my body at any given moment, at any given time. Am I even capable of that?

Anonymous said...

What everyone else sees is that photo on the right:: Yoga Chickie, A Different Perspective. If you can do that, why the pity party? Sir is holding you to the standard to which he thinks you are capable. If you believe otherwise, tell him, and I'm sure he will modify his expectations of you.

DK said...


Write down your options.

What is important to YOU?

I will email you later today.


Anonymous said...

i'm sure you will get over this funk, i must tell you something though, only in the last year (after almost 5 yrs of practice) i have been given two interm. poses and i was wondering one day, talking to my fellow ashtangi, do you think i can give them back, or, should i sell them to J. or even better, maybe i can sell them on ebay?
you'll do fine, frustration is part of the practice.

Anonymous said...

Do you need any MORE proof that your teacher is self-absorbed jerk, and you are a masochist?

I think I have to stop reading your blog. It is painful for me to watch you beating your head against this and still not realizing, not even considering that THE PROBLEM IS YOUR TEACHER.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading yr blog for awhile and now its getting tired.
the problem is not the teacher. And YC i really think you are doing your teacher a disservice. We all all know who he is-- and he's an amaaaaaaaaaaazing teacher. But the way you paint him here is as if he's some sort of control freak, which he's not. he's on of the most gentle,giving, and yes disciplined and sometimes stern teachers out there. You are learning from one of the best. But not everyone likes his style, and they simply go to another studio. easy american--"gotta have what I need, who cares about tradition or lineage"-- solution. The problem is not the teacher dear, frankly the problem is you, and thats okay--i'm not trying to slight you, just pointing out the obvious. We don't always match our teachers teaching style, and thats why there are tons of other teachers in NYc alone that you can study with that will give you what you crave. Go find that instead of painting your teacher--my teacher-- as something that he is not.
shame on you.

"YC" said...

If I wanted another teacher, I would have gone to another teacher. I am struggling right now with the latest outbreak of my difficulty surrendering. My teacher is not the problem. Nor is he the solution. The solution lies within myself. The yoga is the tool.

Clearly, from the varying points of view depicted in these comments, reasonable minds can differ about what I have written.

But please, do not use my blog to dis Americans. Whatever I am talking about here has NOTHING to do with being an American. Who is anyone to belittle an entire country like that?

Anonymous said...

Sorry I wasnt trying to insult Americans, just what seems to be the american approach to yoga. But thats neither here nor there. the fact is you tried to make our teacher sound like an awful person, and you and I know thats quite far from the truth.

i have problems with authority too and so i sympathize with you. And i understand that your blog is a way for you to work through things however i really think these are things that you should approach our teacher directly about first instead of having a pity party here.
you are a very good person and a dedicated ashtangi and frankly thats the only way i'd like to think of you.

Anonymous said...

as an anusara yoga teacher and student of yoga for over 10 years I have found this practice a way to embrace and uplift my body. no matter what your body does you area gift to the world. being diagnosed with MS and learning to embrace it as a gift has been my practice. FYI -there is a yoga studio in nyc called vira yoga, you may want to check it out. Astanga is great but perhaps you may find another practice which can take you deeper into enjoying your body no matter what it does. with love and understanding - your fellow yogini

Copyright 2005-2007 Lauren Cahn, all rights reserved. Photos appearing on this blog may be subject to third party copyright ownership. You are free to link to this blog and portions hereof, but the use of any direct content requires the prior written consent of the author.

About Me

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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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