Saturday, May 12, 2012

Superhero moments

I don't write about my actual practice very often on this blog, partly because I don't think it is all that interesting, and partly because it isn't really something that I dwell on outside of the time that I am practising, but every now and then something noteworthy happens that seems relevant enough to write about.  A breakthrough or a revelation of some sort that, to paraphrase Kino MacGregor, allows the impossible to become possible.

A lot of what goes on in an ashtanga yoga shala, to an unknowing observer, would look like some sort of ninja training.  People do absolutely mind blowing things with their bodies and they do it with a degree of focus and ease that make it look extraordinary.  Quite frankly, a lot of things that happen in the practice are nothing short of extraordinary.  When you begin, the simple things are really hard.  You learn to focus, you learn to breathe, you keep repeating those same things over again, day after day, watching the subtle shifts in your body as things begin to unlock and you start to get to know the inner workings of your own unique instrument, and then you learn something new, and it is really hard.  You may look up at some point, and notice the person beside you doing something that looks like it will be forever out of the realm of possibility for you, and watch on in admiration for a moment, but then you remember your drishti, and get back to your own practice.  Sooner or later you get to that asana yourself, and maybe for a while it is indeed impossible, but then with time, breath, patience, and maybe a helping hand or word of advice from a teacher, small inroads are created, and then one day... poof! You have discovered a potential within yourself that you failed to believe ever existed.

The arm balancing postures of intermediate have been that mountain for me.  When I first saw karandavasana, I thought it would be the end of my asana journey in ashtanga, because it appeared to be the type of thing that required a nearly superhuman strength, something I most certainly do not have.  Yet here I am, practicing beyond that.  This week, my energy levels were a bit low, and there were no expectations for any major asana breakthroughs.  Yet on Monday, as I prepared my arms for pincha mayurasana, I thought to myself that it was time to try jumping up with two legs instead of lifting one leg at a time.  The worst that could happen is that I would tip over, not such a big deal.  So up I went, both legs together, bent in with my heels to my bum and my knees to my chest, but believe it or not, I stayed, and straighened up into the full pose for a steady balance.  Karandavasana next, so I tried it again.  Success.  Tuesday morning, same time, same posture, wondering if it was just a fluke, but nope, up I went, steady and balanced.  Wednesday morning as I wiped the sweat from my forearms and prepared to enter the pose I thought it would be interesting to try coming up with two legs straight, like you are meant to do for the tick-tocks at the end of practice (something else I am struggling with).  Much to my surprise, it worked.  When I came down, I felt as though I should tie my yoga rug around my shoulders like a cape for the remainder of my practice (I didn't actually, but it was tempting), because it was the best superhero moment I have had in months.  Thursday, it worked again.  The impossible became possible when I managed the posture in a very tentative, bambi-ish sort of way that somehow got a pass from the boss to move on the next postures, but it happened all over again when some sort of intelligence blossomed within my body to allow the possibility of doing these same poses in a way I thought only accessible to the incredibly strong.  And I certainly don't fall into the category of incredibly strong, more into the category of undercooked spaghetti (as opposed to the overcooked spaghetti that I was when I first started).     

It is amazing how with an ashtanga yoga practice, doing the same set series of postures day in and day out never gets old, never gets boring. There are always shifts and changes happening in the body, physically and energetically, that leave you making new observations and discoveries.  New possibilities emerge, and the limitations you have set for yourself are proven to be completely unfounded.  The days that you start out thinking that it might be worthwhile considering geriatric yoga instead of this crazy hard and focused  ninja/superhero business can sometimes turn out to be the ones where you find a profound moment, not just physically, but in terms of the citta vrittis as well, those fluctuations of the mind that are so hard to turn off.  When things are harder than usual, because you are stiff, or tired or ate too much dinner or have stinky/heavy breathing/space hogging mat neighbour, you have to go more inwards, and when you go more inwards, and find that moment of complete quiet, and sometimes, a very surprising breakthrough will happen, that brings you back out of that quiet, marvelling at the fact that a new realm of possibility has opened up before you.  Not only is the physical achievment something, there is a glimpse of the depths of stillness in the mind when you are so entirely focused in on the present moment, and the vastness that exists in that.   

Guruji certainly summed it up well when he said 'do your practice and all is coming'.

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