May 30, 2012

The Agonizing Beauty of Ashtanga Yoga.

Boredom, breakthroughs and surrender.

Recently I wrote a piece about my frustration at hitting the wall in my ashtanga practice. I was bored with primary series, my body hurt from not doing backbends and I was painfully aware of radically confronting myself every time I got on my yoga mat.

But somehow the writing of the article proved cathartic and helped me articulate—and discover—the reasons that I kept showing up on my mat day after day despite my struggles. And, as that well-worn adage says: when you really accept something, change often quickly follows. What do you know? Pretty soon after writing the article, my teacher, who incidentally loved it, moved me on to second series.

Oh joy, excitement, tingling delight of a new learning curve. The delicious awkwardness of once again being on unfamiliar turf: shoot, is bhekasana next, or is it dhanurasana? The sheer delight at doing more backbends, not to mention my back’s gratitude to be stretched and extended. I was purring like a playful kitty cat.

And then I got to kapotasana. The dreaded. The purring turned into yelping. My lower back spasmed, my thighs trembled. And from there to supta vajrasana. Some days I thought I’d never get back up, but of course, with the teacher’s arms for guidance and support, I did. Many times my heart was pumping loudly and I had to pause just to calibrate and ground in my body, taking a few deep breaths before I could move on.

But I kept going, kept showing up on my mat, grateful for another day, still infatuated with the practice, like the heady first few months of a new relationship. I figured out how to move from my diaphragm, bear down through my legs and use bandhas to create space in my lower back. It got easier. On good days I can just touch my feet with my hands. Yippee! 

I even wanted to do primary again, and looked forward to Fridays and the chance to enjoy the feeling of completion that comes with doing all of primary. I was in ashtanga love.

But then the cracks appeared.

The novelty of learning a new series wore off. I got stuck at eka pada sirsasana (foot behind the head pose). Man, I never knew my hips were that tight! Pigeon has always been a delight for me. Okay, maybe not always a delight—on occasion I’ve ridden the wave from clenched-jaw-something’s-opening-up-in-my-right-buttock-but-I-don’t-know-if-I-want-this-to-go-all-the-way-cos- then-I-might-have-to-deal-with-the-underlying-emotion to soft jaw, tearey-eyed, softening release, grateful for the opening. But trying to get my foot behind my head while upright? No baby, not happening. Actually, I think it did once on the left side. Once! Thank you very much.

So here I am stuck again. With my frustration, my self-criticism, my tightness. As if I really could have thought it would be any different. As if I wouldn’t run into the same issues just because I started adding new poses. But still, elation has been replaced by deflation, the thrill of the new with the familiar dull ennui of the continuous present challenge. And so I’ll do what I always do. I’ll go deeper. Fine tune. Breathe. Accept. Try and show up with grace, an open heart and a smile. Try to stay out of my head.

And, as I always do, I’ll fail. Repeatedly. I’ll feel hopeless and defeated, ebullient and optimistic. But somehow I’ll find the beauty. I’ll welcome the delicious irony of finding myself back in the same place again. I have to. What else is there?

Yes, I could turn my back on ashtanga, try a different practice. But that wouldn’t fulfill me, not the same way. What’s more, I’m not a quitter. Once I’m in, I’m in. So here I am eka pada sirsasana, come on, show me what you got!

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Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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