Monday, December 26, 2011

new pose puzzlement

Everyone has a pose that stumps them (most will have their lion's share over the course of a lifetime of asana practice), which either physically or mentally eludes them. The struggle that ensues takes on epic proportions. Two and a half weeks ago, I got one such new pose, ekapada sirsasana. And since then, it is working me to no end.

Now, it may seem to some that this might be the start of an asan(a)ine tirade, pardon the pun. Here goes another ashtangi railing about the physical aspect of yoga. I'm not going to pretend that it is not an important component of this yoga practice. It's absolutely the vehicle for this practice. But for me, the practice goes somewhere beyond the mat. That mat and what I do on it is like a magic carpet.

But first: ekapada sirsasana.

In a way, it's a landmark for me to work on this posture here in Mysore. Not just because it's challenging and totally not suited for my tight-ish hips. It's the last pose I ever received from another teacher, a little more than a year ago. Any new poses will be given to me by Sharath, sealing my student-teacher deal, the one that I myself have chosen, which defines the respect and trust that I have for my teacher.

Though I have only been working haphazardly on this pose until now, I knew it would be challenging to take on in Mysore. I had no idea, however, to what extent. Its amazing how one new pose can utterly alter--ahem, mess with!--one's practice.

On the grossest of levels, there are certain physical drawbacks. I currently have a long practice, full primary followed by my intermediate poses. By the time I get to ekapada I'm usually two hours into it. I'm fatigued. My arms are like jelly. I've lost all composure at this point, gone is the steadiness of breath, gone is my count, what vinyasa!?!

Then there's stopping at ekapada, which is an extreme forward bend. The back is compressed as the leg sits on the back/neck. Not exactly the most ideal last pose before opening the back into urdhva dhanurasana, followed by drop backs.

Last week, I witnessed the total disintegration of my back bending. I could barely come up from lagu vajrasana, I collapsed at my first try at kapotasana, and could not grab ankles in backbending. Sharath had nailed it on the nose after he had to walk me into my ankles, my elbows dragging on the carpet, "Mmm, back tight from ekapada." Really? I hadn't noticed.

That's when my emotions kicked in. The new pose had already filled me with anxiety. Now it was making me fearful. What if my backbends continued to deteriorate? What if I ended up stuck in ekapada for all eternity, the pose mocking my left hip ad infinitum? I was tired and moody. My practice was abandoning me. No one was helping me in the pose. I felt frustrated and alone. My morale had dipped and the dark cloud in my head seeped into the rest of my practice, which for the later part of the week seemed to falter all around.

Self-doubt coupled with missing my family for the holidays made for an emotional Christmas cocktail. Sporadic waterworks interspersed holiday merry making with friends in Mysore. I was happy one moment, some kind of sad another. I felt a little deranged.

The weekend was a good break, though I could feel the tightness persist in my back during the led classes. I did what I could to be nice to myself. I ate what I wanted. I enjoyed the festivities. I watched some feel-good movies on my laptop. I also talked to friends, some of whom had their own tales to tell.

These intermediate poses are intense. They do not have the same sort of gentle healing properties of yoga chikitsa or yoga therapy that primary series is known for. Intermediate is linked to the nervous system. These poses push one to his/her limits with extreme back bends, extreme forward bends and gravity defying arm balances. And when pushed we become vulnerable. Whenever we dig, something comes up.

The body is this frightening repository not just for things we eat but also the thoughts we imbibe and the emotions we experience. Some of these things pile up, sit, and calcify. They can harden and numb us. And now, I'm finding these old stories and feelings are popping up, possibly being dislodged from my sacral region, the seat of svadisthana chakra which governs creativity and my ability to relate with others. It should be a place of union--though the riot in my head as I try to get my right leg into ekapada definitely disagrees. But even this says something.

So, right now, even though I'm "stuck" in this pose, I know something deep within is moving. These emotions are part of this movement. It's too early yet to say where exactly it's taking me, but I feel like the inner part of the work has at least begun and that the external will catch up at some point.

That's the beauty of this practice: what starts with the body subtly works its way into the heart and mind, while the knowledge uncovered there reflects back out into the physical practice, we become stronger, we become more flexible, we take one step closer to becoming free of that which restricts us.


  1. This is great. Wonderful way of talking about the interpenetration of the layers of your self.

    I also tried, and also ruefully, to write about foot behind the head a few years ago. People had some cool contributions in teh comments. It's such a crazy thing. Let me know if you'd like me to find the links to the old discussions.

  2. that would be sooo great! i think i can use all the help i can get!

  3. I dunno about that... :-)

    But FWIW here's what we came up with in '08: (doesn't load the first time because i've deleted it from my visible archives - but just click again and it loads)
    This post is all comments.

    And the inspiration for the discussion, from Susananda (who just today arrived here in Mysore for her first visit):