Bit of a breakthrough

So in my morning session I did 8 repetitions of Suryanamskara A and B (the sun salutation warm-up), to which I was suitably sweaty and shaky.  It’s the only exercise I’ve ever done where the sweat actually goes up my nose.   And then I moved onto Padangustasana and Pada Hastasana (forward bends), and Utthita Trikonasana A and B (triangle pose) twice on each side, for 8 breaths.  Usually its one of each on each side, held for 5 breaths, but because I’m in the beginners group we spend more time with each pose to really commit it to memory.  In Mysore style classes, you aren’t led by a teacher like in regular classes.  The Ashtanga series is a set routine of, I don’t know how many, poses that you build up to with time and practice….LOTS of practice.  Even though we’re all in such close proximity of each other, you don’t follow anyone else, just yourself, and your own abilities.  The teachers wander round and correct and adjust you when you’re not getting it quite right (at the moment – that’s a lot of the time), and stop and teach you the next pose in the sequence when they feel that you’re ready to move on.  It’s a slow process, and can sometimes be quite frustrating.  Not because the poses are too difficult as such – although lots of them are – but because you have to re-program your whole way of thinking and being.

From such an early age we’re taught to be competitive.  Constantly comparing ourselves to peers, being bench-marked against the norm, aspiring to the elite, distancing ourselves from the “under-performers” that I think throwing yourself into a non-competitive discipline like yoga can be quite a distressing experience.  You can’t help but have expectations, and feel disappointed with yourself.  At times you feel resentful to western society for making you sit upright in chairs for all those years.  If we had squatted around the dinner table like the majority of the world’s population, then perhaps those hip-openers wouldn’t be so flipping painful.

But then,with time, something starts to shift.  You’re all standing in a room facing forwards.  The greeting banter has faded, afternoon plans put to one side, you pull your bodies in, start to feel the deep breaths filling your chest, ribs expanding upwards and outwards, eyes half-focused on a point a few meters in front of you.   Everyone around you disappears, and I don’t know what the yoga or biological terms are, but when its going well, it feels like the breath is a generator, creating all this energy and heat that you begin to channel into movement, and each movement is so fundamental, so precise, that it propels you into this state of intense awareness of self.  With running and cycling, I let my legs, my heart-rate, the ticking clock carry me.  With yoga, and sometimes swimming too, it’s more basic than that.

With all the competitiveness drilled into me, I push myself too hard, start to feel almost panicky at times when my breath doesn’t match the correct movement.  What Radha taught me today, in our afternoon intensive session, is that you should never feel that way.  Breath comes first, movement second.  Ordinarily, if I’m feeling out of shape, I’d take my bike out twice a week, and force myself up that hill that made my heart want to explode, sign up to every spinning session before the sun came up, and do interval training in the gym.  Push through pain, feel sick, break new boundaries.  I’ve got to undo all of that.

Tomorrow, I slow down, I breathe deeply and steadily, and move at my own pace.  If it takes me a month to get through the standing sequence alone, then so be it.  Radha told us that it doesn’t matter if we don’t get everything right straight away.  With all the breath, bandahs, individual limitations and niggles, it’s about planting lots of  seeds of understanding, and in time…yes…in time…they surface.

I feel like today, it was the understanding of non-competitiveness that finally surfaced, and learning to be patient with myself.  I’ve got years ahead of me to develop my practice, and when I watched one of the advanced students demonstrating to us beginners what the ideal Suryanamskara A and B should look like, I felt completely and utterly inspired.  She looked so amazingly graceful and strong, that I figured its worth taking all the time I need to get it right.