Sunday’s always a good day for yoga.  You’ve had a rest day, been a bit naughty and splashed out on a few drinks at Ku De Ta…by Sunday, you wake up looking forward to an early start.  There’s a comfort, a focus, created by the ritualistic nature of it all.   I’m used to not eating beforehand now, and the nausea I felt for the first couple of weeks has disappeared completely.  I think I was just nervous.  All the intensity and the sweat can be a bit discomforting at first.  You’re learning so much about your body and tapping into parts of you that you didn’t know existed, and of course that’s going to be a bit intimidating.  What if you don’t like what you find?  As you progress it gets easier to deal with.  My hips….my dratted right hip….well, I don’t hate it anymore.  I’m still doing a modified pose for Ardha Baddha Paschimattanasana and Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimattanasana (you can see why I’ll be needing at least 30 minutes a day to learn the Sanskrit), but each day it’s getting easier, and every now and again I test it.  Gently, gently, pull the heel of my foot towards my stomach, careful with the knee, oh so careful with the knee.  My left leg is there.  Knee falls flat, or points directly to the ground, but I can’t fold forwards yet, because I need to wait until my right side catches up.  I’ve known that my right side is problematic since the marathon.  Massage Man told me that it’s quite common with right-handed people to have overdeveloped muscles on the right-hand side.  Its easier for us to be dominated by the right, and let the left hang lazily.  As a result, the muscles in my back, shoulder, and leg have hindered my flexibility and caused all sorts of tightness and restrictions.  Whereas my left – not as strong – is significantly more supple.  So with yoga, which is all about balance, I have to put extra effort into stretching and opening my right, and ease up on the left so that at some point they’ll meet in the middle and be in harmony.

Radha told Jill and I one day at the pool, that she’s had very few issues with personal injury through Ashtanga because she took her time.  She was taught, strictly, to take her time.  Ashtanga is the type of asana practice that is, I think, most strongly associated with injury.  Of the knees, wrists, ankles.  It requires a lot of upper body strength and the poses aren’t always appropriate for certain body types.  But Radha’s been practicing for over 20 years.  It took her seven years to complete the first series, five, I think for the second, and now she’s on the third.  There are six series.  I can’t even begin to comprehend what that looks like or go into that right now.  It’s a bit like training for your first sprint triathlon, and then you meet someone who’s competing in the triple iron man.  And I genuinely believe that there isn’t that much difference between the two (triple iron man and third series ashtanga I mean). Different activities, sure, but by the time you get to that extent of endurance and stamina, I’m in no doubt that participants are reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness that us mere mortal folk, can only imagine.

Even from my marathon experience, a mere fraction of what a triple iron man would be, I’ve drawn so much from in my beginner’s pursuit of Ashtanga.  It’s the meditative side of it mostly.  Spending all that time, oh-so-quietly, in your own head.  Discovering limitations, and learning how to manage them.  The people you meet.  Sharing stories of pain and frustration, successes and breakthroughs.  Emotional.  There was a point in the marathon, when I saw Julia on the side of the road, not even half way through, and the tightening of my chest, and heat behind my eyes, was not dissimilar to how I feel when I’m struggling through Utthita Parsvakonasana.  The day after the marathon I spoke to a friend of mine, told him I was happy as could be, but couldn’t stop crying.  He, a seasoned marathon runner and triathlete, wasn’t surprised by that at all.  You’re stirring up stuff so deep of course its going to come out and take a while to recover from.  Perhaps that’s why his view on life and positive, accepting attitude is so similar to the people here, in Bali.  Well, some of them anyway.

One struggle I’m having is learning to manage the ashtanga-extremists.  I’ve spent most of my time trying to explain to friends, colleagues, family what yoga is…that its not just a bunch of stretches…a sport for lazy people.  Oh my god no!  So not for lazy people.  (Just a quick note:  Ashtangis have a tendency to be A-type personalities –  just like marathon runners.  That means – narcissistic, masochistic, or both).  And I’ve spent so much time trying to defend yoga that when I do come across people who have taken it to the other end of the spectrum, I’m thrown completely.  Debates about mung beans and quinoa, and the disapproving looks over people who opt to put ice in their drinks, is what puts me off.  5 minutes with a German Ayurvedic gnome was enough to make me want to pack the whole thing in, hit the nearest bar, knock back a bottle of vodka and spark up a marlboro red or ten.  There’s so much bull-shit that goes along with it, that it makes me think of religion.  Once you’ve stripped it all down, you’re pretty much left with something very beautiful and pure.  Kindness to others, awareness of the self, acceptance, forgiveness, and, as I mentioned before, appreciating that you are a ridiculously small part of something much much bigger.   I’m still new to this whole thing, but what I’m taking from it so far, is that I don’t think what you learn through yoga is necessarily restricted to those that practice yoga.  The same way that atheists and religious extremists, who are normal and good human beings, probably share the same values.   You don’t need to put names to everything, or follow the same doctrines.  If the willingness is there, you all kind of reach the same place and understanding…in your own way, in your own time.  And sometimes, finding that way through life, and hard-knock experience is the truest way.  Anyone who judges, or disapproves, or makes somebody feel like a lesser person, because their path doesn’t mirror their own, must surely be more of a beginner than the person in the back-row, who can’t touch his or her toes, but accepts those around him or her, just as they are.

I guess that’s what I’m working towards.  Acceptance of self, then acceptance of others…just as they are.

With the hardcore yogis, I felt like I’d been led astray, but it also acted as a mirror.  It was like my inner-voice had been strangled, and I could no longer see where I was heading, but I could also look back and recognise myself in them, recall conversations in the past where my voice was perhaps a bit too loud, a bit too egocentric.

So I did have a few drinks.  I probably broke every Ayurvedic, Yogic rule in the book for a day or two, and for what?  To re-strike the balance.  To reconnect with myself and the path I’m on.  I got swept up, and I needed to take stock and feel the ground beneath my feet again.  And to do that, I did what I know.  I drank, I had a laugh, I took the piss, I listened to house music, and watched the sun come down.  I’m in a transitional stage, just like everybody else, and with so much changing, and so many things opening up in front of me, and even in me, I just need to take care every now and again to make sure I don’t get lost.

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