Category: Ashtanga


Out of my head

There was a point, maybe 2 months ago, when I had to make a theoretical choice.  I was to keep plugging away at the job market, applying to every charity I’d ever heard of, exploring entry-level digital roles here in Brighton, anything….anything that would block out my days from 9-5 until I had enough money together to pay off my (ironic) career development loan, and get me on a flight to India for the yoga teacher training course in 2014; or I could take a step back and look at what makes me happy now…not what I need to do to be happy 2 years from now.

That choice set me free.  This massive weight seemed to slide off my shoulders and the possibility of so many things rushed through me.  It felt right in my very core, like I’d hit a truth so deep, I can’t believe I’d been ignoring it all this time.  And theoretically, I still feel that way.

But practically, the nerves are beginning to fray and the reality of what lies ahead has given me a bit of a jolt.  I think we each have our purpose, our drives, our needs, our paths in life that if we fulfill make every moment happy.   And when we come to that point in time when we consciously step onto it, we celebrate and mourn.  Mourn, for the life we’ve led up until that point, and all the expectations for our futures that must pass away.  We celebrate, for the first time it seems, what suddenly is, and not what should, or ought to be.  But then,  we realise that whilst our hearts and our spirits have already crossed over into that place, we have to drag our physical selves over to it in order to make it an experiential reality.

And that, I’m discovering, is a bit like strapping yourself into the most menacing, high-reaching, twisting, inter-galactic roller-coaster, and just as the belt locks, you think, “SHIT!”   What about…..Can’t I…..What if….How about….AHHHHHHH!

I’m two weeks into my Ayurvedic massage course.  I have 5 weeks left until I qualify, and in that 5 weeks I must:

  1. Find somewhere to live
  2. Find a home for Lady MacBeth
  3. Learn a HELL of a lot about an ancient science that precedes anything I’ve ever known
  4. Draw up a business plan and put it into action
  5. Recruit guinea pigs to practice on
  6. Sort out a place in a clinic to practice
  7. Create a website
  8. BUDGET
  9. Study my arse off
  10. Learn the sanskrit
  11. Find and maintain my balance
  12. Try and maintain positive relationships with those I love and care about
  13. Understand taxes and insurance, etc etc etc…

And with all this going on in my head, the most important thing is to remember to live in the moment, and to enjoy!  I had a bit of a kick up the arse last Friday.  The morning session went well, but by the afternoon, I don’t know what happened to me.  I lost my focus, I was feeling a bit tired, and I think some stuff had come to the surface.  We massage each other for a few hours each class for practice, so anything that’s dormant, or hiding gets drawn out and I was caught off guard and was put back into line with stern words.

It really hit something in me.  All the fears, all the doubts, and insecurities flooding into my reddening cheeks, and stinging the back of my eyes.  I went quiet for the rest of the day and felt a bit shell-shocked….this is it!  This is real!

I don’t even know if the words were stern, or whether I was just in a hyper-sensitive place, but whatever it was – it was needed.

That night I sunk into the deepest sleep I’ve ever had.  I dreamt of people who have inspired me, and heard kind words from each of them.  Words of encouragement.  Not just to stay on this path…but to write about it too.

When I woke up I wrote down each of my fears, and looked right into them one by one.  What if I’ve got it wrong?  What if my teacher got it wrong, what if she was wrong to see this in me, what if I disappoint her?  What else is there?

I don’t necessarily have the answers for all of these, but what I do have is the strength and the resilience to ask.  I need to be able to challenge myself, and be challenged.  I need to be able to look into myself and feel these fears, experience them, and then let them go.

My biggest barrier is to get out of my head and into my body.  I think back to Bali when I arrived at Radha and Prem’s shala.  The two months of dismantling my ashtanga practice and building it back up from scratch.  The repetition of each posture…over and over again.  Surynamaskara A 8 times, Surynamaskara B 8 times….back to the start.  Doing it over and over, and then onto the next block of asanas.    Slowly building, slowly adding.  Mentally – I’m a quick learner.  Quick to learn, quick to forget.  Physically – I’m slow.  But once its in my body, I never forget.  Once I stop thinking, what’s next, what’s next, worrying whether I’ll get it wrong or not, and start feeling the rhythm, the flow of energy and breathe….then just like my yoga practice, the massage will come.

Waking Up

7.30 – notepad by my bed.  I lift up my pen and hover it across the white paper.  I must have dreamt last night, I know I did, but I just can’t remember…I slept in, and I feel rested.  Yesterday was very different.  I couldn’t remember my dreams again, but I woke up at 4 – my hips raging.  My ayurvedic doctor said I’d made progress but there was still a bunch of stuff hidden away.  The remedies stir it up a bit, you process it all in deep sleep, when you’re ready, then settle into moments of calm.  Then when you’re ready to cope it comes up to the surface all over again.  There’s still anger in me.  Perhaps that’s why my Pitta has been so out of balance.  Its processing all of this mangled and rusty anger.  But, it’s not as volatile as it once was, it feels more fluid, and when it rises I walk it off, use my yoga to channel it.  In fact, my yoga practice is heavenly when I have all this heated energy swirling about in my hips.  Perhaps its the intense contact I feel with my body and its movement, perhaps its just a lot of upward energy….whatever it is, I’m noticing a steadiness in my practice that I’ve not had before.   Starting to bind in Marichyasana B.

Its a long way to go until I can press my nose to the floor but those hands behind me are clasped onto each other firmly!  I fear, those dratted boobs of mine are going to prove problematic as this pose develops.

My Navasana was steady.  Core muscles seem to be more engaged, and usually when I practice this pose, my legs, arms, entire body in fact begins to tremble.  You hold it for 5 breaths, cross your legs and do a little bum lift and then back into it for 5 breaths, bum lift, again for another 5 breaths…and ok, yesterday I stopped right there instead of doing the complete set of 5, but my extremities weren’t shaking at all, it was just a ripple of muscles spasms running up and down my core.  Studying Matthew’s book, I need to get those arms lower, chest up a bit, legs a bit lower….but that’s besides the point.  I’m getting there!

By the time I got to Bhujapadasana, I felt quite confident.  I knew my body could do it.  I just knew it.  My arms and shoulders tucking more easily behind the back of my thighs, confidence building as I place my hands flat behind my heels, I let my weight fall back into bum and hips, pushing down with my hands, feet lifting, lifting…there was a sensation of strength across my upper arms, and my core muscles burning ever so slightly, I was elevated for 5 full, unbroken breaths, and at the end of it all, managed to unwrap my feet and place them back onto the mat, without my usual ungainly, legs splayed, roll-back.
Into back-bends.  The moon sequence has been an absolute god-send for me. Back bends are scary.  It goes against our natural instincts to move our bodies in that way.  We’re taught of the fragility of our spine, and how careful we need to be.  Lifting your pelvis, pushing with your hands and feet and arching your back like that just doesn’t feel like its meant to be.  In moon sequence, every vinyasa warms it up a little bit, and by the time you get to the backbending sequence, (from a kneeling position, as opposed to this…) you just feel this rush of release.  Your hands fall back onto your heels, and you’re in control of it, arching, arching, looking further and further back.  Its remarkable really what you’re capable of.  It also means that by the time you get to back-bending in Primary, that nervous fear has begun to subside.  That stretching and heat you feel is meant to be there…you understand the sensations, focus on the front of your thighs, the psoas, the stomach…breathe.  My back-bends are messy.  Hands uneven, arms need to be straight, pelvis lifted, lifted, and by the time I got to my third (this was my first) it felt like I was getting closer to that…but for the first time really, its starting to feel good.  I’m starting to understand, my body’s starting to understand.

I struggled a bit through my finishing sequence, but my arms were almost flat in Halasana, knees grounded on either side of my ears in Karna Pidasana.  Sirsasana (headstand) is a funny one for me.  Considering most of the strength you need for that comes from your core, it seems counterintuitive that this particular pose seems to be getting exponentially clumsier and malformed.   First attempt was steady enough.  Muscles engaged, forearms pressing into the floor, cupping the back of my head…up on tip-toes, rocking rocking,and slowly, in a kind of foetal position my feet come off the floor, still tucked in balancing, balancing, inches from the wall…remembering everything Matthew taught me…pushing into forearms, it’s not about straightening the legs just yet, it’s not even really about the head…its the core…it’s all that strength in the core.  If I can just lower myself down with control, and quiet then the headstand will come in time.   I begin my descent.  Slowly, slowly…..AHHH! Thud, crash….toes crushed, a little bit dizzy.  Bugger.  Next time.  Next time.  Remember its all in the core.  Time to relax, to surrender my weight to the floor….Savasana galore!

Despite a truly wonderful practice the rest of my day continued to be a little bit fraught.  I had woken at 4 am to get an application in for a job I’d really like to get, but am all too aware of what a stretch it would be and how competitive it is out there.  I started work on my first freelance project.  Researching instructional videos online and best practice, for the series of tutorials I’ll be creating over the next few months.  I loved it.  Good to get my teeth into something again…but STILL I felt a little bit forlorn.

Cravings and aversions were coming to the surface, a resurgence of old habits I thought I’d let go of…I was dwelling in the past, fearful of my future, of being alone…I wasn’t living in the now, I was finding it difficult to stay with “this is my body and this is real”.

How bleak everything looked, and how withdrawn I felt, as I made my way across to a meeting hall in Brighton, to attend a talk about Buddhism.  I was afraid of talking to anyone, had my cardigan and coat all wrapped up around me, closing me off from the outside world.  I settled into a chair in the back row, slightly removed from the rest of the group.  A group of people familiar with each other.  I was the stranger.

But as the woman from the Brighton Buddhist Centre began her talk about the origins of Buddhism and what it means to Westerners in the 21st Century, I felt myself starting to warm…starting to open up.

She talked about ethics, meditation and wisdom.  Compassion, and awakenings.  Impermanence, equanimity and love.  All these terms that have become so familiar over these past few months.  She talked about the moments when you suddenly wake up and see the world in a different way.  That light inside you, and the light you see in everybody else.  My memories from Burma came flooding back, the beaming smiles from child monks,  a morning in Brighton last week where everything was beautiful and perfect, just as it was.  As she continued to talk I realised that despite  my self-doubts and “not-very-present” day, I’ve already woken up.  I’ve already experienced that glimpse into what our world is really like, opened that door to freedom.  But, and what I think resonates most from what I’m learning about Buddhism, is that these experiences are fleeting…it takes practice.  Practice, practice, practice.

Just like yoga, just like playing an instrument, or writing.  It takes practice.  Every day.  And eventually….”all is coming.”

4th July 2012

6.04 am – On the train into Brighton.  Mysore in the shala.  Looking forward to it : )

8.05 am  – Drinking tea in a coffee shop.  AHHHH – yoga was glorious!  Got a lot of adjusting in Trichonasana.  Not sure what I was doing wrong, but felt very shaky and nearly fell over.  She helped me with my forward folds, releasing my lower back.  Felt amazing!  In Chaturanga I’m to hold my weight at elbow height before “riding the wave” because my shoulders are getting bunched up and might cause problems later.

Thought it was all going rather well, feeling a little bit lighter today and breathing was good, and then I got asked that dreaded Mysore Ashtanga question.  It was just after my hippity, hoppity jump-through, which is a rather fun adjustment to help me get from step to jump through in my vinyasas.  Its to strengthen my core and arms.  In time…I assume…my feet won’t press against the mat at all…they’ll just lift and float through like a JEDI!

Until then, I hippity-hop, and then I heard that quiet, kind voice, “Who were you with before?”

Even though it was said in the least leading way possible, it’s still quite possibly the most weighted “mysore” question in the world.  It has any number of connotations…

1) “WOW, who were you with?” Aka – amazing!  Check out that nifty little adjustment!

2) “OMG, who were you with?” Aka – what the hell is going on there?  Sigh…can see I have a lot of stuff to un-teach; OR, and most likely….

3) “You were with someone?”

I instantaneously felt proud, protective and paranoid.

9-10 am – wandering about in the rain, waiting for the library to open.

10 am – settled into a maladjusted chair, disregarding the intricate booking in systems.  JOBS!  JOBS!  JOBS!  Slow internet, but how heart-warming it is to see the place so busy.  Still can’t quite get my head around the fact that the 6 books in my bag are free for me to read!  It’s like a non-virtual search engine.

10.30 am – old man yelled at me…”Can YOU stay on YOUR side!!  I’m trying to do something!!!”  Sympathetic stares from an otherwise polite group of fellow job-seekers.

11 am – Kicked off the computers for any number of reasons….the old man, not booking in….the assistant buyer role for Anne Summers I was looking at, “SEX TOYS” and “dare to unleash your talent” glaring across the screen for all to see…

Little bit grumpy.  Have got better at filtering, but essentially the process is still just as laborious.

Another wander, rain has stopped…let’s go outside…Ahhhh, what’s this?

A hard-back copy of The Wonders of Brian Cox, the unauthorised biography of the man who brought science to the nation.

I find a park-bench near the Brighton Pavilion, open the cover, and low and behold, there in simple print:

I laughed out loud, and let myself fall into the world of Brian Cox – a man who, against the odds,  followed his dreams.

Still buzzing from the heroics of close friends I fling open the curtains, roll the mat out, bypass meditation…far too energised to sit still for an hour…and launch into my Om and Ashtanga song.  Getting quite confident until I get to “jangalikayamane” where I just can’t seem to get all the syllables out with any sense of rhythm.  Pick it up again, until the next stumbling block, “pran…an…an…am..ni, or mi???”

Om.  Right.  Close my eyes, let the chipper Monday morning voices run away with silly thoughts for a bit…now breathe in.  Raise hands above head, look up to thumbs, fold forward, breathe out.  Ahhhh….nothing quite like that first forward fold.  Body popping and creaking but invigorated as blood starts to rush about.  Cheeks flushed a healthy pink, breathe in, look up.  Now, I could jump back…I have the energy…but have a long practice ahead of me, so I step back instead, breathing out as I lower my body into plank, shoulders burning ever so slightly, nose almost touching the floor.  Mulah Bandha, mulah bandha, Prem’s voice echoes through my practice still.  I rock gently on my palms and feet before lowering my upper body and riding the wave up into upward facing dog.  Slowly, slowly, head stays level until your back is fully arched, and then, you roll your head back.  Chest expanding, shoulders sloped, oxygen bursting  through you, fold back into downward-facing dog, breathe out.  Hips up, back straight, palms flat, angled ever so slightly to the corners of the room, heels sinking, sinking…ahhh, there they go, making that reassuring contact with the mat.  Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, I see how my body feels, whether its light and opens quickly, or stiff and a bit heavy…today its neither.  Just plain steady.

Despite the insurgence of inspiration very little has changed in my practice.  Head is creeping slowly closer to the floor in Prasarita Padottanasana, leg slowly straightening in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana balance maintained as I extend my leg to the side and look over my other shoulder.  Marichyasanas are still a buggar!  Breath gets sharper, heavier, deeper, can feel the fire in my stomach, start to sweat.  Organs are being wrung out.  Hell of a way to start the day.  I get closer to my nemesis – Bhujapidasana.

“Today is the day!”  I whisper to myself as I get through, a very shaky post-navasana vinyasa, and prepare for…wait for it…wait for it…bloody Bhujapidasana.

Thighs wrapped around forearms, palms pressed firmly into the ground, I shuffle my feet closer together, elbows pressing out, thighs pressing in, hips opening, core muscles trembling, breathing breathing…I lift my feet off the ground, rocking, rocking…have I got it, have I got it???

AHHHHHHHHH!

Crashing to the floor, arse on display, fuck it!

Vinyasa flow disrupted entirely, I take some time to attempt it again, and again.  Break the pose down, step by step, breath by breath, and patiently get there.  Feet off the floor, I rested on my elbows for 10 seconds, shaking all over.  I’m doing it, I’m doing it!!!  And then, AHHHH, back to the floor in fits of laughter.

Perhaps today is not the day, but with time and patience I’ll get there : )

“Practice and all is coming” – Sri Krisna Pattabhi Jois (1915 – 2009)