Urdhva Dhanurasana. Dropbacks. Kapotasana. These are all big steps on the Ashtanga journey. For some people, these come easily, for others these asanas seem totally impossible. I’m lucky that I’m naturally pretty bendy (at least in a few directions, hips, not so much!) but even with natural flexibility these poses have presented other challenges to me in my 19 months of Mysore-style practice. By the way, can’t believe it’s only been 19 months, this practice is so consuming! I feel like it’s been part of my life forever on some days, while other days I feel like such a neophyte I’m embarrassed to even pronounce myself an “Ashtangi”.
If you’ve been around this blog for awhile you might remember how I fell on my head last September and got a concussion doing dropbacks (dummy!) if so, ummn, sorry, I know I never shut up about it. This was obviously a super scary experience. It instilled a lot of fear in me around dropbacks. So much fear in fact that I didn’t try them again without assistance until I was in India with David G. this February.
Funny story actually, which if any of you have practiced with DG, I’m sure will be able to relate to.
So, it’s our first day of practice at the shala in Kovalam. I stand up from my last backbend and wait for David to come assist me. He walks over, gives me a funny look so I explain to him that I’m afraid and that I need help. He stands there and places his hands lightly at my lower back. I reach my arms up over my head (new method to prevent head-bonkage) and I curl my way back to the floor. I stand up, no problem, and I look up and see the David is GONE! He is literally across the room! Not sure how he does that. I momentarily freak out, which of course, he notices and says something like “Ok Frances! Keep going!”. I had no other choice. And Bam! I’m doing my own dropbacks again. There was one practice a few days later when I got skittish again, so he helped with the first dropback, but after that DG made it pretty clear that I was on my own.
Over that awesome month of practice in India with him my back opened up even more. Of course there was sometimes pain (inevitable) but through it all I could feel my body getting stronger. During the first week of practice during the last assisted dropback DG wouldn’t have me walk in, but rather focus on keeping my feet parallel and legs super straight. After working that for a week or so, I began working on curling completely over until I could grab my own ankles. This method is pretty awesome, compared to the walking-in and then reaching for the ankles way, which personally I find really awkward, painful because it puts me off-kilter.
That first day I curled back and solidly held on to my own ankles I was totally shocked! I had no idea I could do that! When I stood up, I’m sure my eyes were popping out of my head and I wanted to shout “Whooo!”. Believe it or not, there was absolutely NO pain, instead I felt this massive surge of energy! I explained it to someone that doing these kind of backbends was like snorting a huge line of coke, minus the soul-stripping come-down. And like that, they are addictive! On the days when I wasn’t that open, or DG wouldn’t have me work that way, I would find myself feeling a little bummed out or anxious after practice. I was jonesin’ for some killer-deep backbends! Ha!
I remember David Keil in a workshop said something like “the reason we do all those other poses of Ashtanga is to get us to the place where we can do a nice deep backbend which will adjust the nervous system.” I kind of get what he was saying now. Nervous System, Sushumna Nadi – deeply affected by backbends. It’s powerful stuff!
Since leaving India with my sickness then the meniscus issue, I haven’t been practicing very intensely, but yesterday after a week of getting back on track with some healing, modified Primary Series I gave it a shot again. Tim Miller is here in Cville this weekend so I went to his evening Mysore practice. I practiced up through Kapo (it’s amazing how such a skilled teacher can assist you into grabbing your own heels without it even feeling like work!) and then did my backbends. On my last assisted one, I walked in and grabbed one of my ankles and then he helped me find the other rogue foot (so hard to find them by yourself sometimes when you are backwards and upside down!). Again I felt that awesome rush, I actually wanted to stay in my backbend as long as I could, finally he had to say, “Ok, you can stand up now.”
All this goes to show how easily it is to become “addicted” to our physical practice of asanas. This has its pitfalls, of course, but in all honesty, there are way worse things to get hooked on!
My experiences with craving the sensations of these deep backbends also makes it clear to me that when you see a practitioner doing a really advanced yoga pose in a class or a picture, they aren’t necessarily doing it to show-off or look good or anything like that, maybe they are practicing that crazy contortion because to them it actually feels really really good in some twisted way…haha…who knows!
OK – Enough rambling for today.
This is making me get super psyched to practice tomorrow!
This yoga stuff ain’t so bad.
PS – Look at this awesome photo of Guruji – I feel like he’s looking at the camera saying “Yea, that’s right. I’m a total badass – deal wit it!”