One positive quality that I find so admirable in others and that I strive to cultivate in myself is patience.
Patience is a beautiful thing. It requires a certain level of humility to recognize that not everything is about you and your desires, and that there are some things in life for which you simply must wait.
One reason why Ashtanga Yoga is such a beneficial practice for me personally is that it demands patience.
You can’t master Ashtanga Yoga in a few short years. You don’t learn lots of flashy cool-looking poses right off the bat. Instead, you start with a solid foundation and build up, pose by pose, after many repetitions.
Despite the rather step-by-step nature of it, learning Ashtanga Yoga and really getting to know the practice in your body is not a linear process.
Today that hit home to me during my backbends. For those of you who are not familiar with Ashtanga, near the end of your practice, you do a series of backbends – urdva dhanurasana – after which you stand up from the last one and then “drop back” into the backbend and then you repeat this 3 to 5 times.
For many practitioners, dropbacks take a long time to get comfortable doing. In fact, they can be quite painful and rather scary in the beginning. And, as I’ve learned in my own practice, beyond the beginning as well!
I realized today that in the past month I’ve been relearning dropbacks, and with that, re-experiencing the pain and fear, for the third time! Third time! Crazy.
Basically here’s the story. I first learned my dropbacks in the end of 2010 and after a few months I was doing them without any assistance, then in 2011 I had a little incident/concussion doing them so I completely stopped for a good long while. I was pretty much forced to start up again last year when we were in India at DG’s insistence. But I had to re-learn completely how to do them with a stronger focus on my legs. Then, this past fall I messed up my SI so badly that I have not done a dropback all by myself since October.
DG has been assisting me each day over the past week and a half with my dropbacks. He’s offered a lot of support. I’ve worked through my fear of abandonment with him. He’s stayed by side everyday. He’s even reassured me “It’s okay – I’m here”, which is not always his method when it comes to learning dropbacks, as some of you might know. But, because he is so aware of my recovering injury, he’s treating this a bit differently I guess.
David has helped me re-solidify the foundation of my dropbacks and to focus on the grounding strength in my legs. He reminds me to really lift through my upper spine and move with deliberate and confident dynamism. As a result of the pain from my SI, I have been overly cautious, too slow and jerky and very weak in my stance. This anxiety has made my backbends much harder than they really need to be. The slow, shy way I’ve been approaching them actually made my SI hurt more.
Today I pressed my feet down into the ground like a was planting roots. I reached up through my arms, my gaze, my sternum. I straightened my legs and actively engaged every muscle. I imagined I was wearing ski boots binding me down, as I lifted up, up, up and then arced over, with the image of completing a full circle and not a semi-circle. On my fifth try, DG stood there, without touching me, and encouraged me to reach and “Go!”. I arched over, brought my weight super forward into my straight, on-fire legs and smoothly touched my hands down to the ground. No plop. No fall. But rather, a deliberate and controlled touch-down. I stood up just as easily. No pain. No fear.
In fact, my back felt better afterwards! As frustrating as it has been to have to stop and relearn this part of my practice, over and over again, I can see now how much I’ve really benefited from it. My injury forced me to step back and practice patience. After months of refraining completely from dropbacks, and then starting up again all-over like a newbie, I had to go back to the foundation and approach my backbends with a renewed diligent awareness. I feel stronger because of it and I know my backbends will be safer and more graceful as a result of this re-education.
Backbends require commitment. You have to be present with them and fully aware of what you are doing. You can’t slack off in dropbacks, because it shows and you look like a big old mess instantly. They are not forgiving. If your bandhas are weak or if your legs are wobbly, you can injure yourself. That’s what I mean by “commitment” – You have to totally give yourself over to the practice of dropbacks. Once you reach up and start to arc back, you have to be there for it – present, breathing and strong.
But here’s to hoping that the third time’s a charm!
Thanks for reading Lila!
(the image is of me and my husband goofing around with dropbacks – photo by Sarah Cramer)