Katoasana is one of “those poses”. It’s one that gets a lot of attention. It is a posture that people love to analyze, idolize, criticize and agonize over. Ashtangis adore b*tching and bragging about kapo. “Getting” kapotasana is a turning point in the practice. Mastering it is a major milestone.
When I was first given kapotasana at the start of this year, I did not understand what the big whoop was. I immediately took to the pose. I’m not saying I loved it, but it didn’t make me feel like I was going to die. Within the second week of practicing it (this was when I was in India with DG), I could catch my heels with his help no problemo. I always felt awkward going into the pose (still do) but I could breathe in it and it didn’t make me want to scream/faint/puke/cry/other standard Ashtanga symptoms.
But then something happened. That “something” is still a mystery, but it happened nonetheless. And boy does it suck.
Now I abhor the darn pose. The mysterious pinching bursitis-like thing in my shoulders (coming up on a year now – kind of can’t believe it’s been bugging me this long) makes that specific rotation of the arms agonizingly painful. My lower back feels like it’s going to snap and when I get out of the pose, nausea sets in. Now, I get it, I understand the hoopla – I too dread kapotasana!
Of course, it must be admitted that I’m not practicing with the regularity or intensity that I was when I first got the pose with DG. Honestly, given the crazy schedule that I’ve had this year, paired with all the traveling, illnesses and injuries, I’m lucky if I do all my Second Series poses more than once or twice a week. Shameful, I know. I hope that when we start practicing again regularly at a shala in the coming weeks here in CO that maybe my body will get adjusted to it again.
But for now….here’s what happens whenever I attempt this wicked backbend:
I hesitate. I always hesitate.
I speculate if there’s a good way I can just skip it. And then I wonder…. if I stop thinking about it, perhaps the pose will be easier…..but I keep thinking about it and it remains hard. Fail.
So I start talking to myself loudly in my head.
“Well, Frances, no time like the present. Might as well get along with it.”
Then I think about how before he practices kapo, Thaddeus always recites to himself Bhagavad Gita 9.27 about making every action an offering to God. Which gets me to thinking about how I kind of fail at making my kapo an offering because I can’t completely wrap my head around that concept sometimes. Double fail. Oh help me dear Krishna!
And then the Lumineers start playing in my head, singing “It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all, the opposite of love’s indifference”.
At this point I’m done with all my preps and trials and I’m waiting for whomever is leading Mysore to come over and drag my resistant hands closer to my ankles. As this happens I cringe and my entire consciousness gets sucked into the vacuum of agony writhing deep inside my shoulder joints.
I try to breathe and then I wonder where in the world my mula bandha went?! I contemplate how it’s even possible to keep mula bandha active in this pose.
At this point I realize I’m squeezing my butt cheeks together so freakin’ hard that I’m just making everything more difficult for myself. This sets off a spiral of negative poo-pooing. I get a little pissy with myself for letting this happen. I know I shouldn’t be letting that kind of negative talk get in the way of my practice.
But still, I’m kind of a neophyte.
So indignantly, I agonize “Why is this so damn hard?! I love backbends! I’m good at backbends! They are fun! So why do I suck at this one? Why is this so painful? It shouldn’t be painful! I can do urdhva dhanurasana. I can do a great eka pada raja kapotasana, so what’s the difference? I used to be good at this. It’s not fair. Waah waah waah.”
This lead to me momentarily making fun of myself for saying such whiny ego-centric things. For a brief moment I might even remember that yoga is not about the body! Yes! Step in the right direction. Big deep breath!
And then, the pose is done and I’m on to the next step in my humiliation – suptra vajrasana. Yicky.
Ah, sweet beloved Ashtanga, nothing simple about you. Even when/if kapotasana becomes “easy” for me, there will undoubtedly be a new even harder pose to learn.
There is always more growth, more healing and more learning to be experienced in this rich, beautiful and challenging practice.
So, what’s the answer to my question?
I guess kapotasana is so problematic because A) physically it’s a big challenge for most bodies and B) it gets the mind stuff whirling. Kapotasana should be given with the advance warning : “Beware – extreme vrittis ahead!”
Learning to calm the mind, to corral those ever-changing whirlwinds of thoughts and feelings, is one of the greatest challenges and benefits of a yoga practice. Because even if you are blessed with a super bendy back and you can grab your calves in kapo, the mind is still an issue.
Sometimes being really “good” at such an advanced pose can be a curse tricking you into getting carried away with self-congratulatory, ego-stroking.
If we identify ourselves by our yoga poses then we are really missing the point, the real transcendental knowledge of yoga, that we are sat-chit-ananda — truth, consciousness and bliss. That we are eternal and non-material.
Newsflash! You are not your bendy back or your tight hips. You are a spirit soul. Hallelujah! 🙂
I believe that one of the reasons Ashtanga yoga is such a powerful practice is the constant repetition inherent in the method. By consistently and diligently practicing the same poses, I am given the opportunity to observe my mind and feelings around these poses and how these experiences change day to day.
Hopefully, with attentiveness and practice, I can discerningly address these observations, determining what serves my growth and conscious evolution and what doesn’t. Then there’s the chance for real growth to occur. It’s possible to practice yoga asanas without ever doing this mental work, but that seems like a terrible waste of time, don’t you think?
One lesson that I’ve been blessed with this year (and this is coming from a fiery, fiercely emotional Scorpio!) is that our reactions are voluntary. We can’t control what happens in the world, but we can control how we respond. Knowing this is power. Realizing deeply that you have a choice in these matters is intensely liberating.
How does this all relate to a silly backbend in Second Series? You let me know.
Blessings and Love,