Monday, February 7, 2011

Prcatice report, some thoughts on drishti and being your own boss, and a story of a little self-transformation

Practice this morning was very good. I did full primary and second up to Supta Vajrasana, finishing in two hours flat. A very respectable pace, as far as I'm concerned.

As I got into Dhanurasana, I felt something in my left SI joint. How should I describe this feeling? Well, think about it this way: On a scale of 1 to 10, if very dull ache = 1, and searing/owie! sensation=10, then whatever I was feeling would be somewhere around 5 or 6. Not bad enough to make me stop practicing, but enough to let me know that something was going on, and I need to pay attention. I felt it especially keenly in Dhanurasana. It seemed to subside just a wee bit in Parsva Dhanurasana, and stayed at that level of intensity in Ustrasana. Doing my "unorthodox Laghu" (Going down, holding 5 breaths and then coming back up, and then going down and coming back up without stopping for 3 or 4 times) seemed to help, as the sensation subsided even more, but I could still feel something in that area in that last Laghu.

Then came the moment of truth: Kapotasana. Should I back off or even skip kapo altogether today, or should I forge on? I decided to forge on (I'm a kapo junkie). I looked up at the ceiling, drew my sternum up skyward as much as possible, and then arched back, waiting for the tips of my toes to emerge at the edge of my field of vision. The whole time, there was still that "off" sensation in the left SI joint, but I somehow succeeded in convincing my mind/body that it's going to be okay, just forge on. When I saw my toes at the edge of my vision, I dived for them, and then walked my hands to my ankles. Stayed in kapo A for about 5 to 10 breaths, and then did kapo B for 5 breaths before coming back up. And then on to Supta Vajrasana. It was only when I got out of Supta Vajrasana that I noticed that that sensation in my SI joint was gone! Who would have known? Conventional wisdom, I suspect, would have told me to back off kapo ("If your back hurts, wouldn't bending it in that intense way hurt it even more?"). But maybe Ashtanga is not conventional in this way. Or maybe I don't yet have a full understanding of how second series works on the body and nervous system. Any thoughts on this phenomenon?

Throughout my practice today, I also thought about a couple of things recently written by some wise bloggers :-) In her latest report on Sharath's conference, Claudia wrote that Sharath had this to say about drishti or focus point of the eyes:

"[Sharath] elaborated on how our minds get distracted, how we are thinking about our wife or girlfriend when we should be focused on the practice, and how the focus point helps in bringing us back into the practice, into the moment, into deepening our asana, and into making the practice better."

Well, I don't think about my girlfriend that much during practice, but I do think about lots of totally irrelevant and random stuff :-) I noticed myself doing this a few times during practice today, and brought my attention back to the drishti and to the present moment. I really think that this continual process of bringing ourselves back to the drishti and to the present moment helps us gradually become the boss of our minds rather than let our minds boss us around (see Hidden Ashtangi's recent post for more on this insightful point). The idea is that over time, this mastery of our mind will spread to our off-mat life as well, and we become more present and more effective individuals in our daily lives.

Actually, being able to achieve some level of mastery over my mind was probably the first tangible benefit that I derived from my yoga practice, back when I first started doing yoga six years ago. Here's one very memorable incident from that time that really underscored this benefit. At that time, I was living in Gainesville, Florida. I am a Buddhist, and I was acting as the local facilitator for some Buddhist activities in our local area. In my facilitating role, I had to travel to Jacksonville, which is about an hour and a half away, a few times a month to meet up with other facilitators (this is due to the way the organization is structured geographically around major regional cities; too complicated to go into here). As I was in grad school at that time, there were periods of time when I couldn't make it out to Jacksonville for weeks at a time. Anyway, on this particular evening, I drove out to Jacksonville for one such meeting after not having been out there for a few weeks. Incidentally, I had just gone to my first official yoga class the day before (see my earlier post for details of my adventures at this first class :-)).

Anyway, I arrived at the meeting place in Jacksonville. A few other facilitators who lived in Jacksonville were already there. The moment I stepped into the place, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, two women speaking to each other in lowered tones and casting glances at me. I knew intuitively that they were talking shit about me ("Oh, he finally bothers to show up after having the cheek to not come for so long...") Don't ask me how I know this (guy's instinct?); well, actually, even though they were talking in hushed tones, I still overheard bits and pieces of what they were saying, and one doesn't need a PhD (I didn't have one at the time anyway!) to fill in the blanks from there.

In any case, my first reaction in the first couple of seconds of overhearing what they were saying was to resort to my usual self-pitying downward spiral ("Why can't people be nicer/more understanding? Maybe I must really suck as a person if people are talking shit about me... Why? Why?!"). But then something really cool happened. Another, more authoritative voice emerged in my head: "Why should you listen to these people? You are here of your own free will because you believe that what you are doing here tonight will make the world a better place. You are practicing Buddhism because you want to become happy; you are not practicing for these people. So why worry about what other people say?"

To be sure, I had tried telling this to myself on a few occasions in the past before, but this time, there was something in me that was strong and confident enough to actually have the courage to believe this. It is no exaggeration to say that at that moment, I believed more fully than I ever had in a long time that I am the master of my own life and happiness, and that nobody can take that away from me, no matter what they say or do. It's such a liberating feeling. And since this happened on the day after I had gone to my first yoga class, I really can't think of anything else that could have sparked this small yet powerful inner transformation. And to this day, I still believe that it was this little transformation of the way I saw myself and my place in the world that made me stick to my yoga practice through its ups and downs and twists and turns (no pun intended). Yoga has made me a better Buddhist, and, in turn, a better person.


  1. Nobel, thank you for sharing that very inspiring story - that sounds like a magical moment to me - insight; self-awareness; mastery over your own mind! What could be more magical? Cathrine

  2. Indeed, Cathrine, indeed. It's very Buddhist too. Nichiren says to strive to be the master of your mind rather than let your mind master you. It's interesting that yoga gives us a practical means of actually doing that. Cool, don't you think?

  3. I need that kind of authoritative voice to happen in my head more often.

  4. @Yyogini, we all do, definitely :-)