Thursday, April 21, 2011

Practice report, some musings on the nature of practice

"Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves."

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

I have increasingly come to feel that Garcia Marquez's words here describe my practice very well. There is no one day or one practice which "gives birth to" and defines what my practice is for me once and for all; rather, life (and the continuous changes in my mental and physical state that it brings up) obliges me to continually do the practice, and in so doing, redefine and give birth to new understandings of what the practice means to me.

I felt this especially strongly during this morning's practice. For some reason, I felt really worn-out and tired when I woke up this morning, and the prospect of doing my usual daily practice (full primary and second up to pincha mayurasana) was very... unappealing, to say the least. I'm not entirely sure why I was so tired (I went to bed at a reasonable hour last night). Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I went to that Moon Day class in Minneapolis on Sunday (see this post) rather than take rest (Moral of the story: Always take rest on Moon Days. You need it, even if you don't think you do.)

When one is tired in the mornings, one's options stand out in sharp relief against one another. At the moment when I was preparing to step onto the mat, it was either (1) go back to bed, or (2) step onto the mat and practice anyway, and see if I can find a way to iron out the tiredness from my limbs and joints. There is no in-between.

I chose (2), and am glad I did. The first couple of Surya As were kind of rough, but when I got to Surya B, I quite literally felt that I had a new body. There's something about working with a physically tired body that forces you to pay attention to every little sensation that comes up in the course of the practice. In this case, the first time I came up into Virabhadrasana I this morning in Surya B, I felt some new sensations in the back of the hip of my extended leg that I have not felt before. It was like a popping sensation in the hips, but not quite so dramatic (there was no "pop" sound). But it was refreshing and invigorating nonetheless.

The practice went on. I got through primary. As I was getting out of Setu Bandhasana, I asked myself, "Should I just do primary today? After all, I'm supposed to be tired today, right?" But then I thought, "Well, you made it this far, doing a few more postures won't kill you (well, kapotasana might, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it)." And so I plodded on through second. I had a space-cadet moment in the backbends: I went into Laghu Vajrasana without doing Ustrasana. I realized it after I got up from Laghu, "rewound" and went back and did Ustrasana, and then did Laghu again. Kapotasana didn't kill me, although I seemed to be a little tighter today: Had to hang a few breaths longer than usual before I felt confident enough to dive and grab my heels.

Did that chicken-out exit from Pincha Mayurasana again. I have to keep working on this.

All in all, it was a very good practice, despite the slow start. Kino offered to give me Karandavasana at her workshop a couple of weeks ago, and told me that once I start working on Karanda, I can cut out primary and do second only. Hmm... very tempting, but I think I'll stick to my long practice for now. It's good for the mind/body, as you can see.


  1. I love that you quoted from Garcia Marquez. Someone asked me what is my all-time favorite book just the other day and the Love in the Time of Cholera was the easy answer. I've been very tired this week as well - feeling physically worn out for no apparent reason and having a hard time focusing in the second half of the practice week. Do you know if there a particular reason or theory as to why karandavasana marks a point to start doing just second? Is this assessment unique to you or this an idea that is fairly common? Just curious. Thanks, Kristen

  2. Hello Kristen,
    I'm so happy that you are also a Garcia Marquez fan. He's such an insightful writer. And Love in the Time of Cholera is also my favorite novel of his (even more than One Hundred Years of Solitude).

    More than one teacher I've studied with (Kino being one of them) agree that somewhere around pincha mayurasana or karandavasana is the splitting point of second only. So I think it is fairly standard. I'm not entirely sure what the exact reason is. Maybe the idea is that if one can do both kapotasana and karandavasana (which are widely agreed to be the two hardest postures in second), one is then "good enough" to be able to not have to do primary everyday. At least, that's what I think is going on. There probably is some deep energetic/pranic reason that I am unaware of.

  3. Ah, nice memory you bring back, I am with "Abreathingpractice" up there, I am glad you brought back to mind Garcia Marquez, I love how he writes, how it all seems to be in siesta time in his novels, how things slow down as you read... I fancy reading him now...

    I had some very similar situation yesterday on the tired side, but managed to do the practice all the way to Laghu where i am at... and felt kind of what you describe, your post could have been my post... how interesting... I focused more too, and felt a new sense of energy

    So THAT is where intermedaite splits ha? interesting to know... I think that is a post in itself Nobel, to split or not to split? the attachment to the long practice and the fear of letting go and really being just on intermediate... just saying

  4. Very interesting, Claudia. Yes, I think that reading Garcia Marquez does give you a sense that time is slowing down. Or maybe it is not that time is slowing down; it's that the same things happen over and over again, whether we know it or not (as in One Hundred Years of Solitude). I often think that one needs to be in a yogic state of mind to be able to write like him. But from what I have heard about him, he doesn't do yoga. In fact, he does a lot of things that many of us would not associate with a yogic lifestyle (smoking, drinking, etc). And yet he has inspired so many with his writing, and has lived (and is still living) a very fulfilled life. Very interesting, don't you think?

    Yes, I think "to split or not to split" would be an interesting topic for a new post. I'll look into this.

  5. I dont know much about his life... but whatever he does really works for the writting... :-) Enjoyed the post on splitting...

  6. I think I missed this post. The splitting point seems to vary somewhat. My teacher mentioned Guruji splitting people in the range of Mayurasana to Vatayanasana, but I think that was a very long time ago. And as far as I can tell, that's unheard of now. Guruji was also known to split people at Dwi Pada Sirsasana, though I think that was more recent. I believe Sharath is splitting people at Dwi Pada now. Not sure if that's 100% of the time or if there are exceptions, but this is what I've heard (and what my friend who was split when she was in Mysore in the fall told me). Personally, I was split at Pincha. I'm not sure if my teacher intended to split me earlier, because I added Dwi Pada through Pincha in a matter of days. But the next day I was up to about Janu B, and my teacher came up to me and was like, "So, do you _like_ doing all this Primary before 2nd?" And I gave a confused reponse, something like, "I don't know; I'm just doing it." And he was like, "Well, you don't need to do the Primary anymore if you don't want to." Maybe he forgot to mention the splitting part a couple of poses earlier? HA! I'm not sure what he's told other students, and he was travelling and away for most of the last 7 or 8 months, so there hasn't been anyone recently. It's strange; for one reason or another, I notice so many things being told to other students, but when to split has not been one of them.

  7. Perhaps the question of when to split is a very highly personalized matter which is based primarily on the teacher's very personalized assessment of the student. I wouldn't be surprised if the same teacher were to split student A at Dwi Pada and student B at Pincha. Maybe it has something to do with the teacher's assessment of whether he or she thinks the student will be able to benefit from not doing primary at that particular point in the practice? I'm not positive that this is the case; I'm just speculating. But it's an interesting issue nonetheless.

  8. Yes, I think that's how many teachers do it, but my understanding is that the Dwi Pada split is becoming standard. I hear the 3rd Series split in Mysore is now standard at Viparita Dandasana. May be something to ask about....