I was just watching David Garrigues' latest blog post, and the two videos that he has embedded in the post. Wow, the man is like a walking Encyclopedic Ashtanga Exclamation Mark! I really want to go study with him someday. I hear that he is now in Kovalam teaching a workshop. While I, of course, am here in this snowbound tundra of the upper midwest. Why, oh why does everybody seem to be in India except me?
But lamenting and complaining isn't going to get me anywhere. So I'm going to try to say something useful here. Back to David G's post. I've only seen the first video (I plan to save the second one for when I have a little more time later today). In the post and the video, David talks about the relation between receptivity and effort in the practice, and how breath helps us to become more receptive in the midst of effort.
In the first video, he talks about one very common experience that many Ashtangis have: You are in a vinyasa, inhaling up into upward dog. And then suddenly, in the middle of updog, you discover that your lungs are full, and you just can't inhale any further! What do you do? Stop breathing? David's answer is surprisingly commonsensical: Take an extra breath (duh!). When the questioner asks further, "But should we try to finish updog in one breath?" David's answer was, "Yes, but you need to work on the ability to do so."
The idea, as I understand it, is to do your best to follow the vinyasa breath count, but not to force it. Due to many different reasons, every breath that we take will naturally be different in length and duration. And for the same reasons, every updog and downdog will also feel different. It certainly won't help matters to try so hard to make your breath so long that it starts to feel unnatural and forced.
But as I was watching the video, it also occurred to me that even though every updog and downdog is different, there is also a certain distinctive kind of feeling that accompanies both updog and downdog. Here's how I think of it: Doing yoga is kind of like withdrawing into the bottom of a well. Whenever I do updog, it kind of feels like I am using the inhalation to float up to the top of the well to get some fresh air. And when I go into downdog, I feel like I am going back into the bottom of the well to reground and recenter myself for the flight "up" into updog and into the next posture in the sequence. At any rate, this is the image that occurs to me as I was watching David's explanation in his video.
There is something else in David's post that really speaks to me. He writes:
"The deepest person within each of us knows the larger, more comprehensive nature of things beyond the limited appearance of things that the ego and senses apprehend. Learning to identify ourselves with this greater perspective is the subject of receptivity. When we use our ego and senses to become aware in an inward direction, we will find that there is a sort of knowing that has its own direction, its own intelligence, its own necessity to fulfill something through us. And so in a practical, on-the-mat way, receptivity is the sustained effort to give up control enough to receive the wisdom that lies within our inmost core. And then to follow the direction of this wisdom with as much trust as we put in our ego and our ideas and feelings of how we control or shape our lives through our choices."
Notice that David does not say that we should get rid of our ego (like this is even possible). Rather, he says that we should "use our ego and senses to become aware in an inward direction", to "find that there is a sort of knowing that has its own direction, its own intelligence, its own necessity to fulfill something through us." It is in the nature of ego to want to extend and to achieve, to want to make this or that "mine", "my own." Anybody who has ever over-extended or injured himself in the course of practice knows where this can lead :-)
But I think David is suggesting that perhaps we can harness this same extending, achieving drive of the ego, and shine its light inwards and use it to attain greater self-understanding. In other words, the same ego that can over-extend outwards can also be made to turn inward and help us to understand our minds and bodies better. Recently, a teacher gave me some interesting advice in working with my knee. He wrote,
"...do allow yourself the coming time to learn what your knee likes to do (rather than what you like your knee to do for you) and in that process expect no linear line ahead. you'll most likely be surprised of what you can do, as well as of what you cannot do. also, your knee will be sensitive to weather, sleep, diet, emotion and so forth."
The first time I read these lines, I almost cracked up. It reminds me of something a former U.S. President once said ("Ask not what your knee can do for you--ask what you can do for your knee!"). Very simple, commonsensical advice, really, but not always easy to follow. But I think the same idea as what David was talking about in his post applies here: Rather than allow the ego to indiscriminately extend outwards, try to get the ego to listen and find out what the body needs, and work accordingly.
Alright... I think I'll sign off here. Can't write much more without overextending myself and violating blogging drishti (I guess the same rules apply to Ashtanga blogging as to practice :-)). As always, if you have anything to say, I'll love to hear from you.