So here's the story. Yesterday evening, my fiancee and I went to the local Indian restaurant for dinner. Neither of us was particularly hungry, so we decided to share an entree. Which sounds like a wise choice, except that we both tacitly assumed that just because we were only eating half an entree each, we were therefore entitled to eat more appetizers and side dishes. So this is what we ended up eating: We had Gobi Manchurian (flour-battered spicy cauliflower) and garlic naan bread for the appetizers, and we shared the entree, which was Palak Paneer (pureed spinach with cheese). If you would like a visual, we had:
Looks yummy, right? I thought so too. But if you are an Ashtangi, you will know that one can engage in such indulgences at the dinner table only at a rather hefty price: A difficult, heavy-going practice the next morning. Of course, one can avoid such suffering by simply skipping practice, or doing a much shorter practice and then calling it a day. But being the Ashtanga Fundamentalist that I am, I decided to put myself through the self-flagellatory routine known as primary plus second up to Ardha Matsyendrasana. Oh boy, I felt the heaviness from the first few Surya As: I just barely managed to lift myself off the ground after Trini to float (if I can even call that a float) back into chatvari. The heaviness subsided somewhat once I got past the standing postures and into primary, but the effects of last night's dinner definitely continued to make themselves felt. I had to take a couple of extra breaths to get the bind in Mari D on the first side. And the jumpbacks definitely felt less light than usual.
But here's a surprise: The backbends were actually deep and felt more stable. In particular, Chakrabandhasana today was almost a breeze. After the third dropback, I walked my hands to my feet, and then hooked my right fingers around the right ankle. And then I simply did the same thing with the left hand: Walked it further in, and hooked the left fingers around the left ankle. And held the whole thing for a good solid five breaths. When I came up, I could scarcely believe what I just did.
Now here's a theory I have: Eating more food makes one heavier and more full of tamas, which is not so good for doing most asanas, but is actually very good for doing deep backbends. Why? Because by making the body heavier, tamas helps to anchor the body to the ground. This is particularly useful in Chakrabandhasana; the more the body is anchored to the ground, the less likely it is to just spring up like a jack-in-the-box.
And I think I may actually have some evidence for this theory. Before we go on to view the video below, I would like to first issue a general apology to Iyengar people out there: I am not doing this to make fun of Mr. Iyengar or any Iyengar practitioners. It's just that, well, sometimes a visual does speak a thousand words, doesn't it? Anyway, take a look at the following video. In particular, notice the series of deep backbends (the successive dropbacks, Kapotasana) Mr. Iyengar performs around 40 to 60 seconds into the video:
I'm guessing that Mr. Iyengar must have been at least in his 70s when he performed those backbends (I wonder if he still does them today?). And as you can see, he is, well, not thin... again, I don't mean this as an affront to Mr. Iyengar or to Iyengar people out there, but well, it is what it is, no? Could it be that whatever it is that is tamasic and weighs down the body also actually helps to anchor the body in deep backbends? As I said, this is just a totally random theory I came up with. Feel free to weigh in on it (no pun intended).
In other news: In order to help me get over my recent disappointment at not going to Mysore, I have decided to go to an Ashtanga retreat organized by the fabulous Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga Ann Arbor. The retreat itself is on Sunday July 29th, but I plan to arrive there a few days before to practice and soak in the sights and sounds of the beautiful city of Ann Arbor. Actually, I am also thinking about turning this trip into a Grand Ashtanga Midwestern Road Trip (sounds pompous, no? :-)), where I travel through a few Midwestern states to practice (and blog) at several shalas before arriving at Ann Arbor. But I'm still waiting for a few things to fall into place before I decide if I want to do this ambitious road trip. But I'm definitely going to Ann Arbor, one way or the other.
Incidentally, Angela has also informed me that the best Iyengar school in the country, the Ann Arbor School of Yoga, is located in Ann Arbor (duh?). Now this makes me a little nervous: I might get kidnapped by some Iyengar people and put into Kapotasana for, like, five hours in retaliation for what I just wrote in this post. Note to self: Gotta watch my back more (no pun intended) when I'm there. Also gotta be more careful what I say on this blog.