Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Edge Moved, and Then Moved Back Again

I've been absent from the blogosphere, but not the mat. I'm taking a few graduate classes in nonfiction writing, and school started last week. I went into my head and didn't come out. I had an assignment due for the first class, and, despite a solid idea, I could not get myself to sit down and begin. I was afraid. Of what? Beats me. Once I finally sat down it didn't take long to write, and I was proud of it. I have the same experience in my yoga practice. I create a major mindf**k for myself about certain poses (handstand). Like a big blinking neon "I Can't" sign in my frontal lobe. But I can. And when I finally do -- whether it's writing a new essay or attempting a new asana -- I feel spectacular.

The "I Can't" chatter in my head did not appear out of thin air. It was carefully planted and nurtured by various and sundry vampires I have known. I respectfully borrow that term from the Broadway musical [title of show]. There's an anthem in the show called "Die Vampire Die!" which was actually brought to my attention in a Weight Watchers meeting. In a nutshell, it's about all those people who, for one reason or another, want you to play things their way or not at all. Sigh. The most poignant lyric goes like this:

"Why is it that if some dude walked up to me on the subway platform and said these things, I'd think he was a mentally ill asshole, but if the vampire inside my head says it, it's the voice of reason."

If I believe that, I guess that makes me the mentally ill asshole... and also-ran. So too fat, too old, too lazy, too selfish, too uncommercial -- adios, vampiros. Why not me?

A self-pep talk doesn't always silence the vampires, but getting down on the mat works every time.

After struggling through my practice for a few weeks, feeling like a marionette with tangled strings, last Friday my practice leapt forward. On the way to Pure for Sherman's 9:30 class, I realized I felt shockingly good, both inside and out. I decided to pick something specific to work on and settled on strength. Sherman gives several options for most asanas, and I generally take the more advanced road, except in my vinyasa. He asks advanced students to take chaturanga, up dog, another chaturanga, then down dog. I had tried this second push up a time or two toward the end of class when I was sure I could survive to savasana, but didn't dare attempt it earlier. Last June, when I first began studying with Sherman at Yogaworks, I was still putting my knees down in many chaturangas, until he called me out, challenging me to go for it. Eight months later, I'm actually relieved when we get to the pose. I know. I can't believe it, either. It resets my body and my mind, erasing whatever triumph or debacle the previous few asanas turned out to be. Every once in a while, something lets go and dumps me on the mat like a bowlful of jelly, but that means I've been working. So on this particular Friday morning, I decided to attempt the second push up every third vinyasa. That seemed do-able. Until we got going, and I couldn't keep track. I changed the plan, and began to add the push-up every other vinyasa. It felt awesome.

Two days later, in the Sunday morning Yogaworks class, I decided that no matter what else I did, I would add that extra push up all practice. I think I may have moaned out loud a few times, and I'm sure I made the Russian weight lifter face, but I did it. That Sunday, I managed to move my edge. And it was the first time I've come home from that class and not been a useless baggie of protoplasm for the rest of the day.

I was out of the woods! I'd left the pain and struggle behind me! Until my next practice, which was awkward, stiff, and utterly hellacious. I should have known I was in for a rough one when the simple act of rolling out my mat caused me to get a major sweat on. I did manage to hoist both right and left legs in the air during vasistasana (side plank) -- which is something I've been working on for, like, years. But the rest of class was a blur of pain, audible creaks, sweat and frustration. Funnily, I'd decided to dedicate my practice to being present. Jinx. My body was on the mat. My mind was on the space shuttle somewhere. Blech.

When I got home, I sat down to watch some BBC -- Season 2 of MI-5 on Netflix streaming. I pulled out my yarn and started to do some lace knitting (one of those infinity scarves everyone's wearing). To knit lace, you follow a chart filled with cryptic dots, circles and slashes, taking one stitch at a time as the fabric rolls slowly off your needles. The pattern is rarely visible at the beginning. It just looks like a big, confusing, holey mess, and I end up ripping out and reknitting certain sections over and over again -- when my attention has wandered. But if you follow the chart -- trust it -- knit, purl, slip, or yarnover where you're told -- eventually the pattern becomes clear, and you stop needing the diagram, except for the occasional check in. One day soon -- if you stick with it -- or later -- if you get distracted and pick up another project or six -- you have a finished garment you can take pride in, handmade with trust and persistence. The yoga of yarn.

With that in mind, I hit the mat again this morning, feeling strong, if a little sleepy. I connected to my breath and Sherman's voice and blithely started the sun salutations, but quickly bagged the second push up when we got to surya namaskar B (sun salutation B). I was babying my left arm and shoulder. We got to the front of the mat, ready to move on, and Sherman threw us into my least favorite of poses: pasasana. I HATE PASASANA! For the uninitiated, it begins with utkatasana (chair/fierce/pleasure pose), then you twist to the side and hook an arm over your leg... google it. I can't even describe it without getting cranky. I hate utkatasana, too. It makes my quads ache. Perhaps if I sat lower I'd hit the sweet spot and it wouldn't hurt so much, but, frankly, I doubt it. I do feel better directing my weight toward my heels, adding a slight backbend and, as always, tucking my tailbone, but utkatasana and I are on thin ice.

Last week on Twitter, Yoga Girl tweeted the following unattributed quote: "Chair pose is a defiance of spirit, showing how high you can reach, even when you're forced down."

Yeah, all right. I can get with defiance. Truthfully, I have been weaseling out of pasasana, which is derived from chair. Sherman puts us in the stress position -- I mean, asana -- for about 85 breaths, then asks the advanced practitioners to take side crow from there. I am nowhere near getting side crow, but I try every time just so I can bail on pasasana. I fall on my butt within seconds, then sit on it, watching others negotiate the asana. I know what will serve me best is to stay in pasasana for however long Sherman abandons us in that particular hell, to stay there, breathing and working it deeper, but... no. Sometimes I dread this pose for days. And today, it's first up. I looked around for someone to hate. The woman beside me had an open cup of water too close to my mat, so I chose her, but my rage was hollow. I was out of excuses. I knew what I had to do. I bent, tucked, arched, and twisted. And I stayed there -- with the other Level One practitioners -- until the blessed words: "take a forward bend" released me from my torment. Now my butt hurts. That means I did it right. I went there. And now there's no excuse not to go there again.

But first, the Saints. The Super Bowl. And gooey Mexican dip from Alicia Silverstone's Kind Diet. Who dat?! I mean, namaste, chers.

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