Sunday, January 10, 2010

Good Morning, Mula Bandha

I slipped, and I'm embarrassed about it. In beginning this project, I promised myself that I would not skip more than one day between practices, which I knew would entail some reorganization on my part. I am a scriptwriter for As the World Turns, and I have an 86 page script due every Tuesday or Wednesday morning at ten a.m. Every week for nearly a decade, I've ended up pulling an all-nighter in order to make the deadline, after which I'm whacked out for days. It's not easy to uproot myself from the chair after nearly forty-eight straight hours. Last week, I had two scripts due. It was either skip yoga or blow the deadline -- not an option -- so I sat here typing and feeling bad about myself for not planning better. Again.

My conversation with myself went something like: 'You suck. Why are you surprised? You never finish anything. You're the world's biggest procrastinator. And a fake."

Then I remembered my earlier post: Always we begin again. So Friday morning I squeezed into my yoga clothes and got to Sherman's 9:30 class at Pure. I felt like the Tin Man after he'd been left out in the rain. Everything creaked. I couldn't balance. My breath was short and shallow. I hated the woman on the mat next to me and her stupid, stupid water bottle. Practice was a war. I became a vegan on January 1. Perhaps my joints were calling out for bacon.

When I woke up this morning, it was fifteen degrees. I wanted nothing more than to skip practice due to... winter. I could bang out twenty sun salutations at home and go to Sunday night Restorative. That sounded appealing except for the sun salutations. And the restorative. One thing was clear: I couldn't go to class with my hair looking the way it did. Last night, I showered and fell immediately asleep. The hair on the left side of my head was stuck to my scalp, while that on my right was auditioning for the reverse-gender remake of Eraserhead. I clapped on a knit cap, and Robedeaux and I hit the streets. That's when my attitude shifted.

The sky was crystal clear and blue as a postcard. There was no wind. The morning sun was bright on my face, none of that dishwater Manhattan winter blech. All of a sudden I couldn't wait to get to the mat. Problem: both mats were dirty. There are days when that would stop me, even though a rental mat is only two bucks. Not today. On the way to class, though, I began to dread the twenty five push-ups Sherman throws in at the end. I could already feel myself fall out of Warrior Three. My ankles throbbed at the thought of the Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana series. I was about as out of the moment as one can get.

So I gave myself an assignment. Rather than dedicate my practice to steadiness of mind and effort, I decided to dedicate it to mula bandha -- the root lock. If you practice, you know how frequently you hear "use your bandhas." Often, while in a particularly pretzel-like pose, the teacher will tell someone -- or everyone -- to use their bandhas, but I can't locate mine. The twist in the middle disconnects my upper and lower body. Not good. The point is to get into your body, not disassemble it like the Black Dahlia.

I decided to see what would happen if I concentrated on nothing but mula bandha in every pose. Forget breath, feet, shoulders, tailbone... just me and mula bandha for ninety minutes. It was awesome. That belly fat I move aside with my hands in order to deepen a twist: mula bandha moved it for me! This altered my breathing. I suspect I've been doing too much belly breathing before today, because the breath was totally different -- much more focused. In a forward bend, my thighs pulled up all by themselves as if attached to mula bandha with strings. I even felt a difference while upside down in my tripod headstand -- which, in my case, is more like an upside down frog stuck with a pin to a dissection board. My knees were a few inches higher off the floor in up dog. I could see my navel in down dog. (I thought this was impossible due to the topography.) Who knew?

Is this what I was supposed to figure out when dance teachers told me to "pull up"? I tried, but it was never enough. I worked from the outside in, muscling my fat, superconscious and super-self-conscious. This was another thing entirely, a brand new experience.

On the walk home, I noticed I was thudding heavily on the sidewalk. I activated mula bandha, and it was as if I'd dropped thirty pounds. Rather than smacking into the ground -- each step an end in itself -- I used the resistance of the street to propel me forward. It was a little bit floaty -- in my case, indetectable to the human eye, but I've seen astangis who levitate for an extended moment before landing in chaturanga. I always thought they were using fishing line and pulleys. Perhaps not. I wonder whether yogis like that think about their bandhas, or do they eventually become second nature?

Mula bandha made me feel like my body was pulled into itself -- to the midline -- where there was an empty -- but very alive -- space. I think that's prana.

Simple, but it took me thirty years to get here.

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