Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The temp has warmed up to a balmy 55 degrees or so—it’s 10 degrees or more warmer than last week—which means the heat in the shala has spiked upward.

A noticeable result of this increased heat: I’m fairly blown out after practice. My drive and determination to go to work has been almost negligible. My get-up-and-go does just that—gets up and goes.

My practices are still strong, light, and good, so much so that I feel I could go for another hour. Lately, I hit the end of practice and think, “This is it?” The series are sequenced in such a way that they hit peaks and valleys, with demanding sets of postures followed by less demanding, restorative postures.

The transition from first to second is the same. The last several postures in first series are mostly reclining postures, and several are linked by chakrasanas rather than jump-backs. The first several postures of second series—pasasana, krouncasana, etc—start slowly, build to a pitch with kapotasana, and begin easing off again.

My personal practice ends a few poses into second, so I build this momentum, and then have to curtail it for backbends. They end up requiring a lot of energy, anyway, so it balances out.

The poses in second I’ve been practicing have made a remarkable impact on my backbends, which is why I assume Tim has given them to me. Well, that, and sheer backbend volume has done much to increase my opening and comfort.

Generally, I hate to reduce the body to purely mechanistic terms, but I approached backbends like a math equation. E (for effort) multiplied by x (number of backbends) equals y (comfort, ease, energy in posture).

Three backbends are okay—the first two can be rough, the third is better. Nine backbends is comfortable, open, optimal. Twelve to 15 backbends is overkill—my legs jelly out and I get too fatigued. Plus it takes too long.

I know generally Guruji only teaches three backbends. I compromised with my diversion from tradition by reckoning that when Tim practices first series on Tuesdays, he generally does 15(!). I think he does that many because his back is fairly tight. Well, that, and because he’s incredibly strong and has the stamina to reach 15 with relative ease (on most days).

Standing up has proved elusive, but I’m on the cusp of internalizing the required actions. It’s almost there, like a word on the tip of your tongue. When you can’t think of a word or name, it’s best to relax and think of different things—the word or name will float out of your subconscious sooner or later. It’s the same with standing up from backbends—If I relax and just do the practice, it will happen.

Tim has been regularly palming my chest to bring me to standing, a rather unnerving (at first) technique where he reaches over you in urdhva dhanurasana and places his hand square on your chest. He then pulls you horizontally. It forces you to transition your weight to your feet and curl upward to standing.

Practicing heaps of backbends every day for months and years—just the sheer length of time it’s taken to get this comfortable, which is still not total or complete—has slowly forced a new thinking on me: show up, do the poses. My expectations for “getting” a pose are slowly peeling away, and it’s easier to recognize anticipation and expectation and just let it go.

What really happens when you “get” a pose? Odds are, you get the next one, which is harder. You’ll practice that one every day for years until you get it. Then you get the next one, which is harder. There's always a harder pose in a more difficult series. Repeat the process, until you begin losing poses.

I like to think of the six series as a cliff on the beach that breaks all waves. Everyone has high-water marks and low-water marks, accomplishments and a sense of mastery, wedded to frustration, struggling and difficulty. But what’s important is showing up every day to wash yourself against that cliff.