Friday, July 30, 2010


Everyone has one posture that they absolutely dread. Or do they? If you don’t, perhaps ashtanga vinyasa is not for you? I used to dread baddha konasana. That pose hurt. A lot. I couldn’t put my knees down. I couldn’t go forward. I couldn’t sit up. And yet there it was, every single day.

I went to Home Depot and bought two sandbags and filled them with sand from Moonlight Beach. I would get up every morning, put a sandbag on each leg, and watch CNN while drinking my morning espresso.

Now I quite enjoy the posture. What happened?

There was a gap, a blind spot, between where I wanted to be — where I thought I should be — and where I was. The dread came out of that gap, that disconnection or non-union.

The big dramatic fireworks, the emotional and physical elation, that sense of release that I so craved? It never came. Baddha konasana was for me a slow, steady polishing of perhaps three years. One day I could breathe, go forward, and become absorbed in the breath, the spine, the hips, the belly and navel, the tongue against the top teeth. The sound of my breath swelled and receded in my chest.

The beautiful limitations of practicing an imperfect sequence of postures, as they all are, as in ashtanga, is that there will always be another posture to spark friction between the fixed condition of what ought to be and the fluid condition of what actually is.

Mysore 04 ...  L-to-R: Harry, Douglas, Dirty Hippie.
Dread or fear is a byproduct, one I’m pleased to say is avoidable, and the simple, practical physical technique that facilitates a return to what is, a return to this, to this, to this, is quite simple: inhale, exhale.

My experience with hated yet revelatory postures continued predicably from baddha konasana to backbends, to standing from backbends, to bhekasana, to kapotasana, and onward. Over time my appreciation has grown for these opportunities to experience friction, though I still engage a deliberate and daily practice to stay with the breathing and the bandhas and allow the process to occur.

After baddha konasana, I went through the ringer with kapotasana. To strive to perform an asana to the exacting and impossible standards of a fixed, graven image in your head will break you. Perhaps the shards will be beautiful, but the breaking, the physical breaking — the pulling, straining or spraining of muscles, ligaments, tendons — is not yoga.

Mind you, it’s important to work hard. It’s important to have standards to which to strive. It’s important to show up and give your best each day. It’s important to be pushed, or held back.

But it is impossible and disingenuous for me to force my Sunday second series practice to replicate the led second series class in Mysore. To try to do this is to ignore the given conditions of reality as it is at that moment. I know this because I have tried.

The Big Boss
So while I light candles every single morning both Pattabhi Jois and Tim Miller, and they are both responsible in part for every inhale and exhale I take, I have worked hard to get Guruji, the icon of the man, off my mat.

Yes, he was stern, he was demanding, and he wanted us to work hard, but my interpretation of his teaching is that we were to take a living practice with us when we left, and not reduce the yoga to the worship of a memory of a man in Mysore. “Everywhere looking, God,” he would say, and that means looking now, and not backwards at some experience in the shala from 10 years ago.

As I continue with this practice, I’ve noticed that my self-illusions and tendencies don’t go away. I can recognize them for what they are, though: illusions, preferences, and tendencies.

Once named, they don’t seem to such power. The skill of the yogi is the skillful manipulation and enjoyment of those tendencies, and perhaps even the realization that those illusions are gifts to be skillfully shared.

I spent four months in India on my first trip, and on my return to the studio in Encinitas, Tim padded over to me as I prepared to take baddha konasana. He saw what must have been a transformation. He shrugged, and said, “Well, I guess you don’t need me anymore,” and walked off.

Of course, then came bhekasana, kapotasana ... ghanda berundasana, supta trivrkrmasana, raja kapotasana ... It never ends.

I hope it never does.