Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Once again, I’ve spent the day avoiding eye contact with my computer. This time, my procrastination is due to an internal debate over my own comments section.

This blogging thing has gotten a lot more complicated since I broke out of my home-practice-comfort-zone and found myself in a sticky world of people and relationships and loyalties and conflicts. I hate conflict! I try like mad to avoid it.

Sometimes I miss the days of my solitary practice and the five readers who stumbled upon my blog by happy accident. People actually read this thing now!

I appreciate every single comment (and email) I received yesterday - I read every last one. You were all indignant and rallied to my defence and I just love you for that! You offered some good advice about how to move forward as well as some really profound thinking about the practice and how we struggle through it. You offered gentle encouragement, which was something I needed this morning in order to get my tail to the Shala (in the cold, torrential rain; funny how metaphor likes to spring to life).

But a few of the comments were a shade critical of my teachers. I’m feeling so heartbroken and conflicted over this entire thing, I don’t want that responsibility thrown on my shoulders along with everything else that’s hovering here.

When I took my show on the road, I vowed to only blog about my own experience within the confines of my Manduka mat. That seemed like a fail-safe policy at the time. But it’s more complicated than that. I’m sharing the space with two people who I’ve come to care about, no matter what they say to me or think about me (and sometimes I’m pretty sure they rue the day I ever walked into their Shala). I don’t want anything said on this blog to hurt them.

I should have closed comments on that entry. My bad. For now, I’ve closed comments and hidden the existing ones. This is not to say that I don’t agree with some of you 100%, but I need to sort this one out on my own.

What I really feel like doing right now is crawling into a deep, deep hole and ordering a pizza. But I still have five hundred words to go and if you’ve learned anything about me from reading this blog, then you know how stubborn I am when I commit to something!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the past few years of my Astanga practice and how this all began. I’m the ‘reluctant ashtangi’ for a reason! My background was in Iyengar and I teach mostly generic Hatha. I didn’t even like Astanga! That was the whole point.

I started practising the Primary Series, on my own, for 365 days as a sort of masochistic experiment. I had 13 years of yoga practice under my belt. I thought I hated Astanga and I was intent on documenting exactly why before I pitched the practice unceremoniously to the curb. The first few months passed in a spirit of cynical (but curious) experimentation.

I was a woman on a mission! And Astanga yoga was happy to help me out:

This hurts.

This is impossible!

Sirsasana away from the wall? Fat chance!

My body doesn’t DO that.

I’m tired today.

This pose sucks. I’m gonna skip it!

Do Bandhas really exist?

Ujjayi breathing makes my throat dry!

How am I supposed to find these invisible leg-holes, stick my arms through, then touch my ears!!!?


Okay, THAT’S just nuts.

I’m supposed to do WHAT with my arms?

Why on earth am I doing ANY of this?


How do I wash this blood out of my yoga rug?

What kept me going were the small things. A bind. A deepening of my forward bends. Discovering that I can actually DO Urdhva Dhanurasana (true confession: up until a few years ago, I didn’t really do Urdhva Dhanurasana).

I moved my headstand away from the wall and taught myself to lift into the pose rather than kick. I learned to fall. I learned to lower to a half-bend. Shoulderstand became possible! I finally found the those invisible leg-holes and started to roll around, even though I felt incredibly silly doing it.

I got the blood stain out of my rug and kept doing Bhujapidasana, albeit with more care.

The one element of the practice that I never experienced was a room with a teacher in it. In my first two years of practice, I didn’t receive a single adjustment or any kind of feedback. It was funny, because I was making all of these Amazing Discoveries on my own, which were not really amazing at all.

It kind of reminds me of the time a young student showed me some Valentines Day heart candies she had ‘discovered’: “You’ll never believe this! They’re hearts! And you can eat them! And the best part is, THEY HAVE LITTLE MESSAGES ON THEM!”

OMG, you’ll never believe this, but if engage my Bandhas? I can hold my legs up in the air in FULL LOTUS! It’s AMAZING!

But to be completely honest, the idea of going into a Shala and trusting a teacher with my practice scared the daylights out of me. I had heard dire, dire things about adjustments, peppered with words like ‘crank’. It scared me.

To be continued, tomorrow...


I was determined to get through this post without a practice report of any kind, but I did want to offer an update on my backbends: I did seven today. Three in a row, two in a row, two in a row.

Today, I made an important observation about Urdhva Dhanurasana: I think my shoulders must be opening up more, because it’s easier to keep my arms very straight. And when my arms are very straight and I walk my hands in, I kind of waddle more than walk.

And this totally reminds me of Pingu!

And I think Pingu likes epsom salt baths too!


Ragdoll said...

"How am I supposed to find these invisible leg-holes, stick my arms through, then touch my ears!!!?
Okay, THAT’S just nuts."

Ah, that's so familiar! Even seeing someone do the pose right in the room in front of me can still lead to the 'but that's not POSSIBLE!' reaction.

I hope your day and your mood improved after posting this.

Loo said...

I must have stumbled onto your post yesterday after you shut down comments. But I need to say that early on in my ashtanga practice with a teacher (and frankly I still consider myself a rank beginner) I had a harsh encounter. I got publicly scolded for asking for the next pose which apparently is a Mysore no-no. I turned brick red, was mortified, couldn't breathe, tried not to cry in the shala, but did when I went home. My husband was furious. I was so new to this and didn't know the rules and I was so ... tender.

I thought and wrote about it the whole day. In the end I recognized that my teacher is a human prone to all the usual faults and I was going back in that room no matter what. It was a tremendous experience for me. Nothing was going to stop me, not even taking a little abuse from someone who should know better.

So I get it. Who knows why your teacher said what they did? The real question is what juice can you squeeze from this fruit? You are an amazing person. That's why people read you words. Something about the way you write about the Ashtanga experience just clicks. And maybe what your teacher said is true on some level or maybe you just laugh it off with a "yeah, right." It's YOUR practice in the end and you take it where you want when you want.

Carry on, brave Ashtangi!

PS I have a new teacher now but only because the other guy left the country ... new guy is super laid back.

Claudia said...

I feel for you... sending you light and good thoughts :-)

sarah said...

I think your inquiry is very very beautiful. Exactly what yoga has been for thousands of years... inward alertness awakened, finding that you trust the breath itself... allowing the separation to dissolve with the teacher... finding confusion and joy and letting that go too.

I also wonder about the primary series. I just copied out the list of asana to explore on my own... hmmm...thank you for your blog courage.

Arturo said...

dear Kai

i enjoyed that cartoon a lot.

i write about other shalamates a bit because i enjoy giving them names. them i only tend to write about things they do that amaze me. or i write about them because their energy and grace inspire. but i do so with a sense of humor, i suppose.

do you think you have 500 unique visitors daily? could it not be that some readers come back to read the comments, and so return and that makes the count higher? that might alleviate your concern that half the world is reading. it's only a percentage of yoga practitioners tuning in on a regular basis.


Kaivalya said...

I have that 'this can't be humanly possible' reaction every time I watch Kino. Even five feet away from her, I think: "Is this a computer simulation? Obviously, someone photo-shopped this woman!" ;-)

Oh, that sounds like it was a tough lesson, not a good way to learn the etiquette!

I think I need to get better at laughing stuff off and asserting myself when I need to.

Thanks so much. Obviously, I'm responding to these comments well after the fact and I'm feeling much better about things now. :-)

Thanks for your lovely comment! It's interesting how all the different paths of yoga bring us back to the same place and the same lessons!

I'm hope my words haven't implied criticism toward your practice of nick-naming shalamates. It's just not something I feel comfortable doing. Maybe because I tend to be very blunt, I steer clear of talking about other people's practices on my blog. Safer that way!

My access stats went down after my exciting week of meltdowns. I use a statistics package that measures individual visitors and I add in those who follow me through Google Reader to determine my hits. It ebbs and flows and ultimately, it isn't that important, just fun to know!