Saturday, July 17, 2010


Today, I discovered just how BIG a leap it is to move from dropping back on the nice soft, safe grass of the park to the cold, hard floor of my apartment.

When it comes to ‘scary’ things in my yoga practice, I find that I often get attached to context. Long after I felt perfectly comfortable doing headstand at home, I was still terrified to do it anywhere else, like a yoga studio, or my mother’s patio (or even the soft grass of the park!). Apparently, this same crutch applies to backbending. The grass in the park is no further away than the Manduka on my floor, but it feels like it is!

I swear my Manduka was mocking me! I’m afraid I didn’t take it very well. I had a little bit of a meltdown when I saw how FAR away the floor is. The floor could have been on the deepest level of hell for all the luck I had dropping back to it.

I can’t believe it’s this difficult! I was doing this so easily a few days ago. To be fair to myself, I only did a few sun salutations, three Urdhva Dhanurasana from the floor and some hangbacks to warm up. And It’s not like I’ve been practising full Primary lately. I’ve spent the better part of the past two days lounging around on the balcony, eating vegan chocolate.

What I concluded today is that I still need a bit of a ‘slope’ to feel really secure in dropping back, especially for my first few dropbacks. I’m also realising that there’s an entire psychological component that I’ll need to come to grips with. Stuff that’s easy for me at home grows another layer of complexity when I think about taking into the world. In other words, a new skill needs to be ROCK SOLID before I do it in my Shala practice.

Today, as my backbending went from bad to worse, I started to mentally beat myself up a little bit. Then I got a hold of myself and finally started to calm down. I remembered a quote I stumbled across recently:

“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

I resolved to ‘Fail better’.

I set up my futon to create a ‘slope’ and placed the anxiety-producing Manduka on the slope. This was enough of a boost to give me the courage to try. Once I had one good dropback on the slope, I forced myself to drop back over and over until I started to feel confident again.

Here’s the big lesson that emerged from my practice today: When I freak out, I lose control of the action and I allow myself to ‘fall’ instead of lowering back with control. I lose the ‘hangback’ and when I drop back too quickly, I start to panic and bend my arms to cushion the drop.

It ends up being very sloppy and feeling so scary that I fall into a downward spiral of ‘panic...bad dropback...more panic...worse dropback’ until I’m flaking out at the last minute and not dropping back at all. Drama!

After several successful dropbacks to the ‘slope’, I moved to the Scary Floor for a little while and *did* manage one or two good dropbacks, but the anxiety kept percolating, so I finished with three strong, controlled dropbacks to my ‘slope’.

I didn’t want to end on a bad note.


Tomorrow morning, I’m back at the Shala for the beginning of another ‘yoga week.’ I’m going to be stiff, but at least my hamstring is feeling better after the extended break.

After my practice, I’m heading up to Shala North for another backbending workshop. I’m looking forward to hanging out with my friends up there and perhaps overcoming this newly developed fear of dropping back to a yoga mat. ;-)

Context, context, context! It’s a brand new space to be terrified in. I’m branching out!


Boodiba said...

So much work! It's all a big battle in the head right? Glad you persevered.

Claudia said...

that is funny that the manduka was mocking you, you bring everything alive! I wonder about what you say on context, I think you are right, I feel more comfy dropping at the wall at the shala than at home... hmmm... thanks for pointing that out

Kaivalya said...

Ha, ha! I'm having an Astanga Irony Moment right now! It's 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday and here we are, all sitting around commenting on each others' blogs. No one else would be up this early on a Sunday! :-D

Argh. It's so much mental energy! I was floored by how little control I really have over my own crazy brain. Anyone who says this is just a 'physical practice' isn't doing it right!

That's SO interesting. I'm not allowed to use the wall at the Shala, so all of my work with props has been at home or outdoors. I tend to get attached to the context where I develop a certain 'comfort level'. Eventually, I'll probably get teacher help with dropbacks in the Shala, but right now the focus is on standing up. UG. And that's MILES away right now.

Boodiba said...

The mental gymnastics are the hardest part. In my own experience, Astanga was THE most challenging when I was going a practice that was just partial, not full, 2nd.

2nd is a strange, strange series. It's a sort of mish-mash. Can be hard to deal with internally.

Kaivalya said...

And I'm not even into 2nd yet! Maybe I should reserve that 'padded room' in advance! ;-)

Boodiba said...

Ah well things are different for everyone! I just remember that sometimes thinking about the practice alone would be enough to derail me for the morning. I'd go back to bed! I had to not think about it at all before I got to the mat.

Kaivalya said...

To be honest, I don't even give myself the option of not going to practice. If the Shala is open I go, no matter where my head is on a given day.

Christine said...

I love that "Fail better." ...and so needed to hear that today.

Thanks Kai!

Lauren said...

I feel exactly the same way about getting stuck with something. I can finally, after two years of fighting with my fear, do a headstand and then pike with no wall or assist, but i can't bring myself to do it anywhere but within 3 feet of the wall. the thought of doing it in open space is so scary to me!

Really enjoying reading about your path on the dropbacks. they're coming up soon for me and the whole dropping back thing frightens me a little. I've been working against a wall at home, but it's totally different in the Shala! if it wasn't for my impending thesis deadline i'd be testing out my progress at the workshop today too!

Kevin said...

I think its the difference between a potentially soft (grass) and hard (Manduka) landing. It took me 2 months from doing in on the soft sandy aussie beach to doing it at the Shala. I know what you mean about just falling back and going back with control, when you just fall you are going for the floor from higher up. I love that "Fail better" thing!

Kaivalya said...

No problem! Glad to know that I'm encouraging the Cybershala to 'fail better'. Outstanding Failing! It's the new trend ;-)

If you get a chance, do go to the workshop (I'm sure it will be offered again some time in the future). It's very worthwhile and fun!

Headstand in open space: Yes, very scary. Even when you're solid in the pose, there's an element of fear. I tickle of the edge of it every morning when I do my headstand. It's a daily reminder to be courageous! :-)

I can't even imagine dropping back in the Shala right now. Dropping back in my apartment still gives me mini-conniptions! Two months sounds about right. I want to be strong and solid and almost-fearless before I try it in front of teachers.