Sunday, January 23, 2011

Rocking my own boat

I'm moving into the final days of my 'Bikram Month'. All of the predictable things are happening: I can do toe-stand now. I can hold Floor Bow for a kazillion minutes without falling out (most of the time). I'm even occasionally bringing my forehead to shin in Standing Head to Knee Pose.

Other, non-predicted things are happening too: Dhanurasana has become a comfortable pose and I'm moving into it deeply. Instead of wondering if I can catch my heels in Ustrasana, I'm wondering if I can see my toes (no sightings yet...but I *know* they're down there!). And I'm starting to enjoy, yes ENJOY (it's not a typo!), the standing hangback. I'm pretty sure my flexibility in forwards bends has even increased.

But I'm also questioning nearly everything about my practice over the past year.

As much as it gave me a chance to heal an injury, this month also allowed me to delay thinking about where my practice is going in 2011. I've been able to bow out of all of speculation and drama, stop second-guessing and just practise *something*.

I missed Astanga, but I came to value the opportunity to step away from it, along with the culture and lifestyle surrounding the practice. I've been blogging less because I've been feeling pretty disconnected from the Cybershala (not the fault of any of you - you've all been, without exception, incredibly supportive).

Bikram's yoga forced me to do things a little bit differently. It shook up my routine and challenged some of my assumptions. I had to give up Vinyasa as a means of warming my body. And there was the HEAT! I had to adjust to constant teacher-chatter after years of a mostly-silent room. I had to move with someone else's instruction after years of a self-driven practice. I came to appreciate and even depend on those mirrors to self-adjust my alignment. I found a new use for the YogiToes towels that I bought and rejected last year (they're absolutely *super* in the hot room; I swear by them). I modified my sleeping schedule.

I think it's been good for me, all of it!

Christina recently posted a quote from Richard Freeman which deeply resonated with me:

“Do not get lost in your own practice or school of practice… Do not isolate yourself in your micro-isolated community where everyone agrees with you.”

(Interestingly, this led to a discussion in the comments about whether it's possible to 'safely resist change'. I would argue that it's not because no one can escape from the impermanence of life. Change is all around us and our only security is in embracing it).

I'm not sure what I expected from my month-long experiment with a different yoga style, but the end result has opened my eyes. Specifically, I'm wondering whether a traditional Astanga practice is healthy for my body. 2010 was my 'Year of the 6-day Week'. I practised every day in January and continued practising on a traditional 6-day schedule for the remainder of the year (until December 27th). I did Yin or light Hatha on the 7th day.

In 15 years of yoga practice, I've never had a serious injury. In 2010, I had *two* of them.

I believe I've been a bit lost in my Astanga practice, focused too much on progressing in the Primary Series. And it's not all yoga-related. In the space of a couple years, I went from being an intentional outsider to a part of a supportive community. Suddenly, after years of sitting by myself in the cafeteria I was welcomed at 'the cool kids' table'. I didn't want to let go of that, even when I was pretty sure my body was failing me and I needed to back off.

I think I hung on to the 'six day' thing longer than I should have because I really wanted to live in a microcosm where the rules were clear and everyone agrees. I'm also a creature of routine and I was loathe to invite change into my life. The daily round was difficult, but it was predictable. It offered a sense of consistency and safety.

But change is a given. Anything else is an illusion. There is no safety found in stagnation. And in the end, this is *my* yoga practice and *my* body. I'm a yoga teacher. I know better than anyone else what works, what is harmful and what I need.

I just need to clear my head and figure it out.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Shaktigirl said...

Such a great post...really. I am feeling the same way since I moved. What is best for my body? Asking the question is anwsering it. Thank you for this post.

Anonymous said...

You are being so honest with yourself, and that's a great thing. I'm sure you will figure out what's best for you :)
And by the way, congrats on toe stand! I can do it most days on my right side, but it is absolutely impossible on my left. Sigh.

Arturo said...

dear Kai
the picture makes simple things look beautiful.

Loo said...

I remember reading somewhere that Dena tells her teacher trainees that not everyone should or can do a six-day a week practice. And I think there are so many instances in the Guruji book that support doing what works for your own body and to hell with the rest. I love that you jumped right into Bikram and did it with an open heart. I think that shows that you are indeed open to change. Something is brewing for you, don't rush it, but I suspect that what will emerge is the right way to practice yoga for you. But please keep posting every now and again, you are a joy to read! said...

Wow Kai, Thanks for going out there first, clearing up a trail and leaving some markers, just in case anyone of us wants to meander that road. It's nice to know a bold explorer.

Yyogini said...

Thank you so much for this post. You're trying things that I wondered about and would have experimented on myself if I had time to do it. It's really helpful to hear about your experience!

Haley-O (Cheaty) said...

Great post as always. I think it makes a lot of sense. I personally find the Ashtanga practice full of change. The fact that the sequence is the same every day leaves me open to observe change -- in and of itself, in a sense.

I think it's great (brave!) that you took the time you needed to heal and to explore another mode of practice.

Thanks for being so open and honest, as always. :)

Micqui said...

Hey Kai! Great post, thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I'm feeling kinda the same at the moment having stepped outside the ashtanga circle, with a 10 day hot yoga course and some 'freestyle' yoga a bit more vinyasa krama. Loving the RF quote too, so true, and something to definately remember!

Sarah said...

beautiful how the discovery of your own practice is evolving through layers, stages, formalities, structures, time ideas, ideas, body parts.

this is a lifelong evolution - being, breathing, discovering, inquiry. finding oneself, finding oneself, finding one self in the moment.

thank you for putting this where i can share it with you in this way... maybe on the path there is only one footprint

Anonymous said...

Good luck in your ruminations. You will find an answer undoubtedly.

I am dealing with a lot of similar things, but for me it is not so much the practice itself but how I approached it. I look at seventy year old women at my shala pulling a traditional ashtanga week and know there is a way to approach it softly. My teacher tells me that its breath, bandha, and driste that form the ashtanga practice not how aweseome I do an asana or whether I float in vinyasa.

However putting this attitude in practice is difficult for a type A like me. If I can , then the system will have taught me a very important life lesson.

Anyways...I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on of luck working through it all.

Anonymous said...

Love this post! I love that you experimented with Bikram with such an open mind!

I came to a similar conclusion after around 2 months of a practicing mostly Ashtanga. My knees started yelling at me and it was only after I heard it from many people that I finally backed off, and I'm glad I did. I now practice mostly by the idea of just asking, "what do I need today?" If I need something grounding and stabilizing, it's Ashtanga. Move slow and get deep into the stretches: yin or Forrest. And so on.

Sometimes I feel a small twinge of guilt for not being in the Mysore room everyday at 6 something in the morning, but, like you said, it's my body...much more than 3 days of Ashtanga a week and my body starts getting grumpy and kind of starts rejecting it, lol! Though I think the guilt is something that I've created on my own because my Mysore teacher is really open to people practicing other styles (and even does so herself on occasion).

I think that you're headed in a really great direction with your practice...can't wait to see what comes next for you!

Flo said...

You are honest and in tune with your body. The goal of any yoga practice. Great post