Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Party Crashers and Evangelists

It's been a little over a week since 'Dogma-gate' and I'm long overdue in thanking all of you for your super-awesome comments. They went a long way towards convincing me that I'm not crazypants. And you also reminded me of something essential: We should all be minding our mental Driste as well as our visual one. And honouring the principal of Ahimsa in our lives and on our blogs by refraining from anonymous, person attacks on one other.

My teacher wrote a terrific blog post about dogma here. Go read it, then come back, because you don't want to miss the part about my drunken, party-crashing quadraceps.

Are you back? Good!

I was startled by how deeply those comments affected me. In hindsight, I totally get it because I was having a tender, touchy week. Intermediate Series is tough! I'm only practising roughly half the series and it still wrings me out, exhausts me physically and mentally (and I thought it would be *easier*! Ha,ha,ha! I'm still having a good laugh about that one, at my own expense). By the time I finish my practice, taking rest seems like too much work. I just want to curl up in a ball and pass out.

But I'm adjusting. This morning, after successfully binding both sides in Pasasana, I realised that I just have to *decide* to bind. If there's any question in my mind about the binding then it doesn't happen. I started to apply this new philosophy to each pose and I realised that up to this point, I've been approaching the Intermediate Series the same way Dobby the House Elf (of 'Harry Potter' fame) approached that all-important sock that set him free from slavery. "A SOCK, Master?! Really? FOR ME? You've given Dobby a SOCK!?"

Each and every pose was feeling like an all-encompassing event that I had to think about, double-check, and brace myself for. On some level, I couldn't believe I was actually doing these poses. Me! On my mat! Intermediate Series! I was worried that somebody (Anonymous? The Astanga Police?) would march into the Shala and take it all away from me. This morning, I let go of all that.

I also let go of any illusion of perfection. I practised each pose to the best of my ability, and then I let it go so I could move on to the next. And my practice flew by. I didn't have help with LBH poses this morning, so I wiggled into them myself. My exits from Eka Pada Sirsasana would have made fine comedy material, but I tried. Dwi Pada Sirsasana was a train wreck, but it was MY trainwreck and I'm kind of proud of the way I bungled through it. For the first time since I split, I feel like this practice belongs to me. I'm owning it, in all its rough imperfection.

I didn't really stop or slow down until I got to the backbending - and DT was waiting for me to get the party started. Today, instead of poking my own hamstrings, I poked hers, which only highlighted how uncooperative *mine* are. Another piece of this puzzle is my gluteus medius.

Let's take the horrible 'party' analogy to it's full expression, shall we?

Urdhva Dhanurasana is having a party! Yay! Invitiations have been sent out. The hamstrings RSVP'ed and they're supposed to be bringing a date, the glut medius. Everything is going fine. Most of the guests have arrived - my heels are grounded, my inner thighs are internally rotating and our hostess (DT) has nudged my errant right foot (the one that always splays out) back into place. The President's Choice hors d'oeuvres are circulating and the drinks are flowing freely. I press up into the backbend. And that's when the quadraceps arrive, loud and unruly. You can't even have a conversation over the din of their off-tune singing. They dance around the room clutching a bottle of whisky while the hamstrings look on despairingly. The hams shoot a meaningful glance at the glut medius and say: "Hey, this place is getting a bit crowded. What do you say we head to the martini bar down the street?"

This is around the time that DT is usually shaking her head and saying "Nope, they're not on, the hamstrings are not on" and I'm collapsing into a heap, bemoaning my burning quadraceps. We tried a few different things today. Some of these things helped, some made me feel like I was trying to speak Swahili. But it's a process. That's why it's called a 'practice' and I'm there every day, at 6 a.m., rain or shine.

Which, in a funny way, leads me right back to dogma. There's actually nothing wrong with dogma - as long as it lives within the confines of our own mats. Let's face it - everybody has a personal brand of batshit crazy that no one else can understand. My non-Astanga friends think I'm nuts. My more traditional Astanga friends suspect that I'm not quite nuts enough.

But at 6 a.m., it's just me and my crazy on my mat, with occasional input from my teacher. Dogma tells us that everyone is doing the same practice, but it's just not true. We're all doing our own version of Astanga. Each teacher out there is transmitting this practice as they were taught - and the variations are staggering (and so are the disagreements around who is 'correct').

How about this: We're all correct! Everyone has their own dogma, their own frame of reference for this practice. Each Mysore room has a culture, carefully cultivated by the teacher. It's when we start applying our own crazy to everyone around us that the conflict begins. When we stop respecting each other as practitioners, that's when we've lost the heart of Astanga, the very thing that brings us to the mat in the first place: Yoga-Yuj-Unity.

This is a value I'm holding on to, one that tells me I'm not alone and there's a deeper meaning to everything I'm doing, on the mat and off.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Loo said...

I loved your teacher's response :)

Anonymous said...

I super-like this pose. "Illusion of perfection" kills I think. Reminds me of something which Dave Swenson said. Who is practicising yoga: the one who executes all her asanas properly but whose mind is wondering somewhere, or the one who's struggling to get it right but put all heart and soul in it?

Letting go is good. I let go this morning, threw away the illusion of how I should be doing it, and felt an incredible lightness of being.

All because I read your post before jumping on the mat! :)))

V said...

You know...she had me until I read "Most of my students are open-minded free thinkers". Then I thought oh, so I who follow a "one pose at a time" teacher am not open minded, or a free thinker? and felt a little bit sad because I like it when someone defends their position without attacking others, even if very tangentially.

I wasn't the anonymous basher - I know you know what the "tradition" (whatever that means these days) is and you've chosen to do something different, which is absolutely fine. You know I only take offence when someone bashes the "tradition", especially if they do it without experience or fundament (you know who you are, wink wink).

But I disagree on the "we can all be right". I think it's fine to defend what you believe in, as long as it gets done nicely and more importantly, standing by your opinion (not anonymously).

Now if you won't mind, I'll pick up my soapbox and go get dinner :-)

Kaivalya said...

It's funny - more than one person wrote me urgently to say that you were probably my 'anonymous' commenter and my response was 'Not a chance! If V had a beef with me, she'd yell at me through email!' LOL You're never shy about voicing your opinion - it's one of the things I like about you.

For what it's worth, by mentioning 'open-minded free thinkers', I don't believe that D was implying that all the simple-minded automatons go to traditional Mysore. I think it was more a loving shout-out to eclectic crew who have flooded into her room.

In saying 'we all can be right' I wasn't arguing that one shouldn't defend their beliefs if those beliefs are under attack. But as far as I can tell, my choice to follow a different path in my practice wasn't an attack on anyone else's preferences.

So yes, I believe everyone can be right (about yoga) *and* I think there will be more peace in our community if we refrain from bashing other practitioners for doing things differently. 'We can all be right' might be better expressed as 'Can't we all respect one other and get along?' I think we can!