Friday, March 7, 2008

Sirsasana, No Wall Necessary Thanks!

Last week in yoga class, when I set up to do headstand against the wall in my usual way, my teacher said, "Eve, I think you are ready to move away from the wall next week."

Yikes! Really? I was feeling all tippy that day, but felt encouraged that she wanted me to move into the center of the room, where the really experienced people invert themselves. I vowed to practice all week, just to be ready.

The next day, I tried to practice at home, and found I couldn't balance for more than a second, when I've been able to do headstand in the middle of the room without a problem before. Somehow, the teacher's assertion that I was ready to do this in public made me completely unable to do it at all. I fell (feet thudding ungracefully on the couch cushions) over and over. Frustrated, I stopped practicing. Clearly I didn't have the necessary inner rod of quiet. I wasn't rooted to the earth by the crown of my head, or by anything else. I was flighty. Unbalanced, in every way.

And then, quite suddenly, a week had rolled by and it was Friday morning again. This morning. Just ten minutes into class, my teacher said, "Everybody set up for sirsasana."

I felt the butterflies rustle up into my throat, but also a surge of courage.

"In...the middle of the room. Right?" I asked.

"Yes!" she said, with no knowledge of my abysmal failure in my home practice. "Do you know how to fall?"

Do I.

Actually, I have read all about how to fall, in Mr. Iyengar's book, Light on Yoga. He explains how, if one is to fall forward, one must unlace the fingers quickly, or risk crunching them (he doesn't put it quite like that, but you get the idea). A few months ago, when I was focusing a lot on inversions at home, I practiced this over and over again, so I would know how to fall. Once, I panicked, forgetting, and did indeed crunch my fingers. Ouch.

But today, I was determined to do it. I'll err on the side of tipping back in the safe direction, I thought. I came up slowly, carefully, and calmly. Most notably, I did feel calm and quiet inside. I even felt rooted--if not too deeply--by the crown of my head. Up I came, and stayed...and stayed...and stayed! I wasn't wobbling or wavering or feeling unbalanced at all. Not one bit.

Well...not until my teacher noticed me and started encouraging me to rotate my thighs inward. This slight adjustment did throw me off just a little. I lost my inner calm and I did get tippy, but then I came down gracefully the right way, not the finger-crunching forward-falling way.

At the risk of sounding like a surfer dude, I have to say: It was awesome.

Later, we did some more advanced poses we hadn't done in class before, including padmasana. Only two of us that I could see (not that I should have been looking) attempted full padmasana. The others did ardha padmasana (half lotus) with a belt. I'm very flexible, if not very strong or balanced, so this isn't a difficult pose for me. But then she had us roll forward onto our knees, resting our pelvic plates on a bolster. We arched our backs, looked up, opened our mouths, and stuck out our tongues. I felt strong and powerful, like I was sticking out my tongue at everything in my life that isn't going the right way. Blah to you, wrong ideas! Blah to you, doubt and fear! Blah, blah, blah!

It was awesome.

Of course, I'm obviously involving my ego again when I compare myself to others in a yoga pose, but in a class where I am so frequently humbled, it was nice to see myself making progress. And whenever a fellow student comments about my flexibility, the teacher is always quick to assure everyone that flexibility isn't any good without strength, and that my strength is lacking. Which is true. My teacher is good at keeping egos in check.

But the experience got me thinking about what it means to be balanced on some days, and unbalanced on other days. Strong and rooted sometimes, and sometimes, weak and wavering. While progress happens, it is more often a circuitous progress, curving in and over and back on itself so that it can seem more like a scenic route than a road that actually goes anywhere.

Maybe that's just fine.

I enjoyed today's rigorous class, and that early-in-the-session sirsasana success helped fuel the rest of my poses to be stronger, stretchier, and straighter in all the right ways (mostly). Sometimes a little stroke to the ego can push the path in a more forward direction for a little while. It's certain to wind back around again to a place you thought you'd already passed forever, but that's all part of the process, I guess. Every victory is only a victory of a moment, but the same holds true with every failure. To fail, to fall over, to crunch the fingers or have a tippy day, is only a sidewind. Sooner or later, the path meanders forward again, despite all the chicanes and backtracks and at some point, every yoga student is bound to look back and think, "Wow. Look how far I've come. And I didn't think I was getting anywhere."

Tonight, maybe I'll work on getting into handstand by kicking up with the left leg. I still haven't been able to do that even once, but maybe tonight it will happen. I'm feeling pretty strong.

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