|Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Samasthiti|
The final practice of 2011 was a soft evening Primary, throughout which I couldn't help but think back to my first Primary explorations at the beginning of the year. What a journey it's been! Earlier this week, I wrote about the larger impacts of the practice and how it's changed my life. Today, I'll write about how the posture practice -- the asana -- has evolved my body, attitude, and understanding.
On a physical level, there has been substantial change. I am longer and leaner. Hips and thighs are noticeably more toned. Upper body strength has developed in a nicely balanced way; I am looking less like a linebacker and more like a yogi every day. With this scaling down of excess bulk, I have found that the mobility of my shoulders has improved tremendously. As a result of this opening, neck complaints, previously a common problem, have fallen by the wayside.
Even as my hips have narrowed and toned, so too have they been opened through the Primary practice. When I first came to Ashtanga, lotus was a red zone. Both knees were tight and unstable and, at the time, I seriously doubted I would ever assume a comfortable lotus or half-lotus position. I spent months modifying postures, developing awareness and, slowly but surely, my lotus bloomed. In fact, in my final practice of the year, I managed Urdhva Padmasana with no discomfort whatsoever for the very first time. Here's to the efficacy of patience in practice. Karandavasana, here I come.
Perhaps the most significant physical opening I experienced this year was in the backbends. The drop backs changed not only my body, but my psyche, my inner state. The sensation of those first few drop backs early in the year were quite a wake up call, reminding me not only of the imbalances to which I'd grown blind, but also that sometimes it becomes necessary to move through the pain rather than around it. I know pain talk in the practice is often shunned outside the world of Ashtanga, but what I felt learning to drop back was pain, and it was necessary and good. The Intermediate backbends picked up where the drop backs left off, super-toning my back, thighs, and buttocks, teaching me to support the lower half while softening the upper half in order to open the chest cavity and thoracic spine.
Through the discomfort, my body was healed and my heart was opened. I learned to accept risk, and to care for and carry myself in a whole new way. It's the yoga chikitsa, the only therapy I know. And now I look forward to the New Year and all that it brings. This will be the year of nadi shodana, the nerve cleansing. Based on the jarring effects that Intermediate has had so far, I suspect there is much that lies in store.