3.06.2012

Abusing my Strength

Last week, I practiced in a Mysore room for the first time since October.  A few weeks ago, I invited a friend into my home for a week, and for the past couple of months, I have generally been spending more time with people.  All this interaction has led to what might be an important realization:  as much as I enjoy living/being alone, it may serve me well to have someone around to keep my ego in check.

It has come to my attention that I might be coming on a little strong.  When I speak, my voice is loud.  I don't walk so much as bound from place to place.  My shoulders somehow continue to broaden and my "man arms" (never liked that term, but there it is...) are out of control.  Could it be the Ashtanga has created a monster?

Back in October, at some point during the Swenson intensive, I had a brief conversation with a non-ashtangi colleague about the off-the-mat effects of a full-time Ashtanga practice.  I remember musing aloud that the rigor of the practice had turned me into a real hard ass.  I felt less free with my protective impulse, at times, less free with my compassion.  The discipline and character one accumulates in stepping on the mat each day, learning to face the practice with a fresh, adaptive mind, seemed to have a counterpart for which I have no single word;  I felt it as a sense of separation.  Emotional distance.

Separation.  Distance.  Aren't these the opposite of yoga?

It was also around the time of the Swenson intensive that I experienced rather extreme and persistent discomfort in my lats, shoulders, and chest.  Practice itself would ease the pain, but by the next morning, I could barely lift my arms without a mournful groan.  Not insignificantly, my practice at the time was full Primary plus 2nd to Yoganidrasana.  Also, not insignificantly, I was working myself very hard on the mat.

Fortunately for me, David and Shelley are so loving.  They embody a balanced approach -- both diligent and fun -- to what can be a demanding method.  David helped me fix my labored breath, thereby speeding my practice along, and Shelley convinced me to drop Primary and move on with Intermediate for the sake of my shoulders.  Together, they helped me understand that this practice is just a tool, its uses limited only by the scope of my imagination.

It has taken some time for the lessons to soak in, but the nature of my practice has changed, and with it, the way I relate to the world.  I still work hard and honor the system to the best of my ability, but when I need a shorter practice, I take it.  For that matter, when I need a longer practice, I take that, too.  The integrity and abundant joy that I derive from my practice gives me great strength.  

What I am learning in this new chapter --  in what feels like a "reintegration" -- is that honesty can be startling, and senseless joy is, frankly, overwhelming for most people.  Just as strength is dangerous without flexibility, awareness is useless without sensitivity.  I must learn to treat others more gently.

11 comments:

  1. Mmmmm...good insights here. You get out of the practice what you put into it. Keep practicing. ♥

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  2. In the words of Facebook, "Like."

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  3. I love your posts!

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  4. lol "man arms" via yoga. It's the truth!! Have you seen madonna's arms? It's almost unavoidable. I kinda like it though.

    Love this post.

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    1. Ha! I think genetics has a lot to do with it. Some women get the man arms, some don't. Don't get me wrong -- I love my yoga body -- but I might have to start cutting out the armholes in all of my shirts to make room for the Ashtanga arms.

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  5. Wondering what adjustments to your breath they gave you. I noticed you had a very strong, long breath. Did they tell you to soften? Just curious as a teacher. It helps to advise others. Personally, I have transitioned into a very light and more soft breath, away from a louder more forceful one (while still being as connected to it), and I noticed a big change in my practice. Instead of fire, I am light. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi Domestic - The one thing David said that really clicked was that my own breath in Kapotasana was how I should be breathing throughout the practice. In other words, he wanted me to pump the breath more, to keep it moving deliberately, consciously choosing when to inhale and exhale rather than waiting for the top and bottom of each breath.

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  6. Wow, that is fascinating. I kind of get it, I think. So does that mean, for example, when you need to use the inhale more to work the pose you might jump into that a little faster?

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    1. Not exactly. I would still exhale completely, only more actively to complete the exhalation before initiating the inhale. Be careful with this stuff. I kind of hate to take it out of context because these were very personalized instructions for me and my oversized lungs. I don't think this technique would be beneficial for most others.

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  7. Fascinating! Yes, I agree, breath stuff is powerful, and very individual. Thanks for sharing!

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