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Primary is private. Withdrawn. Low to the ground and inward-facing. The practice works and churns the belly to a soft and spacious place; it becomes a source of comfort, good feelings, and self-love. The hips also, a dark and shadowy zone where sensation can be obscured by a lifetime of denial, are targeted in the first series, fired again and again until they crack. Urdhva Padmasana... Pindasana... Padmasana. You'll feel it there.
Intermediate is a different practice. Where Primary peaks at Navasana and tumbles down a gentle slope to home, Intermediate is multi-climactic. The first two postures are a not-so-mild reminder of Primary. And then it begins.
With unrelenting backbends, I embark on an incremental climb up the spine. But the sensation, if it's done right, is in the front of the body. It exposes and stretches that beautiful belly so lovingly cared for and protected in the past. And the heart -- my god, the heart! It is driven to pound at the bars of its cage until it has no choice but to open. Then, with Bakasana and the twists, there is a bit of that belly churning, just to aid the recovery. Just a taste of that soft place, just to ease the nerves.
With Eka Pada, things get unfamiliar. The root is flushed. The upper body must work in a new way. The front and back work harder than ever before to support the vulnerable spine. As the sacrum downward shifts, Kapotasana makes more sense to the body in hindsight. Dwi Pada and Yoganidrasana repeat the theme until the behavior of swinging the legs behind the head and keeping the chest cavity open and using that space in which to breathe becomes second nature.
Tittibhasana and its permutations takes this strong and open body and and turns it on itself. With the torso firmly between the thighs, the legs become a vice, pressurizing the body while the hamstrings maximally stretch. The walk is a strange journey, asking much of the legs and and demanding an unperturbed mind, but the next phase, Tittibhasana D, is perhaps the strangest insect of all, with its precarious duck feet and hidden face. Some transit four phases; I practice five, beginning and ending with an arm balance.
After the jump come the high flying acrobatics of Pincha and the impossibility of Karandavasana, and again the fire builds. Mayurasana. Nakrasana. The heart is pliable and open but it must be strong. I pound the ground. I feel my chest.
And there I stop. For now.
On to backbends and the familiar flow of the finishing sequence, though it is different, somehow, after an Intermediate practice. Less seamless. More like a cool down lap around the track after a set of interval training.
But none of this is the point. There are times when I revel in the sacral, animalistic nature of Intermediate. There are stretches when I salivate for practice. The root stimulation is endorphin-inducing, and it seems to inspire exuberant, pleasure seeking behavior on and off the mat, but the recoil is harsh. Without fail, I come to feel overexposed. There is a frightening moment when the shame sets in, as if I see myself disrobed.
Then I withdraw -- shield the belly, cover the heart -- and turn inward. I think often of Intermediate from this low, grey place -- I yearn for the extremes of light and shadow -- but feel somehow I'm not welcome... that it's not for me... that I'm not worthy.
Eventually, I snap out of it. I stumble back to Intermediate with downcast eyes and fear the worst, but every time, my practice is right there waiting for me, right there where I left it, welcoming and perfect in every way. Over and over again, I have shied away, forced myself to go back, and been made a fool for my irrational disinclination. When will I find peace in this practice? When will I learn to be not afraid?