Painfully Magical

I continue to be amazed at what happens in my own Mysore practice. Different from practicing the primary series at home, the little whimper, laughter, grunt, or simply the collective breath of the room has a way of letting me know that I am not alone. It’s background noise as I focus on my own practice: my breath, the soft gaze on the both the room and internally, the poses themselves, and the pain. Yup, still there.

I come to the mat trying to welcome whatever comes while fearing what will come as well. It was one of those put-me-out-of-misery kind of nights, thanks to a momentary pushing-too-hard during Saturday’s class. If you’ve known me for any period of time, you know that I have a tendency to push myself hard and, in this instance, it wasn’t enough to have my left leg over my shoulder for astavakrosana (eight angle pose) – even though it was the first time opening my hip enough to get there since my sacroiliac joint injury. I caught myself trying repeatedly to get it higher up on my shoulder and, by the time I noticed that I’d fallen back into this pattern, I’d been tugging on it for nearly a minute. Santosha (contentment) is where I need to work. This practice, specifically the Ashtanga Method, works — but you’ve got to be patient, diligent, and honest with yourself.

My teacher posted a well timed article written on the topic of pain. The author, Ty Landrom writes “The postures provoke patterns of tension in our bodies, and when we pull against them, they scour our nerves. The form of the practice, with its linear progression of sequences, leaves no route of escape. The poses that make us tremble today must be practiced tomorrow. Most people promptly quit Ashtanga for this reason. They go find another, more forgiving form.”

Well, I don’t want to find another form of practice, and this is why.

With as slow and steady breath as I can manage, I sweep my arms up towards the sky, hands meeting in prayer at the top. Hello God, I’m here. I check for the energetic lift from below, see that my stomach is pulled in and up as if I’d pulled a zipper up the front of my body (mula bandha), and reach over, out and down to blocks that sit at the top of my mat. With my hands firm on the blocks, I lean forward, pushing into the block with my hands and into the base of my big toe. Once again, I visualize a zipper, this time it starts at my feet and pulls me in and up from the central line of my body. My back starts to melt. I’m not imagining this; it’s actually happening. I continue.

Inhale, flat back.
Exhale, step back to plank pose and lower down to chataranga dandasana.
Inhale, upward dog focused on rolling my shoulders back, pulling my shoulder blades down my back, pulling my breastbone forward, while keeping my frontline zipped up.

Then I exhale and roll over my toes to downward facing dog. Here, I resist the urge to just hang out here, and continue to work with my breath (slow and steady) to create the calm that I’ve been craving since last evening. Just as in forward fold, I root into my feet and hands to create the strong grounding that will signal a sense of safety for my body to relax. And more melting away of the pain occurs. This, too, is not my imagination; it is real.

Encouraged, I step forward on the inhale, extend my spine to flatten out my back, then fold forward on the exhale and continue rooting into the earth. Sweeping my hands up towards the heavens as I come up on the inhale, I smile. Then I do it again, and again, and again, and one more time…before moving to Surya Namaskara B (Sun Salutation B), then into the Standing Series.

My plan for today is to get through the Standing Series then wrap up with the backbend routine that my teacher has given me to strengthen my back safely. After the painfully hard practice in last night’s Vinyasa Class, I figure it’s safe to not push myself too far. But the Standing Series ends way to fast – probably because I unknowingly skipped all four Prasarita Padottanasanas (wide-legged standing forward folds). Since I wasn’t ready to leave the space that found in my time on the mat, I move on to the seated poses. Instead of grasping my toes in Adha Baddha Padma Poschimottanasana, I used the long-sleeved shirt I’d worn over my yoga top as a strap to provide me with the feel of reaching around behind without allowing me to force the opening. Blocking off my hips in Janu Shirshasana C, I continued to find the “middle way” (not to easy, not too hard) while zipping up the midline, and rooting into floor in each of the poses. The softening and melting away of the discomfort continued. By the time I arrived at Bhuja Pidasana time was running out on me. I started to go into the pose and realized, upon feeling like something was missing, that I’d missed the Prasaritas. How cool is it that each and every pose in the sequence prepares your body and mind for what is yet to come? After marveling at the brilliance of it, I completed the Prasaritas and then closed with my backbends, savasana, and rolled up to seated just in time for the closing chant.

Yoga is magic for certain. Mysore is painfully magical, with the self paced flow and inquiry into the self, timed on your own breath and your own initiation. I’m truly grateful for today and feel much better now. 

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