Poses in ashtanga yoga feel like gifts, and sometimes you feel like you don’t deserve a gift. But you accept it anyway, as best and graciously as you can.
My teacher David gave me Vasisthasana today. It was not a complete surprise, as he had mentioned that pose when I practiced the day before moon day. But I thought he would probably change his mind. “Oh,” I imagined him saying, “actually, you think you need to stay in Intermediate a little bit more.” I would have agreed. I can bind the big toe in Supta Urdhva Pada Vajrasana without trouble now (lots of sweat on the back helps). And, the “Seven Deadlies”, aka, the Seven Headstands, were just beginning to feel somewhat comfortable and not-so-scary. My friend Julie said, “Some day you will find them soothing.” I laughed at that initially…but actually, I can see what she is saying now!
Plus I’m still struggling with handstands and even though Andrew and David told me that they were not a prerequisite for starting Third Series, I felt like I needed to get that right before beginning anything else. I can lift up to handstand but more often than not, I flop over into a back bend. On some occasions, I can hold for a couple of breaths (if I am lucky) before landing in backbend. My gymnast friends fare better with inversions; for me, they still feel quite scary. But then, they are a bit fun, too…I must admit that I do love a challenge and maybe that is the addictive appeal of ashtanga yoga.
After Supta Urdhva, David said, “Wait.” He was helping another student. I waited in downward dog, and then he showed me Vasisthasana. I must say, it is another one of those poses that look neat and easy but feels incredibly hard once you try it. I really don’t know how folks maintain balance on just the side of the foot and hand while binding the big toe with the free hand. And hold for five breaths. My entire right side was trembling and I was covered with sweat. Not just a light sheen. I felt like a beached whale. Sweat was literally running off every pore of my body…I was embarrassed that as a female, so much water was coming out of my skin. Then I had to do the left side!! Is there no end to the torture? my body was asking me.
I never thought that dropbacks would feel like a relief but they did. But of course, after the dropback, there was handstand and dropping over. I was tired and just wanted to lie down. Forget everything! my body said, but there was no forgetting, only doing. Lifted into handstand and dropped into backbend like a noodle. Shake my head to myself. Then David came by and said, “Now, arch your back and lift back up.”
“Huh??” I tried to stand up but he held me and said, “No, your legs back over.”
“You want me to flip back over?” For reals?? I was thinking. I’m tired! Like, really, really tired! Should have skipped that extra helping of dessert last night, dammit!
“Yes. I’ll hold you. Just try.”
“But going over in backbend from handstand is scary enough. I don’t know if I’m not ready for this.” All of this gasped while sweat was dripping down my face, upside down.
“Just try,” he said again.
I don’t know what came out of my mouth but it must have been a long groan from the underworld; I flopped back over and tried to ignore all the stares I felt. Maybe no one was staring but I felt embarrassed. I think I’m usually the loudest one in the class; most struggle gracefully and silently but I’m one of those loud “cry-babies”. My friend Yang beside me was laughing and suddenly I couldn’t stop laughing at the silliness of it all.
I fared a little better the second time, mainly because I was a bit more prepared for it. But it was not any less scary.
Then a few more handstands into backbend, and standing up from backbend. Then Vishchrikasana…my body was stiffer (for no apparent reason, ha!)…and I needed help getting my feet on top of the head, just barely touching the hair.
By the time I got to the finishing poses, my body was trembling. Every single limb was shaking as I lay in a puddle of sweat.
But afterwards, my mind felt clear, peaceful, and strong. I love that feeling, whether it is from Primary, or whatever it is that I do now. It’s not just for the challenge. I just love that clean, clear feeling…I think of the Yoga Sutra I.3 (in Georg Feuerstein’s interpretation):
tada drastuh sva-rupe vasthanam…
“And the seer (i.e. The Self) abides in (its) essence”…