When the Going Gets Tough — the Elusive Toc in Tic-Tocs

I cried in practice yesterday.

I have heard of people crying or sobbing in practice, and certainly heard others break down and sob. And I certainly had my own share of silent tears, either during or after practice. But I guess there is a first for everything.

David’s Note

Yesterday was Friday so it was just Primary. We did not have Led Primary as we usually do as it is the holidays now, so the practice schedules have been modified somewhat. It was just Mysore practice so that meant I still had to do my backbends, dropbacks, and the dreaded tic-tocs. I can tic, but I still cannot “toc”. I’ve watched videos. I’ve talked to various folks who can toc. Andrew said that he will stop helping me, he said I was strong enough to try on my own. I don’t know what my hang-up is. Everyone tells me, “You’ve got the strength to do it,” but when I’m upside down in back-bend, the thought of lurching my legs over my head back to downward dog is just plain frightening. It has been four months since I started this insanity, and I figure I will struggle for a long time yet.

So when it came time to tic-toc, I set my intention to really try my best. David intentionally stepped away, helping some other folks while flashing me a knowing look. I guess he felt that it was best to have me try it out on my own too. The other day he said, “You’re so close. You just have to get over the crest,” meaning the point where the pelvis is high enough for one to toc over. So I tried lifting my legs up while bearing down in my chest…my legs lifted up, and slammed back down on the mat in defeat. I tried this a couple more times, and my arms were already feeling quite tired. Finally after two or three tries, David came over to help. He didn’t have to do much, just pressed his hand against my back, and then somehow, with the pressure, I was able to toc over.

But I was so defeated, so angry, and incredibly frustrated with myself. Why can’t I do this on my own??? Why, why why?? What is my fucking deal??? I said to David, “Why do I even do this? Why do people tic-toc anyway? You don’t have to tic-toc to go into Third, so why do I do it?”

“Lots of people don’t do it,” David said. “You were ambitious, and you wanted to try. But you don’t have to do it. But why do you do yoga?”

His question somehow caught me off-guard. There are many reasons why I have stayed with this practice for almost four years, practicing five to six grueling days a week, and it isn’t just for the poses…I love how my body and mind felt afterward, the energy I had for hours after practice, the inner steadiness that came from practice. But in that moment, feeling so tired, I just said, “I don’t know.” I was too exhausted to explain why. And then I felt angry with myself for not being able to answer. There you go again, says an old, familiar critical voice, you never have the right answer.

When David helped me with half-bends before Chakra Bandhasana, I felt tears well up in my eyes as I bent back. There is something about back bends that just completely opens me up and makes me vulnerable. After the third half-bend, I came up and I just sobbed. It just came out of me. “I hate this!!” I heard myself saying. “I just hate it!! Why do I even do this?” David held me close in a hug and I just sobbed like a little girl. There were only two other folks — Jen and Jessica — in the room, so hopefully I did not embarass myself too much.

In forward bend, I heard his voice, “You know, it’s okay to have a strong reaction like this. It’s really okay. It’s not about doing the poses, otherwise it is just gymnastics.” But I felt embarassed. I managed to quiet down the sobs but my body still felt raw and open. The tears were just waiting to pour out as I barely got through the finishing poses. I couldn’t look at David as I walked out of the shala, but he gave me a note, listing the reasons for yoga practice. I just shoved it in my purse, I just wanted to get out of the shala before bursting into tears again.

I had some energy left and drove off to surf. The NW swell is still holding and I thought that surfing will bring me out of this strange, teary state of mind. I had my board loaded in the car and paddled out to my favorite spot. The waves were probably about head high on the best sets, much smaller then the last few days when the waves were at least a couple of feet overhead.

Waiting for waves. Photo courtesy of Jack Davis

Fuck Ashtanga, I thought to myself. I will just to stick to surfing, and that will be that. No more dropbacks, intense back bends like Kapotasana or Vrischikasana after tic-tocs, eating lightly so that my body can do all of these crazy postures, no more leg behind the head poses, especially Kasyapasana in Third Series which also brings up tears. Fuck it, I thought. Ashtanga can stuff itself up its own stupid little ass. I’m skipping practice tomorrow!  Never mind that I have based my entire dissertation, with hopefully several more months to finish, on this insane practice.

But out in the ocean, that rawness and vulnerability did not leave. It was crowded, of course, at the Secret Spot, and I felt unsure on my long-board. I had been surfing on my smaller board with the bigger swells the last few weeks, and felt unwieldy on my bigger board now. I could not bring myself to sit deeper inside, and out position or out paddle others as I usually set out to do (surfing is very competitive by nature), and in the water, tears welled up in my eyes again. Luckily, everybody’s faces were wet from salt water and no one could tell that I had been crying.

I caught a few fun waves, nothing spectacular, but it was enough to buoy my spirits up. I drove back home, ruminating on whether I will go back to practice. Somehow I found David’s note (synchronicity? divine intervention from the universe?) and finally had the mental space to read it.

This was what he wrote:

  • Yoga comes with these:
    • Tapas — discipline and practice
    • Svadhyaya — study and self reflection
    • Isvara pranidhana — non-attachment and faith
  • Yoga has six stages and intentions:
    • srsti — grow some abilities
    • siksana — perfect the methods
    • raksana — maintain health and balance
    • cikitsa — therapy
    • adhyatmika — spiritual growth
    • sakta — energy

It is still in my purse and I find myself looking at it from time to time. Svadhyaya and Isvara pranidhana struck me particularly…in terms of self reflection, why was it so important that I “toc”? What does that really mean for me? Why am I so attached to this idea of “tocking” and where does faith come in?

If I stop, I will lose everything that I have worked so hard to learn. But, like David said, it wasn’t just about the postures. There is a certain steadiness one gains in the mind, in the psyche, after practice. If I stopped, I know — I feel — that a deeper connection to the self would be lost. That felt more frightening than anything else.

This morning I woke up at 6 am. That is sleeping in for me, compared to 4 am every day when I have to work. I felt refreshed, and full of energy. I automatically put on my clothes for practice. Somehow it seems as if my body had already decided for me.

I still cannot “toc”. But somehow today I was glad that I went back.

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