The Unbearable Lightness of Being, or Cultivating Lightness in Practice

The other day I was struggling in Bhairasana, which is the pose that I am currently working on. Going through Pincha, Karandavasana, Mayurasana, and Nakrasana in the Intermediate Series — all those poses which demand so much strength and endurance — left me pretty tuckered out. Then to go through the leg behind the head poses after all of that just felt like endless torture. I was stiffer that morning, which did not help matters much.

The 8th position of Bhairasana is difficult enough, but the other vinyasas also demand so much strength and tolerance for discomfort. In the 10th vinyasa, as I tried to jump through to Cakorasana, my entire body seemed to hurt and my breathing was rough despite my best efforts to control it. My face felt stiff with pain.

This was when Andrew came over. He did not try to help, but just stood gently over me and said, “You know, it’s better not the exert so much effort in these poses.”

I said, “But it’s so hard. I’m already so tired after Intermediate.”

“Yes,” Andrew said. “But you get to warm up before all the leg behind the head poses in Third. To do Intermediate before Advanced is a blessing.”

I looked up at him in surprise. I had often thought that to do Third after all the strenuous poses in Intermediate was complete and utter torture. After Karandavasana, Mayurasana, and Nakrasana, I have to do all these leg behind the head poses which make Supta Kurmasana seem like a piece of cake. Andrew continued, “Imagine doing Third with all the leg behind the head poses without warming up.”

I looked down at my mat and sighed. I really could not imagine Bhairasana without warming up. I think my leg would just pop out of its socket.

“Try one day to just be very light in your practice,” Andrew said. “There are some days where you want to go deeply in the poses, but it’s also good to cultivate a sense of lightness in your practice, even in poses like Karandavasana, so that you reserve energy for Third.”

That somehow made sense to me; there have already been some days where I have been trying to do that — on days where I felt especially tired, and did not want to push the envelope too far. On days like that, focusing on breath and drishti really helped, and there was a sense of lightness within the bandhas.

Andrew knew that I surfed, so he came back to add, “You know how in surfing, sometimes you cannot fight the wave, but you just go along with its energy?” This immediately brought images and the felt sensation of trusting the energy of the wave, and trying to flow with it. I nodded, my eyes lit up. Andrew continued, “Well, it’s like that in practice. You go along with the energy of the poses, and make little adjustments along the way.”

That made sense to me, and also brought to mind what a wonderful teacher Andrew was; he did not surf, but he was able to explain something in a way that intuitively clicked with me.

I tried Bhairasana again, focusing on that sense of lightness. It seemed like that strange balance point in Kapotasana, at that exact point between being able tolerate the sensation and the sense of unbearable, the one-pointedness that Sharath had once talked out in his workshops. It almost felt like the unbearable lightness of being, because on the other side lay the heavy side of pain. But it seemed to work! No straining, frowning, or grunting. I finished the pose with a slightly better sense of ease. And I thought that it doesn’t matter which Series one is at, and where you are at your practice. Cultivating the feeling of lightness engages the bandhas, the breath, the drishti…and, somehow, the soul.

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