Ashtanga Workshop Week 5- A Student’s Perspective
“If you have never attempted Chakrasana before . . . . then you should leave this method out . . . this method of vinyasa requires a sense of adventure.” – David Swenson.
“The mental and emotional afflictions are spiritual ignorance, misplaced identity, emotional attachment . . . and the strong focus on mundane existence, which is due to an instinctive fear of death.” – Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
“The truth is, the line between fear and anxiety can get pretty thin and fuzzy.” – Joseph LeDoux, the Opinionator blog, NY Times, 1/22/2012
Oh, I know. You weren’t expecting fear and death, right? Maybe you were expecting a comparison to lotus flowers, or a self-deprecating anecdote? I promise at least the latter (and if you’re looking for florid metaphors, I can recommend several other blogs to you).
But if you’re seriously engaged in ashtanga, at some point something is going to scare you.
We’ll go existential in just a sec, but first, today’s session was fantastic. Johnny’s just fun in a led class, and he and the class were mutually at ease. It was a nice dynamic. It’ll be interesting to see what Michele does with this full-series energy next week. We talked about the benefits of Mysore – I loved the question about whether it’s available at a time other than 6:30 in the morning – and then, right to it. The whole series. I’m doing it too slowly in the mornings, clearly. There are about seven poses not yet available to me, I’m skimping on savansana, and still it takes two hours.
It’s empowering to do the whole thing, even if you’re muddling through. Mysore’s brilliant – I’m not ready for anything past baddha konasa, and that’s OK. Here’s today’s metaphor: doing the whole series is a movie trailer. This summer, the new Wes Anderson movie will open. In the meantime, I can watch a preview. Some day, probably around the same time, I will be ready for Seated Angle Posture (upavishta konasan). Until then, it’s fun to visit.
But. Chakrasana. Here’s my consolation with the backward somersault: for three years, I visualized falling out of headstand. So I never did it: my theory was, either I would fall out of it because I wasn’t physically ready, or because I was convinced I would. Either way, I wanted nothing to do with it. Poses involving the neck seem like poses that could go seriously wrong. Headstand, for me, slid from fear to plain anxiety. But, in a hotel room (Chicago in October, as I recall), no one was watching, so what the hell, I kicked up into it. It was no thing of beauty. I went into it wrong. It was actually headstandish, not headstand. But I did it.
Now, every morning, I manage at least five breaths at a time away from the wall. I still need Johnny to spot me, but I need him less and less in this pose. Really, I’m not sure I can communicate what a thrill it is. Still.
Watching someone who is in complete physical control requires equanimity. It’s inspirational. But lacking that level of control causes anxiety about whether you will ever be ready. For Johnny, chakrasana is no big deal. For a couple of people in class, the same. For a few other people, it was probably a big deal, but they did it anyway, and that’s admirable. For me?
Well. According to Johnny you shouldn’t attempt it unless you can get your toes firmly on the ground in plow – and since I just felt the ground last week, I gave myself a hall pass. Just like I did for three years with headstand.
Ashtanga, man, it’s hard. It’s certainly hard physically, but it’s challenging mentally, too. And, let’s say it out loud, where there’s fear, it’s not easy emotionally either. But I’m going to submit to you that it’s worth it. For example, now every morning, headstand and me meet up against the wall. Not gracefully, not for 25 breaths. But I manage.
And some day, chakrasana. Certainly.