I learned to drive in a manual car, and I remember when the synchronisation of changing gear, steering, and keeping track of what’s going on around the car seemed like an impossible challenge. Did I have to become an octopus — and one with eyes in the back of its head — in order to do this? Magically, at some point, it fell into place and then suddenly there was acres of time to carry out these sequences. And send a text message home at the same time. Just kidding! 😉
Āsana practice is starting to feel a little like this. I have more time and — on a really good day — I have more space. The dimensions of my practice are shifting and expanding. It’s no longer so hard to keep track of where my limbs are, and there’s (a bit) less desire to be anywhere in particular in a pose, as long as I consciously know where I am.
We talked after class yesterday about different ways of entering a pose or working within a pose. My teacher suggested that in aṣṭāṅga practice, poses are often taught from their furthest or deepest extent and then filled in from there. My teacher’s practice is, in contrast, to establish a good basis and then gradually let the pose come over time.
Taking Trikoṇāsana as an example, he often has us entering from the top, as it were, lifting out of Vira 2 into straight legs and then taking that forward into a light Trikoṇāsana that could then deepen over time. In aṣṭāṅga it’s apparently more often taught from the furthest place, taking hold of the toes with the lower hand and then expanding upwards to fill out the pose.
So I find myself unexpectedly at a stage in my yoga practice where I can start to appreciate such differences. There’s more time and space. I can explore them myself at home and see what happens in each āsana, what I learn from a different entry point about the structure of the pose and how my body works. And then what effect it has on my mind to practice like this, where the movement within each āsana is dictated by the final destination point rather than advancing from where I naturally am.
Had I come to yoga at a different point in my life, this would have been my way I’m sure. Reach, reach as far as you can, every single time. But today I’m immensely grateful to have a teacher who encourages intelligent, individual exploration. In class over and over I receive the message of consistent but gentle effort. No grand gestures. No need for extremes. A demand for nothing more than patience and truth. Just that! Hard, hard, hard. For me some small torture, tugging gently at my innate tendency to overdo, overachieve, overcommit. Unravelling this lifelong habit.
So now I learn a different way. To ebb and flow with my breath, letting an inner truth carry me where it will. Or not. Where am I today, that’s always the question.
I must accept that I am not in control. I am not in the driving seat here.
Of course it’s always back to this sūtra (1.12):
abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṃ tan nirodhaḥ
[These thought patterns (vrittis)] are mastered (nirodhah, regulated, coordinated, controlled, stilled, quieted) through practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya).
Octopus image source: https://www.garyswift.com/