Numbers are one of my least favourite things. If you can have a phobia of numbers, then I do. I prefer things I can count simply on the fingers of one hand. Thankfully, leaving the magic 108 aside, yoga seems mercifully free of numbers.
Or is it…
After all, I have an Astanga-trained friend who counts everything (and not always in Sanskrit!). It seems a little obsessive to me; I like to imagine my own practice is gloriously free of this. Maybe it’s 10,000 hours for mastery, but if that’s not what I’m aiming for, what does it matter?
But just recently I’ve started counting things a little, becoming aware that numbers might offer a helpful measure, something that might add a different kind of framework. Numbers, specifically the number of times to practise something I can’t (yet) do, has become a gentle feature of home practice. I used to roll through a sequence cheerfully enough, at home or in class, and if there was something I couldn’t do, well then — I couldn’t do it. Maybe it just wasn’t for me, maybe I wasn’t ready for it…maybe I was too scared to allow myself to care about it?
Now following a session asking my teacher about how to practice Surya Namaskar A properly (i.e. without the modifications he customarily offers in a general class) I have a bit of homework, something to help me develop my ability in this sequence. He suggested a practice of jumping into half handstand against the wall. Kind of like Kino does it in the pic… kind of….
Argh, it didn’t look so hard when my teacher demoed it to me. Back home I wonder how on earth do I find the kind of power needed to lift up and stack my hips? Maybe I just need to do it enough times… How many times might be required for me to gain strength? Should I do a set number each day? Actually I never really counted consciously. It would have been too depressing to record the number of miserably-heavy bunny-hopping fails I made, as Hubby looked on and rather abruptly told me my hips were no-where near high enough.
And maybe this isn’t a numbers game anyway — or is only partly a numbers game. What I am finding along the way is that, yes, I need to make enough attempts — but they need to be intelligent. Tired attempts are pointless. Attempts where I am alert to everything my body and breath is doing are all useful. Maybe my hips stack, maybe they don’t, but each attempt teaches me something new: how to engage the bandhas and how they relate to breath, how to use the muscles in my legs in a springing action, to look forward not down, to press the hands down strongly as my body weight lifts, and often how a fleeting doubt or uncertain thought undermines any acquired physical strength in a milli-second.
And through the practice of observation and curiosity about how to manage this manoeuvre I find I’ve done a good number of intelligent attempts and my fail rate has gone from 19/20 to 9/10… or something like that maybe. I’m not really counting. My fingers aren’t ever free for counting of course 🙂
I fear this kind of repetitive practice is more akin to a gym workout than a yoga practice, but it’s fun in its own terms and I’ve been quite enjoying challenging myself like this somewhere in the middle of my usual practice. And for now, for a countless number of days, there’s just this practice and the continued observation; to keep trying without too much attachment to success or fear of failure, without allowing myself to be discouraged, just needing to bring my best efforts each time. Hmm, actually it’s beginning to sound more like yoga as I understand it. Abhyasa and vairagya. And already I can sense that a moment could come when this kind of transition might feel light and natural and graceful, an inherent expression of something deeper — and there would be my yoga!
And while I’m thinking a little about numbers, it dawns on me afresh that my teacher’s been practising yoga five times as long as I have. I’ve kind of always known this, but because of the number-o-phobia thing I keep forgetting it. The thought makes me realise why I always feel like a helpless baby in front of him. It also reassures me that I’m doing just fine where I am. Inevitably I am a yoga baby in his eyes so I can’t worry about that! Of course he seems to half-handstand tirelessly in his demonstration to me, he will have long ago lost count of the number of times he’s done this. So much so that he’s perhaps lost the fun in it that I’m just beginning to discover 🙂 But I hope not.