During our yatra, when we had the chance to practice our asanas, it was typically pretty intimate. Just 15 to 20 of us, who were spending almost all our waking hours together in some intense and emotional settings. The spaces — an airy second floor beside the Bay of Bengal, a rooftop near Tiruvannamalai, tight walls in our hotels — always offered something to help focus our attentions and intentions.
A number of my fellow yatris have pretty advanced asana practices: Second and even Third series. Perhaps it was due to the extra oomph of practicing in India and between temple visits, but I was struck by a combination of focus and investigation that many exhibited.
And then there was me, doing my little ol’ Primary practice.
Before I write anything more, I ought to preface this by saying I’m happier in my practice now than I’ve been for a long time. More at peace. It is what it is, my limits are what they are, and there are meanings to be found that run deeper than whether I can grab my ankles in a backbend.
Not that I wouldn’t like to be able to do that.
But being so close to these other practices left me wondering about what those Ashtangis are experiencing as a result of their advanced physical poses that is different from what I am in the meat and potatoes — hmm… that’s not such a good metaphor for this… how about dosa and masala — of Ashtanga. There’s a simple difference of time, even.
I know there’s the shared experience of breath, and I think a shared sense of tapasya or agni — one yogi’s Eka Pada Viparita Dandasana is another’s Utkatasana — but it is hard not to ponder what a handful of headstands or precarious balance poses do to one’s system. What more they do.
I guess I am just wondering what I’m missing out on, though hopefully not in too much a “woe is me” way.
We’ve certainly written a lot about the practice of holding students back or progressing them forward, and I understand the need for a certain level of physical mastery of the practice. And, in the end in the Patanjali system, we are talking about only one of eight limbs. That leaves plenty of other limbs to explore. But asana is the one we all festishize, right? So it is difficult not to spend time thinking and talking about it.
Or even blogging about it, heaven forbid.
I also recognize that everyone’s practice is their own. I even can imagine that someone gifted with flexibility might look at my practice and think, “Wow, that’s some serious effort and fight. I wonder what experiences that level of trying opens up to him that I’m missing.” (I told you I was feeling pretty good in my practice. That has to go down as the most positive thing I’ve written about my own practice on this blog. I’m sure I’ll shake the feeling soon.) But that doesn’t keep me from wondering what other insights are out there that are, literally, beyond my stretch, twist or bind. Or whether all those insights are available with what I’m able to do.
Posted by Steve