So Blogger presented me with this series of new templates, and I like the current one enough to stick with it for a while. Hi! It's October.
A year ago on-blog I'd been just once in a while experimenting with the 3s foot-behind-heads. Yes, those were flexible days :)
Two years ago on-blog I'd been convincing myself that I stand up from backbends (I still do that once in a while, play this convince-oneself game).
Three years ago, in real life, my household was newly pregnant. That sure was the end of something and the beginning of something else.
Practices have been, this past week, nicely intense. Up to Ardha Matsyendrasana, not because that's where anyone particularly told me to stop or because I can't do Eka Pada Sirsasana, but because Troy Lucero (of all people) in summer 2010 told me that one can technically do up through AM and still get good backbends without adding the extra challenge of doing massive forward folds before you backbend.
I'd added in all my extra handstandy-sun-salutation stuff, so the week's practices were a bit more dynamic than my usual, harder to control (I can easily control a jump-back or -through in my usual "Bakasana" format, but the full half-handstand format is much harder). While I'm on this topic, by "Bakasana format" I mean that I usually "hop back and through" which is essentially a dynamic Lolasana. Particularly when jumping through, I lean way into the hands, shoulders even moving ahead of hands, which makes the jump briefly look like a Bakasana (and then I pull with the abs and look up and the hips swing on through and upward, the way Swenson recommends in his book). For the record, I often scrape a bit going both back and through, but I don't care and it's not a real foot-scrape the way some people talk about, it's a toe-slide, doesn't bother me at all.
Intermediate remains hard, but past work on it is evident. Kapo, of all things, is fairly deep for how spotty my practice of it has been this year. Toes regularly, even though I have to press on my gym-mat-under-Jade-mat trick at the Y to get myself to the feet.
Pasasana has run away, but if I put my heels on the raised gym mat and do a five-breath warmup with top of hand on floor outside the hip I'm facing away from, I can usually fingertip bind it.
Supta Vajrasana is impossible to estimate. I can bind both feet, but the "sit up bar" that I use for knee support is about a foot high, so my knees come WAAAY UP before I can arch back, which means I can't estimate anything about how far back or not I might go if my knees were pinned to the floor by a futon or a teacher's foot or partner's legs. But it feels good and I'm thinking "chest rising" as David and Shelley said, and I can tell when I sink into the low back; that feels like ass!
In 2010 when I was doing some serious Kapotasana chasing (especially, as I recall, from about January to April), I'd get WICKEDLY sore in the right hip, actually in both outer hips, as the backbends developed. This has returned, but now it's particularly on the right side and really not on the left.
It feels like the glutes sort of bite into the pelvic bones and tailbone, like they are gripping for dear life. The psoas also gets involved, and when it does, I can't really jump to-and-fro, can't get the hips "swinging" as it were.
Poses that are delicious stretches for this include: Janu A and C, Mari B, Virabhadrasana A (right foot back), any twisted pigeon variation, any REALLY deep lunge (like those Nicki Doane lunges where you turn the front foot out 45 degrees), Baddha Konasana, Bhekasana if it doesn't hurt (it's either really good or not good at all), and slow, conscious Urdhva Dhanurasanas.
I find that I must consciously think, "Relax...those...glutes" as I come up in the wheel, and breathing into it is very helpful, with visualization even, inhale, muscle lights up with energetic life, exhale, muscle releases its teeth from the bone.
In any case, this also happened in the 2010 Kapo chase. I remember feeling this in that backbend and the UD's, and thinking, "I'm stretching my glutes in a backbend? WTF?" because that shouldn't be possible, right?
These days I don't think that it's strictly a muscle imbalance; I did have periodic aching there in my pre-yoga days, even back into my 20s, from things like standing in line a long time, but I'm a chronic "lean up against a post" guy at that time, weighting one foot and such when I stand, so I'm not suprised that I got uneven hips out of the deal. Gotta look cool, right? :D Art historians call that "contrapposto," when you've got that "Yeah I'm just waitin' to catch a bus" look. Uh huh.
Owl once called this "samskaric business" and I like that. This is the hip that wouldn't half-lotus, that wouldn't twist as easily, that wouldn't open as easily, that wouldn't let me take foot behind head as easily, but it's also the hip where the hamstrings are stronger (I've pulled a left one, never a right one) and where I can lift the foot in a "pistol" (think Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana squat). Like anything, it's got strengths and weaknesses. No one has a "bad hip/good hip," it's not like cops.
Because there is really energy in that hip, the same white energy, a sort of mass that I can almost stretch PHYSICALLY into, the right hip has me wondering about the koshas, particularly the physical or food body and the prana or energy body. Can the energy body MANIFEST blockages in physical terms? Can one STRETCH the prana body?
When I was with David and Shelley a month after my father passed, this hip was like the dark well of emotional energy, it's like the low geographical region of my body, everything "runs downhill" to there. Amazing agony, physical/emotional/more, came out of that hip, unreal stuff. If anyone tells you ashtanga vinyasa yoga can't help you channel that sorta thing, they are bullshitting you big time.
In 2010, I was able to clear the hips, or detach the "teeth" of the glutes, whatever the mechanism is. Maybe I was able to "purify the energy" I really can't say what happened, but I did get smoothness and cooperation out of that hip for a while. Then with more frustration and spottier practices it regrew, like warts sometimes do. Slow regeneration of tension, high expections for practice that didn't represent those priorities which life wanted me to have. Refusal plus difficulty equals more difficulty.
Last week for backbends I one day had to do some Venki hangbacks (which I first heard of on Linda's blog and have kept in my toolkit ever since), and I found that in the fourth hangback (which is feet mat-width apart, arms fully extended, and you try to hang back to 90 degrees or more), I could see a good piece of the mat after 15 breaths, and I mean like more than a foot of the back of my mat, so I dropped, and it was fine. I couldn't come up, that day (well, I could to my knees, but not onto my feet), but I learned a new approach to hanging-and-dropping, so I kept it for the next two practices.
I would do my pressups, come to standing, and then inhale up like in a Surya Namaskara (ekam!), and then hang back. The first exhale wants to go into the low back, so I inhale the bend into the front body, and I can't reall explain how it worked, but it worked. I think "no, abdomen, psoas!" and the stretch moves, it sort of "runs around the front of me." I guess that on a physical level, I push into the feet more, turn the thighs in more, do the basic backbending how-tos. Then it's something like 12 breaths the first time, 9-10 the second time, 5-6 the third time, and I was able to drop, walk in and then stand up, and on the third time, with my heels BARELY off the mat, which is almost standing up feet flat. I thought that was pretty cool, and it arrived by pressing with the feet and really thinking, "hips forward...forward...more forward...forward again," the way that Kino repeats those imperatives when she's doing a workshop.
This makes the hands land closer to the feet, which makes the high point of the backbend higher, which changes the center of gravity as one moves forward, and that's that. Hope I can duplicate it next week :)
Sartre was famous for asking if existence (external conditions) preceded essence (selfhood, somewhat ambiguously defined) or the other way around. Some time ago on seventh series, I wrote (or at least said something out loud to the effect of; perhaps I put it on Facebook rather than in here, because I'm terse on there due to the word limit and verbose in here because of the non-limit), "Doing is more reliable than being. When seventh series totally mangled 'who I was,' I found that I could nonetheless do things, and I didn't need to be anyone in particular, not even a parent, not even 'the willing partner' or anything. Just do, who cares about being."
This doesn't translate easily into the Sartre, because even if you choose existence as creating essence, you still have this tricky "essence" to deal with, a self, an Actor, an Ego, or something like it, and my parenting description is both a complaint and a marvel, basically, "How am I doing things if I can't tell who I am?"
And then one is tempted to say that one is "existing" without a clear "essence" and that leads to bad thinking where maybe postmodern culture creates the self through advertising, or where parenting makes one egoless (it does and it doesn't), or where the whole universe becomes frustration because you don't have any free time and you never get laid anymore (and again, this is both true and not).
So "essence" is the problematic term. Many women that I know talk about parenting like it ITSELF is a sort of essential biological destiny, "I just can't imagine who I was before I was a parent," and it's all bliss and self-realization. I know one--count him, ONE--man who talks eagerly about parenting, but he's really into compassion for everyone and into relating and into humanity, so parenting is not an EXCEPTION to this, it's very much something social that he anticipates being challenging and doing well.
This has me thinking that there's a gender divide in how "self-realizing" seventh series is. For me, parenting is the most ego-killing, self-annihilating thing in the entire universe, certainly the most so of any activity I have ever committed or thought about committing. This is not to say that I don't like it--I do--but its challenge is absolutely superhuman, and its ego-killing powers are totally unmatched in the entire universe. I would put parenting EASILY up against chemotherapy or torture for ego-killing potential (and yes, this is my usual hyperbole).
The great trick of parenting is that for all of the ego death that it imposes, it's kind of a FUN and ENJOYABLE ego death (except for stuff like the 2 am barfing) eventually. I often, now that my kid is 2 (and this began when he was 1), don't mind the hardcore challenge UNLESS I want my "old life" back in which case the ego howls like an animal being beaten to death with a pipe.
So obviously, my "essence" isn't the "old days," because some sort of "new me" is doing all the parenting while my "old essence" dies off like a limb that I don't need as I evolve.
But also obviously, my parenting self isn't an "essence" since I had no idea at all that this was possible, and my new self involves the total genocide of my old self. "Essence" simply does not serve to explain this change/transformation/whatever-it-is.
More accurate, I think, is the idea from Deleuze and Guattari of the "dividual." One is not an "individual," that which cannot be divided, but exactly a "dividual," a dividing organism. You turn into this, then into that, you grow this, you add that, you subtract that, constant change.
My seventh series transformation is EXACTLY that of the "dividual."
Now what's interesting about that if we turn to Eastern philosophy (and I admit up front that my Eastern philosophy is a big mix of the Sutras, Chogyam Trungpa, a cup of Bhagavad Gita via Paramahamsa, a dash of Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and some bits that I've gathered from David, Tim and Kino),
we can say that the sacrifice of parenting is bigger than I am; it's bigger than my life. That's why I can sacrifice day-in and day-out and never break the surface. I'll never crack the surface of this ocean again, ever. That's the ego rage, the ego pain. It knows this is a death sentence.
But LIFE is a death sentence, because mortality is the truth. Something always was going to go this way, be it illness, sudden car crash, bad relationship, whatever. Something was going to totally dash the ego world, and that's just how reality works.
So once that purely existential horror is done (and you can see me live in that horror from about October 2008 until April 2010, solid), things mellow out. Because there's no escape and no return, life becomes the dharma. One always knows to sacrifice, one always knows to tend the kid, one always knows the work never ends.
Is that not, in a strange way (especially strange for the ego), a weird COMFORT? Provided that my household remain alive and un-sick for the long term, I never have to worry about work contingency or self-realization again. In a way, I always wanted this, even as a teenager. "Why are things so confusing?" Well, now they're not. Things are nicely busy and wall-to-wall. Teach, write, grade, parent. Repeat. Try to sleep now and then.
Everything has become very regular. Oh sure, there's still day-to-day randomness and the urge to procrastinate and be distracted, and that happens, but the work itself provides the model and the mode. Days go like this: ABCDE. Regularity, the way the yoga practice is (or should be) regular. Now if parenting would just back off a LITTLE BIT so I could actually DO my regular yoga, I'd have, you know, nearly a system.
All of it is impermanent, of course, but parenting establishes stability and a question-less-ness, and hands the ego all of the questions. It's a nice double: I have no doubt now of what it is I need to do, but I've also never gone through such incredibly agonizing hell in order to get this.
And that's exactly what Chogyam Trungpa describes in 'The Hard Way' in _Cutting Through..._ and what he describes differently in _Myth of Freedom_. Forgetting ourselves is also a big part of the _Shambhala_ book. Toss in the Gita's "acting and giving up the fruits of the action" (how'd you like parenting summarized in ONE SENTENCE, eh?) and the Sutras defining "essence" as basically the "shining Self," the One, the Purusha, the witness beyond all creation, then reality becomes simply doing. It doesn't matter a damn "who we are" or "who we were" but rather just that we did things.