Sometimes in an asana, I notice something seems off, tight, unstable, or just not as deep as I know I’ve felt it go before. The beauty in these moments occurs when I allow myself to notice it without too much angst or frustration . Not that I’m completely letting it go, but instead just trying to figure out why it’s happening from a point of no ego. (Is there such a place? Ha..I don’t know. Maybe minimal ego…)
I had it happen this week. My up dogs just felt funky lately. My back bend didn’t seem as comfortable and pinched slightly in my low back, going into my legs. Nothing too major, but it seemed to flow throughout practice. I couldn’t tell if it was physical, and where it was possibly originating. A mystery that I hoped wasn’t the start of anything bigger. My other back bends were fine, at least as far as not being painful or restrictive, even if not always as deep as I like.
The first day or two it happened, I just went with it, noticing the change, but not really figuring out the mystery. Sometimes, these things just slowly ebb away, the same way they creep in. However, I decided to not just fixate on my up dog, but instead feel how each movement of my sun salutations and vinyasas were feeling. I found the answer. It was all about chaturanga.
If you’ve ever practiced with Sharath, he has this terrifying way of saying, “what’s your hurry?”, meaning to stay there. It’s especially challenging while everyone is in chatarunga. He greatly dislikes, I thought at least, when someone during led class moves faster than his count in sun salutations and vinyasas. Sharath will hold everyone in chaturanga until the perpetrator comes back to the asana…oh the pain of chilling out in a low plank. I will admit, as I’ve experienced this hold for what seems like an eternity. I’m usually breathing intensely by the end of it, possibly cursing whomever this hapless creature is that has gone out of sync, grateful at the same time that I don’t know, because then I can’t lash out at them to get with the program as my body is shaking from the lengthened hold.
As I was flowing though my first sun salutation, trying to uncover my mystery, I hit into chaturanga and boom, his expression popped in my head. What’s your hurry? Exactly. I realized in my efficiency of jumping right into my low plank, I wasn’t giving myself time to take a complete exhale. I admit, it was subtle, but yet in concentrating on the basics in each asana of breath, bundha, and dristhi, I realized how fast that component had become and I wasn’t giving myself the few extra seconds of time holding in the asana to finish exhaling. I was so full of stale air, I wasn’t able to take a full inhale in my up dog to allow it to fully express. I started laughing because I finally understood Sharath’s point, it really wasn’t about him wanting us to stay in synch on his count, but to breathe properly in order to do it right. In any case, I haven’t cured cancer or discovered the secret to world peace, but hey, I’m taking a full exhale in chaturanga now, and I can attest, the difference is quite remarkable, regardless of it being noticible to anyone else.
Sometimes in practice, these pieces of the puzzle become rote. It’s not so much taken for granted, as just focus has shifted and slowly, insidiously, we start making changes that eventually detract versus enhance progress. There is never such a thing as perfecting the process, just evolving, and noticing with more relaxed but still active intention. I always set intentions before practice, sometimes intellectually or spiritually, but as well physically. I will occasionally put more focus on bundhas, or dristhi, alignment, how high I’m getting my jump back, there is always something to improve or study. So, for now, I’ve decided to notice my exhales, and inhales for that matter, throughout practice when I remember too at least, for now., in how fully I’m capable of breathing. Each side is equally important. Trying to witness the power each breath can enhance in an asana, the exhale of surrender and the inhale of strength and energy. Still learning to breathe…The journey never ends, but awareness is always the first part of change.