Saturday 4th August 2007
On the Mat
Throughout my teenage years I helped my father on his early morning milk delivery round, getting up at 5am to run around the dark streets delivering bottles and cartons of milk to people’s front verandahs. Apart from being great physical and mental training, it gave me a bit of pocket money, but I think the most valuable thing it gave me was a love for the purity of the early mornings. I’m so grateful to my father for making get up before dawn, over and over, no matter what the weather was like outside. It built the foundation for early morning yoga practice in later years.
Fast forward to 2007…and a total breakdown of all that I held close to my heart – early morning yoga practice included.
Over the last few months I’ve doggedly set my alarm almost daily at 5.30am (lately 6am) and I've just as often turned it off and rolled over, getting out of bed just in time to walk the dog before going to work. This is my new routine – most mornings now.
But there’s no way I’m going to stop setting that alarm. It's permanently ingrained into my routine, even though I ignore it every morning.
So since I can't seem to get up to do yoga these days, I took steps last night to get out of the yoga practice ditch by broadening my yoga repertoire and doing an evening practice.
Now in my mind there's not a better start to the day than an Ashtanga vinyasa practice, but somehow it just doesn’t feel right to be generating that much energy in the evenings.
Second choice...I pulled out Mr Iyengar’s Light On Yoga.
In addition to the magnificent 300 week course he has in the appendix at the back of this bible, there’s a 3 day course which promises that “whenever followed it will benefit the body and bring harmony to the mind”. I decided to do the Day 1 sequence of the 3 day course because, apart from Uttanasana, there are no standing poses in it and there’s something comforting about doing an evening home yoga practice that has a lot of your body close to the floor.
The Day 1 sequence I did last night goes like this:
Jatara Parivartanasana (supine twist with both legs extended)
Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)
Twists – Marichyasana III and Ardha Matsyendrasana
Parvatasana (seated in Lotus with arms extended above head and hands interlocked)
Backbends – Matsyasana (fish) , Salabhasana (Locust), Dhanurasana (Bow) and Upward Dog Pose
Downward Dog Pose
From an Ashtanga point of view it’s almost a reverse practice. In fact I remember reading about an Ashtanga class where the teacher led the class through the entire Primary series backwards.
Now I consider the Ashtanga Primary sequence to be absolutely inspired. The sequence seems to be designed to stimulate the chakras from the base upwards:
Sun Salutes to warm up
Standing poses (grounding through the earth and energising the base chakra)
Seated forward bending and twisting poses (base chakra, naval and solar plexis chakras as well as lower spine and kundalini area)
Backbends (open the heart chakra)
Shoulderstand through to Matsyasana (stimulate throat area)
Headstand (third eye and crown chakra)
Final Padmasana poses to integrate them all
So what happens when you start from the top chakras and go down as in most of Mr Iyengar’s advanced Light on Yoga sequences?
Could it be that the Ashtanga sequence really is best for raising your energy in the morning and the opposite sequence should be done at night?
Sounds logical to me.
This morning, being Saturday, I didn’t have to start work until 11am (I’m minding the Art Gallery every second Saturday now). So I did my usual routine of setting the alarm early, rolling over when it went off and sleeping in til 8am. Then hey presto, since I didn’t have to be at work til 11, I was able to get up and do a damn good Ashtanga practice (to some great tribal didgeridoo music I might add).
For the first time ever, I tried to jump straight from Dog Pose into Janu Sirsasana (if you read an earlier blog entry I had a whinge about not being taught this after 2 years of primary practice at the shala). Not a good result this morning. As I was jumping through, the base of my palms lifted slightly from the mat and my bent leg hit my hand, effectively bending the fingers back from the knuckles. My fingers are sore and slightly swollen now, but thankfully not broken.
I made it to Marichyasana C then called it quits and did three pretty intense Urdhva Dhanurasanas and the full count for all the finishing poses. In another past post (my old blog) I whinged (ever so nicely) about the gorgeous blonde girl at the shala who grunts and groans her way through every practice, but I now have to retract that because similar sound effects came out of my mouth during those backbends this morning. The opening felt FANTASTIC.
Reflections on yoga
It’s starting to come back to me – yoga practice that is.
Taking a REAL break from regular yoga practise has been quite a shock to my life, but it’s shown me the belief habits my mind had taken on, and especially how my identity had been all wrapped up in being a yogi. Regularly practising Ashtanga in a morning Mysore class situation tends to mould your thinking into a certain shape – you do a very strict yoga routine in a particular sequence that evolves in a linear manner over a plong period of time, and the teachers are all trained to adjust and speak from within that specific tradition so that all the time you think it is leading somewhere. Even studying the yoga texts like Patanjalis Sutras and the Hatha Yoga Pratipika is training and expanding your mind within one school of thought only.
Moving on from my immersion in the yoga tradition was a shock because suddenly I felt like I was no longer going anywhere and I lost my identity as a ‘serious practising yogi’, pursuing and penetrating the esoteric mysteries of life.
But after stepping outside the framework of the entire yoga system and looking back into it from a broader spiritual perspective, the view is REALLY different. Yoga (and I use this term to cover the entire philosophical system, not just the physical practice) is a very pragmatic and practical system of self development for our body mind and spirit, but viewed from higher perspective there are many of these and each one is like using a set of training wheels on a bicycle. Use them for a while, get the feel of how to navigate, then be brave, take them off and you’re off on your own journey. In spiritual terms you’ve matured into a grown up.
Maybe I’m still grieving the loss of my yoga crutch, my yoga identity and my yoga flavoured outlook on life (my, my, my). It’s similar to leaving a relationship that’s gone stale, yes you can look back lovingly and remember the beautiful times, but there’s no doubt that it will never be the same so the only thing to do is let go and move on.
Now having said all that you might think I’m not going to practice yoga any more.
Funny that…I think the reverse is actually happening simply because I’ve let go of all the beliefs around what I should and shouldn’t be doing. There’s no framework.
And at last I’m starting to get back to the mat and enjoying it immensely, but the shala and the traditional ‘one-eyed’ approach really don’t sit comfortably with me right now.
Camping in the Flinders Ranges
Words fail when I try to describe the 4 days I spent deep in the bush.
We set up camp in Parachilna Gorge, slept in the tent, cooking breakfast and dinner over the campfire. We woke to a symphony of birdsong, the treble notes full of twittering and chattering, the cries of cockatoos and kookaburras, and the mournful sound of the single black crow in the tree above us. Days were spent climbing the mountains, exploring the terrain and discovering abandoned ruins that spoke sadly of the hard times endured by optimistic pioneering souls. We spent a harrowing day in the 4 wheel drive manouvering over dangerously rugged tracks, stopping now and then to watch the kangaroos and emus , sheep and wild goats naturally surviving in this harsh, beautiful land.
One night after sunset we walked in the dark to the nearly ridge and laid on a dragon line – a sliver-like rocky formation that begins underground and rises just above the ridge surface. It looks like a very long line of shallow rock that follows the ridge of the mountains up and down like the thorny back of a dragon. Apparently it emanates a special kind of ch’i. As I laid on it, my body came alive with sparkling tingles and it took me hours to get to sleep afterwards.
The Australian bushland is extraordinarly beautiful, not in a luscious sense like a forest, but more because of the harshness of the arid conditions and the enormous courage that every living thing must find to fight for it’s survival. It pulses with an emotional power of wanting to reach upwards, live at all costs.
The huge eucalyptus gums that dominate early colonial artworks had never, until now, had any impact on me. I’d seen so many of these paintings by people seemingly obsessed with boring old gum trees. I'd written them off as archaic and sentimental icons of the Australian bush. Here, out in the vast expanse of their natural environment, I was surrounded by them and mesmerised by their grandeur and enormous presence. Their bark has a silvery pink skin-like quality which makes them seem eerily human – these majestic trees speak to you and every one has a solid character and centuries of stories locked up in their ancient, gnarly limbs.
I wish I could have found the time to record more of my impressions and feelings about this trip but we arrived back in Adelaide very late on Sunday night and I was thrown back into the working world on Monday morning. By Monday evening, sadly I'd been reassimilated. But the raw, calm energy of the landscape has infiltrated the depths of my soul and I swear I shall return every year to that hauntingly beautiful place.
We took a few images on the trip but I haven’t seen them yet. If any are worthwhile I’ll post them this week.