Slacking and Achieving: The Dance

Yesterday I wrote about a little episode in practice that made me think about how I slack sometimes. Even as I wrote the entry, I was aware that I also tend to strive to overachieve. Fellow overachiever Vanessa wrote an interesting comment on yesterday’s post, and it makes me want to write a little more about the subject.

First off, though, a little on the psychological effect of Volleyball Guy adjusting me into wrist binds on marichy c and d. My first thoughts were, “Oh, I’ve been such a slacker, and he knows it, and now he is reprimanding me with this adjustment.” I actually felt kind of abashed. Then my rational mind kicked in and I recognized the fact that Volleyball Guy is not a reprimanding kind of teacher (or person) by any stretch of the imagination. It was just something I made up in my own mind, because I expect everything and everyone in the world to be judging me all the time. Sigh. Bottom line: he saw I could do it, he helped me do it, now I know I can do it. Carry on.

As Vanessa pointed out in her comment, practice really is always a dance. I always have a few things I am working on, but I try not to over-effort them (as much as possible for an overachiever). I keep myself in line by letting breath, bandhas and driste be my priorities. If my breathing is wacky or my eyes wandering, I know I have a place in the practice that I need to smooth out. If there are breaks in the flow, those are the things I try to resolve. The nervous feeling I can get around kurmasana because I hurt myself there once, for example. If breath, bandhas, and driste go haywire, I know I have a place I need to square away. The trick, though, is to try not to get overly focused on that place.

I went for the wrist binds on marichy c and d this morning during home practice. C was fine. A little struggle to grab the hands then work my way up the wrist, but not too bad. I can’t do it on just the one breath, but that’s okay. I have to take the chance of not being able to get the bind easily in order to up the ante a bit. Part of me thinks, “Aw, and I had it worked out so I could always get it and didn’t have to think about it!” That’s exactly what’s meant by the term “attachment.” When people ask me about Buddhism and attachment, they always say they don’t want to give up their attachment or desire for their loved ones, their lives, etc. I always want to laugh and say, “Nah, start with the smaller stuff” (like the attachment to always being able to do an easy hand bind). Desire is simply about attaching to something and being resistant to the fact that everything changes. The pain comes from wishing it wouldn’t. Practice is about learning to accept that no matter how you cling, you can’t hold on to anything. Lots of people see that as tragic. Some people see it as freedom.

Practice is about giving things up. Here’s a great example: On ezBoard, someone was talking about doing the Ashtanga poses, but skipping vinyasas and holding the individual poses for a longer time. They characterized it as doing Ashtanga the Iyengar way. I don’t mind one way or another what someone wants to do with the series. It does strike me, though, that the precise vinyasas, specifically the breath patterns for each vinyasa, are an exercise in giving things up. You follow the breath, and no matter how much you may be loving a particular asana, you have to move on after your five breaths. If you muck up an asana you’re struggling with, once your five breaths are up, it’s time to carry on. Missed it today? Try again tomorrow.

Essentially, the system is a little dance that requires that you regulate both your slacking and your overachieving. You can’t be too much of a slacker and do Ashtanga, and you can’t be too much of an overachiever. It is a tool to calibrate. Along with a teacher who may see, occasionally, that you can do more than you are currently doing. Someone who can, at the right moment, point out a new possibility.

I think I had a grand point, but now I’ve forgotten what it was 😉

Let’s sum up: practice rocks.


An excerpt from this morning’s reading in Swara Yoga:

The breath goes out making the sound of Ham and comes in producing the sound So… the mantra manifests as an audible sound in the inner ear. On hearing this, one becomes freed from karma and samskara…

The sound we hear with the ears and the faculty of the brain is only one level of perception. If sound waves exist at the conscious level, they must also exist at the subtler levels… although we do not hear the subtler sound of the breath, it creates sound waves in the deeper realms of our consciousness.

As the breath becomes finer, the sound frequencies become more intense and subtle. In this way, they are heard internally from the subconscious realm, then the unconscious and finally the superconscious where sound becomes transcendental.

Sounds like the same deal of not slacking and not overachieving on the breath. Interesting. Just practice and keep to the middle way.


One Response

  1. A very senior practicioner friend of mine always says he doesn’t understand the people that repeat their last pose five times during a practice. Why hurry? he asks, there is tomorrow to try it again.

    I’d love to cultivate non-attachment. With age (!), I have got better but there are still a couple of things I cling onto for dear life.

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