Long haul, tension karma, fear

This morning, as I did my dutiful kapotasana, assisted by Volleyball Guy, I thought: “Yes, I have my toes, but getting to my heels is gonna be a looooong haul.” Of course, I didn’t actually think it in words — I just had the strong physical realization. The inches between my toes and my heels have never seemed like a big deal at all, but from the perspective of kapotasana, they are a long journey. A whole ‘nother island, to think of it in Second Life terms.

Volleyball Guy doled out some super-good adjustments today: hanumanasana (a rare, 50%-word-based adjustment), supta kurmasana, and an astonishingly good baddha konasana assist. And as per usual, he was right there for kapotasana, supta vajrasana and dropbacks. Great moral support.

I took a moment to help… gosh, I don’t know what to call her. “Noodle Girl” doesn’t do her justice, because she has a very elegant beauty. I guess I’ll go with “The Swan.” Anyhow, this gal has become a regular Mysorian, and she is a backbender by nature. Chakra bandhasana? No problem! She was setting up for laghu vajrasana and kind of puttering about, and made a laughing reference to performance anxiety. I had finished my regular poses and was taking a breath before urdhva dhanurasana, so asked if she wanted me to spot her, and she said, “sure.” I then witnessed an exquisitely delicate backbend that ended with her head on her feet and her hands on her knees. Very much a different laghu vajrasana than I do! It was as if there is no muscular tension in her body at all, or if there is it is so evenly dispersed that you don’t notice it. She can’t get out of laghu vajrasana — I’m assuming because there is no muscular tension and she just sinks into a kind of equilibrium. What kind of life (or lifetimes) brings you to a place where you have so little tension? I wondered. I often wonder about the karma that brings us to our physical realities. Hers was so remarkably different from my own.

Note to self: Still very taken with the laghu vajrasana/kapotasana combination. It’s genius.

Yes, there are natural forward benders and natural backward benders, and people who tend to be strong and people who tend to be flexible. It makes perfect sense to me that I am a forward bending strong person. It was astounding to so closely watch a backward bending flexible person. Almost as if we are different species. All of the energy in my body runs in habitual manners — and when I get into a pose, I am conscious of the energy in the affected muscles (whether contracting or stretching) and all the connection points (usually joints, but sometimes bandhas) where it seems like the energy turns into motion and/or strength. I’m sure this same thing must be going on with The Swan, but there isn’t the same… well, I can only describe it as “explosive” energy contractions and surges. At least nothing discernible. For her, it all seems to be very smooth. It must be cool to teach different students and see these things: we take it for granted that every person’s psychology is highly individualized, but tend to think that body mechanics are relatively similar. Very much not so, apparently.

Tova asked me about fear. Specifically, about why I feel fear in kapotasana. When I think about it even for a minute, I realize that I am not afraid of kapotasana as a particular asana. I do remember, though, that when I first started doing backbends, I was astonished by how hard my heart beat, how frantic it made me feel. It didn’t make sense. Why would a backbend kick off such strong physical reactions? It was like a huge unmoderated dose of adrenaline.

I am 105% forward-bend prone. My default mode is forward bend. It’s my physical (and, likely, psychological) preference. Ever since I was a kid, bending forward was more fun than bending backwards. Is it old karma? I don’t know. At the very least, it’s a habit of this lifetime — which I intend to reverse. 😉 So it’s not that I fear kapotasana, it’s that backbends kick off the physical responses that humans get when they feel fear. And, in the interest of just labelling things without closely examining them, I then identify it as a subset of fear.

Kapotasana is the most intense backbend I’ve ever confronted, so it is the current focus of my backbend-adrenalinized attention. It kicks off the racing heartbeat, the constricted breathing, etc., etc. Add onto that a few horror stories I’ve heard (and make note, they have all been rumors) of people being hurt in this pose, and now there is (or was) a sketchiness factor in my mind.

The interesting question, I think, is whether feeling the physical stuff means I am feeling fear. For some reason, I vote no. I imagine I am just feeling the energy of something I don’t do naturally or easily. Is feeling the energy the same as feeling the emotion? Is it all just semantics?


17 Responses

  1. so are the Kapo horror stories self injury or injured by adjusters? and when i first learned laghu vajrasana i learned the way you describe above, with head to feet and hands to knees and then was corrected this year by my teacher in Portland and by Matthew Sweeny’s book. hands should grasp the ankles. this is much harder for me. it requires much more strength as well as flexibilty in the psoas muscles.

    anyways. i guess it is a matter of semantics. what we consider fear and what we consider apprehension…

  2. I’ve heard both. Generally as intimations, more than as stories. “I’ve heard about some bad kapo adjustments,” and “I know someone who hurt herself…” kinds of things.

    Yeah, fear and apprehension. Anxiety, too. All very peculiar stuff, and strong energy.

    Yes, Volleyball Guy teaches laghu vajrasana with the hands to the ankles. And that’s how I do it, because I am not particularly bendy, so it’s easy. And I generally make things happen by force of will rather than grace, so I muscle through the pose quite happily. On the other hand, my Mysorian colleague is so backbendy that she is trying to figure out how to go back into it more like a plank. But it’s hard for her to coordinate, I guess, because she is not accustomed to holding that amount of tension in her back. She just leans back and her head goes onto her feet. Very interesting to watch! Needless to say, she has no fear/apprehension/anxiety about kapotasana.

  3. kapotasana stimulates the nervous system big time, it can be an emotional journey.
    why hanumanasana? (just curious becuse it’s at the end of advanced “a”)why do you call your teacher volleyball guy? and what is considered to be a bad kapotasana adjustment? these are honest questions, nothing else.
    some teachers make you do laguvajrasana twice-once each way. it’s good for you & makes your legs nice & strong.
    i bet that bendy girl has something to be afraid of.
    it’s also strange that your teacher allows you all to “assist” each other. i guess i come from a different astanga world. i would get kicked out of class if i did that, as i would not permit anyone to do that in my class.

  4. We do samakonasana and hanumanasana after the prasarita padottanasanas. I’ve heard that it’s a west coast thing, but I don’t know more than that about it.

    I call him Volleyball Guy because he played and coached for years. His first love.

    I think I’ll ask bendy girl about that tomorrow. Some of us go out for lunch after Saturday led and it’d be nice to invite her along and talk to her.

    The laghu v adjustment: When the person goes back into laghu v, you sit in front of them and use your toes to keep their knees from popping up. We also sit on each other for supta vajrasana. Those are the only two, and now that I think of it, I see they are kind of the same thing.

    I think it’s OKRGR who has a story about going over to help a fellow practitioner out in supta vajrasana, only to realize, once he’s sat on the guy, that the fellow is actually doing matsyasana. Every time I sit on someone, I think of that story and kind of laugh.

  5. Bindifry, do you make an exception for supta vajrasana in Chicago? At least in many rooms in LA, if you are a second series practitioner, it’s ok to assist your colleagues when they get there. If you don’t want an assist, especially if it’s before the teacher’s arrived or when s/he’s busy, it’s important to signal this by prominently rolling up your black manduka as an anchor for the posture. Otherwise someone will hustle over and assist you whether you like it or not.

  6. (0v0) — You can use your manduka as an anchor? Can you explain how? How about the samakonasana/hanumanasana combo — do you guys do that?

  7. In my shala, my teacher usually asks students to assist each other if they are doing certain poses at the same time – usually in baddha konasana and supta vajrasana.

    Occasionally, if two students are of the same body type and have similar “issues” in poses like pasasana, kapotasana or karandavasana, they will be shown how to assist each other safely. Initially, I wasn’t keen on adjusting other students, since I’m not a yoga teacher, but over time it’s been an incredible way to observe the dynamics of a pose, become aware of how slow, even breathing opens up the body, and generally tune into another student’s awareness. It’s like working with a mirror image of yourself. Perhaps not the conventional way of learning a pose, but it’s certainly illuminating if done under the teacher’s guidance.

  8. well there are 2 of us teaching each morning, so there is no need for students to break from their practices to assist. personally, i don’t like it at all. they can wait for supta vaj by holding bandhas & toes in lotus, making a nice tight posture, just wait a few seconds, no problems.
    that hanumanasana/samakonasana thing makes no sense to me and was taught in tim miller’s “fun” classes not intended to incorporate into the practice. i don’t stop people from doing it, just cringe, especially in samakonasana. i can hear the hamstring attachments tearing from the other side of the room. many need blocks for this and are 2 feet from the floor. the students do not even know why they are doing it. some insist on handstand in prasarita, too. sometimes i help them, but i don’t approve. handstands are done during the backbend sequences-i was taught mostly by dena kingsberg this method. the reason is to prepare to flip over when the student is ready, it also provides an energy boost at that point in the practice when you need it most.

  9. also, the students are not insured to assist. so that’s another reason. whose fault is it if someone gets hurt? i have insurance. the studio can get sued. not good. and you should be concerned only with your own practice.
    but i’m a traditionalist in every way in my life. i don’t “shun” these practices, i just don’t advocate them.

  10. I don’t know samakonasana/hanumanasa in the context for ashtanga practice. What are the adjustments for it and where do you do it? Must, as bindifry says, be a Tim Miller thing. Come to think of it, when I practice there, people seem to be tossing in hanumanasana all over the place. Personally, while I also see improv as distracting in a Mysore context, I have a real thing for hanumanasana. Would not complain to practice it regularly.

    The self-help for supta vaj goes like this. (This is difficult for me because I’ve lost some flexibility in recent months, but used to be quite do-able.) Roll the mat almost all the way up, and sit on the little lip you leave out of the roll. If you practice with a rug, roll that in too because it’ll make your roll bigger. Position the roll tightly against the sacrum. Assume the position. Then use the roll as your anchor. Bring the elbows low so they really press in to the roll, then use them as leverage to sit back up. Sometimes, a person needs to rock the knees a bit to sit back up. Sometimes she also needs to readjust the roll so it’s tightly in place for the last 5-breath dip. I could be wrong, but I think this method is common among longtime Chuck Miller students.

  11. well since i do not do hanumanasana/samakonasana, i do not adjust them, but i’ve seen the hanumanasana adj.-simply turning the back thigh in cause usually it’s out of allignment. most people are not ready for either posture which is why they are located in advanced a & b (actually i’m not even sure where samakonasana is-but i do know it’s quite dangerous unless you are a martial arts master). if my students can’t wait for the adjustment of supta vaj, they tuck their legs under a shelf, use a towel around the feet, and self practice. that way they can only blame themselves if they get hurt. supta vaj is a hard adjustment on the hips for the teacher when done correctly, when people can’t hold their feet-cause your feet have to hold their hands on the feet and you have to give just the right amount of slack. what are teachers paid for if they simply have their students do their jobs for them? and i would never want anyone except the teacher i have paid to adjust me. if they can’t get to me, i just move on. that’s life. students often want want want. if you can’t wait, it’s your own fault.

  12. The samakonasana/hanumanasana comes after the prasaritas. From prasarita padottanasana D, you lower into samakonasana. Five breaths there, then inhale arms up, and exhale chest to the floor. Adjustment is on the last part, when the student had his/her chest on the floor, and involves rolling the thighs back and a smoosh. After samakonasana comes hanumansana. Adjustment (at least the most recent one I got) was my teacher easing my shoulders back a bit (I tend to crunch them up) and directing me to pull my chin in a bit to level my head — an adjustment more for my peculiar idiosyncrasies than anything standard. Then it’s hands over head (he has occasionally pulled up on my hands, which is really an interesting adjustment for me because it demonstrates the plumb line of the pose) and then forward fold over the front leg.

    I had hamstring issues for a while and ditched the samakonasana/ hanumanasana combo. After I healed up, I tried it again and found that I was okay provided I didn’t do it every day. I left it out of my Mysore practice but did it every Saturday at led practice. A few months ago it was clear my hammies were all done recovering and I went back to the samakonasana/hanumanasana for daily practice. I don’t love hanumanasana, but it seems quite helpful from a psoas perspective. I hate samakonasana, but the only time I’ve really hurt myself with it was in fact at a martial arts class.

    I am going to try the mat adjustment. I have an endless fascination with self-sufficiency.

  13. Oh, Bindifry, I see you asked what a “bad kapotasana adjustment” is, and I overlooked it in my reply. As I mentioned, I’ve only heard about this, not seen nor experienced it, but the so-called bad adjustments seemed to be about the teacher trying quite forcefully to bend the student into the pose. I guess it’s just a matter of degree, since all adjustments push the student a bit further than they can go on their own. In these cases, though, the implication was that the teacher was forceful enough to really injure the student.

  14. How do you move from hanuman to parsvo?

    Bindifry, I cannot imagine doing both my practice, and also teaching Mysore–doing constant adjustments to wanting, expecting, not always grateful students. It’s a lot of dedication and energy. Wow. Jodi, earlier from Chicago, is here in LA now; and her strength in this area completely astounds me.

    Because of how much energy and dedication goes into teaching, I guess the least I can do is figure out and go with the program in each room I visit. I don’t have the experience to know, but guess that when someone comes to your room and does a practice that differs from what you’re teaching, it distracts both the student and the teacher.

  15. Turn back to the midline after the second side, hands down between legs, lift butt/legs, put feet on floor, come up a la prasarita D, then back to samasthiti. On to parsvo.

    I am with you on respecting the shala I’m at. I would not include samakonasana/ hanumanasana until/unless I saw that it was the custom of the shala. It’s the same thing with going to a new zendo: you do what the teacher says. If the community is kind enough to welcome you, the least you can do is be respectful.

  16. very much enjoy your posts, dzm, thank you for posting.

    i am more of the bending type (back, front, side to side) and really had to work hard to find my strength. i hyper extend moderately pretty much everywhere so it has always been a huge place of confusion, exploration and discovery for me. when i was learning laghuvajrasana – the hands-to-ankles, straight-armed variant – it took me weeks. i just could not get up. and i was so absolutely WIPED after practice. i think once i actually came down with a cold after practice; i guess it released a whole bunch of toxins.

    and yes, i think the bendy folks have fears. i’ve always been able to do kapotasana holding the heels, but for the first 4 months or so, i needed support. in the beginning i needed to be put into the pose because it was to scary for me to attempt alone. once in i could support it myself but i did not want my teacher to walk away! it gradually evolved to more moral support rather than physical but one day i asked my teacher not to come to me as i realized – finally – that i had become dependent!! even now, maybe 5 or 6 years later, there are some days when i just don’t want to do it.

    thanks for your very interesting posts.

  17. Thanks for your kind words, Julie. The dependency issue is interesting: it can be so easy to make little habits or superstitions about what we need to have in order to do a pose. I had a little “break” that I used to take at the end of primary, before I launched into the intermediate poses. Amusing — how our minds have all sorts of ways of asserting themselves.

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