Kind words, automaticity, backbending workshop, panic

Sanskrit Scholar said something really nice to me yesterday at lunch. She said that my practice is devoid of any extraneous movements, and that that makes it very calming to practice next to me. We talked a little about minimalism and efficiency, which are qualities that warm my heart, in part because I am a designer, and also because I have had other physical practices (lifting and climbing) that were also about finding the most efficient motion and putting it to use.

One of the principles of flow states is the idea of overlearning. Overlearning is a concept that is quite prevalent in Educational Technology, which is my official, professional background (the degrees in sculpture and poetry are nice, but not to live on…) but I think I’ve always had an innate drive toward overlearning, or at least a strong curiosity about it. If you learn something to the point of automaticity, you can free up your mind.

And all of this leads back to practice. Automaticity in combination with regular practice can stave off frustration — basically it works like this: if you use your breath as the metronome and stick to the vinyasas, you can move through your practice without getting your mind all involved. Your breath keeps you moving. I was telling Sanskrit Scholar that if I stay on the breath, I can only go as far into the pose as the breath count allows, and then it’s time to move on. If I feel any dissatisfaction with the pose, there’s no time to wallow, and there’s the realization that I will be back again the next day. It’s a self-sustaining system, this way. If I am unhappy with one pose, sticking with the breath/vinyasas carries me away from the pose and into the rest of the series. If my mind stays behind and gets tangled up in my feelings about a pose, it gums up the automaticity of the practice and the whole machine kind of grinds to a halt: then the “fix” is to put my mind back where I am. The practice makes me put down my drama about something in the past and pulls me to the present. Where I can start the metronome ticking again and get back to it.

It’s really a remarkable structure. I’m not even going to go into how the automaticity and amount of challenge is a perfect breeding ground for meditation (if only we can subtract our attachment to thinking backwards and forwards).

This morning is a backbending workshop with Lisa Schrempp, an authorized teacher from Tucson. Word has it that she is a backbending marvel and a terrific, intuitive teacher. I’m really looking forward to this. If there’s an ongoing drama in my practice at this point, it’s definitely urdhva dhanurasana. Kapotasana is one thing: it’s difficult and it’s supposed to be difficult. Urdhva dhanurasana, though, seems like something that should reveal itself relatively easily. But I can’t find any significant comfort in it at all.

It’s kind of funny, too, because kapotasana, for all of its (astonishing) challenge, has the solace of grabbing my toes. For some reason, that tiny little connection point has enormous soothing powers. When learning any binding pose, once you stabilize the bind a bit, you can find the rest of the pose. I’ve never found any kind of comfort point in urdhva dhanurasana. There is nothing that I can kind of lock into, where I can find and settle into the sukha.

Oh, that just reminds me of inversions yesterday. I was doing pincha mayurasana (I know, it was just for my ego — because I can do it and it makes me feel happy) and Volleyball Guy came over, grabbed my calves and said, “Push into handstand.”

“That backbend,” he said as I (apparently) bowed my back some, “is panic.”

Interesting idea. Why panic? Because I was being asked to do something I’d never done before. I always feel some anxiety when I am doing something new. I have always imagined that this is a universal trait. Now I’m kind of wondering: anyone out there who feels no anxiety when doing something new?


One Response

  1. I wouldn’t say i feel NO anxiety when doing something new, but i have to say that i feel more anxiety when doing something that i’ve done for a while but not totally mastered. because i feel that i *should* be more comfortable/more proficient/more effortless than i am. when i get a new pose (we could just as easily be talking about life, i suppose, but let’s keep it at yoga) i’m usually able to laugh at myself. no one expects you to be able to do crazy poses perfectly or gracefully the first time you try. i get anxious when i imagine everyone else is saying, “god, she’s been practicing for years and she STILL can’t do ____?” being new (at whatever) kind of gives you a free pass to mess up, laugh about it, and try again.

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