When Something Shifts

Kapotasana. Photo by Denise Tolentino

Kapotasana. Photo by Denise Tolentino

Something is happening in my practice. I know because it feels different.

There are, of course, the physical markers that undeniably tell me so. The hips are finally opening, alleluia! All the pantheon of Hindu deities know these hips of mine have taken their sweet ole time to open–bless them, I have enjoyed the sweet time they have given me!

Mostly it’s subtle, so subtle that it’s hard to quantify: a depth in the breath, an ease while deepening into a fold. A robustness in the asana, a stability in the vinyasa.

Then there are the other remarkably odd moments when a pose just shifts almost as if over night. One day, it’s like grappling with demons. Next day, it’s like butter. And the opposite can also happen, a pose that was there one moment, poof!, gone inexplicably on vacation with no note or return date.

The transformation of the physical practice happens slowly over time, over days, months, years of consistent practice, steady exploration, with skillful guidance from a teacher or teachers. The body becomes more receptive, so does our awareness, and the two begin to work with each other. Change inevitably happens. This, of course, is the basis for the growth we experience throughout our sadhana.

We cannot, however, discount the aha! moments that can turn things around quickly. A light goes on and something invisible is seen. Maybe it’s a technique we hadn’t learned, a crucial element in the execution of a posture, or, perhaps, a shift in our thinking mind or in our feeling heart.

What happens when we let go of fear? Or when we release trauma or anger or sadness? Or when we allow ourselves to drop into that precious but totally frightening space of vulnerability, which is so humbling/humiliating and which ultimately helps us surrender our holding patterns?

The body changes when we change. Something stuck, moves. Something hard, softens.

Right now that something is showing up in my kapotasana. An extreme back bend in the intermediate series, this posture has evolved as much as I have over these five-some-odd years that I have been doing it. It was challenging to begin with, became easy at some point relatively early. Then I began to notice that it was always the first posture to fall to pieces whenever I was troubled. When my heart was challenged, kapotasana became more challenging. Over the years its intensity has triggered a few tearful epiphanies. Whenever I got better, so did kapo.

A year and a half ago, it became almost terrifying to get into it, causing much anxiety with each effort. Physically it was possible, but the sensations that came with each attempt made it uncomfortable. I could not rebound from it. Whatever ease I used to enjoy in the posture had disappeared. Since then, I have struggled.

Then, last week, something shifted. No doubt this shift was greatly supported by a daily practice, to meet a thing of challenge everyday without judgement simply makes one stronger in body and mind. Practicing the same movement sharpens ones skill and agility. The big difference, however, was the absence of anxiousness, it seemed to just happen without all the drama in my head, and as a result it felt much easier.

The great irony is that the last few weeks have been trying, certain personal events have pushed me to a place of vulnerability and I am allowing myself to simply be with all of it: all of the joy and sadness and frustration and disappointment and awe and so on and so on. I had been struggling, fighting to not drown in it all, and then, last week, I decided not to just swim in this thick eclectic feeling soup but to also feel grateful for the struggle, the blessings, all of it. It is not easy to feel this raw, but it is also incredibly freeing to not be holding myself so tightly together. And perhaps it is the acceptance of these feelings and the cultivation of gratitude that is creating space rather tension.

And so, for me, kapotasana is changing–again. I am sure it is not the last time as I am surely going to continue to change. I’m sure there will be other postures, too, that will reveal different challenges in the future. It’s a very fine and beautiful relationship, the one between the life of our practice and the practice of our lives. It’s truly amazing and simple and perfectly symbiotic. When our practice changes, we change. When we ourselves shift, our practice likewise makes an adjustment, letting us know if we are spot on or just plain loosing it.

It’s not going to be kapotasana for everyone. Sure, kapotasana is a difficult posture for most people, which is why it can have profound effects. Learning to drop back likewise poses similar challenges/gifts. “Gauge” postures don’t have to be complex, either. I had a student who shared that padangusthasana in the standing series and paschimattanasana, at the early part of primary, both forward folds, made them want to cry. When we start to understand that the way we move, breathe, hold our bodies is a deep and honest expression of our selves, the practice becomes an incredible tool for self discovery and transformation. It’s not about how strong we get or how bendy we become, though it also facilities both, but how we learn about our limitations and how we learn to overcome them.

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When It’s Tough to Practice

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Life is not always so accommodating towards practice. There’s, of course, a work, personal and domestic life balance that needs to be maintained. And we learn to negotiate between them.

There are the other times, however, where it is not a matter of time as much as it is a matter of space–emotional space. When the factors above close in on us, it takes a toll. And the tool, our sadhana, which we so often rely on to help us deal with stress and tension, amplifies our emotions, whether it’s anger, or frustration, or pain, or sorrow, or…the list goes on. At the best of times, practice can be a slow uphill battle. When under emotional duress, it can be total carnage.

What then? The teacher’s answer would be to practice anyway. Easier said than done, I know. But when it’s tough to practice, this is when we need to be practicing the most. The mat, the practice, is a sharp yet subtle mirror, and facing it when times are challenging is difficult but ultimately helpful because it does its job. It allows us to see ourselves and the issues that weigh heavily on us.

Practice anyway.

Practice any way. It may not be your optimum, it may not even be your full practice, perhaps it’s simply getting through sun salutations, maybe it’s just getting on the mat and breathing before the thoughts and feelings crowd in on you. Then, come back and do more the next day, giving your body and breath the space to expand. The sheer guts and determination to show up for yourself can become a wellspring of inspiration and strength.

If you have the courage, the heart for it, watch carefully, observing the places of discomfort and the places where there is space. Each day watch as it gets better because everything changes. The practice itself becomes a vehicle for these small or big shifts. Slowly, what was originally disempowering becomes its opposite. When it’s tough to practice, just practice.