What’s the Catch? Chakra Bandāsana, Observations From A Distance

Here I am catching in chakra bandāsana pictured here with teacher Bela Lipat during her workshop in Boracay Island: a great memory with an awesome teacher and friend but also a reminder about the unpredictability of practice.

I was riffling through old photos—a past time I enjoy late at night these days when I’m so zapped from a day of parenting that all I can muster is a swipe of a finger–when I came across this one: spry little me (still in my early-ish thirties) being taken into one of these extreme and prized postures, chakra bandåsana or bound wheel posture. A rare piece of proof of what my body can do or, at least, what it could do prior to my pregnancy and the birth of my son.

We often have a long and deep history with certain postures, much like the way a relationship will have its different landmarks. I remember the first time and even the person who introduced me to it. And while I don’t know the name of the assistant, I remember her haircut and her smile and and my surprise whilst dropping back for that final one, her hands suddenly and deftly sweeping my fingers to my ankles. I had just arrived at the shala. I barely had a notion of the posture, I was still very much getting a handle on drop backs and had no idea that I could do something so crazy and exciting and exhilarating. That’s how green I was still on my first trip to Mysore, India.

Chakra bandāsana has marked different phases in my practice. At first, my innocence. Later, my rising ego. And, later LATER, my flailing ego. I remember the struggle when it was hard and the longing when it was impossible. I remember the deepest I’ve ever felt in it—with my teacher taking me up higher up my calves and encouraging me to hold it on my own—and how time seemed to just be both a split second and an eternity, everything softened, I felt so incredibly both in and out of body. I remember my disappointment when my teacher last stopped helping me in it, the last time I was in Mysore. I was on the edge of collapse, I felt so uncomfortable by the end of that trip. It was hard to reconcile the reality of my physical state and what my mind really wanted—it was one of the sharpest feelings of rejection I have ever felt.

Today, as I look at this picture, I feel like we are in a new phase, chakra bandāsana and I. Injury, pregnancy and the erratic and constant balancing act called motherhood have created a natural distance between us. We’re a little disassociated, though not unfriendly. It’s hard to say, perhaps we’ll get there again, that closeness, or perhaps not.

I do feel awe, that we “happened” together, that in our sum of experiences there were times that it felt steady, supported. I know that it taught me a lot about surrender and courage. But I also now feel how much of the drama I had about it was my own making, it was a big deal because I made it so, because I placed the importance in it, like so many of us ashtangis are prone to do.

And I still feel the possibility with this posture and with it the play between desire, acceptance and contentment. Without the luxury of having the time and the energy to put a hundred and fifty percent into practice the way I used to, yoga has taken this kind of lovely turn, that fabled detachment seems a lot less elusive, instead it’s practical and a matter of survival.

I have written in the past about the great opportunity of yoga that happens while catching. And it’s really nice if the posture is available to you as a practitioner. But for those of us for whom catching ankles is inappropriate, whether its in the short or long term, chakra bandāsana as the state of the posture is not unattainable. We can each work towards binding that precious circle of energy without being so very literal. There are innumerable ways to experience being truly in balance, truly rounded and in accord with ourselves. We can simply breathe out all the hard edges and soften into this wheel of concerted energy.

It’s funny how the yoga journey changes. I learned a lot getting into this posture, but I think I’ve learned even more unbinding myself from the physicality of it. The yoga, like my teacher often says, happens inside.