Reflections on Practice

Thursday 17 June 2021: second series

Like a day in heather with a clear sky and tussocky grass.

Like a clear run.

You weren’t expecting this when you woke up muscle-sore from yesterday’s endeavours and intending only to glance over the surface. But then you surrender and the possibilities expand. You know it works like this, but still it always comes as a surprise. When it’s a trick you try to play on yourself it never works – not quite like this – although playing injured, even when not, was a way you made this practice tractable again, malleable, like a good dough. And then you were in, away and laughing.

The edge is always going to be a challenge – sitting just so on the rope, the pole finely balanced, not a teeter left nor a totter right. Even now, with all that you know, you still have to have just a taste out of Daddy Bear’s bowl – just the littlest bit – though it’s Baby’s porridge you actually eat. And you’re always the littlest bit burned.

If nothing was burning, if there was not this low tide of pain ebbing into sensation, so you don’t quite know the name of it, really, this hum … If not, would you know you were alive? It stands in for the missing proprioception. Comforting. Reminding you that you are in this body, that it has boundaries, that there is you and not-you, and other people can see. It reminds you that you are still coasting the surf of this wild sea. By some extraordinary grace. Today you are here.

Ashtanga vinyasa, wild horses and me

In any long-term relationship there are times of affinity, utter and complete, and there are times when you are like planets spiralling into different solar systems, and you feel you must leave – you must. I did think I would leave ashtanga, in the storm of menopause. Or I thought it would leave me. There were times when I hated ashtanga; it hurt me every which way, and none of my old strategies worked. At the same time, in another storm, Pattabhi Jois was being outed as an abuser, and a teeter-totter tower of bricks was tumbling down. I’ve never been to Mysore, and I knew nothing about the sexual abuse, but I knew about triangulation of power structures and injurious adjustments. I knew that I had internalised voices that told me what to do and how to do it, and that these overlords didn’t know about connective tissue differences or autistic learning styles – how we set out alone in the little boat to the anchorite isle.

So I started gathering my own stones, from this place and that, also sticks, small animal bones and pieces of strangely degraded plastic, oddments of shape and colour that pleased me and which served the architecture inside my head, and I began building foundations again.

If a yoga practice doesn’t help you to move well in daily life, something is surely out of kilter, but that is not enough for me. It’s sufficient to walk functionally only if you are slow-walking into a song that your body is singing. The definition of yoga can be whatever you like, but for me it is that I am poised on the brink of creation, and I am thinking, what can I form from my clay? How can I throw my pot, temper my steel, spin my yarn into a bright cocoon in which the parts join up and it is more than the sum of the words?

I no longer bleed, but I still practise ashtanga, and it is both the same and utterly different. Wild horses did not become less wild, but I whispered in their ears and together we slipped the traces and set out. We’re listening and we’re weaving in threads of many different weights and colours, but we are maverick, and you cannot tell us what to do. Or what to think either. Well, you can, but we are not listening.

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Pain: a post about holding on and letting go

These days when I get on my astanga mat, even my bones hurt. Call it what menopause does when it gets intimate with Ehlers Danlos, or just being 54. I turn it up this way and that, convinced that somewhere, if only I can locate it, there must be a feasible, pleasurable way to do this thing, to make it pliable, as I have always somehow managed to before. But my bones feel like china. They feel like fever, tender and vibrating in the marrow. My muscles fist, and my joints screech and twang like a poorly strung violin. So I’m thinking about cutting loose.

I know how it’s done. I did it before. I gave up ballet. It’s easy and it’s not. Of course, it’s a question of your identity and the patterns your body knows, how they hold you securely in being – and, in this case, of how I make my living. But, when the moment comes, you slip like a fish. That’s my experience anyway.

It’s the part before the moment that’s difficult. The gripping and shuddering and letting go and holding on. I do not like transition. I do not like the small blind jumps when you sense the abyss yawning lazily beneath.

For all that I know the instinctive flow that arises from under the heavy top-most layers of brain – the simple joy of it, and how it is just ‘right’ and easy – some other eternally stubborn and recalcitrant part of me really just wants to be in control. I’m autistic and borderline OCD; I have eating disorders, managed to greater or lesser degrees (it’s hard to know what that really means any more), and I’m human. When you’re 54, you know that these are just givens, and all that makes a difference is how you hold the small frightened animals in your hand, how gently and capaciously, which tends to calm them down.

My astanga practice became this writing, Saturday morning, 25 November 2017, resting on the whetted edge of cannot and do not know.

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