Today, I thought I’d share a story of how I dreaded and feared a 3rd series asana a decade and a half before I ever had to do it and how I overcame that fear.

Back in the mid-1990’s, when there weren’t yoga studios everywhere, it was hard to find genuine Ashtanga Yoga outside of New York City and Southern California.

Needing a little support, I ordered David Swenson’s primary series video tape. That’s right, it was a vhs video tape. So old and outdated is that technology that the auto-correct on my computer wants to change “vhs” to “vas”. At the time, I was hacking my way through primary series and experiencing all the pains of being new yoga student. Because it was such a great deal, I also ordered David’s 2nd and 3rd series tape at the same time. I didn’t have any expectation of doing the asanas on the advanced tape, but was interested to see just how deep the rabbit hole went. I was young, the practice was opening me up and I was curious.

I remember being amazed and impressed by the asanas of 2nd and 3rd. I was inspired and felt that if I kept at it, maybe I would be doing those advanced poses some day in the distant, distant future. In particular, I let out a short gasp when, for the first time, I saw viranchyasana b, an asana from 3rd series that comes a few poses after the arm-balancing section.

A quick description, the asana begins like janu sirshasana c from primary with the heel off the floor and the arch of the foot against the other leg and the outer ankle is facing towards the groin. However, viranchyasana b takes things further by bringing the weight forward and rolling over the foot to sit on the outer ankle with the toes pointing backward.

Here’s a quick snap if my description isn’t quite clear.

wpid-vb11-2012-07-11-05-00.jpg

I had watched the backbends from 2nd series and I had watched the leg behind the head poses from 2nd and 3rd. Those asanas fascinated me. When I watched viranchyasana b, however, I cringed and felt a deep dread. And I felt fear. I looked at this asana which I had no vision or time table of ever being able to do; yet, I felt afraid. Afraid that I would have to do this some day and afraid that I would be an intimate witness to my knees shattering, my ankles breaking or some other disgusting mess of contorted bones, ligaments and joints. Some negative samskara was definitely triggered by that asana.

Fast forward 16 years. I had continued daily practice, had made many trips to Mysore, had received teaching authorization from Guruji and Sharath and had been learning the asanas of 3rd series for a few years.. Still, when I saw people doing viranchyasana b, I felt the same dread and fear and I found myself immediately projecting forward to the day I’d be forced to do it.

And that day was coming sooner and sooner as I progressed through 3rd series.

So, it’s late March 2012 and Rachelle and I were coming close to the end of our study trip in Mysore. Sharath had given me viranchyasna a (the asana before b) the previous week and I was still working out the finer details. I could do the asana, but it was still pretty rough around the edges. I assumed that I would need to season for a few weeks at least which would take us to the end of our trip. I breathed a sigh of relief assuming that I would have another year before having to face it.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Monday morning practice arrived and Sharath walked up to my mat and said “you take b.” I looked up at him and said, “I’ve never done it before.” “Today, you do” was his answer with a smile.

So, there I was. Afraid and on the spot, surrounded by a room full of yoga students all wanting Sharath’s attention with the man himself standing over me. So, I put my foot in position and started rolling forward. I looked up at Sharath as I approached the point of no-return. He nodded his head, encouragingly, “yes, that’s correct.” And I rolled over.

What was that like? I felt my hip and psoas stretch deeply. I breathed deeply and followed Sharath’s directions. My knees didn’t pop and my ankles didn’t shatter. There was no Peckinpah-esque bloody mess. I survived. Then I had to take my vinyasa and do the other side. Then Sharath moved on and I did my backbends.

Things were a little more difficult the next week as my body adjusted to the deeper stretching and new sensations in my hips and psoas. I was able to ease into the asana slowly and it become more familiar. All the fear and dread slowly melted away.

So how did I face and conquer my fear of this asana? I’d have to say there were a few factors working together.

First, I trusted Sharath, my teacher. I had faith that he wouldn’t be asking me to do the asana if he didn’t think I was prepared and able to do it. Taking his lead, I was able to trust that I wasn’t in over my head and that my body could handle it. This first step was crucial to breaking through my fear and set up me up for the other factors.

Second, I put all my concentration on my breath, bandhas and drishti. Here’s a secret about people doing advanced asanas: it’s not that they don’t feel anything while they’re practicing. It’s just that they’re very well trained at keeping their attention honed which allows them to divert their minds from the intense sensations they are feeling. I drew my attention inward and held it there. If I had let my mind be pulled to the sensations in my hips, legs and psoas, I’m pretty sure my mind would have done it’s best to register the sensations as painful. I’d had experiences of pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) during practice, but for this asana, it became a necessity.

Finally, I was very deliberate and patient as I entered and exited the asana. I moved slowly. I breathed deeply and concentrated only on what I needed to do.

I’ve been home now for a few months and I no longer fear this asana. That said, I am still very careful and deliberate when I do it.

Advertisements