I’ve been going through a fascinating journey working on my back bends. It is incredibly intense, not only physically but also (or dare I say, mainly) emotionally and mentally. It is showing me how much fear I still carry inside. Every time it is time to start the drop backs for example, my mind gives me one million excuses not to do it: “it will hurt”, “you’ll hit your head on the floor and will get seriously injured”, “you are not strong/flexible/fit enough to do it”, “just skip it for today, no harm in not doing it” and so on.
It is a battle that starts in my head a few poses before the drop backs. I have to constantly remind myself to be present and stop worrying about what might happen when I get there. And when I do get there, I breathe deeply, lift my chest up and plunge backwards. For a split second I panic, not being able to see the floor where I am going to land. Then my hands reach the floor and I feel a moment of relief. I didn’t die after all.
The relief quickly vanishes with the thought that I have to get back up. After conquering the fear of dropping back, I have to start another battle, this time against the mechanics of getting back up. This is still a big hit and miss, sometimes it happens, but most likely I fall back on my bum/head. It was an interesting process to get to this point. I was taught all the techniques, strength was not a problem, I had the close assistance of my teacher everyday, but I was just not able to come up. It was as if my body didn’t understand the instructions of my brain, and the old familiar fear of falling back down, fear of failure, would show up and freeze me and I would just lay back down or ask my teacher to help me. Then one day it just happened. Apparently nothing had changed from the day before, I did exactly the same thing, and voilà, I was up by myself.
That is the beauty of regular practice (not just in Yoga). Even when it seems it is not taking us anywhere, even when we don’t see any obvious external change, internally everything is being rearranged and one day finally all falls into place. But allowing this process to happen requires patience and will power. Will power to continue despite the apparent lack of progress, to wake up everyday and show up on the mat, and although it may seem contradictory, the will power to surrender to the practice. Stop resisting requires strong determination, especially if we’ve been conditioned to resist and question everything. Surrendering to the practice means to allow it to take us wherever we are ready to be, and if we open up, we are quite often more ready than we think.
There is also an intense empowering element in being able to surrender completely, knowing the risk and defying the pain (real and imaginary), finding the peace of mind to be able to exhale on the way down, opening the heart in such a way that there’s no come back… and then finding the strength to inhale on the way back up, without holding, without panicking, and finding the stillness on standing on my own two feet, by myself.
I spent 3 years in the safety of the Primary series, being comfortable with its forward bends, asanas where I felt confident and safe, my chest propped against my thighs, my head down, my heart protected inside my little cocoon. Then I started Second series, slowly making my way through the backbends that become increasingly challenging, as a preparation for the last one, for those drop backs that force me to open up, be vulnerable, expose my weaknesses and expand instead of contract. It is an utterly scary process but exhilarating at the same time.
The teachings are perfect, almost too obvious in a way, when transposing them from the physical aspects to more subtle levels. Applying all these insights from the practice off the mat is the real challenge, but that is what we are in for. As within, so without.