Owl-Mouse • 3 September 2008

Or, Physiology of Letting Go.

It is fall. I should let go of the intermediate series. All of it, all at once, traditional-style, bam. I started this practice on the first of a September, and may as well end it in like manner.

I put it off. The crazy long practice was beyond good all summer, practicing with friends, the rhythmic ease of the programme on my body. Why the hell would I quit something that is so effortless and takes such good care of me? Something I love so much? Is there some master narrative of “progress” and “moving on” and “letting go” or some nonsense that progress in these dumb series is supposed to map and reproduce? Pish. I’m good with what works, and what works is all of second and third to the twists.

Good reasons for changing nothing.

The weather has turned and the students are returning and my asana teacher is back in town.

Yeah so whatever. Last Wednesday we hacked it off, like I did 50 weeks ago with 2 feet of hair.

Preliminary report: everything sucks.

I know that I’m a weird case, because I don’t get worn down by practice or need very much recovery. My body is hilariously soft (someone bought me a massage and the therapist said: “you looked so quiet and mousy when you came in, but there’s this strength in all the deep tissues”—yes, that’s “quiet and mousy”) but there’s weird strength in the area of stamina. Intermediate series is like brushing my teeth, and creates a focused momentum that makes advanced-A sort of easy.

Then again. Without intermediate, advanced is HARD. Oh my god. Soreness. Pain. Tension. Loss of flow. The shorter programme makes me ache and leaves me wondering what in the hell I’m doing to my body with this ashtanga nonsense. Can my upper body take this shit? I caught myself actually whimpering inside one day. Total loss of perspective there.

It’s pretty funny that I experience muscle ache as a form of fatigue. In my mind, I apparently conflate dull pain with energy loss… but maybe this is accurate. Maybe the resistance in my body is making me work harder and creating tiredness. Or maybe I’m physiologically depressed because I had to say goodbye to my friend the intermediate series. Maybe my normally open and giddy personality is a mere side-effect of intermediate series and now I’ll get all intense and gloomy… find the dark side in a new way. Sitting here, I could find other explanations too. For example: American politics. Whatever. Oh and by the way, I dreamed of book The Giving Tree. Daaaaark.

I wish there were something I could say to decrease the third series intrigue that afflicts some people. Since I’m in this mood, here’s my best shot.

The “exclusivity” of the experience is in its dailiness. Not its difficulty or intensity. Lots of people can make these shapes—they’re nothing special in isolation. But… not a lot of people do this practice regularly. Though I wish they did so I’d feel less isolated by it.

For people who think it is beautiful, consider that it’s normal to gain weight while you build up crazy core strength. Also, perhaps especially if you eat meat to do that, your shoulders will become large. (Noted because interest in having a beautiful practice seems to correlate with scheming about marginal fluctuations in weight.) If it seems like it’s powerful and you will have power if you do it, consider that some people become disempowered by practicing this series. It gets so practitioners have energy for these postures and little else. Is it better to create a daily metaphor for power by putting your body into a certain shape, or to invest your energy in other forms of creativity? This stuff stops being glamorous when it’s your daily practice. I love that. It may seem glamorous if you’re contorting yourself into position every so often for the thrill of it. But that’s not ashtanga—it’s also perhaps not safe (not really for me to say; I have no experience out of context), and might not be particularly intelligent on a subtle level.

I grant that it’s a wonderful programme in some ways. Knowing me, I will gradually fall more deeply in love with it as I find its quirks and the little tiny details and variations in our relationship. (Today I realized I was already very intimate with the postures themselves, and that they're more interesting and finegrained now than a year ago. As with the Editor–here exactly ten years now, since under a willow tree outside the library he drew me into intense, fateful conversation about Bill Clinton bombing Afghanistan–these recognitions of relationship get me all tender and thankful.)

Or maybe I’ll just learn to do backflips and that will put a finishing layer of EZ-Cheeze on top of everything. I don’t know. It’s also just this mundane thing. Really.