Cloud Water • 21 May 2010

Around five in the morning Wednesday, I drove east, down in to Detroit. From Ann Arbor, I could see clear across the huge fertile basin, textured with soft treetops that a month ago were grey and scratchy. The cloud layer over Lake Huron was purple-blue and smooth, almost slick: just on the verge of changing from gas to liquid. From above, it looked like the ocean.

I switched from blues rock to Brian Eno, opening up new associations for this city. Detroit is more than the White Stripes and Motown. The DEMF is next weekend, after all.

After thirty minute-miles into the sunrise, I cruised right up under the cloud-deck, squishing between ground and the lake’s low stratum of not-quite-water. The barometric pressure under there was stifling, all those highly polarized, jumpy droplets. Underneath was so heavy and dark, except for the orange-pink blaze around the edge of the lake-cloud. Like an eclipse.

I can’t see the lines… I used to think I could read between. The best lyric of a well-titled record. Then I killed the engine and got out of the car. Out under that cloud bridging the lake and the city, creating its own blue world of atmosphere and emotion. Irresistible.

There’s a kind of falling in love that brings suffering right out into the open. The subject or object (either is possible in love) is overwhelming to the senses; and its joys feel so personal and exclusive and doomed—nothing you’ve earned or could possibly deserve. A set-up for loss.

Yeah… Detroit is way the hell out of my league. Absorption in to it makes me a different person, makes me fear the ways that leaving will mark me. If the scars of So-Cal are keloid—plasticky bands pushed above my surface—I’m afraid that this place will render nadi-level samskaras. I don’t even want to talk about the especially beautiful people, moments, tastes, rhythms. The routines I manufactured in April are already natural enough, so this new life feels as real as time—the category of understanding I use as scaffolding for my games of meaning-making.

This tendency to become absorbed in to any given context… maybe it’s not a problem. But when it feels a little dire, like it does today, I realize that at least one part of my life has become less dependent on context. Practice. It has gone from being the most fragile aspect, to the point that my entire life revolved around doing it under the right conditions, to a relatively portable side of myself. A little bit of an equanimity vehicle, thank god. That seems to happen for most people over time. In that sense, I suppose it becomes less of a vice.

Hmm. Maybe on that note, some asana porn? The past two months, I’ve been working on consistency in the backbends. For the first few years, the forward bending is variable. Some days the hamstrings and hips will let go deeply, but just as often they’re all knotty and talkative. The hamstrings ache for a year or two, after which the ache travels up to the S-I joints for another year. (Some people refer to these sensations by the word “pain.”) But eventually, your pachi-ma is just your pachi-ma. Any day of the week.

Can backbends work like that? For years, I nixed chakra bandasana on Fridays. Truly, I needed kapotasana or its 3s cognates for the thoracic spine to go there without crinking the lumbar. But now… I am interested in finding full openness and viscosity just in the namaskara and standing postures. Can one leverage the cumulative years for relaxation and openness, rather than relying just on one day’s coaxing? Can one feed Iyengarish slow-mo techniques (which I am priming back up in a summer course of full-on “backbend deconstruction”) in to this experiment? For now… it seems that as good form increases, it is less necessary to rely on heat, "prep poses" (watchwords of vinyasa flow), and adrenalin.

Adho mukha works the shoulders and thoracic; trikos and parsvos get the sacrum where it needs to be and the front hips long. And the QL, rectus abdominus and erector spinae are constantly, constantly lengthening. None of the body-unconsciousness of splayed feet and swayback lumbar and semi-rigid chest. The moment of truth is finding an intelligent self-bound CB even on Fridays. Seem insane. But, it’s there.

Sunday at the stealth shala, I practiced primary-only and then shuddered to M that I hadn’t been adjusted in CB for months. He looked straight through me like a man who’s taught 20 or 30-odd thousand hours of Mysore, and blandly placed my hands above the backs of the knees. My body was confident about that; he was confident too. But the mind that’s writing this blog post is still surprised.

Anyway, speaking of backbend consistency… maybe it's time for the negative emotion around viparita chakrasana to chill on out. I’ve been using a 2-inch-thick doorstop (a bad translation of the Bhagavad Gita) as a prop to try to launch it, even though in a group setting I can tock fine. The whole maneuv just annoys me, despite the good joke of using the Gita as a prop. May 31, Monday after the full moon: day to ramp up by ramping down. Arrrrrrg.

About “pain” that feels good. I've started figuring out how to breathe fast on a bike, and that has opened the alveoli and jacked up my heartrate to unprecedented levels. Woah. At the homestead in Montana, my dad found my old cycling shoes—which he bought ten years ago to help me attempt to keep up with him on his “leisurely” 30-mile evening rides the summer I was writing grad school apps. When I was a kid, we would always just bust it for hours, up and down mountains and across the prairie, with zero attention to form or efficiency. We’d cinch our little shelty in to paniers with her aerodynamic snout pointed in to the wind, without regard to the weight added. We’d throw the bikes on the roof and have mom deposit us at the tops of mountain passes all up and down the Rockies—then cruise down at 40mph over and over again just for kicks. We were like noble savages of biking, innocent of the concepts of exercise, or fitness, or technique, or training. 

I still don’t care about "fitness." Or gear. But… there is a new internal pleasure in good technique; and I might be a little less of a straggler among the biker chicks once locked in to clipless pedals.