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.

17 Comments

  • Posted 24 May 2010 at 9:28 pm | #
  • joy
    Posted 25 May 2010 at 10:29 am | #

    This is so good I’ve been back a couple of times to re-read. You make me nostalgic for Michigan, and also, oddly, for the long wild gorgeous bike rides that I never went on with my father. He was the other kind of biker. I do have some really poignant memories of being on the back of his Harley, though. He was something wild in those days, still is.

    esp this:

    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.

    And that drive, 1-94

    That hits the spot. 😉

  • Posted 25 May 2010 at 3:29 pm | #

    I had a big ball of string of thoughts at once. And managed to pick out three:
    1. You’re alive, and a real person, and yet your writing does to me what reading Virginia Woolf, or Milan Kundera does: incites in me this massive love of words. It’s all a little overwhelming at times. If I had my way I’d grab them all into this massive bear hug and never let go. Wonder why my hips are so tight…

    2. I didn’t know that there were other people in the world who were subject to their context like I was. I guess, to an extent, everyone is. I can name off my old selves on the fingers of the places I’ve lived. I think this is a good thing. Holding on to one aspect of self is dangerous anyway.

    3. I read “knotty hips” “crunching lumbar” and some of this makes sense to me… the, um, pain-that-isn’t-pain is normal? I have questions about this lumbar crunching thing. This pain stuff… emotional and physical. It seems that other people manage to deal with it so much better than I do… it makes me stop altogether. Where others seem to manage to acknowledge it for what it is (a sensation or emotion) and keep going. Interesssttting. It’s naggling at something way back there. Back in time and back about a foot behind my thoracic spine.

    On another note: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/04/alot-is-better-than-you-at-everything.html

  • susananda
    Posted 27 May 2010 at 5:25 am | #

    Well as usual I read this days ago and went away hoping to come back with some intelligent comments, and come back just as empty-handed. Thanks for writing the asana porn! I’m interested in your backbending experiment.. what you say about the forward bends is so true, but my backbending still moves in cycles within cycles that seem utterly beyond my powers of comprehension. Some days I could (but never do) CB after primary.. just do a few more dropbacks first.. other times I can’t or won’t self-bind after a kickass full practice. I have weeks where I do it and weeks where I don’t even think about it.. it’s somewhere where I don’t like to push myself, I guess.

    I’ve lived in a few different places and I really like the way blending into a whole new routine kind of sifts out the more peripheral aspects of my personality.. which aspects remain and which morph? which new ones surprise me etc.

    I like this speed trip you’re on 🙂

  • Posted 27 May 2010 at 3:04 pm | #

    indigo moor’s final stanza of “pull”:

    “the moon snares in the sweet
    spot of the throat. Everything
    that lives on is trapped in love.”

    i wonder if the bike makes a roaring sound as it spills down over the mountains or the imaginary mountains & may i suggest singing ‘o susannah’ at the top/bottom of your lungs as you go—-

    thank you for the all the grace in this post— graphically and otherwise.

  • Posted 27 May 2010 at 8:42 pm | #

    In case you missed this at world’s best ashtanga blog ever written by a cat, here.

    Ego is two sub-things, one is the desire to look good (to others or in one’s own imaginary eyes). That’s performance mind and it will fuck you every time…. Anyway when it comes to internal martial arts, obviously almost every one of them is heavily, I could say terminally infected with Theatricism. Of course they all strenuously deny it. But it’s writen all over them, plain as the nose on their face. The other sub-component of ego is the combative part, a little juvenile mind-bundle of agression and fear. Which seems would be naturally and appropriately expressed in a practice of a so-called martial art, right? But for whatever strange reason, it ain’t so. The combative part of ego will block you from ever accessing the real shit.

  • Posted 27 May 2010 at 9:09 pm | #

    Joy! You are from gorgeous country. I am taking 94 the other direction – west – on Sunday. Going to find out if all this talk about Chicago being a respectable metropolis has any truth. This means missing Detroit’s electronic music festival, which I first learned of in Jeff Dyer’s book, Yoga For People Who Can’t be Bothered to do it. I’ll bother to go next year.

    Rebecca, I sense that every practitioner has a really specific relationship to sensation. Pain is an objective thing – like, “ouch”-level pain. But it’s also a concept. Not good or bad (though at the extremes I guess some get addicted to feeling hurt and others get addicted to denying hurt… my tendency is to deny that I can be hurt)… just soooo specific.

    Also, the thing you linked, The Alot is Better Than You at Everything is surely one of the best blog posts ever written. Thank you!

    I was just going to write two more super funny sentences about a blogger who can’t punctuate for shit, but you know what? The spirit of that thought was mean and cocky and hypercritical. No need to put my own “funny”-mean thought out there. The little bit of the blogosphere I look at has been mean and hypercritical enough this week without my dragging it down… and besides, full moons are DANGEROUS in internet-land.

  • Posted 27 May 2010 at 9:26 pm | #

    Susan, it seems that the backbend consistency has three quasi-causal sub-components. Psoas, Iyengar, Deciding.

    1. So, I think that in recent years, the main and largest variable in my backbends has been the psoas. When things just aren’t deep and on thy surface I have no idea why I’m on the ground instead of at the knees in CB, it’s usually because of psoas variation. When I find myself walking easily in to some kind of insane level of kapotasana and feel mystified about how this could be possible on a given day, ultimately it’s usually because the psoas is unusually long that day. It seems that as I’ve become more able to notice tightness at that layer and reverse it throughout the day, the interest in backbend consistency has grown. Last month, to Karen’s advice, the Editor bought a “yoga trapeze” and installed it in our basement. Hanging on that every day for 10 minutes not only provides a significant chemical fix, but seems to be restructuring my low back by releasing remaining tension patterns in the psoas. There’s really nothing quite like it. Very highly recommended for those who have space for such contraptions.

    2. Every Tuesday morning, I take the summer backbending class at the super sophisticated Iyengar studio two blocks down the street. It’s boring. We don’t do backbends. And… it’s really, really intelligent practice. Iyengar seems to combine an obsessive specificity with the gross body together with this thing they call “intellectual understanding,” which really means a kind of first-person internal grokking. When you bend in Iyengar, it comes from this kind of understanding and from a sense of moving with intelligence and integrity. It’s not about being warm or in the midst of a “good practice.” I’m working on importing that sort of consistency, and sense of maintaining the integrity in every motion, over to my practice, I guess.

    3. So, it seems like it’s been about five years since dropping straight to heels in kapo has been consistent. Doesn’t matter what else is going on in the back – that’s the vinyasa. I realized recently that I don’t have mindstuff or resistance about this vinyasa no matter what is going on in my body, so I wondered if I could bring the same attitude to CB. That was sort of the beginning of this consistency experiment.

    But I suppose context is really important to being able to put myself in CB every day. First, I have a super-peaceful, quiet home studio with pretty phenomenal energy, and I feel especially focused and relaxed there. Second, it’s warm and somewhat humid. Third, I spent 3 months in Mysore this year, with daily assistance in backbends and a lot of energetic support from the community there. So this is not really a matter of will or accomplishment… more like a lot of things coming together and an experiment that seems to be working for now…

  • Posted 27 May 2010 at 9:31 pm | #

    Sara! Welcome to Brooklyn! This poem is insane. Where do you find them? I’d never even heard of the author until now.

    Anyway, Sara, looking upthread, meet Rebecca. Rebecca, Sara’s just back from Paris, Istanbul, Thailand and Bali… it’s been a long nine months.

    You’ll both be in NM for workshops late this summer. And right now you’re both taking the same obscure correspondence course on herbalism with someone named Kia Rose. I hope you two meet in person soon, but until then maybe you can collaborate on homework.

    Re:herbs, is it ok if I spike every glass of fuzzy water this summer with not only lemon but a very mini scoop of stevia? The FDA says no, but it’s as if I believe the FDA.

  • Posted 28 May 2010 at 1:02 am | #

    i find stevia a strange substance personally but i always add lemon in my water. mint can be an awesome sun-infusion in the summer hours too. i think each human must devise a brew…

    i’m not taking kiva rose’s class yet, just oggling at her rosy cheeks and shoulder-sloppy dresses and articulate finesse with plants.

    the FDA needs to spend some good time in kapotasana. then you two can talk.

  • Posted 28 May 2010 at 3:54 am | #

    waves at Sara
    If you have any questions about the correspondence course, let me know…

  • Posted 28 May 2010 at 7:47 pm | #

    The beginning of this post reminded me of White Noise and then I imagined you and your dad cycling away from the black billowing cloud.

    Keep spinning!

  • e&sj
    Posted 28 May 2010 at 8:08 pm | #

    The FDA could do Kapotasana C – thats the one where the vertex of the skull reaches a point well past the sigmoid and the mouth is taken to be open thereby creating the “maha-chakra-mudra” wherein an infinite loop of all sesha shall be subsumed by said sesha creator. Of course, this loop could be broken if the FDA removed itself from the backpocket of Pharma.

  • Posted 29 May 2010 at 1:23 am | #

    Maha chakra mudra… I am so enjoying this image of scatokapotasana.

    I just realize White Noise got made in to a movie! Such a ruthless, funny story. He should have stopped writing after Underworld… but I’m sort of glad that The Body Artist exists.

    My spinning shoes arrived and they are so retro (when I bought them a decade ago at a garage sale, they were already old) that they don’t fit contemporary clipless pedals. They’re quite beautiful old shoes, albeit useless. I’m getting tempted to go in for a bit of gear…

  • e&sj
    Posted 29 May 2010 at 4:16 am | #

    sorry to be such a scatterbrain – I am regressing on many levels.

    I have been enjoying your writings – thanks for sharing.

  • Posted 29 May 2010 at 1:16 pm | #

    Scato-brain is great. I seem to have spent all spring in the nether chakras… so a little nabi light is promising.

  • susananda
    Posted 2 June 2010 at 8:41 pm | #

    Hey, I hope you won’t stop leaving things for me just because I’m so lax in responding 🙂

    1) I’ve been realising lately that I have little or no awareness of my psoas, which is just weird. They’re probably long and loose, OK, but could still be a limiting factor, and in any case I need to feel them??

    2) I know exaxctly what you mean about iyengar. My old iyengar teacher always used to admonish us to ‘use our intelligence!’ I tell my students that now. It’s funny, people somehow think that because it’s the body you don’t have to!And we can always refine this.

    3) I’ve actually somehow built hesitation time into my kapo over the last little while. Trying to get rid of it now. And I do wonder in CB, on a less deep day, how often it’s because of hitting the physical, or how often the mental edge. It seems somehow less restricted by pure physicality than kapo, PROVIDED I’m strong enough. That particular strength evaporates very quickly without practice!

    Anyway I’m rambling. I think you can find that consistency. Me, not at the moment but one day.

    Lastly, huge thanks for pointing me back to the Tabby Cat, I used to read his old blog. Busy with back issues of this one now… and as he mentioned an acupressure wrist cure, I emailed him about it; and he’s been super nice and forthcoming with the info.

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