I'm not sure what I did, but I must have been working really hard today. My upper back and shoulders are tight. My neck has cracked a few times. And I've got a deep soreness in my butt. Otherwise I feel really good. I've been told before that a new stiffness like I feel in my shoulders is often the sign of a breakthrough coming. One can hope.
I tried the Manduka mat again today. It definitely makes it harder to balance, and makes Fixed Firm more difficult. I still can't decide if this is a good or bad thing. Basically, I like the mat. And I think that the surface shouldn't matter that much. So, I think that if I learn to balance on the harder mat, then I will be that much better at balancing. But I still haven't made a final decision.
Today Gates talks about people feeling something missing in their practice and trying lots of new things -- postures, styles, routines, etc... -- to fill the void. Instead, he says the problem is often cured by introducing people to the yamas and niyamas. These are yogas "do's and dont's", a loose analogue to the ten commandments. Instead of constantly digging new wells, he encourages us to dig deeper.
When I first picked up Meditations from the Mat, I didn't have any feeling that something was lacking. Rather, I was overwhelmed with the changes I was feeling in the early phases of my practice, and I wanted to read more about yoga in general, so I could maybe put what was happening to me into a larger framework.
What's interesting to me, however, is that I decided to change the emphasis of this blog precisely because I had the nagging feeling that something was missing. I focused so much on the minutiae of the postures, and on making physical progress, that I felt I was holding myself back. And I had the feeling that I was losing the bigger picture. So I decided to turn to this book.
It turns out that I was taking Gates' advice about digging deeper, without even remembering it. Perhaps I did learn something the first time around.
There's one other point about digging deeper that I find very encouraging. Many people complain that they ultimately become bored with Bikram because its the same 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises. I've heard that Emmy Cleaves, who has been teaching for over 30 years, wonders how someone could get bored when there are TWENTY SIX postures and TWO breathing exercises. There's so much there, she says, that she could study it in more depth forever. I think that's part of what going deeper means.
In some ways, its like Chinese and Japanese artists, who may paint the same painting thousands of times. The quest isn't to find something new or original, but to get to some sort of ideal form using a time-honored, classical approach. In Yoga we may be doing the same thing with our bodies and these classic poses, digging ever deeper to approach some idealized form. But to get there involves more than just a flexible body. It requires the cooperation of mind and spirit. And that's where the yamas and niyamas will play a role.