Wednesday, March 11, 2009

51/70 - Breathing Through a Collapsed Straw

Tuesday off.
Wednesday 10:30 am with Lenette

Today's class was so bad that eventually it became funny.  A few days ago, a guy with a really strong practice distracted me.  Then, it was a group of beginners throwing me off.  Today, all the distractions came from me.  First, my allergies seemed to have flared up, which means my immune system is working overtime.  I blow my nose pretty often in class as it is (and I think this may annoy some of the other regulars).  Today, I could not clear my right nostril, and at times I was like a honking goose.  To anyone who was in class with me, and who might be reading this, I'm sorry.

The end result was that for most of the class I was breathing through one nostril, or through my mouth when I broke down.  This played hell with my stamina, and I ended up sitting out a set of Triangle, plus a set of Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee.  In that pose, I have a hard time breathing on a good day.  Today it was like trying to suck air through a collapsed straw.  I could feel my head turning purple, and just bailed.

The awfulness started much earlier than that.  By Half Moon, I knew I was in trouble, and my flexibility was off.  I fell out of the second set backbend.  I did really well in Awkward Pose, and then pushed my edge and fell out of the second part of the second set.  

And then, out of nowhere I did the best Standing Head to Knees ever.  Something just clicked on the left side, of all places.  I kicked out in each set and each side, I held my balance for the whole time, and I stayed kicked out for 3 of the 4 parts.  Not only that, but on the left side I wasn't wobbling at all.  For maybe the first time, it felt like I had a rock solid foundation in my standing right leg.  So even sucky classes can have their awe inspiring moments.

Standing Bow was OK, but the breathing problem was starting to really creep up on me, and already I was thinking about sitting out a set.  My form was fine, and I managed to ease off enough to be able to stay with it.  Then I gave a nice full effort in Balancing Stick, and it just about wiped me out.  My no water policy got flushed, and I don't think it was because I needed water.  I needed to breathe, but not being able to do that, I was OK with getting whatever comfort I could.  (We'll work on that one again tomorrow.)

Floor series was a little better, but my flexibility was off.  I managed to stay within my limits, and didn't skip out anything else.  But it was not one of those peaceful classes.  There were a few times where I felt like just sitting out another set out of spite for my nose, but I refrained.  Then Lenette caught me with what must have either been a look of suffering, or despair, or maybe I was shooting daggers at her.  She gave a little wink and a smile, and I just started laughing.  It was too funny how sorry I was feeling for myself.  The rest of the class, at least from an attitude standpoint, was fine.  With one look, Lenette made me realize how silly I was being, and it brought everything around and back into some sort of balance.

Of course, after class I feel just great.  Go figure.

It's amazing how, while Gates is going on and on about the practice of contentment, I seem to be running a full panoply of ways not to be content.  Yesterday's meditation was on the saying:  "Remember, you are God's son in whom he is well pleased."   So much of what we do is out of our sense of guilt or inadequacy.  As he puts it, most of us think that, if we are God's children, he must be awfully disappointed with us.  

Today, I had more than a few moments of self-recrimination.  I certainly was not happy with my nose (and I let it bother me more than it probably should have).  I beat myself up a little bit because I sat out two sets of poses.  I haven't done that in months.  But so what?  Today, I needed to, and that was just fine.  I probably should have sat out more.  The more astonishing thing is how much good a timely wink and a smile, not to mention a good laugh, can do.  After that, I was pretty much just happy that I went to class, that I made it through, and that I tried my best.  If that's enough to make God well pleased, I'm cool with that.

A little side note on the possibly religious implications:  it's pretty clear to me that Gates is some sort of pantheist.  I'm not sure exactly what sort.  But at times he seems to use the words "God" and "universe" interchangeably.  I haven't said much about what, if anything, I am.  And I'm not sure I will.  To a certain extent, on a subject like this, words fail me.  But I will hark back to something Gates said in an  earlier meditation on prayer -- that if you don't know who or what you are praying to, don't worry too much about it, because no-one else does either.  So, when I'm talking about "God" here, I guess I mean something in that sense.  Which is to say, I don't really know what I mean.

In today's meditation, Gates talks about a moment of spiritual awakening.  He tells the story of his enlistment as an infantry officer, and how he fully expected to die.  (Lieutenants in the infantry have about the highest casualty rates of any military personnel.)  He went to the first Iraq War, survived and from what he says did not have to kill anyone.  After he returned, on a run in the woods, he suddenly felt connected with everything, and this was a profound moment of awakening for him.

It's a good story.  It's the sort of thing Ernest Hemingway wrote about incredibly well in his short stories, before he started to become a self parody.   The question I have is whether a moment like this is enough to qualify as a spiritual awakening.  I've had moments like that before, on various occaisons and arising out of different circumstances.  They seem magical and timeless when they happen.  And then they are gone.  They leave a memory, but the memory is like the memory of a sensation.  It's no substitute for the sensation itself. 

A moment like that will be an awakening, perhaps, if you do something with it.  That, I think, is where the practice comes in.  The practice hopefully makes one more open to having such moments, and the moments in turn provide energy and incentive which foster the practice.  Then, maybe that sort of connectedness counts as a kind of awakening.  Beforehand, I would be tempted to say that that sort of thing is simply a glimpse of the possibility of a better way.


bikramyogachick said...

What a jolt it is when somebody can simply wink and smile and "call us out" on taking ourselves so dang seriously. I think that was pretty timely and helped you immensely! Gotta love our wonderful Bikram teachers. I can't wait to be the one up there spreading the joy of this yoga.

Ellen in Hawaii said...

I tend to get a runny nose a lot in class. Maybe part of the detox process. I don't usually blow my nose but I do sniff - a whole lot. So I'm sure that I'm probably bugging somebody. Oh well.
Personally, I've had several such awakening or "satori" moments. It's not so much that things physically changed. It's more like my perception shifted so that I didn't look at the world quite the same any more.