Friday, October 16, 2009

193/288 - Learning attention

Wednesday off
Thursday 6:30 with Rohit

Thursday's class was a joy because it was simply a normal class. My knee wasn't limiting me at all. I was properly hydrated. No reflux problems. The temperature in the room seemed perfect. And I just stayed with the dialogue (to the extent that Rohit does dialogue), and stayed with my breath.

I didn't skip anything. I worked hard in Triangle, and still had gas in the tank to finish standing series. Floor series was challenging, but good. Locust was particularly strong. And I finished without fading. All in all, just a very pleasant class.

The funny thing is class was that, for the second class in a row, the teacher mentioned my question about pulling in Rabbit. I checked the dialogue, and my problem isn't in the dialogue. Once you are tucked with your head on the ground, the dialogue simply says to keep the elbows straight, and says nothing about pulling. Most of the teachers I've had say that you pull with your arms, even when your elbows are straight. And this is simply not possible. There might be tension in your arms, but if you are pulling and your elbows are locked, then you must be pulling with something other than your arms. (Moreover, in all the other poses where you are told to pull with your arms -- first forward bend, Standing Separate Leg Stretching, Wind Relieving -- its quite clear that your elbows are bent and your are pulling with your biceps.)

The day 268 meditation discusses what is so important about learning to focus the attention. In several of the backbends, we are told to look up and back as far as possible, because the head will go where the eyes go. Wrestlers learn to pull someone down from the neck, because where the neck goes, the body follows. A similar thing happens with attention. When we focus our attention on something, that thing grows bigger for us. It becomes more present. There's a trivial application of this idea -- we have the ability to focus and concentrate on something far from us, excluding other stuff from our attention. With practice, we can isolate everything else out and simply pay attention to what we want. This ability to focus makes it possible to read things at a distance, to pick out small details of color or expression.

Everyone does this to one extent or another. But few people actively practice this kind of focus. That's one of the things pranayama is for. It teaches us how to pay attention to something specific, and to make the object of our attention grow and become more present for us. Once we learn to get better at this ability with breath, we can apply it elsewhere -- increasing our focus, our ability to be more present with anything we want to concentrate on. So, just as our head goes where our eyes go, and our body follows our head, so too our minds follow our attention. So it's best that we actually learn to pay attention.


Bosco said...

Duffy, in Rabbit I think the "pull" has to come from pushing forward from the feet through the legs, with the neck tilting and the head acting as the pivot for the tilt. Most of the muscular effort comes from the hamstrings. (At least that is how I am doing the pose, and have been thinking about what I am actually doing in light of your posts on this.)

Re: attention: my voice teacher, in an effort to make my pitch more precise, instructs me to concentrate on the "center" of the pitch. Doing that really makes a difference.

Duffy Pratt said...

After class today, Rohit said basically the same thing. He took class and observed himself doing Rabbit. The pulling comes from raising the hips the right way. There's tension in the arms, but the actual pull is just as you say, with the leg muscles.

I need to think some about the idea of the center of a pitch. At first I want to say that the pitch simply is what it is. Then I remember how often I slightly retune the B string on the guitar. There always seems to be a bit of leeway in that third.

And then I think about how some instrumentalists seem to always be a bit sharp (Charlie Parker, John Coltrane), while others tend a bit towards being flat (Miles Davis). The same probably applies with more force to singers - I remember Dad complaining about Tony Bennett always singing flat (and he doesn't really sing flat, but it may be just a touch off "center.") It's a cool idea.

Bosco said...

I can tell you that thinking of the "center" of the pitch really does improve accuracy.

Tony Bennett may have sung flat, but we just don't want to even remember what Dad said about Jerry Garcia's singing (and the sad fact is that, for the most part, he was absolutely right). But hey, he was JERRY!, and that overrode all technical details.

Straying from the focus of the blog for a moment, Thursday night I brought Elizabeth and Jessica to hear Dark Star Orchestra at a local club. In some respects they are an improvement on the Dead - better vocals and more consistent playing (but without the same potential for real magic). Songs included Alligator, Caution, St. Stephen, The Eleven, a beautiful Attics of My Life. It was quite something!

Duffy Pratt said...

I was thinking a bit more about this idea of the center of the pitch while I was in a store today. Then a Stevie Nicks song came on and the idea became even clearer. She does hit the pitch and is never either really sharp or flat, she just sort of wavers back and forth even when holding a note. (Boy George was even worse at this. There was always a slide into a note, then maybe over it, and then back and forth a little.)

Jerry's voice was a bit thin and reedy, but on the right material he was amazingly expressive. I've never heard any real covers of Stella Blue (which is a shame), but I find it hard to believe that anyone could actually sing it better than Jerry when he was at his best/most expressive.

The concert sounds like it was fun. With a cover band, I guess you want consistency and reliability. But that's basically 180 degrees opposite of what was appealing about the Dead. They could be awful, or mediocre, or pure magic, and you never knew what it was going to be, and sometimes it was an assortment of all three in the same show.