On Ardha Chandrasana – or – What I Did on My Summer Vacation

On Ardha Chandrasana – or – What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Oct 4, 2014

640px-Rainbow_Trout

On Ardha Chandrasana – or – What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Sometimes a moment will hook me, like a fish. Though it may be one amidst a sea of moments, it will glitter at me, and I’ll bite, and then I’ll find myself chewing my way up up the line for days.

This happened a few Saturdays ago, while I was taking a class from one of my students, a recent graduate of a yoga teacher training that I created and led over the last eighteen months. As a part of their final project, the graduates offered classes on a donation basis, and in support of their efforts I took each one. Even without the hooking moment, the experience of learning from a student would be worth mentioning. Through the course of these donation classes, information I had labored to communicate during the training came back at me in all kinds of new ways, having cycled through that students’ consciousness, full of that student’s memories and experiences and wisdom and curiosity and point of view. Teaching, it turns out, is a profound way to learn and grow and re-understand yourself.

mriyengarardhachandrasana

The late master BKS Iyengar in Half Moon

On this day, my student / teacher taught Ardha Chandrasana, Half Moon Pose, and the transition to Ardha Chandrasana from, and back to, Triangle, as shown in the pictures above. I had something going on with my hip flexors at the time that was affecting my balance on the left side. I felt stable enough in poses that required me to stand on just my right leg, but was all wobbly when standing only on the left. This is not generally the case, so I was paying close attention to his instructions to draw my leg in to connect to my core. He told me to draw in all the way from the bottom of my foot, even my little toe, as a way of cultivating the solidity and steadfastness that the pose demands. He had introduced a theme of intention, mindfulness, and tapas. Tapas is a Sanskrit word that means something like, “the heat of effort.”

While practicing Half Moon that Saturday, I immersed  myself in the process of tracing the path of that back leg, the sole of its foot and pinky toe, back to its physical root. I tried to feel where it’s woven into the fascial deep front line, beginning with the muscles that spread and lift the toes, along the deep tunnels of my calf, to my thighbone at the hip socket and, via a muscle called iliopsoas, which winds and slithers through the dark inner rim of my pelvic bowl, all the way to my spine at thoracic vertebrae number twelve. I know from my anatomy studies that the connections continue onward to the diaphragm, the pericardial sac, which holds the heart, and even the throat and tongue.

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Here was the hook – the taste of that moment was familiar. And not just because of my 14 years on the yoga mat. It was familiar because while moving through the moments of my life in the few weeks prior, I had found myself tracing similar pathways. I had been consciously endeavoring to identify my desires and preferences, and to feel into where and how they plug in to the rest of the story of who I am.

I had started by paying attention to my most peripheral whims and urges. Where at other times, as a disciplined person, I might ignore or suppress them, instead I followed their twists and turns, through deep layers of past loves and joys, losses and failures, through the shadowy tunnels of past choices, and events beyond my control.

I had initiated this work because I had come to recognize two things: Th first was a kind of instability. Just like in that yoga class (in half moon on the left side), my off-the-mat asanas – the ways I had been expressing myself in the world – were beginning to feel unsupported somehow, and therefore unsustainable. I was feeling wobbly, as if in spite of the loveliness of the outer form – the openness of my upper back and chest, the tilt of my hip – I was in danger of collapsing at any moment. The second thing I’d recognized was that this lack of stability was related to having become disconnected from aspects of my person that had, at one time or another, played a central role in my life.

An engineer friend of mine once excitedly told me that one day humans would evolve our little toes right off of our feet. He told me this was because they don’t really do anything. As a yoga teacher I was amused and a little disturbed by this. But it’s certainly true that most of us have very little awareness, if any, of what those little toes are for, or of the sinews that connect them to our hearts. We might have never considered that capabilities we really value, like maintaining balance, are affected when those connections weaken, and they do – often by our own neglect. I had begun to realize, and it crystalized in that yoga class, that I had become disconnected from other parts of myself too, parts not anatomical but none the less real. Parts which I had assumed to be insignificant, even disposable, but are in fact intrinsic to my wholeness and integrity.

So as an experiement, I initiated a practice of doing whatever I felt like. I had taken some time off, so I read a couple of novels. I got out my dusty pencils and erasers, once permanently affixed to my graphite-stained fingers, and made drawings – of strangers on the bus, of a little girl eating with her parents at a taqueria, and of my own face in the mirror. I painted a still life in my bathrobe with the radio blaring at midnight. I let my husband and our dog go on vacation without me, and spent more time alone than I have in many years, with nothing to direct me but my own plain wanting. I ate the whole pint of ice cream, right out of the carton, while sitting in the warm sun on the front porch listening to the radio. I watched tv on the internet. I went alone to a neighborhood bar and drank tequila while eavesdropping on the other patrons.

I refrained from placing value judgements on my choices, trusting instead that my  impulses to like or want, even when their objects appear insignificant, are voicings of qualities or energies that may in fact be deeply woven in to the fabric of me. That they can be traced through innumerable significant mechanisms to the heart of my very self, just as my little toe can be traced to the snake-like bony tube that houses my nervous system. And like my little toe,  they need to be engaged in the conversation of my larger self in order for that self to thrive.

cypress31

Little Girl at the Taqueria

Alison Alstrom

Still LIfe – first time I’ve moved paint around in fourteen years

dexter

At the initiation of this essay, I was obsessed with Dexter

The hip flexor thing worked itself out over time. I’ve noticed in my practice that sometimes the questioning and its accompanying awareness are enough. When I rev up my focus, and get clearer on the way I’m engaging my muscles in the poses, my body will often take it from there, and the glitches get worked out somewhere beneath the level of my analytical mind.

The deeper, or broader inquiry, around how to cultivate more integration in order to sustain and even enrich the poses I do off the mat, is still on the table.

lawandorderstill

The original Law & Order series from 1990 – my current internet TV fixation

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Moi

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2 Responses to “On Ardha Chandrasana – or – What I Did on My Summer Vacation”

  1. David Estrin

    Excellent piece! I’ll be thinking about it for a while, but my initial thought is that “yes, everything is connected, both within and without.”

  2. fero6608

    Ain’t it the truth, David!

    I’m honored that you took the time to read this, and more so that you liked it. Thank you.

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