And this is video of Iyengar’s teacher, the man who could be considered the father of modern yoga as the Western world has come to know it, Krisnamacharya. He’d be 50 years old here.
Standing in a wide-legged split . Feet an extension of the ground. Legs reaching like trees from there. Bend at the waist. Folding forward. Spine connecting tailbone to the crown of the skull. Feet want to peel away from the floor, want to follow my body forward. Inner thighs ignite to root the feet. Grounding. Folding. Crown of the head moves closer and closer to the bamboo block. Hands press into the floor, reassure the head. (without them, my body does not want to lower my head quite so far). Tightening in the abdomen. Backing out of the fold. Lengthening the spine. Folding again. Still tight. Repeat. Head brushes the block. Back out, lengthen, fold.
Crown of the head grounds on the block, joining the feet and hands in connection to the earth. Breath fills me awkwardly. Find a key to let the diaphragm be free. Steel cable hamstrings. Find a key to give them softness. Algae green ache between the back ribs. Find a key to be with the soreness. Intense burn in my adductor muscles. Another key. Differences between the right and left sides of my body. Another. Deep inside my left hip a knot of ropes limit the joint. Letting go. Wandering mind. Letting go.
Four years ago, my wide-legged split was not so wide and my forward fold was not so deep. Eyes searching the yoga studio to compare myself with my fellow yogis and judge myself lacking (ignoring that they had been practicing a long time and I had not). Mind full of doubt, thinking of the latest bout of depression or anger, remembering a happy moment from travelling, wondering about breakfast.
Daily practice over years.
Mindful of doubt, these days I wander less, see more. Awareness of the body in finer detail, awareness of the body in greater scope, awareness of how the mind responds to the body, where it wants to go and how to help it stay.
Awareness that there are many things I am not aware of.
One day, I may place my head on the floor without a block. One day, I may press my hands and crown into the floor and bring my legs up into a headstand. Some days I cannot do what I did the day before. Some days I can go further. It does not matter. On the best days, I gain insight into something new.
The morning I wrote the first draft of this post, I bicycled to work and forgot my heavy chain lock (a necessity to safely park a bike in NYC). Since I couldn’t leave my bike on the street, I tried bringing it into the building, but the security guard said ‘no bikes allowed’; he directed me to a loading dock with a freight elevator. That elevator brought me to an area of the floor with suites for other offices. Another security guard directed me to a loading dock on the other side of the building. That freight elevator took me to a door that I couldn’t open with my keycard. Back down again and to a third loading dock. This is the one where you can actually lock your bike, but with no lock, I still needed to get upstairs. The security guard explained that the company office manager has a firm rule against bicycles in the office, but he understands the situation and bends the rules my way. Twenty minutes after arriving at the building, I’m finally at my desk.