Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Practice Trajectory: Ordinary, Extraordinary, Everyday Ashtanga Yoga Pt. 8

photo by Josh Hawley
"And so I thought I’d let you know
That these things take forever
I especially am slow
But I realize that I need you
And I wondered if I could come home"

— 'First Day of My Life,' Bright Eyes

A month is a blink for the rest of the world, too. The US is bright, shiny, full, clean, quiet-seeming after a third-world country. I had a revised internal feeling of being, but the rent still needed to be paid, winter was on its way and my mom was still sick.
Shortly after returning to the states, I moved again, subletting a friend's place in Stinson Beach while they returned to Mysore. Stinson and its wild beach beauty were a good balm for integrating the experience I'd just had. For a lot of the next few months, if I wasn't at the yoga studio — a drive up and over a winding stretch of Highway 1 — I was walking on the beach, staring at those waves. After one winter storm, I found a bowling ball on the beach*, red, shiny and improbable atop the sand, lazily moving with the ebbing tide. Bemused, I picked it up and started 'bowling' on the beach. I did this a bit until I realized I was angry.
After a remission, my mom's cancer had returned and she was facing more rounds of treatment. She faced this all with a certain martyred sadness which infuriated me. I wanted her to fight it, to try alternative therapies, to do anything but bow down to whatever the doctors recommended. After my dad's illness, I'd come to look at a lot of 'traditional' cancer treatment as shots in the dark...that often resulted in more damage than not. Mostly, I hated seeing my parents submit so much of their authority to Western medicine.
Back at the beach, I remembered how my mom loved to bowl. Or maybe she didn't love it, but bowling was one of the few activities she could do in Watsonville, CA, with four children on a rainy day in the 1970s. Most of the other adults at Cabrillo Lanes on weekdays were smoking cigarettes and nursing drinks in the bar next to the shoe rental counter where we picked up our homely, tan and white shoes. A 21-and-over sign hung near its door and we never crossed the line but cigarette smoke drifted out of its doors from time to time. Mom came and sat with us on those cold plastic seats, trusting us to poke our fingers into the Lanes' house bowling balls to find the right fit and weight as she picked out her own, glossy, green-swirled 10-pound ball and got to work. Four practiced steps and then bam! Strikes and spares and a look of contented vindication on her face. Cabrillo Lanes was a place she could throw things, knock things down, vent without yelling at her kids.
Standing on the beach, holding a stray bowling ball, I wished my mom would bring her bowling game face to the doctors off. Maybe if she'd get as angry about her illness as she was at the bowling alley she'd overcome the disease wresting her body away from us. But I was hardly the best coach in anger management.
Practicing yoga continued to bring plenty of emotions to the surface of my consciousness. After four years, I was marginally better at managing strong feelings as they arose. But during that time, I'd sometimes get so enraged during yoga practice, I'd leave the room, go into a different studio... and punch the bolsters! Punching something soft was a step in the direction of ahimsa  but I wasn't skilled enough to simply not react. Practice was at once keeping me together and reminding me how powerless I often felt.
The yoga studio, again (and again, and again) became refuge, even more so when my mom's illness took a turn for the worse, compounded by complications resulting from reactions to her heavy-dosage treatment. It was not a time when I really cared much about what pose I was or wasn't doing. It was a time I appreciated I'd had my world view — and view of death —  cracked open a few months earlier in India.
Yoga practice carried me through her death in many ways, but it also revealed that much more that I didn't trust my parental modeling of faith.... My mom, despite how many times her choices did not jibe with her Church, remained a practicing, and to my view very 'guilty' Catholic to the end. I hadn't ever been much of a practicing Catholic, but it was the only religious lineage with which I was in touch, and frankly how my mother interpreted it and what that modeled for me, scared me. Based on the obstacles I continued to face on and off the mat despite my faith in practice, I began to have a hunch that that the 'faith' that was fueling my yoga practice was misguided in some ways.
I do believe that all 8 limbs of yoga are indeed contained in Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Pattabhi Jois; and I do still think 'practice and all is coming." And once again, my Western and Catholic socialization, my particular issues, combined with yoga practice and what my mind did with the information it was receiving, were calling for some reinforcements. Yoga is also strong medicine, and a lot, or too much, or misguided use of medicine can cause more harm than good. I didn't trust Western medicine but I wasn't sure how to handle the affects of the practice on my understanding. Through yoga practice, I felt I had a new view of karma and lineage and, even, a new lens on my grief over the loss of my parents, but I wasn't really sure how to change it.
I recently read this quote by yoga teacher Matthew Sweeney in his post 'The Evolution of Ashtanga', and while I'm not talking about the sequencing of Ashtanga and whether that 'should' or 'shouldn't' change (a debate I will stay out of), or know Sweeney, I found his opinion resonant:
"In terms of human evolution and holistic development, sooner or later any technique or tradition you might adhere to becomes limiting, and a lessening of your full potential. For you to embrace a true spiritual perspective, you will need to move beyond a single method or one dimensional view." 
Fortunately, the 'all that was coming,' was providing me introductions to other methods of controlling one's mind....

*Turns out there's an actual "Bowling Ball Beach" in Mendocino, albeit named for the shape of its rocks, not actual bowling balls.

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