I had no idea how hard one could work to do a proper shoulder stand. O, and I’m doing nearly every other pose wrong, it turns out. My muscles all want to work en masse, fused together, locked down, whereas to do a good triangle, for example, my muscles need to work separately, in different directions. It’s an interesting mental game to focus on muscles I didn’t know I had and try to move them separately. Kind of like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time, only much harder.
Well, it clears the mind to have to tune in so intently on the body, and to realize that the body is not even close to being something under the control of the mind. No, in fact, the body–with all its learned postures, its hunches, its clenched jaws, its legs pressed rigidly together, or crossed, or arms folded, or brow furrowed–influences the mind, makes it miserable, and then the mind sends distress signals that tighten down all the hatches, and the sphincter jams shut, which backs all the toxins into the body, and the mind complains, and the cycle continues. This is the feedback loop that Tara Brach calls a “trance.”
So when you practice yoga with an expert Iyengar teacher such as Nancy Crum Stechart, whose class I took tonight, you are working so hard trying to get your brain to send the right signals to the muscles you’re trying to isolate and move, not to mention the focus you need to hold the pose while your entire body screams “ENOUGH!” that you don’t have time for the trance. All this thinking about what getting your thigh to move forward while simultaneously moving your pelvis back and up, and then lengthening the spine while straightening the back leg and bending the front one just another half-inch, while keeping the pelvis tilted and the front thigh moving in the opposite direction–all this actually interrupts the feedback loop that usually takes over. The sensations of pain or discomfort that you experience have clear and obvious relationships to the thoughts that you are having at that moment, and there simply isn’t time to think about anything else. The mind clears for an hour or two. It starts to clutter up again in Shivasana, corpse pose, when you are supposed to let everything go slack but also to do this consciously, remaining aware of the body and sending release to those muscles which are still holding on.
My mind is a mess of monkeys jumping from thought to thought. It goes right into the jungle swinging, and it usually takes me a while to figure out where I’ve gotten to. And then I go back to where I really am, on the floor, listening to the sounds coming from outside, and sensing soreness or tightness or fatigue in my body, and just staying there. But soon the monkey-mind is off again, and I just go along until I realize that it has carried me back to the feedback loop, and that my muscles are clenching again. I come back again and again, because I’m trying to recover from all the times throughout the day when I’m caught up in the loop.
I have had the great privilege to take some classes with Nancy Crum Stechert (so I’m repeating her name), who happens to be one of the premier Iyengar teachers in this country. She started practicing yoga in San Francisco in 1976 and began studying with the Iyengars in India in 1983. She has been studying regularly with them since then. She founded the Colorado School of Yoga in Denver as well as the International School of Yoga in Tokyo. She holds a Senior Intermediate level certificate in the iyengar method. But aside from all her accomplishments, Nancy is a lovely person to be around. She’s calm, non-judgmental, funny, and intelligent. She reads a lot. She disliked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the same reason I did. Neither of us enjoyed the sexual violence scenes. You can turn on the tv at any time of day and find a channel showing a film or show about a woman being menaced. Why would anyone want to read more graphic descriptions of this masculinist torture?
I met a woman at a feminist function who raved about the trilogy. I couldn’t understand why. I like that they’re set in Scandinavia, because my mother was Norwegian. And the little mystery about the photo frames was somewhat interesting. But it took me a long time to get into the plot, which became a page-turner only because I had already invested so much time into the book. But I really didn’t enjoy the blow-by-blow descriptions of violent rape. I don’t mind graphic descriptions of sex. In fact I like them. And I have no political beef with porn, in general, but simply do not personally get off on this particular type. This seems to be the type of porn that people who like to say they’re against porn really like. The quasi-feminist heroine gives them an excuse to indulge in this stuff they otherwise wouldn’t let themselves read. They’re against rape and sexual violence against women, but perfectly happy to spend hours reading and imagining it. Indeed, they’re enthralled. Well, I don’t enjoy it and feel unhappy when I have to experience more of it than necessary, either on screen or in a book. Rant over.
I’m home now, exhausted. I’m having a glass of excellent unoaked Chardonnay from Leroux vineyards, halfway between here and my excellent yoga class. I just ate an entire spaghetti squash, baked and served with butter and salt. My soup from last night, by the way, turned out to be excellent.
I’m going to end on this excellent note.