Last night I slept really badly due to a combination of the sauna-like heat of our rooftop apartment as the temperature creeps upwards every day, a pack of howling, fighting dogs outside and at least one hungry mossie. After hours of tossing and turning, I stumbled to class bleary-eyed, bracing myself for an unpleasant Mysore practice.
However, strangely, my practice felt really good this morning. I felt open and supple. The jump-throughs seemed slightly arduous but drop-backs felt good. Good job, as at that point there were only around five people left in the shala (I’m in the last batch and appear to have a relatively slow breath so am always one of the last out) and Sharath was watching me with his eagle eye even though he was on the other side of the room. As I prepared to drop back he chivvied me along with a firm ‘Gooooo!’. He doesn’t like it when we faff around…!
Anyway, the three drop-backs felt easy and good in my spine – even coming back up seemed relatively effortless today. So much so, in fact, that the adjuster tried to take my hand to my ankle for the first time – perhaps she was given the nod by Sharath, as he is always watching closely, to see how far people can go in their drop-backs. I’ve never caught my ankles before, therefore my mind and body collaborated and chose to freak out at that point. I tensed up in the shoulders and upper back and seemed unable to work out where my ankles were, my hand flailing around in mid-air. As I came back up, exhilarated and disappointed in equal measures, the helper gave me a lovely smile and said, ‘Next time’. Sharath was nowhere to be seen.
Hey-ho. Perhaps that had been my chance to show Sharath I was ready for pasasana, and I had failed the test. But I was pleased to note how little this bothered me. One of the great things that is happening to me at the shala is how my ego is deflating and how any sense of needing to perform or to be better than I am right now is fading fast. Back home, I’m often one of the more ‘advanced’ practitioners in the room at my local studio (I know you can’t measure yoga progress on asanas alone, but you know what I mean!), which brings with it a self-induced pressure to live up to expectations. I know this is all in my head and the expectations are mine alone; in reality everyone is far more busy getting on with their own practice to bother about mine, but it harks back to a long-held pressure that I tend to put on myself to strive for perfection, to try and be the best, to impress; and this pressure, itself, stems from a deeply-rooted belief that I’m not good enough as I am. A fool’s game I know, but hard to shed when you’ve been applying that pressure onto yourself for as long as you can remember. And I suspect I’m not the only ashtangi in the world who carries the burden of this core belief… 😉
So, my current big challenge in life is to tackle and change this erroneous core belief, and being at the shala seems to be helping me loads. Here, I am one of the beginners, I am almost invisible, but in a really good way. I find it both humbling and liberating. I feel free to enjoy my practice as it is, to really inhabit my practice, relish the postures and the breath, and feel good about it. I’m not looking around and comparing myself to others (OK, occasionally my drishti strays when I see someone doing something totally ‘out there’ awesome, but only to think ‘Wow, good on’em’, rather than’When will that be me?’).
It’s a revelation, I tell you. And one that I hope I can continue back home, as I know this is how your practice should always feel – exactly that: ‘your’ practice, not anyone else’s. I guess it’s why I’ve always loved my self-practice so much, but the challenge is to bring that same level of inner focus to the class setting.
Anyway, I appear to have gone off on a massive tangent! What I meant to blog about was why my practice felt so good when my sleep had been so bad. As I pondered this conundrum, I remembered something we had learnt on the anatomy course over the weekend. Ken introduced us to a ‘hot’ new idea, making waves in the anatomy world due to a youtube clip gone viral. This hot topic is the concept of ‘fuzz’ in the body. Fuzz is what happens around eight hours after you exercise, whilst you are at rest, immobile or asleep. During this rest time, extra filamentous fibres grow between muscle fibres within muscles and between muscles themselves, knitting them together. This process is what strengthens the muscles that have been worked. This is why, when you wake up, you need to stretch, because this ‘melts’ the fuzz and brings movement back, allowing muscles to slide over each other once more. Conversely, if you don’t move, more and more fibres build up, and movement becomes more and more difficult.
So… because I had a restless night, with lots of movement, getting up for water, the loo etc, not as much fuzz built up, and my body felt more open, although also a bit less strong. The increasing morning warmth is probably helping too. Interesting, huh? Anyway, don’t take my word for it, watch ‘The Fuzz Speech’ below, by the guy who has coined the term. It’s very entertaining and very interesting if you’re into anatomy – but warning, it contains brief footage of actual cadavers, just in case you’re squeamish.
(Random aside: I’ve met a few people who work with dead bodies in my time, and they all seem to share some similar characteristics: a slightly wild look in their eye, slight social awkwardness but also being really nice, funny people. I was just musing about this with Chris and realised that they’re probably so mellow due to the relatively relaxing nature of the job: their work is rarely likely to be frenetic or hectic – cadavers operate at the slow pace of decay, plus they don’t ever answer back or give you hassle!)
A tenuously relevant giff for Hot Fuzz fans out there… 😉