Let Thy Wall Be Thy Guru

Obligatory Pink Floyd:

Now that’s off my chest, let’s go to what this post really is about. Yep, it’s a post about ego and the little tricks it plays on our brain everyday. All that brain space spent worrying because of nothing, that’s the Ego playing its game.

Recently, I’ve been going back to the wall to practice headstand. Not that I can’t do it in the middle of the room anymore, but for alignment purposes; indeed while I am fairly straight once in the asana, I tilt my pelvis in order to come up with straight legs. It’s easier, because I can counterbalance your weight, so I can come up without working too much.

But now, I’m trying to learn the proper way to come in, without tilting, which means I need to use more core strength and to strongly press my arms down into the floor. Ideally, I should be able to come up without my butt going back, but simply lifting the legs up while the torso is already in its final position.

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This is the idea: as you can see on image 2, buttocks and knuckles are in one line. In my case, if I practice in the middle of the room, my butt would be 10 cm behind the blue line :p

The wall is a great teacher for that. No cheating, it tells you what straight is (assuming the wall is, indeed, straight ;). I think the wall is my favorite prop. It’s always there to support you when you need it!

Anyhow, I’m back at the wall for the moment. The wall has been a good learning tool for my alignment (“is it even possible to bring my legs up with my back at a 90°angle from the floor??! Maybe my butt is too big that’s why I can’t do it?”) since in the beginning, once my hips were aligned with my head I would almost fall back if I tried to lift my legs up (imagine a ball bouncing on the wall, except the ball was my butt and I would get pushed back down when I tried lifting the legs up). However, it’s not only been an useful tool for my body awareness, it’s also been a teacher in thoughts awareness.

I have found myself in a position I had not been in a while; wondering what others thought of me. I have been lucky enough to be relatively judgement-free in the past years, and it’s been a cold shower to realize I have not completely let go of what others may think of me. Indeed, I started thinking about how other people in the class must be thinking I cannot do headstand in the middle of the room (when really, who cares??!), or I am being lazy for using the wall when I could be doing it freestanding (there again, no one is thinking or looking at me during their practice, seriously!).

Oh, insecurities! We all have them. Even the people that look the most self-confident do. Actually, I’ve that they often are compensating because they’re not sure of what they’re doing, in a “fake it till you make it” style. This has made me even more grateful for the life I live, and I would not want to exchange it for any else, because I’m happy with how I’ve led my life so far. In the end, I think YOU are the only person who can decide how to lead your life. But in order to do that, you need to know yourself well. And yoga can help you do that by enhancing your self-awareness (and I’m not only talking about proprioception here). Just like going back to the wall made me realize I’m still attached to others’ opinion of me. But by not giving in and keeping on practicing at the wall, I am changing my behavioral patterns and rewiring my brain. And these are lessons I will also take off the mat into my daily life, which will help dealing with the stress of modern life!

#ayogiinthecity?

TIL: apparently, this movie is French. My cultural background is catching up with me, I never realized until now that it was not an international reference. In French it’s called literally “an indian in the city”, thus the above hashtag.

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A Valentine’s day love letter

I can’t believe it’s already been four and a half years since I met you. I fell in love at first sight, though I thought you were a bit mean to me. But the way you made me feel… I knew nothing like it.

We started seeing each other a couple of times a week, until finally it was everyday. You’ve always been there for me, supporting and comforting me when I needed, challenging me when necessary. You’ve soothed both physical and psychological pain. It hasn’t always been easy. You’ve made me cry. You’ve broken me into pieces, only to show me that there were so many options how to reassemble the puzzle of me.

You’ve also made me laugh. You’ve enabled me to feel like I’m enough, and freed me from caring too much about how I look.You’ve pushed me to be kinder, whether it is with myself or others, and more courageous. You’ve convinced me that nothing is impossible, and everything is a matter of priorities.

We’ve travelled to many places together, and met amazing people along the way. A few have even helped deepen our relationship, and I will be forever grateful to them for the lessons they taught me.

Many people see me with you and don’t understand how I can spend so much time with you or how you can make me get up so early in the morning on my own free will. I believe it’s because they only know you superficially. They think I’m with you for looks, or for physical rewards. Maybe they’re not aware that there’s more to you than it seems, or maybe they don’t want to see. Some have had a glimpse of what you can do, yet aren’t ready to accept you. It’s ok. We both know you’ll be there for them when they are.

Loved ones have worried that we were going too steady too fast. Hey, I’ve never been much of the fickle type anyways. They don’t know how much you’ve changed my life for the better, and that if they’d let you, you would help them change theirs too.

To be honest, I cannot imagine my life without you. I feel infinitely grateful for that September day in Montpellier, when I left my preconceptions behind me, went to a yoga class and encountered Sādhanā

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Finding balance by learning how to use the brakes

My family has a long history of car analogies while talking about me. I remember my dad commenting on my school results by saying that I was like a diesel engine; I take longer to start up, but once I’m on board, I go the distance. My mom, on the other hand, has always compared me to a bulldozer: when I have something in mind, I go right to it without caring for what’s on the way.

Her favorite story is talking about when I was five, and on Fridays after a full day of school I would go to dance class and then to swimming lessons. She tells me she was afraid I would die of exhaustion in the pool, but I would keep on going until the end, struggling to keep my head out of the water but never giving up.

Apparently I get this from my grandma. I get a lot of things from her, and I’m fairly proud of it. She was a great role model of a strong woman – during the war, she kicked German soldiers out of her farm with a shotgun… She would also sing unapologetically the loudest and the most out of tune during church – now you know where I get that from (though hopefully I’m a bit more in tune…no? oh well. Too bad for you, I’m not planning to stop :p).

The other side of the story though, is that she was never the touchy-feely type. She wasn’t the nurturing, hugs and kisses maternal figure. And anyone who knows me personally will also recognize this side of her in me, since I’m often uneasy with hugging / kissing (except that being French, kissing on the cheek to say hi when meeting someone for the first time is super common so I’m kind of used to that) unless I know the person very well.

I’ve been working on showing my affection more and interacting with people in a less awkward way, and with what I guess is more maturity it is becoming easier. I will never be the heart of the party, and I don’t want to be, so everything’s falling into place. I’m learning to be me without trying to make people like me or excusing myself for being me – just be me. Sounds easy enough, right? But how many of us don’t show who we really are because we are afraid that people won’t like us? How many “fake it till we make it”? I’m pretty sure more than we think.

This side of me has shown up a lot in my practice recently. While teaching, when I have to scold students who are not listening and I need to assert myself. And then, there’s this thing about actions in Iyengar yoga: often you have to do two seemingly contradictory actions in a pose.

For exemple turning in your shin while turning out your thigh in Trikonasana. In the beginning of my practice I was happy if I would get even one of the actions right, and with time it became easier to do both at the same time. Recently, I have managed to feel more subtle actions, i.e. contrary actions happening in a smaller part of the body; for exemple I can now sometimes feel how it is possible to bring back both the inside and the outside of the thigh in Parsvottanasana, Virabhadrasana I or Tadasana.

I’m pretty sure I’ve already said that I’m the flexible type; so while I can easily get into “advanced” poses, I need to work on strength to stabilise my body and prevent injuries. Due to that flexibility, in a class you will often find me trying to find where “the middle” is. There are too many options!

A pose that always eluded me for that reason is Pincha Mayurasana. While I could get into it from my first class with my feet against the wall (open shoulders!), I was never able to balance in it for more than 1/2 second until recently. And by recently, I mean a couple of weeks ago, when I had a multi-level illumination (thanks to years of practice) about what was happening and why I couldn’t manage.

See for yourself:

So in part 1, I just go at it full speed and tumble over. This is 99% what was happening until the “revelation”. Now, in part 2 and 3, if you look closely at 0:32 and 1:13, something magical happens: I use the brakes and stay in control!

Now, what exactly are these brakes / how did I get to that understanding point / what am I doing differently exactly?

  • The “brakes” of this pose are multiple, but the one brake that I was lacking the most was the understanding that my hips have to be in extension and not in flexion.
  • I got to that understanding point by trying to jump up as slowly as possible and grabbing the balance.
  • Instead of trying to rush into the pose, I get in it very slowly and with control: pressing the forearm strongly down, face away from the block, lifting one leg up, the smallest jump possible and grabbing the balance through three components: activating the abs, activating the buttocks and extending the hips. Basically I “got” it when I understood I had to act like if I were doing Urdhva Dhanurasana! So thighs away from the torso, creating space in the groin area, protecting the lower back with activated buttocks and abdominal muscles.

I felt like I was going into a deep backbend while doing this, as if my alignment for the classic pose was completely off; but looking at the video, this is really not case. Now that I’ve learned how to balance for an extended (!) period of time, I can start working on actually getting into the backbend (Vrischikasana in Pincha Mayurasana). I guess I need to learn how to brake without breaking!