I’ve just been on a much-anticipated holiday in Norfolk and today came back to my real life and my yoga practice. While I was checked out of my responsibilities, several things happened next to one another that seem uncannily coincident, and the crowning coincidence was seeing this post on radical acceptance, via YogaRose and featuring Angela Jamison, which really brought me back to what it is that I appear to be getting from the practice, though it certainly is not what I went into it to get.
When I first began doing ashtanga, I had already been practicing yoga for almost a decade and had a great opinion o my own resilience and flexibility, so when I all of a sudden started getting injuries and experiencing kinds of physical discomfort that I had not before experienced I summoned every bit of prep-school wisdom and discipline that I still had in my body to get to the mat every day, and I really believed that the practices was all about discipline. It was about learning to keep yourself hungry, to learn not to experience pain or at least to control yourself enough to be able to ignore it, and to stop feeling fatigue. My practice was all tapas, I guess, and that must have been what I needed at the time. Since then, though, after three years of basically a daily ashtanga practice, I am ready to try a different approach.
Radical acceptance, the way that Angela Jamison talks about it here, is certainly not a principle that excludes tapas. Far from it. But it strips tapas of the striving and grasping that I was seeing in it, or wanting it to do for me, for some time. If radical acceptance is a part of what you are doing on the mat, then the fire of tapas can burn without any expectation that it will destroy something or ruin something or burn away something that you don’t like. You apply discipline in a different way – maybe in a way that I haven’t learned yet. But learning to let go of the idea that there will be a prize at the end of the disciplinary exercise – like, I don’t know, a beautiful body or a brilliant dissertation or a house that is always clean – you can move into this space of discipline without anger. Cheerful discipline, maybe, even.
It may not be surprising that I am having this realisation as I make my acquaintance with karandavasana. My teacher took me through it for the first time – and when I say took, I mean carried – before I left for a remote paradise, and it was as if I had my whole nervous system flushed. I felt like the wave tank at a science museum (pictured)- totally washed and sloshed.
All I am saying is, moving your body that way – even letting your body move that way – requires some new perspective. I am talking about both karandavasana and the wave tank, although the former is more immediately relevant.