For a couple of weeks, I put myself in Personal Hell, chaining myself to a computer, sometimes getting a couple hours of productive work done; sometimes an entire day went by and I realized I've checked Facebook 50 times, checked my emails 100 times, read 30 yoga blogs/articles, with no new paragraphs added to my thesis. When it got near the deadline it all came down to "what's the minimum amount of work I absolutely need to do so I would not completely despise this piece of crap that I am putting my name down as an author?" Finally, got the piece of writing completed and handed in on Thursday evening (thank goodness for emails these days), and on Friday, headed to Happiness Land a.k.a. "Yoga Conference".
I must have done some incredible deeds in my previous reincarnation to have earned the Universe so conveniently arrange a yoga conference in my town right after my thesis deadline. First up, a day with Michael Stone. The moment I walked into the conference room, I saw him sitting so peacefully in front of the room, legs crossed, eyes closed, while unenlightened students like me rushed in, clumsily and noisily set their stuff down, realized they have forgotten some stuff, ran out of the room and back in again, slamming the door way too loudly both times, rolled out the mat so that it slapped the ground with a thump, disturbing all the other students trying to meditate, and finally settled in after ensuring everyone else's meditation attempts have been disrupted. The whole time, Michael did not even move an eyebrow hair. This made me feel like I was in good hands (while at the same time feeling like the biggest asshole in the room).
The workshop was about pranyama, but really the main message of the day was that bandhas are not something we engage and hold; they naturally happen if and when we breath properly. Mula bandha happens at the end of an exhale; uddiyana bandha can be felt as the diaphragm moves to let air in at an inhale or pushes air out in an exhale. So he tried to get us to feel our bandhas in sun salutations by inhaling our arms up, hold the breath, lift out of our spine, dive down 1/4 of the way, then exhale all the way to forward fold. I suppose uddiyana bandha happens at that 1/4 point. Then inhale half way lift, exhale fold, step back to chaturanga, inhale up dog, exhale down dog, yadda yadda, hold the down dog for 5 breaths, and then fully exhale all the air out before stepping the feet up to meet the hands.
Sounds like something Ashtangis can easily achieve right? Except I couldn't do it at all. I felt like I was going to suffocate if I tried to hold my breath for more than a few seconds at the end of the first inhale, and I couldn't fully exhale all the air out in down dog before breathing in again. Second exercise: supposedly it's easier to feel the bandhas when upside down. We're told to simply watch our belly go up and down evenly as we breath in and out while in halasana (different instruction than what my teacher normally teaches: to hold our belly so it doesn't pump up and down in this pose). So I tried to do it, and watched my navel with horror that I couldn't get my belly movement to coordinate with my breath. My ab muscles seem like nervous wrecks, sharply contracting and clumsily releasing, totally doing their own thing independently of my breath. Basically the entire morning served as to tell me that my nervous system was f*ed up. My breaths felt shaky the whole time; my muscles held tension that I couldn't consciously release; every breath retention generated anxiety.
Despite all this, I instinctually felt like I couldn't be in a more appropriate setting to heal myself. In the afternoon, Michael spent some time talking about how the world is out of balance, how we need to wake up from our self-obsession mode, heal ourselves, and serve our family and friends who need a clear mind to help them out. It was a pretty generic type of talk that he always gives if you listen to his pod casts and interviews online, but having the opportunity to listening to him speak in person felt so healing. As if he could read my mind, he said, "sometimes we need to hear reminders like this every day". We did a couple more exercises, again serving the purpose to frustrate me with my inability to coordinate muscle contraction/movement with breath, but I think that with practice, I would be able to do these exercises in the future with better results. At this point I already felt a lot better than in the morning, with less jitter and less unease within me. He ended the workshop by leading us through a very simple inhale and exhale exercise, where the inhales eventually got much longer than the exhales. By the time he stopped counting. the shakes in my breaths were gone; the breaths and the heartbeats felt smooth and rhythmic, and the nervous system had completely calmed down. A most appropriate therapeutic session was complete. I sort of wanted to kick myself for not signing up for his other sessions the next couple of days but because I was in such a calm state, I wasn't in the mood to be so hard on myself as I normally would. A definite sign the yoga was working!