I can’t quite believe it, but my first week at Purple Valley is already nearly over, and I only have one more week left in India before returning home (at least that’s what my plane ticket says…part of me wants to tear it up!).
It was a transition, yet again, to move from Bean Me Up, my home of ten days where I’d managed to amass a great little crew of friends and become accustomed to cold showers, shared bathrooms and, on the plus side, great vegan food, into Purple Valley, where I’d stayed for a month two years ago. As I scootered over to the retreat centre, I couldn’t help but think of how different I felt compared to my first trip, when my dad and I landed at Purple Valley, jet-lagged and unsure of where we were or what to expect from this place. I remember being totally freaked out by the drive from the airport and the seemingly chaotic traffic. I took me the entire month before I felt comfortable even attempting to drive a scooter. Everything I knew of Purple Valley came from friends who’d visited before. I knew nothing really about Goa, what to do here, or where else to go. While nothing has really changed at Purple Valley, or in Goa for that matter, this year’s experience couldn’t be more different from my last. Having already been here for three weeks when my course with Petri began, I was armed with my bearings, my own scooter, and actual answers to new first-timers questions about where to go for coffee, which beaches were nicer than others, and whether it was worth risking severe dehydration to make a deal at the day market!
Best of all, I had already met an amazing group of people here: those who had also been on Emil’s retreat, a few from the “Bean Me Up family” and Charlene and Sara from Toronto. On the Sunday after Petri’s course began, Charlene and I left our new comfy digs at Purple Valley and headed down the road to Villa Blanche, home of the best (albeit most expensive!) all-you-can-eat brunch in Goa. We were meeting up with all the others, and together the nine of us spent a better part of the afternoon gobbling up all sorts of yumminess, including countless cakes and cappuccinos. I sat there feeling beyond happy and grateful for all these amazing people who had come into my life. It was a great start to this final chapter of my trip.
Back at the Purple Valley ranch, it feels as if we’re in the lap of luxury. When Charlene and I moved into our room, the simplest pleasures felt like world-class indulgences: hooks in the bathroom to hang up towels! hot water! shelf space! an international plug power bar! Not to mention comfortable beds (no longer just concrete slabs!), three delicious veggie meals a day, and a beautiful shala in which to practice with world-class yoga instructor, Petri Raisanen.
I was eager to get back into that practice space and once again experience the quiet, meditative atmosphere and magical adjustments that only Petri can provide. After a week of escalating temperatures that finally succumbed to—believe it or not—a HUGE storm last Friday night (it NEVER rains in Goa during dry season…till now), mornings were once again cool as we set off before dawn to practice that first morning. It felt a little like walking into a time-capsule, and I half-expected to see my dad come in sometime after me and lay down a mat for his own sun salutations!
It felt good to be back on the mat after a couple of days off since practicing with Regina, but then about halfway through my practice, the muscles around my left shoulder blade went into a total spasm. I kept going, waiting for the cramp to subside, but became more and more uncomfortable. By the end my practice, I was officially disappointed in my body for letting me down. As if I didn’t already have enough limitations to be working with due to the back injury that’s kept me away from a traditional practice for nearly as long as I’ve been away from India, now I had additional pain and discomfort that I worried would keep me from realizing the full potential of my time with Petri.
But then I talked myself off the self-critical ledge, realized that my body and I are on the same side and not at war, and that this shoulder issue could in fact be a message that I’m not meant to be pushing through traditional Ashtanga sequences anymore, and instead, could benefit from the softness, gentleness and JOY that Emil had taught us to bring onto the mat only weeks earlier. My sudden shift in attitude came in large part from a book I’d just started reading called “Bodymind” by Ken Dychtwald. After only the first few pages, the author had me seeing and thinking about my body differently. The disconnect between right (masculine) and left (feminine) sides, the way in which our attitude, habits and history inform how we carry ourselves, and the relationship between injury and the current circumstances of our lives—all of it had me recalibrating my previous views on the mind-body connection.
Thankfully fate intervened that afternoon, when I was able to receive an incredible treatment from Chris Kummer, the yoga anatomy instructor and body therapist based in Toronto who I’d met briefly at Satasanga Retreat Centre. Seeing that I had “Bodymind” with me he exclaimed, “Oh great! You’re reading that book!” Minutes into the treatment, I could see how his approach reflected much of what I found interesting about Dychtwald’s work. Total body analysis, evaluating posture and movement patters, and the use of multiple therapeutic disciplines led to an indescribable treatment. Throughout it we talked about yoga, teaching, the Ashtanga tradition, and the reevaluation I was doing of whether this practice was right for me.
Since then, my shoulder has healed, but a considerable amount of resistance has remained throughout my body. Resistance to what? Practicing when it’s still cool and dark? To yoga itself? To Ashtanga alone? Perhaps all of the above. Over the past couple of years at home, I’ve integrated more variety not only into my practice, but into my physical routine. In the course of a week, I’ll normally do yoga three times, train at Bang Fitness twice, and incorporate some form of cardio like a spinning class. Since arriving in Goa, I haven’t done any other physical activity aside from yoga (assuming that sweating while sitting still doesn’t count as a workout!). And now in a traditional environment, my practice has gone from “whatever feels good today” to the set (rigid?) sequences that characterize Ashtanga yoga. All the jump-backs and jump-throughs, the linear movement, and daily repetition has thrown my body back into the deep-end. On that first day, I think my shoulder (on the left, feminine side that seeks out softness and receptivity) was screaming at me to pay attention to the fact that we’d (my body and I) had already moved on from this practice and it didn’t understand why suddenly we’d gone back, pretending nothing had changed.
In the last few days, resistance has spread throughout my body, ranging from tightness in the hips making Baddha Konasana feel impossible, to inflexibility in the spine, making every twist more of an effort than it’s been for years. Most challenging of all is the limitation in my backbends. Since my injury, I’ve practiced second series with lots of support from props or the wall, moving slowly and often leaving out the deeper postures like Kapotasana. Furthermore, I’ve left drop-backs by the wayside, since even on good days when I attempt to drop-back, I’m left feeling totally destabilized in my lumbar spine. The last time I practiced with Petri, I was flying through full second series, adding on half of third series, and finishing with the advanced backbends sequence of not only drop-backs, but tick-tocks (springing up into handstand, dropping the feet over into a backbend on the floor, and then springing back onto the hands before coming back to standing). When I admitted to him yesterday how challenging it’s been, being in this seemingly foreign body, he reinforced what I already knew—how having been through trauma has made my back extremely wary of wanting to go back down the same path that caused the original injury. The resistance that’s accumulated over the past week isn’t causing me pain (because off the mat, I feel great), it’s actually protecting me from it. The real yoga practice is no longer just about whether I can grab my heels in kapotasana. Instead, it’s the mental and emotional challenge of accepting my body and its limitations within the Ashtanga framework, while still infusing peace and enjoyment into my practice.
I know I’m going on and on here about myself, but I know my experience—dealing with the fall-out of an injury, coming to terms with a body changing in ways I can’t predict, reminiscing about what used to be easy that is now challenging—isn’t unique to me. I think of those with more severe injuries, whose practice may no longer be physical at all, as well as the yoga mamas out there, the many women I’ve watched in awe, as their bodies morph into life-bearing vessels requiring a completely different approach to asana. More often than not, the source of a shift is the also the source of great learning and growth. So for that reason (along with many others), I’m grateful to be going through this, in an amazing place, with amazing teachers, doing a practice that still, despite its unpredictable shifts, reflects a large part of who I am.