Marichyasana D – My nemesis, my teacher

I love Ashtanga, I really do. I love the discipline and commitment it both requires and inspires. I love how it becomes a moving meditation, once you know the sequence. I love that there is a set sequence, because my control freak tendencies require that I know what is coming up next AT ALL TIMES. And, let’s admit it, when advanced Ashtangis get their yoga on, it’s pretty awesome to watch.

In the spirit of satya (truth), however, I must confess – I don’t practice it all that often.

It’s not because I’m lazy. It’s not because I get bored with the routine, or find it too lengthy.

It’s because of one asana and my desire to avoid it at all costs.

Marichyasana D. My nemesis.

I know I’m not alone in struggling with this pose. Google it, and you’ll find countless blog posts, YouTube clips and other sundry social media offering tips and advice for getting into the pose, sharing their success at finally binding (hurrah!) and, just as much, their frustration at not being able to bind/get into half lotus/twist towards the raised leg.

I can bind fully in A and C (A came quite easily, C was probably a good year of practice before the bind started to stick) and I’m almost there with B (can get one side most times, the other still only a monkey grip). I never thought I’d be able to bind in B or C at all, so when that glorious day came, it renewed my hope that, one day, just maybe, I might be able to bind in D as well.

Of course, the difficulty with Marichi D, for many (including me!), is not just the bind, but getting into the pose to begin with. Ardha Padmasana (half lotus) – check. Getting the lotus knee onto the ground – almost check. Twisting towards the raised knee and wrapping the top arm around said knee – Houston, we have a problem. The best I can hope for is hugging my knee towards my chest, encouraging a little more axial rotation of the spine.

I can’t work out whether the tightness is in my hips, spine or shoulders – or all three. Or maybe it’s those stubborn few kilos I gained this year that JUST WON’T GO.

The paradox is not lost on me – I can’t do it because I don’t practice it, and I don’t practice it because I can’t do it (and feel unco as all hell when I try).

Because of this, I’ve made a point of trying to practice Primary series more often, and with it, obviously Marichi D. And I’m realising that while I consider it my nemesis, it’s also a valuable teacher.

Ashtanga teaches this lesson anyway, but the Marichi sequence, and D in particular, have reinforced the importance of patience, discipline and commitment, as well as the courage to try again no matter how many times I fail. This time last year, I couldn’t bind in Marichi C, do headstand without a wall or practice Astavakrasana. Now I can. How? I practiced them. A LOT. Most days, if not every day. Marichi D is no different.

It’s possible that I may never be able to do Marichi D – and that’s okay. Binding in the full pose certainly looks pretty fancy, but it doesn’t make me a better person. There are lots of poses I can’t and probably will never do – but there are also lots that I can. But yoga isn’t about which poses you can and can’t do. Achieving a pose, whilst it may feel good at the time, is not the goal of yoga. The more we let our ego onto the mat and more we become attached to the outcome of our practice rather than the practice itself, the more we move away from the real aim of yoga – to surrender and unite ourselves with the Divine.

And even if one day I do, miraculously, make it into Marichi D, there’s always going to be another pose, another challenge to take it’s place – Supta Kurmasana looks like a good candidate.

This is why it’s called a practice. We practice until we get it right. And then we practice, and practice some more.

“Do your practice, all is coming” – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

How yoga makes everything better…and harder

Everyone I’ve ever crossed paths with knows how much I LOVE yoga. Give me the chance and I’ll talk your ear off about how it’s changed my life and how I couldn’t imagine my life without it, yada yada yada. But lately, there’s been a gnawing, frustrating edge to it that I can’t ignore.

It’s a feeling that started when I came back from my yoga retreat in September, but it wasn’t until one of my yoga teachers said something in class that it really coalesced into a concept I could get my head around, and mull over properly.

What she said was basically this: many, many times on our yoga journey, we’re going to wish that we’d taken the blue pill, and return to our comfy, pre-yoga lives. Because while yoga does, in my opinion, make life infinitely better, the path also becomes much harder the further along it you go.

Yoga forces you to come face-to-face with yourself. Your REAL Self. Your strengths, your weaknesses, all those deep, dark secrets you can’t even bear to acknowledge to yourself, let alone anyone else, emotions and memories that you thought were long buried. Yoga will dig it all up, spread it all over your Lululemon mat and slap you in the face with it until you’re red and puffy. Until you see and acknowledge and know. Until you wake up.

That’s the easy bit.

Because once you know something, you can’t un-know it. You can’t run and hide and claim ignorance. You don’t have any excuses anymore.

And when you know something, really know it deep in your heart and soul, but don’t always act in a way that aligns with that knowledge, when the outer world doesn’t reflect the inner, it sits heavy in your chest, in your gut. It makes you feel slow, tired, frustrated, cranky, restless.

When I came back from the retreat, I was bursting with ideas about how I might replicate and maintain some of the practices and feelings that were cultivated over the weekend. One of the first things I really wanted to work on was creating a quieter start to my day. I really valued the silence and stillness of our early morning yoga practice, the way it allowed to me slowly ease into the day, to connect with my self before I started connecting with the outer world. So I thought about meditating, doing a few rounds of Surya Namaskar, reading something inspiring, rather than immediately flicking on the telly.

I don’t think it even lasted a day. And even now, each evening I think about how easy it would be to switch off the TV and tune in to my self, and yet every morning I switch on and tune out. I know the benefits, I know how it feels to live aligned with your inner world (albeit only for a weekend), and yet I’m still struggling to change. That’s just one example of many.

It’s so much easier to just do things as you always have, and as others do them, even if they don’t make you happy. The collective energy of a culture that values information-overload, busy-ness and constant stimulation by any means necessary, simply carries us along. Our loved ones look at us, askance, if we start acting in ways that don’t fit with agreed rules and conventions. Swimming against that tide is hard work. No wonder we have so many cases of “not waving, drowning”.

But yoga will only let you get away with that for so long. Indeed, it gives us all the tools we need to make sure that we can safely swim to shore. Yes, yoga shows me all of the things I need to work on, but it also shows me that I’m a lot stronger than I often think I am. More capable than I think I am. Yoga gives me the confidence to keep on swimming, even when the tide pulls me out even further, knowing that with dharana (one pointed focus) I will reach my goals, I will make those necessary changes, and I will come to rest, energised and happy, upon the shore.