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I am sitting at the outdoor terrace of Pão de Queijaria, a recommendation of a CouchSurfing mate. On the street, a strong 30 °C wind announces a tropical rain – that never starts falling. Anyway, the waitresses have piled up the outdoor chairs and tables. I am the last customer who persists sitting outside, holding my doily with the Guava Ketchup pot so it doesn’t fly away. After the coffee and cookie – also suggested by my CouchSurfing mate –, I have walked less than a kilometer to this famous restaurant that exclusively serves Pão de Queijo and drinks. So here I am, waiting for my second order of Pão de queijo (now filled with guava jelly and sliced cheese) wondering how I will start my next blog post about body consciousness. A waitress comes to me and asks:
- Sorry, my colleague and I were curious… How do you stand sitting in a crossed-legs position for so long?
Perfect, I think. That’s how I’ll start this blog post. I answer:
- To be honest, after sitting like so for the last 10 minutes, I didn’t have blood down there anymore!
When I first started to sit in a crossed-leg position, I explain them, I could merely stand it for few minutes; it was unbearable! And when I would uncross my legs, the sensation of the blood flowing back into my muscles was even more painful. But I kept practicing, because this position felt really relieving. When I sit like this, I feel my hips opening, my buttocks tensions releasing and, as I am resting on both sitting bones, my backbone is totally straight. It feels really good. And, through practice, I got used to it – no more blood, no more sensation into my legs. One day, my Ashtanga teacher explained that, actually, all those crazy physical yoga practices only aimed to be able to sit in a crossed-leg position for a very long time without feeling pain. Like so, we could finally enter a deep meditation.
- When you get used to sit like that, I add, then you don’t want to go back to sitting normally!
The waitress thanks me and goes to the pass to get my dessert and Café Mineiro (infused coffee grains from Minas Gerais).
So. Body. Body has been my first step towards the infinite search for consciousness. Being conscious of our own physical body is, I believe, an accessible and essential step toward our mind: how could we aim to understand our mind if we don’t even understand our physical needs, symptoms and reactions?
I became obsessed with changing my body few years ago. At that time, I had travelled and succeeded to change several of my traumatic habits and social reactions. But I realized that the « old Me » was still carved into my physical body: my shoulders were curved from my past shyness; my upper chest and throat were shut from un-expressing myself; my belly had some extra fat from eating sweet and grassy food to compensate my loneliness, and lack of vitality and meaning… So « changing » my body, and the perception of myself through my body, became very important. I’ve always loved athletic activities and dance in particular – since age seven, I can recall I was passionate by dance, even though I never had the chance to practice it seriously before age 20. In 2011, I became obsessed by dancer’s body and seriously aimed to develop the grace and elegance of ballet dancers. The goal, I guess, was to free myself from all residual emotional stiffness. Dance had me buy a two-months membership at MAA club in Montreal, in 2012. One day, in between dance classes, I ran into a yoga studio.
From that day on, I would swap my dance classes for yoga: it was the only place where I could shut my mind. During the following years, I would try many different styles in Montreal and London – Bikram, Vinyasa, Hatha, Moksha, Iyengar… I would practice each of them very intensively and then switch to another style – unlimited introductory memberships are the cheapest way to practice daily! – till I discovered Mysore practice, in the Ashtanga tradition. This was the first time that I would experience yoga as an individual practice, with a group, and with the individual guidance of the teacher. It was the first class that I would attend, following my own rhythm, my own breathe, and adapting the sequence to my daily energy level. And, tickling even more my interest, I would feel, during the following day, many hours after my 7 AM practice, an organ that was strongly pumping inside the left and lower side of my abdomen. It was supernatural: I could work on my organs through a physical exercise!
In July 2017, I completed a one-month training with my Ashtanga teacher. I could not imagine, when I started, the physical and mental impacts of this intense training. I realized them only when I went back to the office where I used to work. My colleagues were surprised: « You look so good! You look so happy! ». I had not realized, till then, that I was blowing well-being – and that it really contrasted with before. But, back into this workplace where I had been feeling horrible without being really conscious of it, I could now feel it. My level of energy was much higher. If feeling bad had become « normal », I would now feel horrible in those oppressive places: underground station and buildings in Downtown Montreal. I could feel how unhealthy those places were for me only then, because only then I was on a higher level of energy, able to see from a different point of view. I understood that I could not go back in there. That’s when I resigned.
Ashtanga yoga makes my body unbelievably balanced, stretched, strong and healthy, but it also makes my mind much clearer. I have two favorite moments during practice. The first comes after more than an hour of practice: the turtle pose, Kurmasana. In that pose, through breathing, I get to crack my lumbar vertebras. It feels like if my back bone lengthens and realigns itself completely. Deeply relieving. My second favorite is Savasana, when I just lay down, relaxing my body completely, feeling all the sensations left by practice… of whom many weird sensations. Few times, I would feel a very strong shivering in one side of my brain, either the left or the right side, or, lately, as I was practicing in Arraial d’Ajuda (Bahia), on the top and front parts of my crane. Don’t know what’s up in there. In Savasana, I would also have the clearest thoughts, about various topics: setting my daily schedule; improving a difficult relationship; or understanding that I would feel more positive and happier only by walking with a more open posture.
Also, I realize now that through Ashtanga yoga, mostly through breathing practice, I have developed some cool skills. On February 4, as I was travelling from Salvador to Arraial d’Ajuda on a 12-hours bus ride, trying to sleep in various positions, my backbone was getting all twisted and compressed. I started inhaling very deeply into my lumbar vertebra, rounding my lower back with the intention to create space in between every bone and, like so, lengthen my spinal column. I was inhaling and inhaling, deeper and deeper until… Toc! My lumbar vertebra realigned itself in a releasing crack! Through breathing! This was the first time I succeeded replacing my backbone through breathing! … I don’t think it’s something we are used to do, right? Or are you? Well, I thought it was fascinating… And, for me, quite a big evolution into body consciousness!
Question is: on my spiritual journey, is Ashtanga going to leave me further? Maybe not where I aim to go… For sure, I will keep the beautiful powerful Mysore practice once a week, or when I feel the need to realign and crack my bones and articulations, and open my wrist, ankles, shoulders and hips. Or clear my mind from blurry thoughts.
This first step into a deeper form of yoga certainly got me more interested in breathing exercises and meditation. Also, during my Teacher training, everybody was talking about Kundalini yoga in a very mysterious way that tickled my attention… Like anything people say is risky and dangerous… So, Kundalini yoga would be my next passion…
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