Today is an interesting day. The date itself, October 10, 2010 (10/10/10), is special. It is also the birthday of the Republic of China (a.k.a. Taiwan). On a personal level, though, today was the first day I did dropbacks on my own. "Dropbacks" in Ashtanga Yoga refer to dropping from a standing, vertical position, into a backbend on the ground (urdhva dhanurasana, upward-facing bow pose). I'd been doing this on and off for more than a year, always being helped and spotted by my teachers. I'd never felt very comfortable with it until lately, since I had in general never felt very comfortable with backbends. I prefer forward bends. The chest-opening, heart-opening sensation of backbends didn't feel liberating to me, as it does to many. It was more like...scary and uncomfortable. I felt like I'd never do it on my own, and really, I didn't want to. So I always dutifully waited for my teachers at the end of the Primary Series when the backbend portion needs to be done, and they'd help me drop back, stand up, drop back, stand up, etc. Fortunately, I particularly feel like I can trust my current teachers in terms of physical manipulation, which was how I began to feel more and more comfortable with doing backbends.
Well, I'd known before moving here that NYC Ashtanga teachers are strict and don't let you just sidle through practice however you wish. My teachers here definitely live up to that reputation. One of them has been telling me during every practice that I "must" stand up from the backbend into a vertical position. I try, but haven't been able to stand up quite yet. But today, I was able to drop back on my own! I think it's a mixture of trusting your teacher (who says you're ready, and it's up to you to believe them), trusting yourself (ultimately, you have to do it on your own), and a trust in the process/practice/spirit of the thing in general (who knows what might happen?). I dropped back. I tried standing up, but ended up falling on the crown of my head. How do you make a room full of serious Ashtangis laugh? Fall on your head, banging the hardwood floor, crying out "OW!," immediately getting the attention of your teachers, who ask you if you're OK, and you sheepishly affirm that indeed you are fine, and laugh about it.
I'm not training to be a gymnast. Though it seems like yoga can be a series of contortions, the use of the body in yoga is directly linked with understanding and developing oneself. You might agree in theory that faith and trust are crucial in spiritual growth, but when push comes to shove, are you willing to fall into the unknown? I wasn't even willing to drop backwards into a backbend on my own, let alone trust my existence to God, or anything like that. Dropbacks are particularly symbolic and significant towards developing courage, faith, and trust. For me, this is more difficult than doing many chaturanga dandasanas (a.k.a. push-ups), despite how tiring and pain-ridden my muscles might become. It's somewhat within the realm of my control to stretch, to do push-ups, to balance. But falling backwards, there's a split second when control is out of your hands, and you must let gravity do its thing. And I did fall today (luckily my head is fine), but I realized that falling isn't a big deal. I was able to do something I've never done before. And these small moments of personal transcendence are something to be treasured.
Now, I will just have to learn how to stand up!