Ustrasana or Ustressana?

Those of you who frequent Bikram studios will know what I’m talking about. You’re ten precious minutes away from the end of class, so close that you can almost taste the ice cold coconut water on your tongue, but there’s just one big hurdle between your sweaty ass and the lovely, room-temperature outside world: Ustrasana. You may also know it as Camel Pose, but fuck it, at that point in class you don’t care what the hell it’s called, you just want to get yourself out of there.

Those of you who’ve been there before know how it is. You crawl up to the front of your mat and towel, sweating like… well, like you’ve been exercising in 105 degree F heat for 80 minutes, and stand up on your knees. “Do we have to do this again?” A little voice in your head asks. “We do this like every day, surely we can take a break.” But you ignore those thoughts and tilt your head back anyway, and are immediately punished for it with a wave of nausea.

Nevertheless, you go back half way until you can see the wall behind you (or the floor, or the person behind you… whichever), and put your right hand on your right heel, followed by your left hand to your left heel. And then you’re in it.

I had never felt the way I did before when I did my first Camel in a Bikram class. I’d done it in Vinyasa Flow classes, and it was moderately hard then, but the intensity of the heat seriously ramps up the intensity of the posture, and I honestly started to panic that I was going to pass out stone cold while in it. And then of course I started freaking out about falling directly back onto my ankles and twisting my calf muscles so badly that I’d never be able to walk properly again and – no? No one else had that very specific worry during Ustrasana? Just me, huh? Yeah, I thought so.

But I stayed in it, and I’m so glad I did. I don’t know what exactly it is about Ustrasana that makes us feel so nauseous and dizzy whilst in it (I guess I’ll learn that at teacher training), but what I do know is that, at least for me, it’s the most cathartic posture in the Bikram series. And I never let myself miss it.

No matter how bad I’m feeling, and no matter if the maximum I’m able to bring myself to do is to just tilt my head back at the beginning of the posture, I need Ustrasana. Because, more than any other posture, it allows me to let go of what does not serve me (a phrase frequently used by Bikram teachers). I realised this about a year and a half ago when I had to be in New York for seven weeks to do an internship and Boyfriend stayed in the UK. I went to a Bikram class about half way through that period, and found myself having a massive sob-fest after Camel. Tears were coming out and I just couldn’t stop them, nor could I really understand why I was reacting that way. And then I realised that I had been back in NYC for 3 1/2 weeks, getting increasingly frustrated with my family, missing Boyfriend terribly, and working in a very stressful job. And yet I had taken absolutely zero time to confront and deal with any of those feelings. Instead, I kept just “getting on with things”, thinking that I had no time to let myself feel those emotions.

I find this happens all too often to all of us, especially when we go through a period in which we face a lot of set-backs. I, personally, am pretty insistent on just brushing myself off, getting back up and getting on with the next thing. But then I’m only setting myself up for a major meltdown about a week or so later, because there’s only so much negativity the mind and body can take.

One of Mary Jarvis’ favourite phrases to use is, “To sit in Lotus and notice yourself.” Well, I like to hang out in Camel and notice myself. I notice exactly what I’m feeling on that given day – what’s hurting in the posture, what’s more comfortable than normal, whether I’m feeling nauseous or overwhelmed – and then I ask myself why? What’s going on that’s making me feel like that? Did I have enough water before class? Did I forget to eat this morning? Or is there something going on with me emotionally that I haven’t dealt with yet?

I recognise whatever those factors are. I acknowledge them. And then I let that shit go.

It’s so easy to pigeonhole Ustrasana as a posture you just have to “get through” and “endure” in order to get to the end of class. But maybe next time try to see it as a form of therapy. A chance to understand what’s fucking with your head. Acknowledge that it’s there, and then choose to move past it, as opposed to suffer through it. You might come out of the pose feeling like you just downed 5 tequila shots in one go, but your mind will thank you for it.

P.S. I’m now a week into my Dechox challenge in aid of the British Heart Foundation. Please consider donating a couple of quid here. x

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