Ashtanga and Murder Mysteries: Finding Freedom Within Structure

by | Jun 6, 2023

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I bunged up my shoulder a couple of months back, trying to jump back into chaturanga dandasana during an ashtanga mysore session.

Muscles in blue

The muscles in blue are the ones I Should have been using… what’s not in blue here are the biceps insertions I did use and tear, at the top of my humerus. I wanted to draw them in red for agony, but I don’t want to encourage them. And my shoulder’s much better now. For a while, I had trouble sleeping because least movement I made triggered agony! 

As part of the recovery process I signed up for pilates sessions (to escape Rehabilitation at the hospital) and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results. My instructor focused on helping me regain motion and after a couple of sessions with her I was sleeping through the night again. But more importantly we’re now working on my overall balance and core strength. And though I barely work up a sweat, I feel like it’s doing me good.

But what has that got to do with murder mysteries? Ashtanga yoga is a structured practice that I love because I like to know what’s happening and when. There’s an opening sequence, the practice and the closing sequence. Just like traditional murder mysteries: a crime is introduced, detection takes place, and the case is wrapped up.

And although/ because there’s an overall framework, I feel I have a ‘safe’ space to be creative within the format/ practice. 

I get overwhelmed when there’s too much choice. Like if you answer ‘anything’ when asked what you’d like to eat in Singapore tonight I’d be at a loss for where we could go. 

But if you choose something like ‘noodles’ I’d ask if you prefer rice, wheat or handmade noodles? Soup, dry or braised? Cantonese, Hakka, Hokkien, Mee Goreng or pad Thai and with seafood or vegetarian or curry…? Beef Hor Fun? Crispy Chicken Yee Mee? Shoyu Soba? Then we would be getting somewhere! We’d go into whether you were feeling adventurous or in need of something comforting and whether we wanted to go for street food or fine dining… 

Because once you’ve made a choice you can build on it or change your mind. Having a framework, whether for yoga or murder, gives me a starting point and an end goal.

That’s the problem I’ve had with exercise classes where what you do depends on the instructor’s mood. Or with reading literary fiction that makes me feel I’m drifting from one beautifully described scene to another till the book ends. 

Yes, I know I’m not being fair–especially given how I like ‘unstructured’ pilates now!

I always felt my yoga practice balanced out my writing. Ideally I go to the shala in the morning and write in the afternoon. It’s a one hour trip on the bus either way, meaning I get my daily two hours of reading done at the same time. 

Without morning yoga, you’d think I’d have more writing time. I even took on an additional book project, given I had an extra four hours a day… but it became increasingly difficult to focus. 

I see now that a big part of recovery is learning to rest. Just as I’ve learned I need to gentle my shoulder into healing, I need to rest my brain as well. I’d always thought of my yoga practice as a kind of workout, with stress on the ‘work’ part. But I’m seeing now that those 90 minutes on the mat were actually my brain vacation time.

Chaturanga On Books

So now, as pilates is healing and preparing me to go back to yoga, I’m deliberately reading books and watching shows and listening to poetry and music that have nothing to do with my writing projects–I’m hoping to gain more awareness, balance and enrich the core of my mind just as pilates is doing for my body!

Though I still hope to go back to yoga. I’m planning to return to the shala next week, even if all I manage to do is sit on my mat! 

Most importantly, I’ve learned that ‘Practice and all is coming’ is also about practicing patience, self care and balance.

Wish me luck getting my life back in balance!