Going Soft

December 18, 2013

I went to yoga to get my butt kicked this morning. Again. I’ve gone rather religiously these past few weeks as part of an “off-season reboot” and its been fabulous. Today I got a bit more than I bargained for….which is the best thing to get from a yoga class, by the way.

One of my favorite instructors loves to put us into dolphin pose by asking us to find downward dog, then lower ourselves onto our forearms with palms pressing into the floor firmly. Keeping our heads off the ground, looking to our ankles and lifting our hips to the ceiling while drawing our feet to the floor, she asks us to begin walking our feet closer and closer to our faces in hopes that one day the strength in our upper backs will literally elevate our feet off the ground and into a forearm balance. What might not have been clear in my earlier description is that making this shape with my body makes me nearly combust with discomfort.

Twinges of tightness run from my sit bones through my knees – signs that my hamstrings are protesting. I feel my elbows wiggling out from underneath my shoulders, literally compromising the stability of my little forearm platform. My shoulders start to quiver and sweat pours down my face. I’m pretty sure that my innards all slip out of my body and into my throat because I can feel my heartbeat in my teeth and I can barely pull air in, as if someone has hold of my lungs and is squeezing them in my throat with all of their might. Wherever I look I seem to draw panic into my body. If I was able to look beyond all of this boiling angst, I would hear the sweet and mindful words of our instructor, working to keep us focused and inspiring us to find the power deep within to execute the posture with prowess: 

“Softness must come before strength. Unless you release, and realign yourself – your focus – completely,  you’ll never realize just your endless pool of power,” she would say.

“If I soften up any more, honey, I’m gonna fall flat on my face and I’d rather that we don’t spend the rest of class mopping up my endless pool of blood, mmmkay?” I might respond. IF I could talk. 

These past weeks I’ve been completely focused on the off-season; what to work for a faster + more balanced 2014 racing season. I’ve focused on building strength, moving my body from the inside out and I’ve noted progress. Except for today when I collapsed into a sweaty, exhausted ball, allowing tears to well up in my eyes and then make puddles on my mat, I was so much more than discouraged. 

How did my body get to this place where its so bound? So limited? So WEAK?

The bubbling panic before my eyes cooled to a simmer, and could hear her words again. It was time for another inverted hell. 

Release your hold on expectations – for your body, for your mind – and wake up and move from where YOU are.

I knew she was right. The answer to all of my questions, the source of my disappointment was this: for years, I’ve focused on being faster, on fitting in training at all costs. I’ve undervalued recovery and ignored inconsistency. This tactic has taken me far (or at least, pretty fast.) But I want more and my old tactics aren’t going to work where I’m going. I want effortless movement, and I want a lifetime of it. I want a healthy body that does as I ask, when I ask, and the confidence of mind to ask and ask again and again. I picked myself up off the floor and again placed my palms and forearms on the floor, sweaty, quivering, and yet determined, 

The posture wasn’t much easier that next attempt, or the next, or the next. But the tension in my face has left, the panic pulsating in my ears had quieted. 

I left class + returned home, spending the remains of the morning sitting where I could look out into the winter garden. The vibrant leaves that filled the tree branches and piled up in the backyard had all but disappeared, leaving start grey branches and chilly black light behind. I realized that I have some time before the ground would green again. I wasn’t inspired to suit up to ride, or run; I was only motivated to sit inside and cozy up. To soothe my aching muscles, my exhausted mind with a bath, a fire and a big blanket. Maybe tomorrow I would brave the cold. Probably. But, in those moments, I made an agreement with myself to let off to give myself the choice. At least for a few weeks. To soften up a bit. If for no other reason so that my body and brain can rediscover (and maybe redefine?!) what it means to “go full on.” I have a feeling that – by going a bit soft, I’ll learn all the more just how hard I can be when spring comes around again.  

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