“You’re in pretty good shape for the shape you’re in.” – Dr. Seuss
Waking up late on Sundays and baking breakfast while we drink coffee is one of the things I look forward to most, but I look forward to my Saturday morning yoga class even more.
In weeks past, I have admittedly arrived for class a bit nervous with what I would find in my body; weakness, struggle, resistance. When I was teaching yoga (several years ago now) I was practicing each day and the postures that now confound me came as second nature. I *might* be beating myself up for standing by as my practice faded into my background; scolding myself for allowing my inner well-being, peace-of-mind, and all my bendy-ness, to slip away in exchange for faster swimming/biking/running.
This week felt a little bit different. Like I could, again, have it all. I’m back on a training calendar, and looking at times/distances/speeds/rates/power again. Its tough not to place judgement on what your body can/will do when you’re literally quantifying yourself. None the less, I’m feeling my fitness coming back quickly and I arrived in class ready to conquer the world; to dominate handstands as I used to, laugh in the face of dolphin pose and nail each and every standing balance (where my tight hamstrings have failed me the past couple of months and where I once could stand strong and with eyes closed for hours on end.) As I settled into my mat on Saturday, feeling “pumped up for yoga,” my favorite instructor took her place before us (in those fabulous leopard print pants that I love so much,) introduced the next 90 minutes that would wake us up and wring us dry, and in doing so, shattered all those visions of nice asanas in my head.
She pointed out that it doesn’t require mindfulness (or inner peace) to balance on your forearms, or come into full splits (hanumanasana.) This actually only requires some flexibility (which a few out there are just born with, and others of us will always always work to achieve) and a sense of acrobatics. Acrobats and gymnasts are not necessarily yogis, though yogis – with dedication, attention and introspection – may appear to be acrobats.
“If you’re really here just to be bendy, well there are easier ways of doing that than taking my class,” she laughed above the hip-hop soundtrack that led us into a practice we knew would be deep, powerful, and frankly, an ass-kicking.
“…but if you’re here to really dig deep. To practice: being in your skin. Being in the moment. Breathing through it all. Then let’s begin.”
And so we did; holding postures that challenged us – individually – for those few extra breaths beyond the edge where we thought we could, trying to ignore the nagging drips as sweat poured off the tips of our noses, ankles and wrists. We fogged the windows of the studio with our heat (tapas,) and covered the floor with the condensation of our sweat.
“The pose begins the moment you think about getting out of it,” she cooed quietly, in the exact moment that we all were hoping she would allow us to break out of that revolved twist we’d held for a fourth minute.
“When you reach that limit of your comfort, what you want to do is react – back away from the edge – and return to safety. But I challenge you NOT to react, and instead to respond by looking that edge in the face. Feeling lucky that you nailed a handstand is not yoga. Realizing that -coursing through your body -you have the strength to stand on your hands, is yoga.”
As I lay in a pool of my own sweat at the end of class (savasana) filled with mind-numbing thanks, I thought of a few things:
What I’ve been missing about my yoga practice most isn’t what my postures look like on the outside, but what I feel on the inside. Even when I could stand on my hands, tie my body in knots, and float above the floor with grace and ease there was always something bigger, and I was always looking towards it – through it. As I lay there motionless, I knew that that when I got back to a place where I could look my weaknesses, resistances, and internal struggles in the face instead of shying away from them, that I would have brought yoga out of my past and into my present again, as a yogi. Regardless of when I could stand on my hands confidently again.
Now that I think about it, I did nail my handstand for a few wavering moments longer than I did the week before though, which I recall felt pretty amazing. I wish I could describe it here but the truth is that those moments of upside-down sensation have all but faded into the background and left something bigger in their place.