5 of the hardest things YOGA taught me!

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Be where you are.

“It’s okay to be where you are,” he said, as we attempted Forearm Stand. I’d been kicking up into Pincha Mayurasana for as long as I could remember, and yet, this night, we were instructed to glide forward and lift up. No kicks, no problem.

One problem: I couldn’t do it.

Be where you are,” he repeated.

I didn’t want to be there. “There,” was me, frozen in space, one leg up, entirely confused about how to be upside-down. Subtract the momentum and I had lost my inverted identity.

“Be where you are” is an easy reminder when something is new and you feel overwhelmed. It becomes a chastising command when something is old and you approach it in an advanced way. But it is no less true or important.

Back out of it. Be where you were before you started and try it again. It might work. It might work 40 percent better. It might work zero percent better. But at least you’re not the stubborn asshole in the back of class, angrily sweating that the option of kicking was taken away. Advancing your forearm stand is not the same as being given a lollipop at the bank*. It’s a project. You just got new instructions.

Be present.

“Fuck. Laundry,” my inner voice shouted as Savasana began and my brain therefore ceased its preoccupation with movement. It continued the Mental Tic To-Do List every time my breathing slowed. “Email! Call home! Buy real pants!”

Yoga and its partner-in-crime, meditation, are more readily accessible for me when I am sad or in a low-energy state because I can throw all my concentration into the activity at hand. I can zero-out my brain space because the work my brain has been doing sucks. New brain space means more chances to not suck.

When I’m excited about things or have too much energy, this becomes nearly impossible. The activity at hand, yoga, is less sexy than thinking about what to wear for the fun event later. It seems I only like to pay attention to the best option available. Enter: “Being present” really means, “You have to get past this.” Because you do. You have to get past thinking about just the good stuff or just the bad stuff and move into whatever you have in front of you stuff. This is the task at hand. This is the one and only piece of time you live in and here are your options:

1. Experience that piece.

2. Think about something else and miss it.

Impermanence is a constant.

“If there’s one thing you could teach your yoga students,” she asked us, “what are you most passionate about sharing?”

Everyone else began writing fervently, paragraphs of inspiration emptied into the room for several minutes. I stabbed one line onto my paper:

“You have no idea what happens next.”

An addendum to “being present,” the idea that everything can change in a hiccup is by turns exhilarating, and frightening as fuck. Again, when everything is dank with hopeless filth, a sweet text message or large bank deposit sweeps it clean by surprise.

And this is lovely.

But when things are zippered in to the stasis of routine, a slip, a trip of announcement, a sneeze of a change in schedule shakes the structure loose. And this is unsettling.

There’s this weird balance we have to strike then, between finding comfort in the solidity of routine, and embracing its entire dissolution at a moment’s notice. How do you enjoy something without either naively assuming it’ll last forever or not clinging to it, squeezing the life out of it, because you’re afraid it’s about to leave forever? When I manage this well on my own, I’ll let you know.

For now, the best I can do is to flip the script. If it can change in a bad way so quickly, it will do the reverse just as easily. The lovely part always comes back.

It’s not a competition.

“Try to move without judgment or praise,” she said. She says this in every class, which is part of why she’s my favorite.

And every time she says it, I think, “DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD THAT IS?!” (She does.)

Generally speaking, when we don’t judge, we praise. We tend to hear some variation of, “if you didn’t get into the pose, don’t beat yourself up.” Usually this is paired with, “thank your body for its effort.” These are valid concepts and solid reminders. But we tend not to hear the separately equal idea, “if you did get into the pose, don’t congratulate yourself.”

Yoga is not designed to be competitive**. But it is difficult not to compare yourself to the practitioners around your mat. The flurry of handstanding at the front of the room might make you feel like a yoga failure. The fallen side crow off the middle mat might make you feel like a yoga savant. It’s still important to remember, however, that while there is no losing at yoga, there is no winning either. No, really.

And that goes for competing against yourself as well. Did you nail Dancer’s Pose today? Notice it. Observe how it feels. Let it go. Did you fall out of Dancer, also today? Notice it. Observe how it feels. Let it go.

This is so hard.

Breathe.

“Inhale all your air in, exhale all your air out,” said everyone.

This is where we start in yoga. This is the basis for every pose, every movement, and even every meditation, if you take your practice past the asanas. It should be, and often is, the simplest form of yoga available. But simple doesn’t always mean easy.

Here is a list of scenarios in which I find it difficult to breathe fully***:

1. When it’s cold outside.

2. When it’s hot outside.

3. Outside.

4. When I’m upside down.

5. When life is upside down.

6. When my chest is too close to my chin.

7. When my nose is too close to my knee.

8. While wearing a scarf.

9. When I’m nervous.

10. When I’m scared.

11. When I’m angry.

12. When I feel ALL THE THINGS.

Breathing, and breathing all the air all the time, is actually quite difficult. Both on and off the mat, this is difficult. Which is sort of true of everything, really. The more you practice breathing in all poses, the easier this becomes, and the more relative it becomes to living in the world outside as well.

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