Twenty some odd years ago, in the basement of a hippie-ish Seattle yoga studio bedecked in ferns, funky palms (probably a cannabis variety too), incense and candle wax, I marveled at the skinny, half-naked dude in the front corner of the room effortlessly weaving a femur bone behind his head. How long’s he gonna sit like that? On a hard block with the other leg in half lotus? And how many hours will it take in this room, or on my living room floor, at my desk, or in my sister’s backyard, til I can tangle my body up like that? My 23-year old mind pleaded. Because of course then all my problems would be solved…
Now on the back side of my 40s, I know better. But not before doing hard time yanking my leg behind my head at every opportunity in the early days of my practice. It’s taken years of Sun Salutations, nudges to ‘back off’ from experienced teachers, and a ton of self-inquiry to recognize that tangling myself up in yoga knots isn’t going to make my phobia of loud noises, struggle to accept the physical changes in my body, or any crappy issue I’m dealing with go away.
The ego feeds off your desire to be something else” – Osho
In the early days, with each newly acquired fancy-looking variation of a pose came a greedy hunger for more. A now that I can do this, I damn well better learn to do that mentality. And a feeling of not being enough. My yoga started to feel like a trip to the mall – filling up shopping bags of pricey tattered denims and Stuart Weizman stilettos – then discarding them as soon as the next cycle of fast fashion promotions came steamrolling through the media. And speaking of media, today’s yogi stands little chance avoiding the onslaught of Instagrammed beauties in handstands on cliffs (when I see a #yogaeverydamnday! I have to brace myself…), studio workshop emails promising to “open your hips!”, and retailers portraying hundred-buck tights on toned tushes clogging my FB scroll.
Thankfully, discovering a yoga style (Baptiste Power Yoga) that dismisses mirrors and encourages single-pointed focus (in other words, eyes on your own mat – not the skinny dude with a leg behind his head) has helped, but that’s not all.
All people are born with different constitutions” -B.K.S. Iyengar
I recently started taking French at the Cultural Center in Boston because frankly, after two trips to Europe in the past four months I felt like a jackass not having a second language when it seems the rest of the world does. After a brief phone interview, I got placed in a higher level than absolute basics, and upon arrival to my first class measured up my fellow students as though we were about to face off in some sort of vocabulary smackdown. I caught myself, but it took a few minutes to recognize how I completely missed that these people were here to learn with me, not against me.
It can happen in the yoga studio too – the girl with the skinnier butt in back; the guy whose Chaturanga jump backs are more graceful than mine. Get into teaching and the wheels can really come off…she’s got more students in her class; my Utkatasana cues come out garbled. And on it goes.
The simplicity in Iyengar’s reminder can stop it in its tracks, however. Because really, even if I’d been sprinting around an oval 24/7 since age 2, I’m no match for Usain Bolt. He’s he. I’m me. Totally cool.
You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state” – Sharon Gannon
With each passing year I try to hang on. To memories. Abilities. Even states of ignorance. My husband and I booked a weekend to stay at the same, humble motel near where I completed my 200-hour training that we celebrated four years ago, only to cancel it last minute. Because after further thought, I realized my 200-hour celebration was a moment in time. One that couldn’t, nor shouldn’t be repeated. Life flows. And every now and then I need to remind myself to ride the wave and experience what’s happening right in front of me. My yoga practice helps me this way.
I also stare at the pair of Brooks running shoes in the corner of my closet, and feel a small tug (actually some days it’s more like an aggressive yank) of wanting. Wanting to lace them up and float above the pavement for ten miles as I breathe, sweat, smile, and rejoice in how, for so many years, God allowed me to run for miles and miles as though it was the most natural thing in the world. But I can’t anymore. My right knee creaks with each descent down a stair. My left Achilles is mottled with scar tissue. I’m no longer able to run, but I can roll out my yoga mat. And I’m okay with that, just as soon as I look away from those shoes.
The knowledge I’ve acquired through my practice is a blessing, but it can also suck. Because I now know what’s really happening to my shoulder joint when taking the deep bind variation of Extended Side Angle (it’s a tangle of twinging tendons and muscles that have not been happily placed), I can’t satisfy my mind’s image of beauty in motion. I now take a less aesthetically pleasing, but more core-strengthening variation that is enhancing other areas of my practice I never would have imagined had I hung on to my former ways. I’m growing up, in my practice and my life. And part of that process requires accepting the aging process and changes that go with it.
So I invite you to detangle. Let your hair down and work to find your natural state regardless how you think it’s supposed to look. Surrender and let the Universe do its thing.