The other day in yoga class, I was pretty pleased with my bound triangle pose when the teacher suggested we scooch our back foot forward and then raise the front leg into the air. I pushed my leg closer and found what I thought was my balancing point, but let us just say trying to lift my other leg was a very humbling experience.
Balance has always been my strong suit, so I was not totally surprised by the negative, self-judging commentary that quickly ran through my mind. What was unexpected was how long it stayed there—quite a few hours, I am reluctant to admit—until I was finally able to disconnect my awkward center of gravity from my self-worth.
I know that living our yoga both on and off the mat is challenging. After all, I based my entire novel around that idea. But my recent self-flagellation got me to wondering how more adept yoga masters triumph over such trials—and if they even have them in the first place.
To find out, I called two yogis I have long admired: Seane Corn and Ana T. Forrest. What I discovered is that they do indeed sometimes struggle, too, but they find their emotional balance more quickly than I did.
Here is my edited version of their response:
Seane Corn – Practicing yoga since 1987
On-the-mat challenge: “I was always very flexible, but I have slight scoliosis, so my body moves naturally when twisting to the left, but is much more limited to the right. In the past, I hated triangle and other twisting poses, and never wanted to do them. Now, though, I am able to respect my body’s limitations. I do not try to force it, like I used to. And I do not have an attachment in the same way. The frustration of the restriction and limitation still comes up, but now I recognize it and do not indulge it, and within moments I can shift. I actually like the triangle pose now, because it becomes a mirror for how I am going to show up for any challenge.”
Off-the-mat challenge: “I used to feel envious of people who I felt were living their lives fully in ease and integrity. Now I recognize that no matter how I might perceive them, everyone is dealing with issues that I cannot begin to understand. If a shadow of judgment towards others comes up, I immediately come back to me: What is coming up for me, what does it remind me of, how can I heal it in myself?
Also, when we were making my recent DVD, Detox Flow Yoga, I had a strong commitment to the vision of it being organic, local, sustainable and in no way toxic to the environment. But we were on a budget, so I knew I could not reach perfection. As a youth, I got irritated with myself if I did not live up to my high expectations. And my perfectionism did come up as an issue here, as I tried to dig in my heels in certain areas. But I realized I had to let that go, to accept the realities—such as using plastic packaging—without it causing me stress. I am pleased that we were able to honor the idea of sustainability and be respectful to the vision, and maybe in the future we will be able to go even further.”
Ana T. Forrest – Practicing yoga since 1973
On-the-mat challenge: “I recently created a new public yoga demo as the centerpiece for a fundraiser for a group near to my heart: yogaHOPE, which helps women dealing with addiction or abuse. The demo was exhilarating, but also physically challenging, requiring all the strength and balance I have. When I first began choreographing it, I fell on my ass over and over. At first, I journeyed through anxiety, upset and failure. Then I decided to use the demo as a physical metaphor for rebuilding my life after my painful divorce. The demo became the dance of my Spirit emerging. After that, falls did not degrade me; they became part of my Spirit work.
One of the Forrest Yoga principles is getting skillful at stopping the internal judgment of where you think you ‘should’ be versus where you are. In the end, the demo turned out beautifully. I get a kick out of creating and practicing these intensely difficult demos; I could not have done them in my thirties. It has taken me a lifetime to develop this strength, condition and concentration.”
Off-the-mat challenge: “We have a saying in Forrest Yoga: Never waste a good trigger. Triggers—something someone says that gets you white-hot angry or terrified out of proportion—are horribly uncomfortable, yet they can teach you so much. My own childhood abuse led to two key triggers: my quickness to anger and my tendency to plummet instantaneously into an emotional abyss. It used to happen a lot more than now, but I still have moments of reactivity. For example, my ex left wood, pieces of equipment and trash around my tool shed and motorcycle house. Seeing ‘The Mess’ re-triggers my ‘unable to deal’ feelings and avoidance and heart stress. He left in March 2008, but I was re-triggered by this again just the other day. I walk away, closing down around the mess of feelings. I have finally hired my godchild to clear it out. It is exciting to contemplate what I will feel like to have the physical mess cleaned up. I intend to also clear any and all emotional trash that I find connected to this. I am okay with being a work in progress. As I wrote in Fierce Medicine, my philosophy encompasses growing, making mistakes and learning from them as a lifelong process.”
Meryl Davids Landau is the author of the spiritual women’s novel Downward Dog, Upward Fog, which was recommended by the Yoga Journal, YogaDork and Everything Yoga blogs, and is the current book club pick for the Goodreads Yoga Folks group. Foreword Reviews calls the novel “an inspirational gem that will appeal to introspective, evolving women.” Read excerpts here. Meryl also writes for O: the Oprah Magazine, Whole Living, Reader’s Digest and other national magazines.
This article was prepared by Assistant Yoga Editor, Soumyajeet Chattaraj.