Sometimes You Learn Most From Your Setbacks.
For weeks I watched the sky grow lighter and lighter on my morning walks. Each day I set out wondering if this was the day I’d get to see the sunrise. The brighter mornings teased me with the lure of winter’s end. It was easier to get out of bed and into my sneakers. I relished the added pleasure of sightseeing as the darkness began to lift. The birds seemed to serenade my dog and me on our route. Then one morning, it happened. The sky was already pink when I headed out and I watched the sun rise over the horizon as we made our way through town. I’d made it out of the dark months and into the light! Halleluiah!
Two short weeks later, we turned the clocks forward for daylight savings time and my walks reverted to complete darkness. As I pulled my reflective vest back out of the closet that first dark morning, I felt dejected. Those brighter skies felt like something I’d earned. After all, hadn’t I patiently journeyed through months of darkness? Hadn’t I rejoiced to see the pink light of morning? Hadn’t I finally made it to spring? The fact that I now had to take the same long, dark journey again seemed patently unfair.
One day as I moped along in the dark, wishing for morning’s soft light, I realized that my feelings of frustration and fatigue were familiar. I’d been here before. This return to darkness felt exactly the same to me as my (many) set-backs on my yoga mat.
Perhaps you’ve been there too? You work for weeks and months and even years on a particular posture. You finally (finally!) get it. You are so pleased with yourself. You celebrate your progress. You feel virtuous as you are rewarded by the fruits of your hard work. And then, perhaps out of the clear blue, you come to your mat to find your new posture is no longer accessible. Perhaps a new tightness or pain has cropped up. Perhaps the muscles you’d worked so hard to open are again as elastic as steel. Whatever the reason, you find yourself back at square one, facing the same journey of opening that you just completed.
Lotus posture (padmasana) opened to me early in my practice. As someone who couldn’t do so many other postures because of my tight upper body, it was a source of pride for me that I could fold my legs into the various poses requiring lotus. I eagerly awaited these postures when I practiced. They made me feel successful. They made me hopeful that the rest of my body would eventually open to match the external rotation in my hips.
Eight years into my practice, I came home from a vacation to find my lotus was gone. I was blindsided. I had not injured myself. I had no idea anything had changed until I arrived at the balancing postures in my practice. As I folded my right leg into half-lotus to head into ardha baddha padmottanasa, I felt a twinge in my knee. I stopped to rearrange my foot. As I tried to move my heel closer into the scoop of my left hip, my knee squawked again. What was going on?
In every single class I teach, I say that there should be no sensation at all in the knee when you fold into lotus. The hips are stubborn, sneaky joints that are perfectly willing to send along the effects of their tightness to the more vulnerable joint downstairs. If you feel any sensation in your knee in lotus, you need to come out of the posture immediately and take a modification. You also need to add into your practice a series of hip openers to mindfully, deliberately open the strong, sometimes reluctant external rotators in your outer hips.
I knew all of this. But I didn’t think it applied to me. After all, I didn’t have tight hips. I’d been taking lotus for years. Hip openers? Modifications? This was like being shot back to the early years of my practice. This was not progress! This was patently unfair!
Fair or not, my hip was what is was. And what it was was tight. I’ll be honest with you. I moped a little. I felt frustrated. But on my mat I’m sometimes a bigger, wiser person than I am off my mat. What I mostly did was take a deep breath and get back to work. I did hip openers diligently. I paid attention to how I was sitting at my desk and how I was habitually standing. Several months later, my lotus returned temporarily. Then it disappeared again. For several more months it would make an appearance once or twice a week, but would always retreat as suddenly as it returned. A full year later, it came back again and stayed. (I’d write “for good,” but who knows?!) My journey was over — for now.
Lotus is far from my only disappearing yoga posture. My journey on my mat has been rife with surprising twists and turns, and even some sudden returns to the starting line. Even more surprising than a vanishing pose, however, are the deep and lasting lessons I learn as I make my way back from square one again.
Reflecting on the ebb and flow nature of my yoga practice as I walked in the dark that morning made me smile. After all, I clearly wouldn’t have to wait a year for the return of the soft, pink light of dawn. It’s only a matter of weeks before it returns. If I can do hip openers for a year straight, surely I can enjoy walks in the dark for a few more weeks!