Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still. ~ Chinese Proverb
“Clear your mat, come onto your hands and knees and stretch up into Adho Mukha Svanasana,” my yoga teacher orders.
We had just finished doing a series of Om’s and now I was trying desperately to push up into downward dog, shape my body into the upside down “V” and get my heels down to the ground. The image of what I should look like and what I really look like are not quite the same. My heels are about three inches from the floor; my arms are beginning to shake from the pressure of almost all of my weight on my upper body.
In an effort to make do with what I have, I turn my biceps outward and attempt to straighten my back as much as possible, lifting my rear end into the air.
“Stretch up, stretch back,” my teacher says as she walks around the room adjusting people. My arms are trembling but I press harder and work at lowering my heels just a little. My calf muscles scream in protest and I flashback to my mom telling the story of how I was a toe-walker when I was small and that a doctor suggested I have surgery to cut the muscles behind my legs.
In lieu of surgery, she enrolled me in ballet, although you wouldn’t be able to tell now by looking at my awkward pose.
“Step your legs forward and come into Uttanasana” she now says. I grab a wooden yoga block and step forward and reach for my toes in a forward bend. It has been three years of steady yoga practice and I still cannot touch the floor. My hamstrings complain and send a wave of pain all the way up the right side of my body into my sacrum. I peek out of the corner of my eye and see the woman next to me put her hands flat on the floor and reach her face to her knees in a beautiful standing forward bend.
Maybe someday, I think.
You see, even though I struggle, I really love yoga. Every week I come back to class, roll out my yoga mat, grab my props and sit anxiously waiting for class to begin.
Many times after I sit, a feeling of panic surges through my gut. What am I doing here? I can’t even touch my toes. I suck at this. Why not just give it up already?
I force myself to stay seated until class begins and I work my way through it. I push away the self deprecating thoughts that pop up in each pose. I close my eyes and focus on what my body feels and shut out the people on either side of me.
Although these improvements are small, they seems to bleed over into everyday life. This practice of shutting out the negative thoughts and not comparing myself to other people is slowly building my self worth one shoulder stand at a time.
Lying on my back, a wooden brick under my sacrum, I bend my knees and roll back onto my elbows and touch my toes to the chair in Halasana. My head rests on the floor and three blankets cushion my shoulders. From there, I lift my legs one at a time in the air into Salamba Sarvangasana.
“I don’t want to see any bananas!” my yoga teacher says as she walks around the room, meaning to keep our bodies in a straight line and not bend at the waist making a curved “C” shape. She stops near me and looks down. “This is really coming along! You’re looking good.”
I smile—I have a hard time accepting praise.
This is another facet of my personality yoga is helping me work on.
“Thank you,” I say.
So I keep going back.
Dana Gornall is a mom of three crazy kids and a dog. She works as a licensed massage therapist in Amherst, Ohio and is a certified sign language interpreter. She recently started an apprenticeship with elephantjournal and is looking forward to even more personal growth. While not interpreting, doing massage, or being with her family she loves going to yoga.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise