My favorite yoga student has conquered poses neither of us ever thought possible given her considerable cognitive challenges.
Together, we’ve spent years taking baby steps, working on simple things like releasing her jaw in savasana (resting pose) and keeping her foot flexed in reclined pigeon.
We celebrated each accomplishment together, both of us filling with bubbling joy, and these humble moments of progress kept us both going.
Recently, my student has had an overall leap in her mastery of the practice. She is spontaneously putting lots of pieces together which formerly she could do, but only when cued.
The big breath she took on her own before sweeping her right foot forward from adho mukha savasana (downward facing dog) into a low lunge made my heart leap with joy. When she casually swung one leg up from parigasana (gate pose) into vasistasana (side plank)—a pose she’d never even tried before—and held her hips high while keeping her face soft was , to me, as miraculous as seeing the sun rise. And don’t even get me started about the gorgeous way she tucked her elbows into her ribs while lowering herself in chatruanga (plank pose).
Despite all of the milestones we have passed, some things still elude us. I have yet to convey the idea of a pelvic tilt meaningfully and we still can’t seem to get much of a bend on the forward knee in warrior poses. We don’t worry too much about it, because we figure we have as long as we want to work on whatever needs doing, but sometimes I feel bad.
I often wish I could come up with the magical phrase which would clarify something for her, and offer it like a winning lottery ticket. When I fail to do this, I berate myself silently, though I try never to linger in that state of mind because it doesn’t serve my student.
Lately, we’ve been working on prepping inversions and on the inversions themselves. On the docket; headstands, handstands against the wall, tripod headstands and dolphin kick ups as a precursor to a one-day scorpion pose. Of all these, it is the dolphin kick ups which have proved most difficult. Oddly, it is the “easiest” of the things we are doing, but as we all know, easy is relative.
If you aren’t familiar with a dolphin kick up, it is done by coming into dolphin pose and practicing kicking up one foot or the other in a controlled way, so that the second foot floats up after the first. Eventually, this motion brings the legs over the head into scorpion pose, either against the wall or not. The trick is not to use “donkey kicks”, but to keep the legs straight and the action smooth. Once you get the hang of it, even before you get to scorpion, it creates a lovely floating sensation.
My student had been having notable success with her kick ups, and so I decided to move her against the wall. This way, she could get her legs all the way up and be totally inverted without falling over. We were both excited to have gotten to this point, and went to the wall chattering like a couple of sparrows in a dirt bath. I was sure she was going to be able to get into scorpion.
But when we got to the wall, all the control she’d had flew out the window and she reverted to the crazy donkey kicking. I knew it was because she was afraid. It is a much more frightening prospect to kick so far up you’re upside down than it is to just kick up, even though the two motions are essentially the same. I told her so, and it made sense to her, but she still could not find that graceful kick up she’d had just a short while before.
I was so sad for her. I felt like I’d set her up for failure.
Expecting her to be frustrated, I started elucidating on some obscure point, getting all wordy as is my habit when I tense up. But as I babbled I caught a glimpse of my students face and was surprised to see, not an expression of frustration, but a dimpled smile.
“What?” I paused and smiled back.
She stood up from the mat and simply said, “I accept it.”
I accept it.
I didn’t have to make her feel better, she felt fine. She was in a profoundly yogic place. She had worked to her edges with all of her heart, done what she could, and stopped when it wasn’t productive anymore. She wasn’t mad or disappointed in herself, she was ready to move on.
Her words have been knocking around in my head ever since. This sentence, more than any of the other things she has achieved, marked true growth. More spectacular than any old scorpion pose was her unconditional acceptance of what was.
As usual, my student, in learning, has led me. “I accept it” is my new official mantra, and each and every time I say it, I will remember the astonishing moment it was said to me.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Wiki Commons