April 1, 2011

Confession: I Can’t Put My Legs Behind My Head.

Deeper Confession: I Don’t View This As A Speed-Bump On My Yoga Journey.

I spent last week in a yoga workshop practicing next to a woman who could easily get a job with Cirque du Soleil. While I typically try very hard to keep my eyes (and, therefore, my awareness) on my own mat, I will confess to taking several peeks in her direction. She was practicing Ashtanga’s third series, which I’d never seen in “real life” before. While it was fascinating to get a glimpse of these new postures, that really wasn’t what caught my eye. What had me glancing her way was the way her flexibility, grace and strength made postures I do nearly every day look like performance art.

Luckily, I didn’t have a lot of time to get swept away in a daydream about being able to move like that one day or to sink into a pit of despair because her bones appeared to be more flexible than my muscles. About halfway through the first class, I overheard her telling our teacher that she was feeling very stiff that day. I barely suppressed the laughter that bubbled up at the notion that “stiff” could ever describe this elastic individual.

But then it occurred to me. Her “edge” and mine may look radically different, but they could feel exactly the same.

In yoga, when we get to the point in a posture where our muscles are stretched to their fullest or where we are challenging our strength as much as we safely can, we call this playing at our edge. Our edge is not solely physical. We are also playing at our edge when we are doing something we never thought we could do. Our edge is the place where transformation occurs. It is the place where we grow and change. It can be a place where we confront our fears. It can be a place where we dispel limiting ideas we may have about what we can and cannot do. Simply put, it is when we work at our edge in our practice that yoga touches us in its most powerfully transformative ways.

While it did not look like my bendy neighbor felt a blessed thing as she effortlessly tucked her foot behind her head, her comment revealed that she clearly did. I imagine she feels the same sensations as I do when she is stretching. I imagine that confronting a posture she’s never done before inspires similar feelings of curiosity, excitement and a even little bit of trepidation as it does for me. I suspect that she, like me, faces things on her mat that scare her. I suspect she also has postures (probably way more than I do) where she is tempted to get complacent because they come so easily to her. In other words, while we’re at decidedly different places along it, we’re both walking the same path.

The amazing thing about yoga is that no matter where you are along the path, the potential of the practice is the same. Whether you’re practicing third series or first, you still have the opportunity to challenge yourself and grow every time you come to your mat. Whether you can stand on your hands or are still teetering on your feet, your possibilities for transformation remain vast. Whether or not you can fold your legs behind your head is absolutely irrelevant to yoga’s ability to help you forge a deeper connection with the spiritual nature of the world. In other words, injured or healthy, young or old, uber-flexible or stiff-as-a-board, yoga meets us exactly where we are.

With this flash of insight, I drew my attention back to my own mat. Inspired by the woman next to me, I continued to seek my edge in each posture with renewed faith in the possibilities of my practice. 

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