May 20, 2011

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Limitations.

Yoga Meets Us Where We Are. Can We Do The Same For Ourselves?

Every once in a while, my life immediately echoes the message of one of my yoga classes. Before I get going here, allow me to let you in on a little secret about the way I teach. Though most of the people in my world (and many of you readers) know me as a planner, a thinker and a recovering “Type A” personality, I walk into nearly every class I teach without a plan. I arrive to my studio as eager to see what comes as my students are. I rely on the mix of bodies and experiences in front of me for guidance. I depend wholly on inspiration (which has never yet failed me) to lead me through the class.

Earlier this week during a class, the message that sprang into my heart was about listening to your body as you practice. Yoga meets us where we are, without judgment, every single time we arrive on our mats. Yoga doesn’t care if we’re having a bendy or stiff day, whether we’re scattered or focused, whether we’re peppy or pooped. However we show up, yoga unfailingly delivers its gifts. We can learn through our practice to do the same thing for ourselves. To be accepting. To be non-judging. To be comfortable with the idea that we have absolutely no control of how our bodies will be on any given day. To open our hearts and arms to receive whatever our practice (or life) has to bring on any given day.

When we approach ourselves like this on our mat, we are performing a bit of a balancing act. As we attentively listen to our bodies, we will unswervingly search for our edge in each posture. We do so because we know deep down inside that this is the place where we will grow and change. However, in this state of mind, we will not hesitate to retreat to child’s pose (Balasana) when we find our energy is sapped. We do so because we know that we cannot safely or effectively do the work of any asana if we’re drained. It is infinitely better for us and for our practice if we take a few moments to restore ourselves, to rest, to reestablish our nurturing breath than if we were to mindlessly forge ahead.

On this particular morning, as I started to breathe and move with my students, I remember thinking, “Huh! Not tight at all this morning!” and my sun salutations (Surya Namaskar) felt strong. As a teacher, I cannot stop at self-assessment. I need to get a feel for how my students are doing as well. As I scanned the room, the familiar bodies around me looked powerful, well-balanced and “good to go.” The steady, rhythmic breathing that filled the room as we moved from asana to asana further confirmed that my students were turned inward and deeply aware of their movements.

So, it’s interesting that, at the same time as I began to know that our practice was heading in the direction of some more challenging postures, I also knew that my message would be about honoring our limits. Perhaps my inner teacher wanted to remind the room that in order to safely explore more difficult asana we must be vigilant in listening to our bodies. Perhaps, somewhere in my subconscious, I knew that this class would be about the balancing act between rising to challenges and continuing to nurture ourselves.

Coincidentally or serendipitously or even bizarrely, this was also precisely the message I needed to hear to get me through the rest of my day. I walked back into my house after class ready to attack my monumental “To Do” list before heading out to teach my after-school yoga club. Instead, I discovered that, rather than being on the mend from a yucky bout with the stomach flu, my youngest had relapsed. In addition, I found my husband on the sofa. The minor dermatology procedure he’d undergone that morning had left him in a surprising amount of pain and needing tending as well. Topping it all off, despite a vigorous yoga practice, I realized that I wasn’t feeling at all well.

I had a real-life balancing act to perform. I knew I had to rise to the occasion with my two suffering loved ones. That was not even up for debate. I was, however, struggling with the dueling pulls of all the things I’d planned to accomplish that day and my aching, queasy body. As I waffled between forging ahead as planned or collapsing into my big comfy chair, my own words echoed in my mind. “Listen to your body.” “Honor your limits.” “Allow yourself to be surprised by and to accept what you can and CAN’T do on any given day.”

While the two hours I spent resting in my comfy chair that afternoon far exceeded the time any of my students spent resting in child’s pose that morning, it served exactly the same purpose. I clearly needed the rest, the time to nurture myself, and the space to restore my energy. Without the break I gave myself, I don’t think I would have managed to teach my afternoon class or to get my healthy kids everywhere they needed to be. Listening to my body and honoring my limits actually allowed me to rise to the challenges of my day.

And — it will come as no surprise that my “To Do” list was patiently waiting for me the next day. 

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