July 29, 2011

Do you know what you really look like?

Sometimes the only way you can take a really good look at yourself is through somebody else’s eyes. – Scrubs

There I stood, at last, on the back of the boat. It was the hottest day I’ve ever experienced in New Hampshire and I’d just spent two long hours literally crawling around in the woods working on a tedious home repair project. I was grimy and sweaty. I could not wait to get in the water. I lifted up onto my tiptoes, stretched my arms over my head and arched into the water. I felt graceful and pleased as I sliced into the water. I came up for air with a huge smile on my face to find my husband and brother-in-law laughing hard.

“What?” I said. They kept laughing. “What??” “Nice dive,” they finally responded. “Think you could have splashed more?”

That water felt so good that their ribbing couldn’t dent my mood. I gave them a raspberry and happily swam off. But, as I soaked up the sun on our swim raft, a little part of my mind marveled that a dive could look so different than it felt. I’d slipped into the water feeling as sleek as an otter. Apparently, however, I’d looked about as graceful as my dog the one time we decided he needed to learn to swim.

Has that ever happened to you? In a yoga class, perhaps? How many times have you stretched out into Downward Facing Dog feeling like a perfect, inverted “V” only to have your teacher come over to gently tug your hips up to get your weight back over your heels where you thought it already was? Or perhaps she guided your upper arms into a deeper external rotation so your elbows (that you thought were already bone straight) could further extend into the stretch? This happens to me all the time.

It doesn’t have to be your teacher who notices glitches in the alignment of your yoga postures. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve glanced up from what felt like a glorious downward facing dog to see that the placement of my hands was completely out of whack, or looked down to realize that my feet were not at all in line with my hips (or each other, for that matter!). Down-dog isn’t new or foreign to me. It’s a posture I’m in over and over again every time I unroll my mat. This is all simply to say that if I was going to have extra-keen body awareness in any posture, it’d be a safe bet that it would be in downward facing dog. But time and time again, the way I feel in down-dog is radically different than the way I look.

On our mats and off, we can get the best looks at ourselves through someone else’s eyes. These glimpses, while sometimes humbling, are nearly always edifying. They give us insight into where we can improve. They can inspire us to work a little harder. They can reveal weaknesses we didn’t know we had. They can actually help recalibrate our mind’s eye. Under the guidance of a teacher (or the good-natured jeering of family), our body awareness can become more accurate.

Certainly, this sharper body awareness is very helpful – especially when we’re practicing yoga or anything we hope to get better at. But is it necessary? No matter how my dive looked, it felt as great as the water did on that hot, hot day. I realize the same is true of downward facing dog when I’m not lucky enough to be practicing under the watchful eye of my teacher. No matter how it looks, it always feels great to stretch my body into what has become my most favorite yoga posture.

The good news is that, as far as I know, unlike my dive, my downward facing dog has never caused anyone to burst into laughter. But they both sure do make me smile.

Feel good!
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