July 8, 2011

Gone Fishin’.

It’s Not About How Many “Fish” You Catch, It’s About Everything That Leads Up To It.

As crazy at it may seem, the alarm clock in my room rings even earlier when I’m on vacation up in New Hampshire than it does at home. Thankfully, however, it’s not ringing for me. You see, my husband is a passionate fly-fisherman who becomes mildly apoplectic if he’s not standing in a river for the first hatch of the day. Therefore, the alarm in our room rings at 5:00 sharp every morning. He take his morning jolt of caffeine “to go” and is happily wading into the crystal clear, cold waters of one of our many local streams by 5:30.

One day last week, he actually bounced back into the house. I could tell just by looking at him that he’d had an epic morning on the water. And he had. But not at all in the way I’d imagined. From the spring in his step, I expected him to announce that he’d landed loads of fish. Up here in New Hampshire, it’s not unusual for him to catch 10-15 in a morning. (Catch and release, by the way.) So when he told me exuberantly that he’d caught three, I was surprised. It wasn’t until I asked him where he’d fished, that it became clear.

Let me explain. The day before my husband’s triumphant fishing trip, our family had hiked to a waterfall way back in some woods that we’d never before explored. As I was taking in the scenery and the kids were looking for trees to climb, unbeknownst to us, he was carefully surveying the water of the creek meandering alongside the trail. He checked the temperature and color of the water. He gauged how quickly the stream was flowing. He looked for “holes” where trout might hide. He searched for eddies where fish could hang out waiting for food. As we headed back to our truck, he mused, “Maybe I’ll fish there in the morning.”

When the alarm went off, he packed his gear and hiked all the way back into those woods to fish an un-stocked stream relying not on guides, fellow fishermen and the local where-to-fish website, but on his own wisdom, experience and instinct. Yes, he was going fishing. But what he was really doing was exploring his understanding of trout and water. The three native brook trout he landed that morning made him glow brighter than if he’d caught 15 stocked fish in his favorite river. For my husband, the joy of fishing had shifted. It was no longer about the act of catching fish. It was suddenly about everything that leads up to that.

This is a shift I understand intimately. I have experienced it on my mat. For me, yoga postures can be as elusive as native trout. I am not a gifted athlete. I am not naturally bendy or strong. Anyone who knows my family will quickly tell you that physical grace is not abundant in our family tree. In a nutshell, the fluid, powerful movements of my yoga practice did not come naturally to me. It required a lot of hard work. Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that when I first started practicing, a good day on my mat was wholly dependent on whether or not I “landed” a particular pose.

Was I strong enough to get through all the chaturangas in the sun salutations? Could I bind my arms around my leg in Marichyasana? Could I lift up into a backbend when it came time for Urdhva Danurasana? If the answer to any of these questions was “no,” chances were that I would roll up my mat feeling disappointed or even thwarted much the way I imagine my husband feels on days when he gets “skunked” at the river. Thankfully (and maybe this was because my natural klutziness set the bar for success fairly low), I had more days when I figured something out than when I got skunked. Each of my successes, no matter how minimal, left me glowing. Each posture I finally “landed” kept me coming back for more.

One day, in a simple seated forward bend that I thought I’d “landed” in the first few months of practicing, everything shifted for me. Suddenly, being in this posture was no longer about whether or not I could catch my toes. It was about everything that led up to that. As I leaned out over my legs that morning, I experienced a forward bend in a way I never had. A forward bend is about how it feels to extend your legs on your mat. It is about figuring out how to root into your seated foundation. It is about learning how to create extension through your spine. It is about feeling your body – the gentle tug in your hamstrings, the sensation of freedom as your pelvis rotates, the energy created by flexing your feet. It is about seeking balance between contraction and relaxation – and allowing that balance to draw you deeper into the posture.

In one moment, in a simple posture I’d been in countless times, this new understanding took my practice in an entirely new direction. Yoga was no longer about landing postures. Instead, yoga became a journey into uncharted territory. It was a chance to experience the nuances of my body and the stretches. It was a time to practice relying on my intuition and experience to lead me deeper. In this different practice, there was no way to get skunked. A little, tiny insight into my body or my state of mind was as thrilling as all my previous “big catches” or new postures.

While finally landing a new posture continues to make me beam like my husband on days when he catches tons of fish, a rewarding day on my mat is not at all dependent on that. My husband says that a good day is any day that he gets to stand in a stream with his fly rod. I suppose the same is true for me. A good day is any day that I get to step onto my mat.

Let’s go fishin’,
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