July 27, 2013

Do Not Envy the Dancers. ~ Laura Olson

Can we talk frankly?

I read a great article the other day, all about why we should hang out in primary series a little longer and not feel “stuck,” not be so pose hungry or move on so quickly.

It kind of pushed my buttons.

It was a well-written article with a lot of wise advice. I agree with a lot of it. Though there are many opinions about how long “long enough” is. I think we can all agree primary series is not to be hurried through like getting to the end of a race.

Personally, I did finish it quickly, but then was made to hang out there for eight more months just to settle in. I had to learn all the vinyasa counts and spellings and pronunciations and breaths and dristis as I went, and I will be forever grateful for that very firm foundation.

But that’s not my point. As I read the article, I found myself getting upset. The author referred to “looking around” and “seeing people for whom they are” as “easy.” She suggested they were probably dancers or gymnasts and the fact that they could do asana didn’t mean they were necessarily doing yoga.

And here’s what: I am a former dancer. The twisty bendy parts of primary series were not hard for me. But the asana still means a lot, and I still have just as many struggles as people “blessed with stiffness” (to quote Richard Freeman), they just manifest differently in the practice.

As a dancer, I came to Ashtanga with an easy connection to movement, sure. But that does not mean I was good at everything. Ok, so I could do Marichyasana D, but I could not do a single sun salute without feeling inadequate. Chatturangas were not my friends. It took me something like a year of falling over in headstand every single day to be able to stay up. No, not handstand; headstand. I was bendy but not strong. And I had no endurance.

And, more importantly, I did not like myself. Ok, I did not know myself, but what I did know, I did not like.

And so, Ashtanga stirred up my stuff. It is the point of yoga, sort of. And, it totally worked. For the first few years of daily practice I was a complete mess. As a person with a difficult relationship to food and body image, it was incredibly painful to face myself on the mat every morning. And, sometimes the challenge of trying to treat myself well, trying to change my habits and lifestyle, of having to really face myself every day, drove me to actually treat myself worse rather than better. After a painful bout of this behavior, I would get on the mat the next morning in extreme discomfort.

But, being a dancer, I pushed through. We’re good at that. Broken toe? No problem. Loaded down? Just work harder. Feeling upset? Suck in your gut, lift your chin, and get on with it. It’s what we do.

Sometimes though, I would dissolve into tears. Ok, more than sometimes, I would almost always manage to just push through the asana. And maybe it still even looked graceful. So to look at me, it was some sort of easy dance. But really, I was facing my demons just as wholeheartedly as everyone else.

And I still am. I may be doing the advanced series. And it may look even more fluid—now stronger than ever. But there are still demons to be faced. It is just taking different asanas to bring them out—and sometimes they manifest in different ways.

Fortunately, I am much stronger and more resilient than I was when I started. I not only know myself a little better, I think I am beginning to like myself at the ripe old age of I-will-not-tell you, at the point that some of those graceful practices actually feel awesome and juicy. Maybe more often than not. And, when I get to one of those “sticky” days, I usually do not dissolve in tears on the mat, I turn my thoughts to my breath and manage to move through them, rather than either gripping on or pushing them painfully away. But you may never know which days are which.

And that, finally, is my point.

You cannot know what is going on inside another practitioner, just to watch them from across the Mysore room. Ashtanga and asana and yoga and life all together are never easy.

In some way, you will be forced to face your stuff.

Do not envy the dancers.

We may have an easy relationship using our bodies, but we often do not have any kind of experience loving them.

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Assistant Ed: Gabriela Magana/Ed: Bryonie Wise

Photo: via Pinterest

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