September 18, 2013

It’s Okay to Be a Mat Potato. ~ Alexa Maxwell

Like most yogis, I enjoy a vigorous, challenging class. And like most yogis, I revel in the final savasana, sometimes falling completely asleep.

And sometimes, I admit, I will pass on a pose to catch my breath in Child’s Pose.

As Americans of the 21st century, we are compelled to achieve. We work hard in our careers: staying late, taking workshops and classes, vying to move up on the pay scale or get a promotion. If we are self-employed, we use marketing to increase our client base. We are very driven, achievement oriented people.

We rarely relax.

As yogis and yoginis, we bring this drive onto our mats. We sweat, we strain, we challenge ourselves to go farther in poses.  We want to get into handstands, achieve binds, attempt arm balances. And usually, that’s great.

But as the part of yoga that is not about asana begins to work on us, we expand our thinking: embracing compassion for others.

We learn to have compassion for ourselves.

I remember early in my yoga practice, when I was a Bikram girl. I had dropped 20 pounds by practicing five times a week. I was strong and determined. One of the young new instructors, a girl who could backbend her toes to her forehead in Half Locust and go into standing splits in Standing Bow Pulling pose, was in a class with me. I loved to sneak peeks at her flexibility and be inspired, but in this particular class, she lay on her mat in savasana the entire time.

What was going on?

Her boyfriend, who was teaching the class, was leaving for a job in San Francisco the next day. She was sad. She honored her practice by coming to class and honored her emotional state by allowing herself to just lie quietly in savasana.

As an older yogini, I try not to compare myself to the younger and more flexible people in class, or even the ones my age who easily achieve poses I struggle to approximate. I try to walk the fine line between honoring my body and its struggles and challenging myself to grow in my practice.

In other words, I walk the line between pushing it and being lazy.

There are days I come into a class and it feels like that’s all I can do. My creaky bones ache for the feeling of the mat and floor supporting them. Sometimes I rally and do all the poses. Sometimes I take unscheduled rests. And I always look forward to the end of class, when I have rightfully earned savasana and can fully relax with everyone else.

In one memorable savasana snooze, I woke with a startle when I thought the teacher said “It’s Wednesday”. I was due to sub for a class later that day, how could I have slept until Wednesday?

No, relax, she had simply said “Namaste.”

While I don’t advocate coming to class for napping purposes, I recognize that it’s okay to take a rest when your body needs one, even if the whole class is in flow.

Honor your body—kick asana if you can, but don’t forget it’s also fine to be a mat potato.


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Assistant Ed: Kristina Peterson / Ed: Catherine Monkman

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Alexa Maxwell