September 18, 2013

What I Learned Trying to Put My Legs Behind My Head. ~ Paula Vital

I try to put my legs behind my head. And I can’t.

I am not a teenage boy. As I began my yoga journey, many people tried to dissuade me from practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga because it was “meant for teenage boys in India.”

Yet there was something about the practice that kept bringing me back for more. The breath, the flow… and yes, the promise of beautiful-looking poses down the road led to my commitment to Ashtanga about four years ago.

Day in, day out, six days a week, I do the same practice.

I try to put my legs behind my head. And I can’t, so I finish my practice and move on with my day.

But oh, the things I have learned along the way.

1) I am always rushing. And I am always late.

My body is in a constant forward motion. My shoulders and head are forward, my belly caves back, as if I am always headed somewhere that is more important than where I am. The thoughts in my head tend to always go to what I should be doing later, what I need to do more of, telling me that I should hurry up and finish because I am running behind for the next thing.

But where am I going, really? Lately, I’ve tried slowing it all down, the journey to the yoga studio, the practice, my time with my children and my life. Surprisingly it has been easier to be on time.

2) Being stuck sucks, but we are never really stuck.

It is so incredibly frustrating to be trying to “get” the same pose for four years. Four years of doing the same thing! Not changing the poses around because “maybe then I’ll get it,” but doing the same poses, again and again and again, and seeing what happens.

What happens is we start to pay more attention. While the big movements that other people can see may not change, those subtle changes that begin very deep within your core ripple out. And slowly, slowly, things begin to move, and everything becomes exhilarating.

All of a sudden, within the same pattern there is freedom, there is lightness, and the need to get unstuck lessens. We find freedom within the structure, and it is the enjoyment of this freedom that eventually moves out to change the structure itself.

3) I hate everybody.

I’ve always been a really smiley person. Even in the midst of deep clinical depression, I’ve managed to get out my shiny whites so people think I have it all together.

Turns out, beneath the facade there is some serious hating going on. Of myself, of the people that can already get their legs behind their heads, of people that are trying to control things, of people that are pretending to be nice… of people that remind me of me.

They make me crazy. Now that I know, I can stop feeling bad about it and maybe get to know some people. Lately, I’ve allowed the hateful thoughts to just be there, recognizing that they are some old frustrations that have nothing to do with the people that have randomly become the targets for my repressed anger.

When you breathe into anger without trying to hide it in your stomach, it becomes this beautiful force that really moves you and energizes you. It can bring you closer to the truth of yourself so you can move on from the hate and see what else is going on in the world.

4) Opening your heart takes courage.

Turns out that strangely, what keeps me from being able to put my legs behind my head is that my shoulders are really, really tight. Many years ago, as happens to all of us at some point in our emergence from childhood, I was hurt.

I discovered my parents were not perfect, other kids made fun of me and I didn’t know why, boys I liked didn’t like me back. I decided closing my heart was easier than getting hurt again, and again, and again. The shoulders are a great tool for this, as they slump forward and up, the heart moves back and becomes protected, or so we think. We no longer feel as much, but with this lack of feeling comes an inability to be present to joy, to wonder, to laughter… while we may feel less vulnerable, we also feel less alive.

As I open my shoulders, slowly but surely, the many hurts of the past come back to haunt me. Those girls in elementary school, the moment my Dad told my Mom he didn’t love her anymore. Sometimes, I get lost in the pain and it feels as if I can’t possibly trust the future anymore, I need to plan for it and control it so I won’t get hurt again.

But then I come back to the breath, to the moment, and I realize that this was the past, and that while life may involve disappointments along the way, relaxing and letting down my armor, meeting them with an open heart, is a more rewarding way to live.

5) I am already enough.

It looks like I may one day get my legs behind my head. Sometimes I am closer, sometimes I clench up and get further away.

Yet the biggest lesson has been that it doesn’t really matter. That voice that tells me that I will be better when, I will be valued then, is quieting slowly and I am realizing that I am already beautiful, I am already strong, I am already worthy of being loved. I am enough, just as I am.

So I continue to do my practice, enjoying the sweetness of the breath, the spaciousness.

The permission to just be with things exactly as they are.

Then I bring this peace to the rest of my day.


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Assistant Ed.: Moira Madden/Ed: Sara Crolick

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