I woke up this morning with yoga on my mind.
In my half sleep I arched into a perfect dancer pose, the bottom of my foot easily grazing the crown of my head. It didn’t matter that in reality that old foot has about a whole ‘nother yard to travel before it ever hits my scalp.
I don’t know if this is a common yogi experience, but I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that it is. In yoga there is always somewhere new to go, so if we are on the journey, our feet (and our scalps) begin to itch.
Yoga has a distinct advantage over other kinds of “physical fitness” (in quotes because, of course, yoga is not just physical fitness—it is the means to create a physical body which has ample room for the spirit).
In yoga, there is no end point.
My initial clumsy years as a practitioner were marked by small victories. When my heels hit the ground in dog I was elated for days. The first time my side crow stayed in tact for one long exhale I felt like a rock star.
“Hey guys! Did you see that?” I wanted to holler. “I was balancing my entire body on my freaking arm over here!”
I’m glad I didn’t because the whole thing crumbled before I’d have gotten the word “hey” out of my mouth. But it was still fun.
As I got more proficient, I realized there is always some pose that is just out of reach—and it invariably seemed like someone right next to me was popping right into it. Headstand, handstand, Eka Pada Galvasana, Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana (king pigeon), a proper Yoga Mudra—the list was (and still is) endless.
In the early days that had me knotted up in jealousy. I would bear down and become fully obsessed with whatever; practicing, practicing, practicing until I got it—or I realized I would never get it and had to cross it off the list.
I’m not so hard on myself now. The just-out-of-reach poses don’t torture me any longer. I realize that when I feel that drive to achieve them—even if I do achieve them—they haven’t come to me in the true spirit of yoga, but by way of my ego, which makes the whole point kind of mute.
Now I regard those poses as tantalizing gifts that I may or may not get to open. They are shiny treats along the way, but they are not the path. The path can be well walked without a single special bauble, because the walk itself is the gift.
All of my teachers in many different words and ways have made this important idea plain to me; yoga is not about the poses.
It is about our willingness to enter into a sacred contract with ourselves. Part of this contract requires humility, part of it demands that we be joyful and brave, and part of it means accepting that not every door is going to open for us, but trusting that the ones that are supposed to, will.
The things I would like to do in yoga lately don’t have much to do with how close my foot gets to my head—though it’s always fun to dream about. Now, I am more interested in how open I can get my heart, how still I can get my mind and how filled I can become with gratitude. And the funny this is, because that is true, some poses will probably end up coming as easily as apples falling off a tree.
If they do, I will rejoice. I will shine that apple up and have a bite. The ones that stay out of reach, perched on someone else’s branch, I can love equally well.
In yoga, and in life, there are apples enough for everyone. None of us will go hungry if we keep our appetites in check.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Aruna Yoga/Flickr