July 5, 2014

Beach Asanas: A Lesson in Keeping Your Eyes on Your Own Mat. ~ Katie Barber

Yoga in the Blue Lagoon

Bikini Yoga: What It Might Not Mean

Social media (Instagram in particular) is crowded with images of bikini-clad yoginis performing asanas on picturesque beaches. They make it look easy: perfectly aligned wheels, unwavering handstands, beautiful grasshoppers, all effortlessly executed against an enviable backdrop of golden sand and glimmering water.

When I worked a desk job in Manhattan, I spent more than a fair amount of time drooling over these images. Someday, I thought, someday, I’ll be doing sun salutations on a beach instead of watching the sun set from the confines of my Times Square office.

Eventually, I quit the job and set off for exotic places, but the beach continued to elude me. Practicing on the concrete floor of a hostel in Harare, Zimbabwe, was a world away from where I had been, but it lacked the glamour of those beach asanas. I couldn’t stop coveting them.

Then I stepped ashore Likoma Island in Lake Malawi. I surveyed the idyllic beach, flowering trees and gentle water and had one thought: beach asana.

Despite my months of longing, my expectations were low. I knew I would not suddenly be transformed into a yoga superstar, capable of performing advanced poses.

The only handstand I have done was against the wall of my favorite studio back home in Brooklyn after the instructor gave me a helping hand, and I am so far from being able to support myself in grasshopper that I feel like a fraud just typing the name of the pose.

But, hey, I’ve got a wheel and a mean downward-facing dog, and I figured that should be enough. I put on my bikini and got to work.

Trouble set in the moment I dropped down into my first downward-facing dog. My palms began sinking into the sand, putting an uncomfortable amount of stress on my wrists, and the sand was sharper than I expected, digging painfully into the heels of my hands.

‘Fine,’ I thought. ‘ll take the weight off my hands.’

I shifted into Warrior II, only to have my foot collide with a jagged piece of rock partially buried in the sand. Hopping on one foot with my newly injured foot aloft, I thought it was the perfect time to try for a tree pose. Balancing on the shifting sand proved to be a feat easier said than done, and I tumbled over.

Things proceeded downhill from there: I got sand up my nose in wild thing, twigs in my hair in wheel and a bug in my mouth in pigeon.

I blew my nose, brushed off my bikini and moved my practice indoors. I could see the lake from the doorway; it was almost like practicing on the beach. I realized that, in chasing the beach sanas I had forgotten one of the first yoga rules that I learned: keep your eyes on your own mat. A yoga practice is a personal journey, not an asana competition.

Now when I look at those spectacular shots of gravity-defying beach asanas, I’m filled with a new kind of wonder: how long is it going to take that girl to comb the sand out of her hair?

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Apprentice Edtor: Edith Lazenby /Editor: Renee Picard

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

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Katie Barber