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May 24, 2017

Finding Joy in Struggle—Landing the Handstand.

It’s an incredible feeling to move into an asana (physical yoga pose) knowing that we’ve never done it before.

We relish that moment of reaching our heels to the ground, lengthening the spine, or touching our toes! I couldn’t remember the last time I made it to my toes when I first started practicing yoga, but I certainly remember that feeling when I curled my fingers under my big toes a few months ago.

It’s also wonderful to see the different body shapes and sizes capable of different poses. Some can ease into the splits or pretzel into a bind, but for some, a series of Chaturanga Dandasana creates a similar challenge. Others still power their muscles into strong asanas but find a forward fold most challenging.

As an avid cyclist and runner, I’ve built up fantastic leg strength, but along the way I forgot I had a core. It was simply the middle of my body, the thing I preferred to keep slim, whilst still eating without control or consciousness.

As a result, I can go deep into a lunge and stand strong in Warrior Three with my quadriceps and calves bulging and engaged. I can twist in a lunge with my prayer hands to heart and elbows pushing against my knee, forged into the mat like a stone. And of course, with some upper body strength, I can plank and lower to 90 degrees without too many shakes rippling through my arms.

But every newbie yogi aspires to certain poses. We get deep into our practices and those around us ease into the asana. We are left watching or creeping into the stillness and wonder of Child’s Pose. It’s certainly not yogic to desire an accomplishment. Rather, we push that feeling aside, focusing on our practice, our breath, and our dedication. Yet, that memory remains inside our hearts—benchmarks of our progress.

“Yoga is not about touching your toes; it is about what you learn on the way down.” ~ Jigar Gor

Asana practice is just one of the eight elements of the yogic path. Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dyana, and Samadhi all come together to encompass the totality of a yoga practice.

It is vital to understand that asana is always accompanied by these beautiful elements as we journey toward peace. However, it is certainly an easy way to be joyful about our progress. In my second week of asana practice, I recall leaving the studio with a calmness and ethereal stillness that made me truly aware of the powers of yoga. It may be a different awakening for each of us, but asana did it for me.

Asana is also capable of producing strong emotions, and back bends such as Camel Pose often evokes tears. Asana brings great joy too—just this weekend I reached that benchmark in my own practice. I achieved my first headstand. I lowered my legs out of the pose and could not contain my joy. I beamed from ear to ear, physically expressing my happiness. It was spontaneous and came from within. It was uncontrollable. This is what asana can do for all of us.

“Calming the mind is yoga, not just standing on your head.” ~ Swami Satchidananda

Here is a poem I wrote, inspired by this experience:

My First Headstand

Forearms press into the mat
Knuckles whiter than they should
A drip of clear sweat
From damp free hair

Forehead to the floor
The knuckles tighten
Legs straighten
Focus
Determined focus

Toes creep toward the eyes
The weight shifts
Forearms press
A knee rises
The chest receives
Both knees

Focus
Determined focus
A leg rises
Strong
Balanced
The other joins
Sweat drips
Forearms press
Knuckles white
Joy fills the belly
~
~
~

Author: Stuart Williams
Image: Creative Commons
Editor: Danielle Beutell

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Stuart Williams