“We’re going to work on Warrior 3 this evening,” my teacher says, and immediately Monkey Mind starts a litany of reasons we should just sit this one out:
Our hamstrings are tight we already fell out of Tree the arch of our foot keeps cramping we had a burrito for lunch mmm burritos…
I do my best to ignore my inner primate as I follow my teacher’s instructions. “Shift your weight onto your right foot. Good! Now kick that left foot back like a kickstand. Great! Now begin to hinge forward…”
Soon, I’m balanced on one wobbly leg, arms back and out in a modification my teacher cheerily calls “airplane wings.” I feel sloppy. I drop of out of the pose several times and struggle to get back in, purposely not evaluating my neighbors to see if they’re doing “better” than I. Despite the fact that I’m short, I feel unwieldy, as if my arms and legs are miles longer than they should be. And when my teacher reminds the class to return to our breath, I realize I’m holding mine, so I exhale… which, of course, cause me to tumble out of the pose again.
I’ve been thinking a lot about balance.
Balance—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—does not come easily to me. Most of the time, I seem to have only two settings: off and FULL SPEED AHEAD! I have tons of enthusiasm for new projects and new ideas, but once my initial fascination peters out, I’m marooned with a half-renovated room and $80 worth of paint still in the cans.
This is why I say I’ve practiced yoga “on and off” for almost 20 years. I remember walking out of my first yoga class all those years ago and thinking, “This is it. This is the thing. This is what I’ve been looking for.” And yet, six months later, I’d lost interest. That was the beginning of a pattern it’s taken me nearly two decades to break.
So what’s changed?
I like to think I have. I’ve come to understand what should have been obvious from the start:
Yoga is more than a physical practice.
That’s a stunner, right? The Yoga Sutras list Asana as the Third of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Third! And yet here in America, when we think of yoga, we often think of limber young women and men twisting themselves into pretzels.
There’s no question that yoga offers myriad physical benefits: flexibility, strength, stamina, balance. The list is so extensive that physicians, those penultimate purveyors of Western medicine, have begun to take notice and recommend yoga to their patients, and more and more people are reaping the rewards.
But the “magic” of yoga unfolds when you take the lessons you learn on the mat into your “real life.”
While trying to hook your left foot back behind your right knee in Eagle, you learn to be kind to yourself, to accept that the best you can give today is enough. What does that look like off the mat? An exhausted mom, still in high heels after a long day at work, trying to scrape a toddler in full meltdown mode off the floor in Target… without believing she’s a failure at motherhood.
While struggling to reach your toes in Seated Forward Bend, you learn to not to compare yourself to the yogi on the next mat, who not only has a block under his feet but also can hold his wrists. What does that look like off the mat? A man going back to school after 30 years to pursue a new path… without worrying what his classmates might think.
While wobbling around in Warrior 3, you learn “[f]alling out of a posture means you are human; getting back into the posture means you are a yogi” (Bikram Choudhury). What does that look like off the mat? A woman who’s been practicing yoga “on and off” for 20 years coming back to her practice time after time… without blaming herself for all those lapses.
Am I there yet? Nope, not even close. But next week when my teacher calls out Warrior 3, I’ll be on my mat, doing my best to ignore that Monkey Mind (and the cramp in my foot).