How is your yoga practice working for you? The teacher asked at the beginning of class, when all was fresh and no one was sweaty. She asked again toward the end of class, with an ironic tone to her voice, as sweat dripped onto our mats and we struggled in balancing poses.
What she meant was, how do you handle the challenging times? Now, in this moment, in this sweaty hard pose, and when you’re out in the world.
It took years for me to truly understand what yoga teachers were talking about when they said, “Take your yoga off the mat and into your life.” It sounded like touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo to me, so I dismissed the phrase as not-of-my-world.
But the deeper I’ve gotten into yoga, the more I understand it. You learn, on the yoga mat, to face challenges. When a pose is hard, what do you do? Cower into child’s pose to avoid it or give it your best shot? Or do you just get mad at the teacher for putting you there in the first place?
All of this is translatable to everyday challenges we face all the time. When my daughter pushes, pushes, pushes to get what she wants (wearing makeup in 6th grade or putting off practicing for her bat mitzvah, say), do I stay calm under the pressure and face the task at hand, or do I yell? Or worse, do I push her away and ignore the situation altogether?
You don’t need me to go on further, but I heard the yoga teacher this morning loud and clear. How you like me now? In the hard pose, in this sweaty moment?
She said something else, too: What appears to be simpler, is often harder.
She was talking about a pose, but it resonated in my ears about so many other things. It is easier to push the edge, make ourselves work harder-harder-harder, than it is to back off and savor the moment. To stay home and revel in the day rather than rush to get all the laundry done, and the dishes, and the grocery-shopping, just because you have non-work time that needs filling.
Which brings me back to the balancing poses.
Early in my yoga practice, I hated pigeon pose. It’s when one leg is bent at a 90-degree angle, parallel to the top of the mat, and the other leg extends straight behind you. You lean in and down, and bend over the front leg if you can. It stretches muscles and boy do you feel it.
I used to hate that pose. Now I love it – because I know I am getting the stretch I need.
So in the past few months, I’ve noticed myself cowering away from the balancing postures. Whether it’s legs propped on the backs of my arms or trying for handstand (which I used to be able to do when I was younger, without ever worrying about breaking my neck, as I do now in my fun-leaving 40s).
I see the metaphor so clearly: I don’t trust myself to hold the balance in perfect form. I don’t even step into trying for balance. I step back and stretch in other ways, trying to convince myself it’s ok, that I really am being safe and smart, rather than the truth: that I am afraid.
And when I look at my schedule, I know it’s true. I say I want balance, but I’m a smart person so why don’t I make it happen? Instead, I over-schedule and then celebrate when someone cancels on me.
The other day, my eldest son looked at my iCal and said, “Wow, you have a packed week.” It could’ve been last week or this week coming or a week two months ago – it would hold true.
It took him by surprise because that’s not the ideal. I wasn’t surprised, though. I am used to this rat-race schedule I create for myself, thinking there is no other way, not able to say no, or to say yes to me.
So of course it’s showing up in my yoga – I can’t do balance. I won’t do balance. I am afraid of balance.
The truth is in the gut-reaction, not in the logical, think-it-out lizard-brain. Afraid, you betcha.
So what do we do with fear? As I hear my voice saying to my younger son, who is afraid of the dark, afraid to try to ride a bike, afraid of roller coasters, afraid, afraid, afraid. Face your fears. Do it anyway. You can do this – and you will be so glad you did.
Perhaps I need to take my own advice one of these days.