I know that doesn’t sound like a nice way to begin a blog post about something I love, but I say this with my tongue firmly planted in cheek. And becomes sometimes I feel like that.
When I do–like right now–it’s because something I relied upon isn’t working quite the way it used to. Or the way I think it “should.” (This word ought to be struck from everyone’s vocabulary.) Yoga is one of my constants, and so when my relationship with it gets rocky, I know something’s up in my headspace, that I’m dealing with stuff on both a physical and emotional level.
Lately, I have had a touch and go relationship with one particular inversion. Last week, it felt as though it were disintegrating right in front of the entire class. (I would say in front of my eyes, but because I was upside down, I can’t see a thing. I can, however, feel what’s going on.) Mostly, it went, poof, out of my grasp. I knew I was in trouble as soon as I released my forearms onto my mat. I had this trepidation; it didn’t feel natural or normal. Uh-oh. I was already worried it wasn’t going to be there. And of course, because my head was taking over, the body couldn’t just do what it knows how to do. It wasn’t there. Self-fulfilling prophecy. Later in the afternoon, I practiced it again, against the wall. And again. And again. And got closer, but mostly felt like I was flailing around like a wet noodle.
And then two days later in class, I went up with no problem. We did some funky stuff once we were up there, and it was exhilarating. Today, it was an in and out situation, with an assist, but still fruitful and useful. (It always is.) Still not completely satisfied with my efforts, I came home and did about 10 more minutes of this up and down dance, banging feet against the wall, nearly cartwheeling out, losing it, gaining it, gaining air and feeling weightless for a couple split seconds.
There’s something happening here. I’m not quite starting over with pincha mayurasana, but I’m definitely in a strange transition with it.
Typically, in class we practice these sorts of poses against the wall, solo, if we’re trying something that requires the wall (hollow backs, scorpion, etc.) or in the middle of the room, usually with a partner, to incorporate other variations or ideas. I have noticed that when I am in the middle of the room, with a partner acting as my wall (i.e., spotting me so I don’t go over), I do slightly better. When I go back to the wall, something triggers in my brain, and I go back to beginner mode with the pose. I don’t know why. But it’s not beginner mode, because my legs don’t want to hit the wall. They want to balance. I am in this weird in between zone. I flail around, as if my brain and my legs are parts of two separate entities. It’s the weirdest feeling, this mindful discombobulation. I’m wondering if the mind gets confused and gets all involved, without our permission, in these situations, as further tests to whether or not we can let go of fear and expectations. Or if there really is something physiological going on that my body is trying to sort out, something that happens as a practitioner is trying to fine tune a somewhat familiar pose.
This touches a lot of nerves.
We cannot assume that a pose will always be there for us; maybe for the most basic ones, maybe not. Every day is different and our bodies are dealing with different stressors and triggers and different amounts of sleep the night before and different distractions and so forth.
I am not the kind of person who asks for help easily. I thought I was mostly cured of this by having twins–we get what we need in life even if at the time we don’t think it’s what we want. Having two crying babies at the same time and being stretched beyond mental capacity, not to mention all the unprocessed grief from my mother dying that I had to set aside, will make you ask for and accept help willingly. Well, they are older now, and we still need help. It’s usually in the form of babysitting so we can get out and actually converse with each other as adults.
And so goes the same with yoga class. Luckily, I have observant teachers who will assist wordlessly. There is not enough gratitude in the world for such gestures, such intuition.
It’s aparigraha: non-attachment, non-possessiveness, non-greediness. We can’t get attached to expectations or to outcomes. Just as we can’t assume a pose will always or even mostly be there, we can’t assume anything else will, either. People and places will change. People will let you down in the most heinous ways and not have your back, not support you or watch out for you to make sure you don’t fall–literally or figuratively. People will misunderstand your efforts to help and support them and then disappear and disappoint. All of this has happened to me in the past year. My practice has become an even more sacred space, one that’s full of trust and community and support and love. You are your own constant. (Whoa.)
And in the continuing saga of kitchen-yoga parallels, I realized that we sometimes can do ourselves a disservice by focusing so much on the finished result. I was talking with a yoga teacher friend last week and we were comparing our Instagram feeds, and discovered, unsurprisingly, that they contain mostly food and yoga images. There are tons of people posting amazing videos and photos of themselves mastering tricky transitions and nailing poses in various scenarios. Mostly, these are inspiring.
Similarly, I see finished, plated dishes all over my Facebook and Instagram feeds (I don’t go down the rabbit hole of Pinterest.) Mostly, these are inspiring and I get all sorts of ideas from looking at them. However, we don’t see the failed efforts, the bad lighting, the out of focus shot. Similarly, most yogis aren’t going to post the ugly part, the grit, the dirt, the collapse of a pose, the cursing that sometimes happens, just as cooks and chefs and bloggers don’t display the third recipe test that failed or otherwise post something that doesn’t look put-together and composed.
Sometimes, we may lose sight of the fact that we are looking at a construct, just like anything else. These dishes and poses, they look final. When these images are tiled all over a page or a mobile screen like postage stamps, something else happens. They convey a sense of perfection, finality. And they present a narrative, one that doesn’t allow for a story of missteps and failures and ugly stuff behind it. One that may imply struggle and hard work, maybe, but not necessarily. What is behind this most simple gesture of sharing an image of a dish you’ve created or a pose you’ve just mastered? Is it an attempt to capture a fleeting moment of perfection? Maybe. But capturing it creates permanence, as though they will always be there, and always be accessible. The images start to look like reality, but they’re an incomplete reality. Those poses aren’t always there.
I don’t often post yoga selfies for many reasons I won’t get into here, but there are lots of merits, practical and otherwise, to doing so. I’m more inclined to show you veggies, cookies, and pizza. I’m pretty hard on myself, but yoga has become a way for me to work on that, every time I get on the mat, and then try to maintain that when I step off and do the real mat work.