Wherever you go, there you are

Today’s practice was intense.  I doubt a majority of the class feels the same way, but for me, it was intense.  For today’s post, I’m going to focus on just two poses we worked on and why they were notable for me.

Fear of commitment

We worked on extended side angle as part of our externally rotated standing pose series.  This is a pose that I have never found particularly accessible – it’s really hard to get the hand down on the outside of the front shin.  Most teachers will instruct you (or let you, depending on your perspective) to use a block to raise the ground up to you if you have trouble reaching the floor.  I almost always reach for a block because I “know” that I need one in this pose.  This is another one of those yoga paradigms, where sometimes the teacher tells you not to judge yourself for using props, as if you know that using a block somehow cheapens your effort, and other times the teacher asks why you are always reaching for a prop without trying to do the pose first.

In teacher training, we’re not really given a choice.  We’re learning both to do the classical poses and to teach it.  So we were essentially told to put the hand outside the front foot and like it.  As I was silently cursing to myself for not being “able” to do the pose, one of our assistants came over and gave me a hands-on adjustment that completely changed my understanding of the pose.

The secret to extended side angle is commitment.  You have to really go all in.  You can’t hold anything back.  The front knee has to bend deeply and you have to let your hips open to really get down in there.  It seems like it would be harder to bend the knee more, because now it takes more effort to hold yourself up; perversely, it’s actually easier!  All of a sudden, voila, I had my hand down and I knew I was not going to collapse.  Remarkable.

Tapas: beyond Spanish snacks

You may know tapas as the appetizers you order at a Spanish restaurant to go with your sangria.  It is also a sanskrit word that, as I understand it, means  ”the willingness to endure intensity for the sake of transformation.”  I experienced this form of tapas today while practicing plow pose, leading into shoulder stand.  I should start by saying that plow pose is, in the general case, no big deal for most people.  It’s not a “hard” pose that people work towards, agonize over, fall out of, etc.  For some reason, I find it terrifying.  I worry that I’ll keep rolling backwards and snap my neck.  This is, of course, impossible.  My legs would get in the way (if I would let them!) and keep me from going too far backwards.

Our assistant knew that I have trouble in this pose, so she came over to help me.  And she did something that I’m fairly sure no teacher has ever done with me before.  She did exactly what Julie told us to do yesterday – made her words so clear that she didn’t need to gesture or physically adjust me to get me to do the pose properly.  Usually I get about halfway into the pose and start to freak out.  Inevitably, the teacher will help me or let me come out of the pose.  But Dani didn’t do that.  She made sure I knew that she wouldn’t let me fall, and then she just let me freak out.  She reminded me to take deep breaths, and kept talking me through it until I got my feet to touch the ground behind my head, and eventually, up into shoulder stand.

Part of me was feeling indignant, like, I shouldn’t be forced into doing this pose that I don’t want to do!  But this is teacher training, not regular class.  We are supposed to be learning to teach others, and that means we have to be able to do the poses ourselves.  And you know what?  I did the pose all by myself, and I found that I could actually do it.  I didn’t really like it, but I proved to myself that I could do it.  And I bet next time it will be easier.  (At least I really hope it will be!)

As Jenny and Julie say, “wherever you go, there you are.”  What I take this to mean is, even in moments of chaos (i.e., plow pose, among others) the work of yoga is to find your true and consistent self and abide in it.