Its been a rough few months for me on a personal level. My health suffered for months on end as well as my heart, and I found myself visited by the unfriendly ghosts of anger, betrayal, disrespect, neglect and their even uglier cousins resentment and blame. Believe me, this was a tea party I would have been happy to be left off the list.
I spent a large number of moments and weeks connecting with these feelings, which I do advocate by the way. I am a huge proponent of bringing authentic truthfulness and respect to any experience, no matter how ugly or irrational. I have learned that the worst kind of prison is the one you create for yourself when you weren’t honest with how you felt and neglected to express it responsibly out of pride, overrationalizing or “detachment”. I like to bring some light to the concept of pratayahara defined as withdrawal or detachment from the senses when talking about this point. An example of this would be that ghandi – like go with the flow attitude yogis are so famous for. However, to authentically withdraw from the senses, one must have been intimately engaged with senses to begin with. Asana offers us that opportunity when done truthfully and humbly. More on that later.
We all come to the practice from our own corners. For me, I came to yoga because I needed help understanding myself. I needed a place where I could be a mess. The reality when I began my practice was I scared of just about everything. I second guessed myself all the time. I was an all or nothing perfectionist. A know it all. Every decision was an over analyzation. The teachers and yoga classes, all of which I am so grateful for, were the labs in which I began to overcome my fears and insecurities and learned how to fail and feel with grace, humor, excitement and compassion. Through my body I found courage and confidence and eventually it spilled over into my life off the mat. Little did I know then, that that’s when the real yoga class starts.
I learned the difference between asana and yoga. Asana is part of the yoga but it is not THE yoga. Asana, the practice of doing physical postures, is the mirror, the therapist. The stimulus and feedback portion of the programming. It is where we bring our consciousness to authentically engage with our sensations, gage where we are at, so our yoga can be practiced with increased clarity. Its easy after years of asana and yoga practice to drive by certain portions. Our ego convinces us we don’t need to entertain these petty sensations anymore because we’ve been practicing for so long, we should already be grandfathered in to the pratyahara program. Enlightenment nepotism if you will.
But this would be a disservice, which I came to learn first hand and not for the first time (or second or third to be honest). After I cleaned up from the pity party which i indulged in generously, I decided to go back to basics. Take a good look at my practice – surya namaskar through savasana. (This isnt an ashtanga post per say, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much having this practice during these times is a saving grace due to the capability of exploring my practice in my own space). I learned that my tea party wasnt an ambush, invitations were indeed sent out.
Here’s what I have understood thus far;
I am naturally bendy. Now, that could seem like a positive thing since “its so much easier to be good at yoga when youre bendy”, but here’s the truth… its easy to get lazy when you’re too bendy, similar to its easy to get rigid when youre too strong. And I’m not just talking about the physical body, the same principles apply to the energetic and consciousness realms as well.
When I took a deeper look in my mirror and consulted with my asana, I recognized some patterns. I had settled into a routine with my practice, a comfort zone of discomfort. In fact, it was such a cumulative apex of lackadaisical consciousness that until my health had failed and my heart had broken I really was pretty convinced I was putting in some solid work. But like a song that is sung entirely a half step flat, I was practicing in the wrong key.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t showing up to my practice, I was, but I was repeating the familiar, avoiding some sensations that I had convinced myself weren’t important or perhaps “ego driven” like strength. Yes, focusing all one’s energy on how high you float through a jumpback or how long you can “hang” between jumping through to sit is not ideal, but neither is neglecting it altogether. The strength required to access these sequences are important teachers and building blocks for navigating our personal experiences with the world and other people. Too much focus on any one thing can create an imbalance and its important to be honest with ourselves and where arrive at the mat. Are we naturally strong? Are we naturally flexible? Have we experienced the same practice injuries and emotional patterns over and over again?
My flexibility was not serving me for the moment and I had fallen comfortable practicing the things I did well, so though I could impress with my deep backbends and openminded/forgiving attitude, the reality was I was stuck in ego and identity perception. On some level, I guess I was lucky my life was about to send me a reality check.
The truth was I had fallen into the enlightenment nepotism trap, believing that I could somehow experience a deeper mediative experience without actually moving through something unfamiliarly uncomfortable and in turn exploited my flexibility. My lack of respect for the part of the practice that made me feel weak had led me astray. I disrespected my own boundaries by not taking the time to properly build a solid foundation for them, and in turn attracted that energy into my life.
Ultimately, the goal is to experience, feel, learn and transform. Since I wasnt listening to my asana, I learned the hard way that perhaps I need to bring alittle more muscle to my experience on and off the mat. After all the years of emotional rigidity before I started a regular yoga practice, I am proud to have found a softness and a vulnerability in relationship with myself and others, offering my flexibility in a way that is positive and healing, but its been nice working on the muscle for the past months.
Even though I have become a tad less bendy, its been worth it.