Journey Into the Pose

I went to bed feeling creaky and achey and defeated by a seemingly simple transition that continues to elude me. I finished my early morning practice feeling much the same way. 

I blamed it on the full moon instead of the more likely culprit - entire pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream consumed before bedtime the last four nights in a row. 

I smiled during practice and backed off edges and took care to be kind to myself. “Be gentle,” my friendly yogi fairy intoned from one shoulder as the teacher asked us to set our intention at the start of class. “You’ve been working on this jump back for years, why can’t you do it yet?” the other, less friendly yogi scolded from its perch on my other shoulder, tethered firmly by self-pity and judgment. 

The conversations we have in our head. 

Me: Practice non-attachment. 

Other me: For the love of all things holy, why can I still not do this?

Me: Enjoy the journey.

Other me: My body aches. I have rug burns on my feet. I can’t pull my knees to my chest one more time. What the bleeping bleep is wrong with me?!

After class, I worked on some Instagram challenge poses and everything persisted to feel off. My body never quite opened and my mind continued its angry chatter. So, I decided to settle into some poses that make me feel light, joyful, open. This one lifted my mood immediately. 

It was only several hours later that I recognized the irony of choosing this pose to tap into joy, of using the particular words I did to describe it. A year ago I could not lift my hands from the floor in hanumanasana and I’d only just started experimenting with backbends. I could not breathe fully or comfortably in either. They were not light, joyful or open. They were dreadful. And now.

“When we begin our lives we believe that there is a destination that we have to get to,” Yulady Saluti wrote today on Instagram. “In reality, life is simply made up of the journey, without any particular destination ever reached. Sometimes the journey into the pose becomes the pose.”

And so often, probably always, the journey is more difficult than the pose itself.


Keep On

At the start of one of my classes, my teacher often asks us to visualize an intention for class then rub our hands together hard, make heat and place our palms over our eyes to seal the visual.

I did this three times before the start of the Raleigh Half Ironman on Sunday. Once, to imagine myself walking safely from the water, then again climbing the hill outside the bike transition and finally smiling as I crossed the finish line. The exercise calmed me. Some. But I did more: plank to chaturanga on repeat in the beach parking lot, down dogs, lateral stretches. Handstands too because they are perhaps the most calming of poses for me. I found a quiet spot next to the lake to do them and I held one for an especially lovely and long time and gazed all the while, softly but with great intensity, into the dark opening of an ant hill. I took long, deep, steady breaths and counted ever so slowly. “Think of this if you start to panic in the water,” I told myself.

But I didn't. 

I mean, I did panic, within 10 seconds of the start, actually.  And for much of the first five minutes, I seriously considered throwing in the towel. I couldn't find a path through the water clear of swimmers who weren't hitting or kicking me. I couldn't find my breath. Couldn't calm the anxiety and I thought, “It's not worth it.”

But instead of the ant hill, I thought of Josephine the day before. She fell hard at the start of her IronKids race and got trampled by the runners behind her before she rose from the street, looked back at me, tears streaming down her face, and ran off to finish what she started. It was only on her way back to the finish line that I realized the severity of her fall. She had a giant goose egg on her forehead but still she was running hard, despite the pain and tears. When she finished, we saw both her hands were bruised and bloody too.

I swam in the water and saw her - in great detail - lift herself up, look at me and run on. And I thought, “No way can I stop.”

I turned the first buoy and finally relaxed. I smiled at the beauty of the green pines rising above the water reaching toward the wide Carolina blue sky.


Yoga Selfies Give Bad Karma

I fell off my bike into a pile of goose poo. 

It happened at about mile 18 of a really crappy ride. I'd just pulled off the Mount Vernon Trail into a patch of grass near the river that offers a great view of the Lincoln and Washington monuments. I thought, 'What better way to turn this shit morning around than take a fun handstand photo with the monuments as a back drop.'

What I'd forgotten is how hundreds of geese typically congregate in that area and basically treat the grass like it's one giant toilet bowl. So, I got close to the water's edge then decided, nope, don't wanna turn upside down there. 

I turned to direct my bike back to the trail, but the grass was also soaked from the all the recent rain so I was kind of stuck. Why? Well, because I couldn't take my right foot off the pedal. One of the myriad reasons why the ride had been crap until that point was the discovery that my cycling shoe couldn't unclip. I wasn't thinking about that when I stopped. 

There I was standing in the muck, my right shoe clipped in and I had to get back onto the bike and make it go. The problem was I couldn't balance and churn it through the mud and clip my left foot in all at once. I tried several times before ultimately tumbling ignobly to the right and on my ass. 

I managed to pull my foot out of the shoe and stand myself back up before hopping through the mud to the trail. When I got home, a neighbor who was walking by asked how my ride was. "Terrible!" I spewed. 

I have a friend who follows me on Instagram where I post a lot of yoga photos. I'm pretty sure he'd tell me the moral of the story is stop taking pictures of myself upside down. 


When yoga is more challenging off the mat

With few exceptions, I've never really struggled to quiet my mind during yoga. I went through a period shortly after starting teacher training where my thoughts raced and just this week, I spent an hour trying - unsuccessfully - to still the mind tumbler during a Hatha class. But generally, the mat has always been a place where I can go blank and feel pulled by breath alone. 

Put me in a pool, though, and it's an entirely different story. I jumped back in today after a couple of weeks off and I spent at least 30 minutes freaking out. The noise in my head was deafening, some of the thoughts alarming. At one point, I became fixated on a strain in my neck that I was convinced was the first sign of a stroke. I glanced toward the guard stand every time I turned my head for a breath to see if he had a good eye on the swimmers. He didn't. Then, I imagined myself getting into trouble in Lake Jordan at the Half Ironman. Would there be enough scuba divers? Would one see me sink? What if it was storming and visibility was poor? 

I tried every trick in the yoga book - chanted mantras and sutras and tried to focus on a single point. But it's not like balancing in half moon and zeroing in on a spot on the ceiling. You're always moving when you're swimming. Where can you stare?

I taught my practical last weekend, the final event of our six-month training and the last step before we graduated Sunday. I set an intention for the class: Atha yoga nushasanam, the first yoga sutra. "Now, the discipline of yoga."

"It challenges us to stay present in each moment, reminds us to be mindful in each pose," I told the class. No thoughts of yesterday, no anxiety about later. Just, now. Every time I tried to remind myself of that in the pool, I laughed. I simply couldn't do it until, all of a sudden, I could. It took at least 30 minutes. Maybe more. Finally, though, I started to repeat the number lap I was on. Over and over and over until I hit the wall and the number changed. Then, over and over and over until I hit the wall and the number changed…

I'm kind of pleased and intrigued that my yoga practice is more challenging in the pool than on the mat. 

Also, I graduated!


Stories We Tell Ourselves

The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves may be true for a time, but they don't have to be gospel forever. Sometimes, we learn they might never have been true. Maybe they were crutches we used to keep ourselves from falling or excuses we gave fueled by fear or shame. 

I've told my stories for so long now they're as much a part of me as my scars and big nose. But at some point in the last year, I grew tired of the stories and bored by the constraints they put on me. 

I'm the one with the crooked, broken back; I can't do back bends. I can't speak in front of crowds, how could I possibly teach a yoga class? I've been lied to in a most extraordinary manner, so I'll keep my heart walled off lest it suffer abuse again. 

Our stories don't have to dictate our futures. 

I've thrown my chest open, made my heart vulnerable and embraced back bends. And just this week, I taught my first 60-minute class in the studio to a small group of friends and teachers. I sat on the mat as class started, opened my mouth and found the words to lead them through a practice I love. 

I put the old stories on the shelf, high up, away from reach. I'm writing new ones now. 

*This post is an expansion on thoughts I first posted to Instagram a few weeks ago when I learned a new back bend transition. The transformation in my practice - but really myself - blows my mind.