On Practicing the "Fancy" Poses
I recently read a blog post that really challenged how I view my yoga practice. This writer was positing that "fancy" yoga poses like handstands and arm balances are unnecessary in a practice and that the meat of the practice is in basic yoga . And if you get interested enough, you don't need to keep working yourself up for these really hard poses, when there is plenty of good work to be done in Warrior 1, or Bridge pose. That as a practitioner ages, their practice becomes more "boring". Yes, I totally agree. And I totally disagree.
She is 34 (ancient). I am 35, and have been practicing since 1998ish, so about fifteen years or so. I don't know if this puts me in the ancient category or if I've had enough practice to where I get to make my practice boring again yet, but I do not connect with her sentiment about coming back to a super pared down practice out of interest. Don't get me wrong, I am not uninterested in Warrior 1 or Bridge pose. These are my home base. This is where I begin and end my practice and find myself home. But one thing that has resonated with me over the years from my Buddhist meditation experience is the principle of equanimity. That is, treating your enemy as you would your friend. Not discriminating between attraction and aversion, as they are two sides of the same coin. And I try to apply this to my yoga practice as well. I do the poses that I don't like as much, and ones that I haven't mastered yet in a balanced way with the ones that have been in my asana toolbox since the beginning. They are the same. Discriminating one from the other is a nod to the ego as much as watching oneself do handstands in the mirror is. Lets get real about why we avoid certain poses. If I have been practicing Pavritta Bakasana, or Side Crow for years, just haven't gotten that pesky fulcrum point down yet, and can't hold it worth a shit, I may back away from incorporating it into my daily practice because it makes me feel inept. Ok, but does that mean that it wasn't helping me to be humbled by this pose every damn day? Absolutely not. This is as much a part of the practice as flowing confidently between poses that I love. It teaches me discipline, dedication, right effort, and concentration, humility and letting go. All valuable lessons, I'd say.
Take Handstand for example. We play a game of cat and mouse that is most intriguing. Most of the time she evades me quite effectively, maybe letting me caress her for a brief moment or two. Now and again my passion and hunger for her has lit me up so bright that I must find her and we embrace for a ferocious tryst . Our encounters have become longer and longer, by seconds not by minutes. And when we meet, it's like looking into the present moment so completely that I am left breathless. She hides, I seek. This is how we play. She has beguiled me, and I am too interested to turn away. Her wish is my command. This is deeper than ego. This is Rumi poem. And my tenacious pursuit enlivens my practice, makes me beyond interested; it brings me to the edge of the cliff, and every time, I dive...
Diving into that mystery is yoga.
Of course there is mystery in poses we've practiced for years. The fact that I could've done Warrior 1 for fifteen years and that there is still something unknown in it is, I think, this author's point. I completely agree.
That we should scrap all advanced poses in search of the mystery only in a basic practice...I completely disagree.
I have to choose to not discriminate what I love and what makes me feel like a bumbling clown. I have to feel both confident and humbled, in the course of one practice. In each practice. This is how yoga helps me uncover myself, and peel away the layers of pretense. The way this practice lifts me up and keeps me grounded all at the same time are a testament to it's enormity and inclusion of all types of practitioners. Lets give it the same respect.
When I was pregnant I was pretty self-righteous about how I hoped the birth of my child would go. I tried not to judge how others wanted or had experienced the birth of their own children, but I was pretty solid on wanting no drugs and no surgery unless the baby or I was in dire circumstances. Well, most of what I wanted got thrown out the window pretty quickly as I never really went into labor after my water broke. But I was, thankfully, able to avoid surgery to bring my sweet babe earthside. My OB knew my intention, and God bless him, tried his hardest to make my birth experience as close to what I wanted as he could. There was another doctor though. One who is a part of this practice whom I had dreaded during my whole pregnancy, and who happened to be on-call at the hospital during most of my labor and delivery. I had heard stories, that to me were horrific of her jumping to Cesarian quickly and unnecessarily, about her blunt comments to mamas about how much weight they'd gained during pregnancy, and even worse. I was terrified of her. I assumed that she was a cold, calculating surgeon, dazzled by the money that big business hospital work can bring. And I was told that she was on-call and that my OB had to go to his other office for a few crucial hours at the most intensely frightening apex of my labor. Well, this just sent me into a freak-out frenzy of "I don't want her!", "I don't want a Cesarian!", "Please don't let her cut me!". I was like a terrified, wild animal backed into a corner.
After a crazy half-hour or so, I got an epidural, and of course chilled the f out real quick. I was able to sleep, relax, dilate and push Vera out all by my little lonesome. (Well, with the help of my husband, doula and amazing nursing team.) And later that night, when V was sleeping in her Plexiglas bassinet, this doctor that I was so scared of came in to check on me. She was incredibly sweet and warm, while maintaining a professional neutrality (probably fuelled by the fact that she thought I hated her). I was immediately humbled by her demeanor in the face of my arrogance.
And the most interesting thing has happened since. Vera is now 8 months old, and for about three or four months I've been teaching yoga back at a studio where I was teaching before the baby came, but on a different day and time. And this doctor comes to my yoga class. And she seems so shy and sweet.
This may be complete hooey, but I think there's a lot you can tell about a person when, without words, you practice yoga next to them, (or even better - observe their practice from the standpoint of a teacher) weekly. Yoga brings out the truth within us. It unmasks us and lets us explore our vulnerability, our flaws, our victories and our grace. And, I must admit, I really like the doctor's energy. I was wrong to prejudge. Now, in the context of me having what is undeniably the most physically intense, emotionally and spiritually transformational experience of my life, where in fact my life was on the line, I may have been right to trust my instincts...who knows? It went down the way it did. But, now that there is some distance between that event and the person I am now, and the yoga teacher I am, claiming to value truth, integrity, non-judgment and grace, I see just what a hypocrite I am. I can't speak to how much of a hypocrite she may think I am, as I know that if I can't connect with a yoga teacher, I stop going to their class, and she keeps coming back (much to my pleasure and astonishment), so maybe she's forgiven me, and understood that when a mother is giving birth, she is in her most primal space and will do anything to protect her child and process. Indeed, she's been around a lot more mothers giving birth than I, and I only have my own experience to draw upon. But the fact that she keeps coming back is so impressive to me. It speaks volumes about her ability to forgive and apply non-judgment, and truly embody what I myself espouse. What a lovely human being. And a lovely, hard, ugly truth it is revealing to me. Thank the lord for teachers that make you stop in your tracks and re-evaluate the human being you are.
We've now had about 8 or so classes together, and the shame has been building in me since I first put it together who she was. Now I feel like it is imperative for me to confront this with her and let her know how much I admire her. I think without our shared yoga experience I never would have come to this, never would have needed to apologize, never needed to forgive myself for treating someone the exact way that I encourage my students not to. What a blessing mindfulness and insight are. Looking into oneself, acknowledging where we lack and then choosing to live up to our potential is the best part of the human experience in my opinion. I humbly bow to the wisdom of insight.
Big love to you spiritual seekers, to you inward divers, to you human beings!
As a student of yoga, massage, meditation , poetry and other such introversions, I figured some of my inspirations might also touch the hearts of others. Read, ruminate, digest, create...always returning to this well of deep love inside to renew ourselves and rediscover what we are. Enjoy!