Just over 2 years ago, my yoga teacher sat down beside me on my mat to have a heart-to-heart with me. She is a very intuitive and caring person and saw that I was closing off. The backbends that I had worked so hard to develop where losing their beautiful arch and you could see that I was holding back. She wanted to help me find openness in my heart center, not just in my physical backbends but deep within. As much as I trusted her to hold space for me to do the work, I also knew that the timing just wasn’t right. I was working through a huge heartbreak and felt the need to protect my heart.
In the year that followed, she held space for me to work through it. If I broke down in tears after back bending, she didn’t make a big deal out of it. Because if emotions come up in this practice and our mat is a safe place for us to work through it. Within the Mysore Room of my yoga studio, I felt safe to let the sadness, anger, frustration, and other emotions go right there on my mat, with my fellow practitioners nearby. Meanwhile, my teacher continued her work in the room, helping the students just as before. I appreciated that.
By the time COVID-19 had us all staying within the walls of our homes, an entire year had passed. And although, I thought I’d be on the other side of the loss by then, sheltering-in-place uncovered a different level of pain for me. A pain that showed up on my computer screen in an in-your-face, take-THIS sort of way. At times, I felt as if all the work I had done was a lie; I felt those protective walls thickening and my heart closing off once again.
Recently, the yoga studio sent the teachers an email asking us to respond to some questions about our journey through the first year of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The request was to write a few sentences, answering one or all of the following questions
- What have you learned over the past year?
- How has your practice changed, on or off the mat?
- How have you learned to care for yourself and/or others in ways you haven’t before?
My responses to the three questions was somewhat tarnished with negativity as I was navigating some new territory in my grieving process coupled with a few unfortunate events. [I’m being intentionally vague; this is not the place for that stuff]. The studio owner decided to go with my response to Question #1.
Although I have lived my life trying to put on a happy face for others to see, I didn’t think that I could capture a realistic smile for the post in real time. So, I pulled stills from the class recording of the final session with my Intro to Mysore students that ran in January to accompany the IG post. I was on a high that day – feeling the joy of sharing the practice I have grown to love with 7 beautiful souls. It showed on my face.
The fact that many of our members are going through a lot of struggles right now, it was decided that my response to Question #3 may have been a bit too honest for the BTY IG. Still, I wonder if comfort could be found in knowing that, although I show up wearing my best “happy face”, I too am struggling.
“There are days when I wake up and no amount of coffee or makeup can mask the loneliness and pain that sometimes overwhelms me. I tell myself that I’m not the only one feeling this way and just show up as is. As a result, I help myself by showing up for others.”
I wrote those words, yet was hesitant to do my part and “show up” for this morning’s mysore practice. I rolled out my mat and began my practice offline with only Kobe, my slumbering puppy, in sight and classical music softly playing. The practice wasn’t any easier. But when I met up with kapotasana, the tears had already begun to surface and I had no reason to bury them. I acknowledged the painful emotions and asked [my] God if he/she would keep me safe if I were to shed my armor and allow my heart to open more fully. The tears fell as if to the music: gently, with ebbs and flows all the way through kapotasana and supta vajrasana. Then, Kobe did something cute as I did my bakasana. And I laughed out loud. This short bit of laughter was enough to signal my readiness to show up for my community. So, I joined the mysore zoom.
You see, although for the past year, I have made a point to bury my emotions so that I could show up for my community, I am learning that it’s equally important to take some time to care for myself. This seems especially true right now, with all that I am navigating mentally and emotionally. I’m still here for my family and friends, but I need to grab that oxygen mask and breathe in a few slow, deep breaths so that I can think clearly and be wholly present. If you are going through something similar, I recommend the same to you.
“We can’t share with others a resource that we lack ourselves.” – Johnson, W and Humble, A (2020)
Thanks for reading. Now, it’s time to get on my mat. I wish you all a beautiful day.
A couple weeks ago, I subbed a Led Half Primary Series Class for Beginners. There was a question in the chat that I didn’t see until everyone was in savasana and the person who wrote it had already dropped off. She commented how often her breath doesn’t seem to synch up with the teacher’s count in Ashtanga classes. She asked if she should try to quicken her breath or if it’s okay to just be in the state of the pose for only 3-4 breaths.
Of course, the following morning I would be in the traditional Led Primary Series class experiencing this very thing that student asked about. In parts of the practice, I’d still be working to get the bind as the count would begin. Sometimes, I can let it go but other times my attachment to both the bind and the 5 breaths easily gets the best of me. I know I can linger here and catch up with the class in downward facing dog or I move on with the rest of the class knowing that those 2 breaths will be there tomorrow.
Later on in the practice, the count seems to slow way down. I check in to see if I can deepen my breath a bit. Maybe her 15 breaths will equal 20 of mine (instead of 25). Either way, it’s all good. Maybe it’s my longtime athlete mindset, but I don’t mind the difference here as much as when I am behind.
Practitioners of the ashtanga yoga are accustomed to working on their “given” poses until their teacher feels they are ready to add the next pose. A lot goes into this assessment. It’s more than just a mastery of the poses they’ve already been practicing daily. It’s an assessment of dedication, concentration, prior injuries, and overall endurance – among other things. Depending on the next pose, the practitioner may be eager to move on OR they may be hesitant. It is not unusual to be stuck on trying to master a given pose for many years.
It is also not unusual to be stuck on the fact that you haven’t been given the next pose.
While you may fear that you may pass on before being given poses later in the sequence you are working on, one may ask, “Why does it matter?” If you die without ever getting to practice the 7 handstands at the end of intermediate series (aka “the 7 deadlies”), people won’t think any less of you. In fact, they may be less likely to think of you as that crazy lady who used to put her legs behind her neck and do a bunch of funny headstands.
“Let your concern be with the action alone, and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the results of your action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction” – Krishna
I look at this majestic tree and wonder how long it took to grow so big. It’s hard to imagine that it was once a seedling struggling to break through the earth. Now, it just is. As I played in front of it, I watched as hikers passed by without much notice of it. Even to the shade it offered on this hot day seemed commonplace.
I got to thinking — and invite you to do the same:
Think back to a time you were young and you did something small which gained a lot of attention. Maybe you drew a picture, tied your shoe, or urinated in the toilet for the first time. It wasn’t as huge of an accomplishment when you think back, but really IT WAS.
“I miss that sensation of a small achievement feeling like a really big deal”. – Gavin DeGraw
As adults, when we set our sights on learning something new, we often forget to celebrate the successes along the way to the end goal. Maybe we have decided that we want to learn the primary series from the Ashtanga Yoga tradition. But each time we step on our mat, we forget what comes next and feel a bit lost. And it’s all too easy to get frustrated with ourselves. I’ve been there.
I even let it keep me from joining the Mysore room because I didn’t know the practice well enough. Yet, that’s where the learning happens. Instead of reaching out to get help, I got down on myself for not being able to do it right. Thank God, I kept trying… and eventually got brave enough to join the room. Once inside, I got kudos for just showing up. Seriously. All I had to do was get there.
I say “all” I had to do but, believe me, I recognize that that is often the hardest part. Even while practicing at home, carving out the time to step onto your mat for practice sometimes takes a tremendous effort. An, YES, even in a pandemic. In fact, maybe even more so. Some newer students of mine recently shared that it is harder to practice virtually in mysore than in a led yoga class (both with video on). At first, I didn’t appreciate the difference. The fact that in a led class, the students are all watching the teacher is the key to this feeling of vulnerability. It takes some time to realize that often, mysore practitioners do not ever look at the computer during their practice. They just listen for the cues and take comfort in the community that breathes along with them.
YOU need to celebrate your successes (big AND small):
Since nobody but the teacher is watching you practice, it is more important than ever to take note of your steps towards the bigger goals. If you grab your big toe instead of your knee in your variation of Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, that is worth celebrating. If your fingertips touch while trying to catch/bind in Marichyasana C, that is fantastic! Even falling on your face while trying to land your Bakasana B is big. No, it’s HUGE! It means that you generated enough courage to try.
Don’t let these little signs of progress go by unnoticed. Consider keeping a practice journal and write it all down (the good, the bad, and the ugly moments). One day, you’ll be frustrated in yourself while attempting to clasp your wrist in Marichyasana D and may not even remember the first day you were able to catch your fingers in that same pose.
No matter where you are in your yogic journey, there is someone out there who is still mustering the courage to enter the room (virtually or in person). Like the magnificent tree in the photo above, they may look to you for a welcoming smile or encouraging wave. If you can remember when you were in their position, it will be easier to show them the way to enjoy the sweet little moments of joy in the practice – for they matter just as much, if not more, than the bigger successes that come and go.