Demands are high during this time of year. Whether it’s the final push to meet a set of corporate or personal goals, or the long list of holiday gatherings, gift giving, and to-dos. It’s ALL good; it’s just A LOT. This intense trend which demands putting forth 110% is something I’ve been practicing NOT doing. In yoga, this concept is called Brahmacharya. There are other aspects to this Sanskrit word, but I am talking about the teaching that reminds me to use my energy wisely.
After a decade of following the endurance athlete mode of pushing hard and chasing my goal of qualifying to run in the Boston Marathon, I have ingrained the pattern of doing everything in my power to push past the pain and fatigue in an effort to hit my goals. As a result, I have a long list of injuries collected along the way. It could only go on for so long. Ever since my qualification and marathon in Boston, my body has been letting me know that the time to make a change has come. I shifted from running to yoga, and found that the deep-seated pattern of continually going “all out” just didn’t work. Something had to change.
Breaking away from always pushing-the-edge (mostly physically) has been my lesson-of-sorts for this year. This is most easily seen in my physical practice, be it yoga, hiking, cycling, or other, I am not merely talking about my physical actions. I’m also talking about my tendency to taking on responsibilities, lofty goals, and aspiring to walk on water. Well, I don’t want to undo all of my work on making this change just because it’s the end of the year. I understand that there are no guarantees that there will be another year — or day for that matter — but assuming that there is, I would like it to be a little less painful (if not pain-free).
In addition to wanting to make the season bright and memorable for all my loved ones (myself included), the final push includes taking the written exams for my yoga certification. So as not to overwhelm myself, I’ve taken a one thing at a time approach. I’m happy to say that I passed my Anatomy test, and am now preparing for the Sanskrit test which I hope to take by the end of the year. Then comes the developing and teaching of a 75 minute asana practice as the final step for testing out. Thankfully, I did not put that on my list of things-that-must-happen-this-calendar-year.
I continue to be amazed at what happens in my own Mysore practice. Different from practicing the primary series at home, the little whimper, laughter, grunt, or simply the collective breath of the room has a way of letting me know that I am not alone. It’s background noise as I focus on my own practice: my breath, the soft gaze on the both the room and internally, the poses themselves, and the pain. Yup, still there.
I come to the mat trying to welcome whatever comes while fearing what will come as well. It was one of those put-me-out-of-misery kind of nights, thanks to a momentary pushing-too-hard during Saturday’s class. If you’ve known me for any period of time, you know that I have a tendency to push myself hard and, in this instance, it wasn’t enough to have my left leg over my shoulder for astavakrosana (eight angle pose) – even though it was the first time opening my hip enough to get there since my sacroiliac joint injury. I caught myself trying repeatedly to get it higher up on my shoulder and, by the time I noticed that I’d fallen back into this pattern, I’d been tugging on it for nearly a minute. Santosha (contentment) is where I need to work. This practice, specifically the Ashtanga Method, works — but you’ve got to be patient, diligent, and honest with yourself.
My teacher posted a well timed article written on the topic of pain. The author, Ty Landrom writes “The postures provoke patterns of tension in our bodies, and when we pull against them, they scour our nerves. The form of the practice, with its linear progression of sequences, leaves no route of escape. The poses that make us tremble today must be practiced tomorrow. Most people promptly quit Ashtanga for this reason. They go find another, more forgiving form.”
Well, I don’t want to find another form of practice, and this is why.
On day 1 of teacher training, I listened as Jenn, our leader, talked about teaching in a way I’d never quite heard before. She advised us to say “YES” to whatever we are called to give. In her instance, if I am remembering correctly, it was a call for a very different kind of teaching; one that would make her struggle to learn how to work with a client with physical limitations regain function through yoga. Not knowing how she would do it, she said “yes,” then found the way. I sat there listening and felt, in my heart, that there was a reason I started down this path and decided it was time to stop letting fear get in the way of me seeing it through. Now, on day 7 of my 10 day yoga teacher training, I feel like I might actually have what it takes to do this teaching thing.
All of the teachings that I have been hearing, reading, and trying to absorb over this last year or so is finally starting to sound familiar AND make sense. I’m excited to have learned the components of a well rounded class (for mind, body, and spirit), the magic of stringing a series of poses together which lead to the peak pose of the practice, and the importance of incorporating a theme/message which invite the students to journey within. It’s pretty cool to see the puzzle pieces as they fall into place. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem as if all of the pieces are blank.
Different from the exhaustion I experienced during my last time, I leave the studio energized and completely jazzed about some new aspect of this amazing practice. Did I mention that our day has started at 6:30 AM every day this week? I’m totally psyched — not to mention SORE! Ideas for class themes have begun to bubble to the surface and suddenly completing the certification process is more important than it was before.
It’s good…really, really, REALLY good.
In the wee hours of the day, before the newspapers land on the driveways, and the cars crowd onto the highways, we sit in silence and breathe. Candles flicker in the darkness as the light within each of us begins to ignite. This is how we start the day on our mat.
This feeling of uncomfortableness is familiar. As is the overwhelming feeling of a need to escape it. My low back is sore and tight. The fleshy areas surrounding my sit bones are tender. Everything in me wants to fix it.
But I know that I can’t.
Therefore, I sit here and try to simply breathe. Hopefully my mind will settle. Perhaps my body will too.