A Goal within Reach, but Not without Obstacles

By , SparkPeople Blogger
In yoga, as in life, some things come easier than others. An affinity for sweat-free exercise, natural flexibility, and a desire to find peace led me to the practice, and the strength, calm, and support I found in Ashtanga yoga kept me there.

Certain poses, like Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Fold) and Baddha Konasana (Seated Butterfly Stretch) were "easy."

Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel) and Garbha PIndasana (Womb Embryo) seemed impossible.

Halasana (Plow) and Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand) were familiar, tricks I practiced while watching the Barcelona Olympics, my version of gymnastic feats. I pretended I was Shannon Miller and Kim Zmeskal and felt strong. Sirsasana (Headstand) reminded me of how far I had to go. It scared and intrigued me. Still does.

Some yoga poses (asanas) are black and white. Either you can do them or you can't. They're like a 100-yard dash, a Fast Break goal.

Others require more work.

Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana) is one of those poses. It took me a long time to get to where I am today. Hand pressing in to the floor, top shoulder rolled back, neck long and strong, top arm fully extended, back foot firmly pressing in to the floor.

The pose is a balance of strength and flexibility.

In this classic version, you create one long, unbroken line from the ankle to the fingertips. That diagonal line is accompanied by the right angle of the front leg, and the perpendicular line formed by the bottom arm.

Long and strong.

Pressing down and lifting up.

It's a study in balance as well.

This pose reminds me that the goods things in life aren't easy, but they're worth it.

I could have given up.

I could have practiced this pose with one of the more modern twists, added a bind, a bit of flair.

I could have taken a step back and been happy stopping before all the parts were in place.

But I didn't.

A few weeks ago, a fellow yogini commented to me that she loved watching me in that pose. In yoga, competition is discouraged, and because we're all looking inward and focusing our gazes, rare glimpses into other people's practice are a chance to admire the beauty of the human body and of the asanas.

I smiled and thanked her. That day had been rough. I felt sluggish through our opening sequences, but by the time Extended Side Angle Pose came around, all the parts were in place. I felt at peace.

This month, Tina, a fellow blogger, set up a Yoga Pose Challenge, and I am honored to be a part of it. This is the pose I chose to demonstrate. The reason I chose this pose was not to show off what I can do or introduce you to a pose that might seem daunting.

This pose represents an obstacle, one that I've overcome and one that is now a memento from the journey.

Think back to a year ago. Where were you? Where will you be a year from now?

Losing weight, running a race, finishing school. When we look at life's milestones from a broader view, it's a great way to feel small and impotent. Breaking them down into smaller goals gives you a boost along the way. This yoga pose came to me in pieces: Front leg grew stronger. Side body lengthened. Back leg grew more flexible. Back foot stayed grounded. Piece by piece, day by day, the pose came together.

For full instructions, click here.

  • Inhale as you step your right foot forward about 4 feet, into a lunge, and pivot your back heel at a 45-degree angle, pressing firmly into that foot.

  • Exhale, bringing your right hand to the outside of your right foot to the floor or a block. Extend the left arm overhead, creating one long line from ankle to fingertips. Gaze under your top arm, keeping the neck long.

  • Hold for five breaths.

  • Inhale, press into the front foot and extend your arms out in a T as you stand tall, and exhale as you pivot to the other side.

  • Repeat on the left side, holding for five breaths.

What serves as a physical souvenir from your journey?

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Thanks Report
RAPUNZEL53 1/21/2019
Great. Report
Thank you for sharing an inspiring commitment. Report
Excellent! Thank you Report
Never have tried yoga, but it looks interesting. Report
I can do this or I'm going to die trying. Report
I can't do yoga, I have a bad back, hurts too much. Report
LOVE yoga, but have been lazy about doing it. I feel stressed and "out of sorts" in my poses, which just means that I NEED to be doing it. This was very inspiring for me. Thanks. Looks like I may be starting over with my practice tomorrow! Report
Interesting question. I've had nearly a year of physical problems (one following so rapidly on the heels of the other that I haven't been out of physical therapy since December). My next appointment is tomorrow, and for the first time in months, I *don't* have a new or intractable and continuing problem; no pain -- for a change. So I'm picking up about where I left off last September. It has been very hard on my motivation, with complicating work factors too, so I'm struggling. Report
This was very inspiring. Report
What serves as my souvenir is when I can feel the strength from an exercise. When I know that I can go longer, faster or stronger because I have been praciticing and persisting. Report
Awesome blog! Report
Bravo! I still need more practice to get this pose. Report
Don't feel bad, Tonia, the studio I go to has Restorative yoga teachers bragging right in front of occasional (but serious) students like myself, about their acrobatic accomplishments with the Superstar Rock Star teacher. The rate I am going, I will enrich my practice in Superstar's class with my OWN modifications enough, I can take it on the road ... to another studio ...

In addition, way to learn pratyahara ... Report
I started the Gentle Yoga class at my gym a few months ago. I love it because it's relaxing, and because I like that my strength and flexibility have improved. Sometimes I feel a bit of pressure to move out of the class to a harder class, but then I wonder what would be the point when I'm still learning and growing in my "gentle" class. After all, as the author points out, it shouldn't be about who can do the hardest poses, but where you are....and I'm certainly a far way away from where I was a year ago. Report
I have been practicing yoga twice a week for about a year. I feel stronger and more flexible now and the mental benefits are amazing. Makes me feel powerful and fabulous!! Report
What a beautiful pose. makes me want to get some flexibility back. Report
Wow, what an inspiring pose! I used to do yoga much more frequently, but I totally got out of the habit. I don't remember to do it because when I'm thinking exercise I'm always thinking high cardio, burn those calories! But the calm and flexibility that comes with yoga makes it so worth it! Report
I've been practicing yoga for over 2.5 years. When I started, I couldn't do a back bend, but I could do plow, go figure. I couldn't do a back bend one year ago. It was this year, that I was finally able to do a proper back bend from the floor. My teacher always thought I had a mental block because I certainly had the upper body strength. I don't know. but, I am thrilled to be able to finally do a back bend.

There are many other poses I'm still working on. I'm getting better with half moon, but that's going to take more practice. My next goal is to do a head stand. I can do modified hand stands, but I can't do a full head stand while in the middle of the room. I still need some support.

So, my physical souvenir is a back bend. But, I could include pull ups. I'm also working on doing regular pull ups. practice makes perfect. Report
I just started to practice. I was at my counselors office and mentioned to her that I wanted to start practicing yoga but didn't know where to begin. It just so happened that one of the other counselors at the office was the instructor at new place that just opened up in my neighborhood. I am loving it. It has helped me on so many levels and I know that every Wednesday night I will get a refreshing sleep. It was something that I really needed to add to my exercise routine! I am happy I have found it. Report
I have used yoga on and off for years...but your determination to get this pose correct is awsome! well done you. Report
I've never done yoga, but I totally understand about the simple, everyday steps that can lead to bigger accomplishments. Two years ago, my mom gave me her treadmill to use. I set it up in my bedroom, and when I got on it for the first time, I was winded and sweaty walking at a measly three miles per hour!

Fortunately, I stayed with it, and I still remember the first time I was able to (albeit slowly) jog five miles at one time on the treadmill.

My consistency wasn't there at all (I'd jog three times in one week and then not run again for a month), so last April, I took a drastic step and entered my name in the lottery for a nearby marathon. A few weeks later, I found out my name had been drawn to run, and I had 5 months to prepare to run a marathon.

I set a goal ro run every single day in July, and while I did miss the last day of the month while we were en route to a family reunion, I really felt a sense of accomplishment at the end of the month. My long runs were harder, since I didn't have anyone else to run with, so I really didn't have any runs longer than 10 miles going into the marathon in October.

When the day finally came, and I only started because I knew I could quit at any point and a shuttle would pic me up and take me to the end if I needed it. Fortunately, I was able to run the first 16 miles of the marathon, and then I slowed to a run/walk. For the last six miles, I walked all the time, but I was so proud to be able to walk across the finish line at the end of the race! It was so important to me to show my kids that I could do it, and I am glad to say that I did!

If I had decided on that first day that huffing and puffing my way through a 20-minute mile was too much work or too embarassing, I would never have had the chance to finish the marathon and provide a wonderful example of perseverance to my kids. Report
Consistency with points was easy. Now on to the rest of story, the physical aspect has not been successful. I have an appointment with a dietician tomorrow. Report
I am becoming interested in yoga. You have some great insights. Thanks Report
That's great! I don't particularly look forward to "achieving" the headstand. Because, and I may have spoken about this before in another blog (I don't really remember), the practice is about where you are at a given moment, and to me, accomplishments are actually non-accomplishments. This journey lasts a lifetime ... That being said, rest assured that Beryl Bender Birch Power Ashtanga is not in my DVD library at this juncture. On the other hand, like anyone else, I compartmentalize (probably also owing to where my natural abilities may lie, natch!) when it comes to Western movement modalities, I was beating myself over the head just being able to do only 55 full situps at one sitting, and I am aiming for a # of situps goal which I have yet to achieve. Report
Two weeks ago I finally did Sirsasana (head stand) in the middle of the room without the wall to center my balance when I went up. I was so excited I almost l came tumbling back down! And to prove it wasn't a fluke, the next week I practiced Sirsasana in the grass on a windy day. It was a wonderful moment of triumph and proof that there has been improvement in my yoga practice. One down and many, many more asanas to go. Report
I would have to say that my flexibility has gotten better over the years! I love watching the dvd with Jullian Micheal's and her friends. The two girls that workout with her are so flexible. When they do a stretch for their inner thighs they can go all the way down. That is my goal to be able to do that one day. I am a lot better then when I first started out. I think life is that way. You take little baby steps and be careful not to leap to fast and then eventually you achieve the goals you want to achieve and you feel good about life! I had to learn to slow down when it came to weight loss because I wanted everything to come off now! This is the first time in a long time that when I put on a bikini, I can actually see the definition in my abs. It feels great! Report
"Think back to a year ago. Where were you? Where will you be a year from now? " Very powerful words! Reminds me of the saying "if you keep on doing what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always had"!

A year ago, I had just quit smoking, and was in horrible shape. I also hadn't discovered the wondrous world of Sparkpeople! I joined in December and it is changing my life! Making me realize so many things about myself and helping me with positive changes!

Thanks for sharing this information. You look absolutely beautiful in that pose!

I enjoyed your Blog. It is coming up on my one year anniversary of starting my weight loss. It has gone very slowly at times - and was a eye opener to look back at where I was a year ago!! Even though at times I have been frustrated, have fallen off and even cheated - it has been a great and enjoyable journey!! I have come a long way :-) and I hope SP can help me and a year from now I will have lost a few more pounds! Report
What a perfect blog for me to read. I have just recently started to take a Yoga class in the past few months. What I love about yoga is the fluidity and the challenge. What I hate about yoga is the fact that every single day is different when it comes to your body's physical capabilities! The other day I made the comment to my husband that I'm the only one in my class who cannot do a headstand (shamefully competitive I know!) So this is now my goal. Not so I can be like everyone else, but because I now have a challenge, a tangible goal. When I make it, it will be a great photo op. Thanks for your post!!! Report
This is an especially inspiring story since I haven't done yoga on a regular basis for about 4 years and have since realized that my body is very much out of shape in that department. This makes me think that I should give it another try because I won't be the only person struggling at first, and it'll be well worth it to give it a try! Thank you! Report
Awesome! I understand how 'hard' doing some yoga poses are. They take time and patience, but eventually the reward is yours. My biggest issue is taking a week off and then losing some flexibility. It takes ages to gain and a mere days to lose. Congrats on the new challenges and poses.
Namaste! Report
Thanks for sharing. I often forget that doing anything no matter how small is better than doing nothing. Congratulations on your physical trophy. What a neat idea! Report
Even though I don't mind sweating...I was introduced to Yoga last year and love it, love it, love it. We have a fabulous teacher - who teaches not only poses but the spiritual side as well.

I am working on the side plant and raising the top leg. I am also working on any of the balancing poses (eagle, tree, half moon, etc.) Any of the poses with 2 feet seem to be fine, but take one of them away and yikes!

...and even though I know we aren't supposed to be watching someone else's poses, you do look utterly fantastic in your picture... we always do that pose with our hand on the inside of our foot - I'll have to try it your way.

Thanks again, I really enjoyed your blog and the links. Report
I haven't done yoga in a long time. It looks beautiful! Thank you for sharing in your journey! :) Report
Love the look of that pose. Thanks for sharing. Report
I am only in my second week at SparkPeople, and I've already achieved a physical souvenir. A few days ago, I walked up a hill without getting winded. I can't remember the last time that happened! It seems so small but to me it was like running a marathon! I was so proud of myself!

I also love yoga and used to practice often. I haven't gotten back into it yet, but you may have just inspired me! It all goes to show that the journey is more important than the destination. Report
I can't say that I have a physical souvenir at the moment but I do like to say that yesterday I failed my Police Academy test by missing my Mile and a half run by 34 seconds. I was devastated as I've planned on being a Police Officer for a long time but it has really helped me realize that I shouldn't step back and let things fall into place. I have to take charge of my body and mind and push myself to achieve my goals or they will not get done. To say the least, I will be retaking the test in two months and I will pass. :-) When I pass, that will be my physical souvenir. It'll be the most triumphant day in my life. Report
Good question. Report
What serves as a physical souvenir from your journey? This is an excellent question. First I'd like to say Thank You for sharing & CONGRATS on your success, you must feel so good =) I know I do!

For me, every time I go to move effortlessly is my physical souvenir.

Until a couple years ago, I had absolutely no issues, and never have, with movement, being active and healthy. Then I was innocently poisoned, endocrine system failing (blah, blah ... moving on), and couldn't do anything. Once my medicine was in place, I started back with 30 seconds/1x/week (if that) doing side steps; you know the ones you do to cool down with & yes a smile on my face, cause I was able to move again. Eventually I was able to add 1x/week 2 reps of a single strength exercise. Stretching was just as slow ...

now I'm back to 5 lb weights/2 sets, stretching is as good as before & well, cardio is still taking time, although I am up to 1 mile (on good days) on the manual treadmill -- half mile is easier for me. My goal is to get back to walking the 5k & hopefully (eventually) my ultimate goal is to do a half marathon.

The obstacles are there, but I just smile, cause look at what I've achieved -- the rest is just fun & games with my health back in place. Reflection is good; it helps you to appreciate where you are now & how far you've come along ... thanks! Report
I am admittedly quite a bit more of a hatha yoga person than an ashtangi, so my motivations and results can differ wildly from this blogger. I have been practicing yoga for 3 years (mostly at home). Just the other day, I finally was able to hold crow (kakasana), and got the closest I ever will get to a headstand (salamba sirsasana): both feet were off the ground for a second—not that they were both pointing up. Such are my current physical artifacts of the practice.

I am really not particularly flexible and do not have open hips, but I didn't undertake yoga to demonstrate whatever natural flexibility I bring to the table. Rather, it was a substitute for lap swimming (in terms of how I feel afterward).

Note: I can't afford many classes; but even if I could, I absorb too much energy from the yoga room not to be practicing at home much more frequently than I hit class. Report
I was going to say that I don't have anything yet but then I thought about the leg presses I do at the gym. I like to think it is quite a bit of weight so I always finish off with that machine and it makes me feel like a "rock star". I had a fellow ask me once, when he saw the weight I'd been using, why I wanted to do that much weight and I was confused. It is a "because I can" sort of thing, you know? Report