Over the last few years, yoga has evolved from a relaxing fitness pursuit to a passion and way of life for me. I practice daily in some form, I teach classes, and I live my life by the principles of the practice.
I emphasized "in some form" because while I don't spend hours on my mat every day, I do practice yoga daily. Whether it's a few minutes spent meditating or doing breathing exercises in the morning, some mindful stretching before bed, or an actual full asana (physical) practice, I am doing yoga.
"Do or do not do, there is no try."
Though most of us know those words from the sage Yoda in the "Star Wars" movies, I hear them most often in yoga classes. The woman who trained me repeated those words, which she heard from her teachers, throughout our practices. Do a pose or don't do it--whether your pose looks like it should be on a Yoga Journal cover, whether you hold it for five breaths or a fraction of one, whether you modify or take it a step further--it doesn't matter. What matters is that you're doing it. Trying it gives you an out, carte blanche to give up or quit.
When I stopped trying to do things and just started doing them, much of the guilt that my Type A perfectionist personality imparted upon my practice vanished.
Each day, each pose, each practice is different. A pose that feels strong and balanced one day (or on one side) might feel tight or unbalanced the next. Sometimes you go all the way and sometimes your body or mind resists. But you don't give up. You keep doing it.
One of the most challenging standing poses in the primary series of Ashtanga yoga, the traditional branch that I practice, is ardha baddha paddmottanasana, or standing half lotus forward fold.
We begin poses on the right side. Here, you start by shifting the weight to the left leg. The right leg assumes lotus position. The right hand reaches behind the back and binds, catching the right big toe with the first two fingers and thumb. You lean forward, keeping strong at the core and engaging the bandhas (energy locks) and your left hand comes in close to the standing left foot. Nose meets knee; forehead or even chin reaches for the shin. We come out as carefully as we moved into the pose: We lift the head, coming halfway up. We stand tall, bring the left hand to the hip. We undo the lotus leg, extend it long in front of us, and we float it down to the ground before repeating the pose on the other side.
It is challenging, requiring balance, strength in that standing leg, an open hip, and trust in yourself. Many days I can bind my hand and foot and reach for the floor with chin to shin. Sometimes I stay in the pose calmly and strongly for five breaths. Sometimes my mind reminds me I'm upside down or my knee acts up, and I fight the pose. When I transition into this pose, I know not how my body and mind will react. I breathe, take the familiar steps to get into the pose, and focus on what I'm feeling at that very moment. I can't predict the future, and there's no use in crafting an escape plan. I know that I'm there for five breaths regardless of how the pose looks. Sometimes I give up the bind. Others, I inch my standing hand closer to my standing foot. Always, I breathe.
Four weeks ago, my yoga practice changed drastically. I went from practicing most evenings after to work to mornings at 6:30 or 7, a more traditional time. While I enjoy the flexibility in my schedule that this new practice affords me, my body hasn't quite caught up. At 6:30 a.m., my body feels like it belongs to someone else, and poses that seem comfortable and "easy" are suddenly a challenge to my not-quite-awake body. Poses like the one I described above are unpredictable. Some days they are physically attainable; most days they challenge me.
This riles my ego. I think: I'm strong. I'm flexible. I've been doing this a long time. I should be able to nail this pose--all the poses.
The perfectionist in me is angry. She wants to impress her teacher, her fellow students, herself. She wants to go further, deeper, longer in poses, burn more calories, build more muscle. She wants more, more, more!
Then I am reminded: That's not what yoga is all about. That's not what life is all about.
This is a practice, one that we'll never master fully. It's a reminder that life is always changing, evolving, and we can't count on anything in life ever staying the same.
“The depth of the practice can’t be seen in asana. Somebody that can do a backbend and grab onto their ankles isn’t going to be further ahead in their practice than somebody who has trouble forward bending or is stiff. That doesn’t make a difference- that’s not what the practice is about.” -- Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto teacher David Robson.
We can and should set goals in life, but when things don't go as planned, when our timeline proves unattainable, it's not a reason to get mad, quit, or cast blame. It's a reason to keep going, keep doing--not trying. These times when things don't go as we planned, when they're downright bad, when you're sore, cranky, tired and ready to give up--that's not life going awry. That's life.
"Things are always in transition, if only we could realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we like to dream about. The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don't get caught and we can open our hearts and mind beyond limit." Pema Chodron, "When Things Fall Apart"
Do you agree that "trying" should be banned from our vocabulary, that instead we should focus on varying degrees of "doing"? Do you have a story to share about "doing"?
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