1. Fear and Loathing on the Yoga Mat

    This weekend, I took two workshops with Anton Mackey, a talented gymnast-turned-yoga teacher.  The focus of the first was “Arm balances and lifts,” and the second “Handstands.”  I signed up hoping that Anton would give us all his knowledge, and in no time, we would all be floating on our palms, slicing the air with our legs in perfect posture.

    I crouched there on my mat, preparing for a variation on Bakasana (Crane/Crow), a pose I’ve only recently learned to execute (for about two seconds).  As I placed my knees into my armpits, they immediately slid with the sweat – we were in a heated room, after all.  I kept trying to balance by shifting my weight forward, sure that I would fall flat on my face.  I looked around and saw people floating, gliding through the poses and taking advanced variations; appearing truly like the cranes we were imitating.  I feared I would fall.  I feared that I was not good enough to be taking this workshop.  I feared that I was a sham as a yoga practitioner, much less a teacher.

    However, Anton kept encouraging us to try, and try, and try again.  “Do not be afraid to fall,” he would say.  “The floor is not that far.”  True, very true indeed, since the floor was about half an inch off my face as I kept slipping. “Pull the knees in from your core, hollow out the lower back,” he instructed.  I kept attempting to the point of near-frustration.  I know I have a lot of Pitta (fire+water element) in me, and this was only aggravating and pushing me farther towards combustion.

    And then I stopped.  I sat and rolled my shoulders back, relaxed my neck one way, then the other.  I breathed slowly and deeply.  Then, I tried again.  I still did not get the posture, but this time, I was at least much more mindful of my movements.  I told myself, this is where I am right now, and this is perfect.  Nothing, no one else, outside of my mat matters.  I am exactly where I need to be.

    Towards the end of class, Anton gave us the analogy of a baby who must first learn to crawl, then stand, then walk, before he or she can run (or do handstands).  I am still new to this.  I have been practicing for only two years, and I have my whole lifetime to learn, to improve.  I do not need to rush to become the next best thing since split mung beans.  I just have to trust in my intention to practice to the best of my ability, and enjoy the exploration.  Isn’t that what life is, after all? A journey to be explored? Too often we rush ourselves and forget the most basic of all actions, to simply breathe.  And to connect with the ground, which, luckily, is never too far.

    Originally posted August 23, 2011.

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