Last week I decided that I was going to wake up and do 30 minutes of yoga every morning if it killed me. The weather was gloomy, I was in a bit of a funk, my shoulder has been aching for almost a month and what was left of my yoga practice consisted of a lot of forward folds, hip openers and grumbling “meditations” – you know, the times when you sit down on your blanket and you spend the whole time thinking, “This isn’t working, this isn’t working.” Well, meditation has a funny way of working even when you think it isn’t working, because obviously my practice wasn’t supporting me or my lifestyle.
Thirty minutes isn’t a lot of time, especially when you need to spend 15 of that just getting your hamstrings and spine to cooperate with you first thing in the morning (I know, I know, some of you are saying that your spine and hamstrings wouldn’t cooperate with you even if you had an hour). Arbitrarily, I decided that one of my rules for these morning practices would be to do at least one standing leg balance. I don’t know, maybe I was thinking of my flat feet when I came up with that one. Maybe it was my big-S Self taking the reins. The first morning I went for what I thought would be an easy one – ardha chandrasana, something I do almost every time I practice. I fell out of it. A little surprised, I chalked it up to the fact that I hadn’t tied my hair back and it was in my face and I don’t balance as well on my right leg as I do my left anyway. But then I fell out of it on my left side, too. Later in the practice I went for another favorite of mine, natarajasana, and I fell out of that on both sides, too. I shook it off and finished my practice, reminding myself that this was all part of the process and to be gentle with myself.
Over the course of the last week I tried vira III, garudasana, tree, bird of paradise, parivrtta ardha chandrasana, uttitha hasta padangustasana, eka pada utkatasana and Ganesha knows what else. I could not hold a single one of them for longer than five breaths, let alone transition in and out of them as I normally would. I went from trying to “be where I was,” to straight up deer-in-the-headlights stunned. The rest of my practice remained strong, but I could not balance to save my life. In general, I like to think of myself as being pretty sharp, but I admit it took about six days for the significance of that metaphor to sink in.
Yesterday as my lab partner was performing a musculoskeletal exam on me, I noticed that my shoulder didn’t hurt so bad. My partner still found crepitus (that lovely bone-on-bone grating sound/feeling) in the joint no matter which way she moved it, but the pain in my rhomboid and the associated tingly/achy feeling down my left arm was so much less than usual that I sometimes forgot about it. The weather had improved and so had my mood. I wondered if a week of back bends, lateral stretches and shoulder openers was starting to pay off.
Then, this morning, something different happened. I was standing on my right leg, my fingers hooked around the big toe of my extended left leg and I had been there, effortlessly, for six breaths, seven, eight nine…At ten I decided to push my luck and swing my leg open to the side. Another ten breaths and I brought it back to center and then took my left leg out behind me for ten breaths in vira III and then hinged forward for another ten breaths in standing splits. The other side was just as fluid.
Yoga is a tricky practice. We say things like, “be where you are,” “don’t do it if it hurts,” “take a child’s pose if you need it.” I was doing a lot of forward folds before this last week because I was tired and stressed out and because I sit for so much of my day and they felt good. In retrospect, while it may have been serving some areas of my life, all that forward folding was probably not doing anything for my energy or mood or shoulder. On the opposite end of the spectrum, another popular “yoga-ism” is that the poses we really don’t enjoy doing are the ones we need to do the most. I tend to apply this a bit too liberally in my day-to-day life, allowing myself to suffer for extended periods of time because I think it’s good for me, or that I’m somehow learning something from it. As with everything, it is all True. We must do what feels right and good and we must push ourselves and learn to sit with discomfort. We must always walk the line between leniency and toughness and know which side of the line to come down on and when and in what aspects of our lives. I need more space and gentleness in my worldly life, but my spiritual life needs a kick in the pants. Maybe I’ll fall tomorrow during my yoga practice and maybe that’s okay.
Thanks for the reminder, Universe. I’ll keep working on finding that balance.