yoga and struggle

I am not a graceful person, and that’s putting it mildly.  While sometimes I pretend it’s a depth perception problem that keeps me knocking my hips on countertops, grazing door frames with half my body, and dropping and spilling things on the regular, I really just have poor control over my body and zero coordination. Some days become such an endless series of dropped, stubbed, banged, knocked, tripped, bumped, klutziness that my husband tells me, “Sarah, make a conscious effort, would ya?”  It’s somewhat charming that he seems to think just trying harder is going to solve a lifetime of gracelessness.

On the other hand, I am a very competitive person.  This may sound silly, but people are amazed at how fast I can type.  People come into my office and are awed by the speed of my fingers on a keyboard.  Want to know how I achieved such mad skills?  Pure competitiveness.  When I was an 8th grader taking keyboarding, I sat next to a friend of mine who was a very fast typist.  And every single day, I had to prove that I could type faster.  I’d will myself to type faster and faster until my wrists started to cramp.  Because in my mind, it was the keyboarding Olympics.  I was winning the gold. I was blowing everyone else out of the water.  That’s just one small taste of my competitiveness.

Taken together, these two traits make for an unlikely yoga student.  Add in the fact that I’m so out of shape that when I stepped on my little sister’s Wii Fit for analysis, my Mii slumped over like a weak little noodle and I was informed that I’m out of balance and underweight, and you’ve got a VERY unlikely yoga student.

And yet, a couple of weeks ago, I started a twice weekly yoga class on the campus where I work.  In some ways, the competitive streak has come in handy as a counterbalance to my clumsiness.  Where some of the girls in my class seem to be dance minors looking for more bendy practice, I do not fall easily into pretzel like poses.  They move gracefully from one pose to the next, and here I am, looking around, muscling my body into form, furrowing my brow, breathing deep.  I’m determined not to be the worst one.

It turns out that’s not very zen of me.  It also turns out that I’m somewhat uptight when it comes to my body.  Almost every other pose, the teacher, he of the soothing voice liquid movements, has to come over and jostle or massage or otherwise cajole me into relaxing my neck, releasing my back, dropping my shoulders. (My competitive self would now like me to point out that on other poses, however, my teacher rewards my overachieving tendencies and tells me he can’t find anything to correct, so I don’t suck at all of it.)

For the past two sessions, he’s had us do a particularly difficult pose.  It starts on all fours, but then you get down with one shoulder and the back of your head on the mat.  Then you extend a leg upward, into the sky, and an arm is supposed to follow it.  He tells us it should be easy, we should be able to hold this preposterous position for 5-6 minutes, even, if only we push our hips forward and our extended leg back, creating a sort of counter-balance out of our torsos.

Ha. The first day, I fell on my head about five times, my body shaking as I tried to force it to hold the pose before giving way to gravity and crashing down.  This week, fortified with a rolled up towel to make balancing on one knee less painful, I was absolutely determined not to fall out of this pose.  Teeth gritted, brow furrowed, breath heavy, leg shaking, I willed myself to make it happen.  But even with my teacher actually holding my leg up in the air, it seemed my body wanted to give way to gravity.  Still, I fell out of it fewer times and managed to hold the pose longer than last week’s class.

After that difficult pose was done, our teacher had us sit comfortably.

“Do you know why I have you do that pose?

It’s for one reason only.  Because of the struggle.  For most people, that pose is a struggle, but no matter how much you struggle and try to force it, it doesn’t make it any easier.  One day, you will just let go, and your body will find its way into the pose.  It will click.

It’s a lot like life.  You struggle and you struggle and you struggle.  But you have to just let go and let it happen.  And then you’re able to enjoy it.”

Sometimes hippy dippy yoga talk is for me like a sermon.

I’ve been nervous about a lot of things, particularly presenting a paper at an academic conference in a couple of weeks, on top of having to sell our house and pack up all of our things and move 1000 miles in the next six months.  Add in having my husband work nights, throwing off my sleep cycle and messing with my sanity, and you’ve got me tied up in knots.

Muscles quivering from a tiring session, I laid down on my mat and closed my eyes for our concluding meditation time.  As I focused on my breathing, our teacher had us visualize walking through a jungle, up a mountain, to some ancient ruins.  He had us visualize the hieroglyphics, and told us we would know what message they had for us.  I know, sitting here typing this, how silly that sounds.  I may be a tree hugging hippie, but I try not to be particularly dippy.  But the message, for me, is to stop struggling, stop being nervous, about things I can’t control.  I’m not making things any easier.  In fact, I’m just making my jaws, neck, and shoulders tight.  It’s time to let go and see if I can enjoy it.  And who knows, maybe if I keep this yoga thing up twice a week, I’ll actually be able to do that.

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6 thoughts on “yoga and struggle

  1. The one upside to being slightly competitive at yoga is that concentrating intensely at doing the pose THE BEST is still concentrating on the pose, which is half the point. If I can turn my brain to one single task, I have won yoga for the day.

    I missed my class this week. Boo to work trips.

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  2. The only goal in yoga is to let go of your “Ego”. Your instructor is right on and when you let go of what you should look like it will fall into place. Let it be fun, laugh at yourself. I told my students tonight when I was demonstrating different levels of a pose, I noticed even the newbies trying the advanced version. I said, ” If you let go of your “Ego” and just be where your body wants to be, it’s that feeling like when you go to someone else’s house and it’s a little bit messy. You suddenly realize, hey those people aren’t any different than me, and you relax.”
    Yoga asana is 70% relaxation and 30% stretching. As your collagen builds and you become more self aware it will become fluid.

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  3. ah, competitiveness. i can relate. although i haven’t done yoga but do want to try it. i’ve had opportunities for it & pilates that i just haven’t taken.

    i wish you well in sorting through all the endeavors of school, house-selling, & moving. i’m certain you’ll land on your feet.

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  4. I just started taking yoga regularly as well! I LOVE it so far. I had taken a class or two before but always felt meh about it. But this studio opened right down the street from me practically and my friend (who is big into yoga) got me to go for a free week and I got hooked. I love doing Hot Vinyasa, in MI in the middle of winter that hot room feels amaaaazing. Anyway, I’m also pretty competitive (my main exercise love is running) as well and I cant TOTALLY relate about not wanting to be the worst person in the class.

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  5. This reminds me of when I was doing fitness bootcamp. The instructor would say, what are you doing? I’d be all, I’m doing what you’re doing. Then he would look at me like I’d lost my mind.
    (It was like a bad French class. Say cheese. I am saying cheese. No, say cheese. I AM saying cheese!)
    Finally he would physically put me in the position I was supposed to be in. I would invariably yell that it hurt, and he would laugh because that was sort of the point.

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