One of the studios where I practice and teach has a “Pose of the Month”. It’s a specific pose that we work towards in almost every class, all month long. This month’s pose is a very-advanced-stretched-out-twisted-arm-balance. So, I go into the month knowing that I will not be able to get into the full expression of the pose. I also know I will give it my very best shot.
Yesterday I was in the very crowded Saturday morning Vinyasa class. The big class. The one everyone waits for all week. It’s taught by the studio owner, a wonderful teacher, and it’s billed as a challenging class for people with a “more advanced” asana practice.
When I first started practicing at this studio I avoided this class for months, feeling that my practice wasn’t advanced enough, I wasn’t good enough. Feeling that I wouldn’t be able to keep up, I wouldn’t be able to “do the poses”. When I finally took the leap to the more advanced class I was happy to find that I could keep up, with only minor modifications.
After a few shorts weeks I was modifying less and less, and achieving more and more. Improving. Achieving. Working up to the next pose. Always trying to get better. Working hard to get to that next level.
So yesterday, I was sitting and breathing with my fellow ”advanced practitioners”, ready to go! We all listened to the dharma talk and OM’ed, and set our intentions. To my own surprise, I decided to stray from my usual intentions of words like Focus, Presence, Engagement, or Effort, and I opted for a much softer intention. Today my intention is to be filled with Love and Lightness. This is unusual for me, but it was a rough morning already, and I had a long day ahead of me, so I guess perhaps I thought I’d need this intention to carry me through.
With love and lightness in my mind, I flowed through the vinyasas, inspired and empowered by the energy of everyone’s smooth full breaths all around me. After about forty minutes, we started working towards that Pose of the Month.
So I found myself, squatting down, trying to balance on one hand, while my other hand reached over to grab my foot and pick it up. In theory, everything except for one hand and one foot should have gently risen up off the mat and into the air. I would be stretching, floating, practically flying. In theory.
In actuality, I was struggling to get a grip around my ankle, and struggling to lift that foot off of the floor. I was struggling to hold myself up with one arm, my breath was short and and my back leg was giving out. When I realized that in fact I could go no further, I stopped, and rested. And then I did something that I never do while I’m absorbed in a yoga class; I looked all around the room.
I saw everyone working on this pose. Some people were visibly struggling, some fell out of the pose altogether. They were all trying hard to get somewhere; to get to that Pose of the Month. Then I listened to the room. There were groans and grunts, but there was no smooth energetic breathing any more. There was just work.
I’m not saying that work is bad. Sometimes we need to work, and sometimes we need to rest. But as I caught my own breath, I came back to my intention, and I asked myself: Where can I find the love and lightness in this particular struggle, for me?
And the answer that came back surprised me: This is not my yoga anymore.
And I decided right there- I am not going to make this pose my goal. I’m not going to risk re-injuring my shoulder, which is finally starting to feel better, just to get into a pose that someone else told me to get into. My body doesn’t want this pose right now. And even if my brain did want it, which it doesn’t seem to today, it no longer needs it.
My bossy brain no longer needs to be in charge of my body. My prideful body has nothing more to prove to my brain. They are finally working together as a team. Controlling? Achieving? Working up to the next level? Better, better, more, more? No. That’s not my yoga anymore.
Maybe I already knew that when I sat down on the mat, choosing an intention of love and lightness instead of focus and control. All of the things that I felt when I first stepped onto a mat, all of the things that I say to beginners when I teach are true for me, again.
It’s not about the pose. It’s all about the breath.
It’s not about getting better over time and someday arriving, it’s all about being present right here, and right now.
It’s not about doing a headstand in the middle of the room (although the few times I did it, it felt pretty awesome). It’s all about the journey there, and back again.
It’s not about achieving an advanced practice. It’s all about keeping a beginner’s mind.
And it’s not about the Pose of the Month. It’s about the flow of a lifetime.