Respect. That’s what I am learning to practice, slowly, within my body. Usually, I connect with my body in two ways: working out hard or resting. Either exerting muscles or relaxing them.
In fact, there are so many subtle states in between the two – within the breath, the muscles, joints and bones and the nervous system. I can move within my skeletal structure; I can relax a muscle to deepen and broaden a movement; I can rest in spaces between moments of effort in order to achieve benefits like a more active thyroid and a calm state of mind.
Physically, my body’s response to this new-found respect is to open and release in new ways. My hips shift into positions I never achieved before coming to New Zealand. Part of this is due to balancing ease and physical exertion.
The other reason: I’m relaxing my mind with the inner stillness of meditation, and preparing for meditation with Pranayama breathing techniques. Shanti and Atma say, “Relax the mind; relax the body.” There is a clear connection between the two.
In a few days, we will wake up an hour earlier, rising at 4:30 AM for the Level III portion of the course. We will also eat only twice a day. The energy level from the practices is such that we’ll need less sleep and food. In this present state, I almost even believe that! Everything feels better. In two short weeks, my mind is clearer and sharper. I worry less.
I was so excited yesterday – I accomplished Toe Stand (Padangustasana) and inverted into full shoulderstand (Sarvangasana) for the first time, as well as an assisted headstand (Sirsanana) and handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana). These postures, in addition to the lotus, represent for me, the look of a real yogi. That’s my ego-driven side wanting to show off and accomplish a bit.
Shanti is always telling stories about the headstand. He describes a teacher from the Satyananda lineage who taught at a US Yoga Journal Conference, who said “I thought yoga was about learning to stand on your own two feet, not on your head.”
A woman came to Shanti recently about migraines, and he asked her what postures she practiced regularly.
“Headstand, for three minutes, twice a day,” she said.
He noticed that her head literally wobbled and wouldn’t stay straight. “Do you think the migraines could have anything to do with your practice?” he asked.
“But it’s headstand,” she said. (Headstand is nicknamed the King of Yoga Poses.)
I had a similar experience the same day, the triumphant day I like to call it. After performing so many asanas I’ve been longing to master, we ended the session with a twist, Ardha Matsyendrasana. I really wanted to take it further, to bind my arms. We held the pose for seven breaths, and I bound my arms the whole time, knowing that my shoulder was not aligned properly. I’ve suffered shooting pains in the area ever since.
Respect is so important in every area of life, but I need to begin by respecting my limitations and strengths equally. They make me who I am, and yoga teaches that that’s perfect for now. Aspire to be more complete while also appreciating how perfectly complete you are.
“We should be doing yoga for our own benefit,” Shanti says. “That’s what we should be doing.”
I now aim to give myself years, or a lifetime, if that’s what it takes, to completely get into a pose. I will probably rescind this resolve tomorrow at 5 AM when I work on headstand in my sadhana, but that is the goal. To detach expectation from action.
And, as Shanti points out – “Nothing is instant, unless it’s coffee.”