My hamstrings ache constantly in every forward fold and even down dog. They’re so tight, when I lift one leg I’m just naturally tempted to open my hip because otherwise I’d hardly be able to lift it at all (see, now I get why y’all are always doing it). My hips don’t know nothing about square or even, I can’t rotate my arms when they’re over my head. My triceps have gotten so weak I collapse in chaturanga. I can’t really hold anything longer than a couple of breaths, and I’ve actually found myself reading on my phone in triangle pose. If I actually inhale and exhale fully and completely it makes me shake and I tried uddiyana bandha breath today and I thought I was going to hurl, or somehow choke on my own stomach, or just drop dead.
How did this happen? I started practicing when I was 18 and have pretty much continuously since. There were plenty of times that I didn’t practice much or took some time away, but I think at some point something faded from my practice, and it’s something vital. Because now I see that I’ve been going through the motions just enough for my body to not completely rebel against all the computer work and the running. I’ve lost the curiosity, passion, investment, the softness.
I used to think, those poor people, they don’t know how good you can feel. And then *I* somehow forgot how good I can feel! And I do not feel good. Now I’m someone who walks around all stiff and sore, and even worse? I complain about it, and then I don’t do much of anything about it.
So here I am, not only facing this realization but also confessing it. I did a video class today and I tried my best to gaze steady and breathe sweetly, and I wobbled but I didn’t fall down. My hips were so tight that the third round, I could hardly come into high lunge and my front knee in basically any standing pose kept rebelliously straightening (nor did I try very hard to keep bending it deeper!). Speaking of deeper, my chair pose is comical. My hips were not deep, and my heart wasn’t all that high either.
Oh and by the way, none of this is the worst of it! This year I’ve been struggling with other stuff [you can read all about my hard year here] and the reality is that after years of running and only occasionally teaching and now this year of being off and adrift, I’m sitting here trying to figure out if I can remember all the Yamas and the Niyamas without Googling or digging out a book. I’ve said 2,000 times that Hinduism and Buddhism are religions, and Ayurveda is medical science, but yoga is a sort of map to how to live your life in the best possible way. It is a guide to a happy, fulfilled, and healthy day to day life. Back when I was teaching full time, I walked around like sunshine and rainbows. I was hugs and smiles and santosha and forgiveness. And THAT is the worst of it, because for all of these *reasons*, and there are plenty of REASONS, that’s not me anymore and I miss it.
So let’s dive back in, starting right now. Or earlier today, because I did practice for an hour! The Yoga Sutras are basically a manually to make your life better, and the lives of everyone around you. We’ll start at the beginning. Samadhi Pada, the first chapter of the Sutras, on contemplation. “Samadhi is tracing the source of consciousness, the seer [your essential self], and then diffusing its essence, impartially and evenly, throughout every particle of the intelligence, mind, senses, and body.” Says Iyengar, “Yoga is both the means and the goal.”
The beginning of the first chapter is basically like, your essential self is so rad, but you get colored by misconceptions, joys, sorrows, sleep, memories, and everything else. You get caught up in your life and forget what’s important, which is of course what’s happened to me and maybe it’s happened to you at some point to. We shall overcome these distractions through purposeful practice (Abhyasa), and “the art of avoiding that which should be avoided,” (Vairagya) Iyengar again.
1.3 Then the Self abides in his own nature
Which is basically, you are not your body or your mind, you are so much more than that. “Normally, you cannot see the true self because the mind is colored.” Swami Satchidananda.
1.4 At other times, the Self appears to assume the forms of mental modifications
This one is really tricky for me, I’ve been struggling so much with my identity. I am a mountain runner. I used to think I am a yoga teacher, because I specialize. I’m super intense, I devote myself completely to whatever it I’m doing, and when you do that it’s nearly impossible to see yourself separately from that thing that you do. People tend to identify with their job, their body, their bank account, their looks. “But without any identifications, who are you? When you really understand that, you will understand that we’re all the same.” Swami Satchidananda. We are all one.
Stress, fatigue, doubts, illness, overindulgence, misinterpretation of yourself, and laziness will, of course, get in the way. With them come mental and physical pain (don’t we know it), depression, anxiety, and disturbed breathing. 1.32 practicing one-pointedness keeps the obstacles at a distance. We’ll need to persevere, with compassion and a devoted effort.
“The fruit of wrong action is sorrow, the fruit of right action is joy. You must take responsibility for your thoughts, words, and actions by living consciously. The Yoga Sutras are a path of purification, refinement, and surrender.” Deepak Chopra
So what kind of habits and attitudes must we cultivate to start overcoming these obstacles? Well, we’ll have to talk about it next time because I’m going to bed. But tomorrow, I’m going to get up and do yoga again!
Also, ages ago, I put some fun yoga classes on Youtube, check it out here!
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