By Vanessa Fleming, Summersalt Yoga teacher
Continued from The misnomer of Yoga. Part One.
And just like anything, it’s a practice, not a perfect. Would a doctor, his or her first year out of residency, be perfect at diagnosis, or sutures, or surgery? No. That’s why a doctor has a practice. But after 5, 10 years…the practice will be much more refined.
And while you’re probably thinking…holy shit, I have to wait 10 years to feel the affects of yoga? Absolutely not. Many people experience the “yoga high” after just one class. Some people also experience extreme frustration by going to a class that isn’t appropriate for them (enter the ever-present “open level vinyasa”), and completely abandon it all together. The current status of yoga in western world doesn’t help that at all. Pictures of yogis standing on only 1 finger while balancing a house on their foot all while eating a gluten-free, vegan sandwich doesn’t help de-mystify all that is yoga.
All this sounds so contradictory and complicated…so how does yoga “help”, exactly?
It helps by finding you find that first step. It helps you by connecting to the present in that first step. You can’t be anywhere else but your yoga mat for about 1 hour, and sometimes that’s roughly 59 minutes too long. But that uncomfortable feeling…that lost feeling…”how will I ever get through this?” feeling…will simmer. You’ll get through it. All things change. And in that moment, you only have to commit to that 1 hour. After that, what you do is your choice. Stay, or go. It doesn’t matter. Try different styles or don’t, it doesn’t matter. What matters, is listening, feeling. Bearing witness to the change in front of you.
Recently, I had been eschewing my practice a bit. (I know, I know. How can I encourage you to practice when I’m not practicing myself?) But it’s important that I had this moment. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to impart what I’ve learned.
After some exploration, and asking some very important questions of my body, I slowed down and sat with it. My body hadn’t felt good in months while practicing. Yes, I’m crazy flexible. But some poses just…hurt. They simply aren’t feeling good. They aren’t serving me, and I started to avoid them like the plague. And because it hurt, I wasn’t staying present with it. I did a couple of flows and a couple of Sun Salutations because, well, it’s like…my career.
But I was disconnecting from it.
With the prompt of my Thai Massage studies, followed by a different approach and perspective from a very conscientious Yin teacher, I realized what damage I was doing to my body. I am still young, but at 36, my body and muscles are very different than they were at 26. So with these new tools, I started to look at the health of my body. I have started to adjust my practice to incorporate some new approaches. (More to come on this…I’ve already gone on for too long). So, I can imagine if someone who doesn’t have a practice, or someone who is older, or has body problems, comes to a yoga practice thinking it’s going to be the end-all be-all, and gets diverted when it hurts. What happens when something hurts? You protect. What happens when you protect? You disconnect. It’s the instinctual Fight vs Flight issue, but somehow you’re doing both fighting and flighting at the same time. And your body reacts accordingly, and takes you out of your practice, out of the present moment, out of the whole reason why you’re on that damn mat in agony in the first place.
So how do we stay present? We work within what we have. We start there. And within that, the strength builds. But it’s the mental strength first. It’s shedding a little bit of that nasty bitch named Ego, and start paying attention. Moving slowly, mindfully. As the mental strength builds, the physical strength is a by-product. Over time, as these two work together, it will change and move. Constant evaluation of where you are is the only way to keep the strength going. And as we age and the physical strength diminishes, we can still practice with our mental strength, and know when it’s time to modify, when it’s time to be still, when it’s time to breathe through it, and when it’s time to just let the inside smile.
So, does yoga help? Does it make you stronger? Yes. But the definition of “help” and “strength” are subjective terms, and can only be defined by you. You might end up many versions of the meanings throughout your lifetime. For me, strength came in shedding the practice I have known for so long and unlearning everything I’ve known for the last 9 years.’ve detached from what I thought I knew, and accepted that it’s changed. But with that unlearning, I feel…amazing. I haven’t mourned this loss, because it isn’t a loss. It’s a gain on being completely new, each time I approach my practice. I’m a beginner, all over again.
May you continue to unlearn. It’s doing wonders for me.