With the exception of the ridiculously physically gifted peeps, I highly doubt we ever see or hear the following scenario played out too often:
Yogi: “Hey Teach, I’d really like to do a handstand today, but I’ve never tried before. But it looks pretty easy, and I’m pretty strong and confident. So, can you teach me how? Preferably right now, cuz I’ve got some other stuff I need to get to, but I thought I’d go ahead and knock this off my bucket list first.”
Teacher: “Sure Student! Just put your hands on the ground and then lift your legs up into the air. It’s really quite simple. Ready?! Go!”
Yogi: “Oh wow! I did it! Man, that was pretty awesome! And so easy! I’ve only been practicing yoga for like 3 months now! Yay ME!”
Teacher: “Yup! You got it! In yoga, just like in life, we are able to do all kinds of challenging things without much practice or patience at all!”
Soooooo….let’s try this again. Perhaps this scenario fits the general (okay-the ENTIRE) population a bit more accurately:
Yogini: “I’ve really been wanting to learn how to do a handstand. When I see all of these people doing it on Instagram it looks so easy and effortless! But how can that be? I’d really like to learn more. Can you help me?”
Teacher: “Sure! I’d love to! Let me make a few suggestions first, if you don’t mind. I’d like for you to explore your personal reasons for having this ‘yoga goal’, and why this is something that’s important to you. And then examine truthfully, and without judgement as to what you’re doing in your current yoga practice that will help you out with this.”
Yogini: “Well, I come to class twice a week, and I have been practicing for about two years now. I just think handstands look FUN! Plus, I think that I’d feel empowered and strong if I could do it. And if we’re being honest, here…I’d really like to post something cool on Instagram…”
Teacher: “Ha! Don’t we all! That’s a great start, and I love your honesty. Remember that just like any thing in life that you want to get better at, learn, or improve in, you have to PRACTICE. And you have to practice A LOT. Think of it as learning a new language. The best way to do so is to immerse yourself in it–speak it, read it, even go somewhere and live it! And the whole Instagram thing is cool and all but, I’d be more interested in your story of the HOW and the WHY you want to post that pic!”
Yogini: “Oh, well that’s just great. So you’re saying to do a handstand I have to go to friggin India?! And I’ll be sure to put it all in my story, too (insert eye roll here).”
Teacher: “Not quite. But you do have to remember that it is going to take hard work, most likely hours upon hours. You’ll make LOTS of mistakes , and it won’t be easy. But then again, neither is life, right?!”
I chose to write this little scenario because I could literally replace the word “handstand” with just about anything–“arm balance”, “reaching my toes in forward fold”, “meditation”, “splits”, and basically any other yogic practice, asana, or concept. We are an immediate gratification culture. We (and by we, I mean me, too) hate to wait in lines and traffic. We order something online and pay extra for overnight shipping. We want to get VIP this, and Fast Pass that. We get fussy at the server, bartender, or barista for not bringing us our drinks, apps, and meals quicker. WE CANNOT SLOW THE F*#&! DOWN! So, allow me, if you will to use an example of how learning, living, and practicing the DISCIPLINE of yoga can help us navigate our way through life’s unruly and all too often ridiculous fast pace.
I love inversions and arm balances. I love to practice them, try them, learn them, and teach them. Something about being upside down is invigorating to me. The idea of balancing my entire body weight on my forearms is empowering to me. And putting my body into crazy, fun shapes is enjoyable to me! HOWEVER, falling down sucks (and, not to mention, is scary). Feeling weak in my body is frustrating. Allowing my mind to play tricks on me is super disheartening. And (the big one here) being the “teacher” in the room and failing is embarrassing to me. So why do I keep trying? Because this is EXACTLY how life is! Super awesome one day, and literally the worst day ever, the next! So here’s where that patience factor and slowing down comes into play…
I am working very hard at practicing self-compassion. It’s a difficult process for me. In fact, I think I’d rather practice arm balances and handstands and just fall on my face multiple times. But I have come to understand–truly understand–that just like going through all of the steps of learning the things I love about yoga, I MUST go slow with my self-care work, too. It will absolutely not happen just because I say “Ok, Amy, today you’re going to heal all of your little childhood wounds with just one journal entry, and one counseling session”. Ya know, it’s kind of like the whole handstand gig. It’s not gonna happen quickly!! I have to put in the work. I have to practice. I have to slow down. I have to be patient.
And trust me when I say this. Just because one can achieve Galavasana (Flying Pigeon pose) does not mean that one is suddenly richer, healthier, more enlightened, or 5 steps closer to God or Buddha herself! But it does mean that one is stronger, calmer in the mind, focused, proud, humbled, and inspired! The above posture has taken me thousands of hours on the mat to even come close to obtaining–I still have work to do on it. It did not come easily or quickly. I have face planted a handful of times, and have felt like giving up. I love yoga, and I love myself, so I keep trying. I want to keep reminding myself and others that this is yet another lesson in how our YOGA practice helps our LIFE practice. If I keep practicing self-compassion and self-love as much as I’ve practiced Flying Pigeon I just might get that someday too!! Practice your life just as much as you practice your yoga my friends. The two really are inseparable.