When I first came to yoga and indeed even up until a few years back, it was just a physical/mental practice I did because I liked it. But nowadays, I find myself engaged with yoga on so many different levels. Some I’m aware of, and others… well, I’m not, or at least not straight away. Then, there’s the little hits of shakti that occasionally smack me right between the eyes during or after a yoga practice, revealing the truth as it actually is.
Like on Monday night. Oh yes.
I’ve noticed lately that a lot of my yoga blogging friends have been writing about their arch-nemesis asana(s). And don’t we all have them! Poses we’d happily never do again in our entire lives. Those we’d like to obliterate from the annals of yoga history if we could! Okay, maybe it’s not ever *that* bad or dramatic. Right?
Personally, I don’t want to abolish any poses. Not really. In fact, I enjoy taking on the challenge (most of the time) of working on asana I find challenging and discovering how joyful I feel when my body finally opens a little more until I find I can move into a pose with ease, when previously I’d thought it impossible.
My own current challenge concerns a Shadow yoga pose called Vahni.
I have this suspicion that in many ways, my body and therefore my yoga practice reflects my life. When dealing with PTSD, my attempts to protect myself involved trying to keep up appearances. As such, I’ve spent a lot of time mimicking the behaviour of others. Trying to look like I was okay even when I was a huge, HUGE mess.
I know I was somewhat successful in this, because there’s plenty of people I worked with who never knew. The reason I know this is because I’ve since told some of those people a little about what I went through and they’ve exclaimed their surprise.
I also know the balance in my body between flexibility and strength isn’t quite right. I’m really flexible in some parts of my body and not others. I have very muscular legs but they can still be very weak. And I think I’ve learned to adapt the way I move in some yoga poses rather than learn to do them properly.
But with Shadow yoga, there are no shortcuts (which is part of why I love it). And I find that every movement informs me of where I’m still struggling – I’m grateful for the struggle because it demonstrates what I still need to do.
If you take a look at the photo of Vahni above, you’ll see that the upper body is sitting on the back heel, with the toes flexed. The front foot is parallel to the back, and the feet are not very far apart. To successfully ‘sit’ in this pose, the body must rest on the legs and both legs/feet must be working. Uddiyana bandha is also engaged.
My problems with Vahni seem to be in my hips and the alignment of my legs. I don’t have slender thighs and there’s a voice in my head that tells me I can’t bring my feet as close together as I need to, because of the size of my thighs. As such, I find my hips twist when I’ve been sitting in this pose for longer than a few seconds. Once my hips twist, my knees do too, and then my front foot starts to slip and I fall out of the pose.
My teacher has been very patiently trying to help me with this, talking me through it in detail. But even when she put a little weight on my front foot, I still fell out of the pose!
That’s when she looked me in the eye and said: You’re too much in your head.
I looked at her and nodded, before continuing with the practice.
Then the inner dialog began.
Huh? What does she mean? And why did I agree with her? I mean, I never USED to be an ‘in my head’ person. Quite the opposite! Right? I’ve always been so embodied, as a swimmer and a dancer…
And then I realised why it was true. Because I needed to be in my head to survive.
Apu – the man who assaulted me – struck my body with his fists. He took away the safety I felt in my own skin. The only place he couldn’t reach (although he tried that, too) was my mind.
And how does one keep up a façade of being okay when they are not okay at all? With very stringent control via the mind. That’s how.
These realisations bubbled up as the practice continued and I thought I was okay with it all. Until we got to the end of the session, when we slowed down to focus inwards. I felt the tears racing towards my eyes and (of course) I tried to control it. Tried not to cause a scene.
But as that small yet significant piece of the truth replayed itself over and again, I realised how much it mattered. And suddenly I couldn’t partake in the final closing movements. Thank goodness I was at the back of the room! I dropped to the floor, leant against the back wall and sobbed. Again, trying not to make too much noise, but I let myself cry and it was a great relief.
The class ended and I pulled myself together enough to leave, avoiding looking at anyone. Rode my bike home, crying some more. But they were good tears.
So what does this mean, I hear you ask?
Even though I don’t need it in the same way any more, apparently my mind is still on guard duty. Weapons at the ready. It’s a routine devised out of fear, one that will protect but not bend or change easily. However, constant vigilance limits flexibility by design. The capacity for letting anyone or anything in or out is also limited.
And anything that causes even a hint of fear in me is enough for my mind to pull the brakes on – Vahni is definitely one of those things. I fear I can’t do it, that I’ll fall over, that I’ll hurt myself. I’m sure there’s more fears there, too!
Seems I need to have a few words with these mind warriors of mine – ask them to stand down, take a leave of absence. Learn a new drill, one that’s only activated when I really need it. Relax, because the danger is well and truly over.
Except of course, that the danger of limitation remains. If I’m too much in my head, that means nothing gets out and there’s also no way in…
Stand down mind warriors, stand down!