In yoga class yesterday morning, Denise had us trying this crazy pose that almost no one could do. People were alternately laughing and complaining about it. There was a general buzz of, "Oh, yeah, right" in the room, and lots of people falling over and blowing raspberries at themselves.
Denise stopped the class.
"The reason we try these poses that seem outrageous is not just to be able to do the pose. If you can put your foot behind your head, is that really going to help you out there?" She gestured toward the windows, on the other side of which idled a noisy cement-mixing truck. "Not really," she answered for us. "But if you set your sights on the impossible, and you create the intention to go in that direction, that will help you out there. Because you're doing what hasn't been done before. That's how change happens. Now," she said. "Let's try it again on the other side."
Chastened, we all got into position. I squatted into a very low, leaning lunge. Slowly, I hooked my left shoulder under my left knee. My face came close to my left foot. (Chipping nail polish, hmm, need to take care of that.) I leaned back, tried to lift that foot off the floor and...I fell onto my butt. I got back into the pose and commanded my foot to lift. There was a slight contraction of a muscle deep in my inner thigh. Hello, little muscle, have we met? I contracted it more. My foot raised up a hair off the mat. And then I fell over again.
After class, I chatted with a woman from class as we waited for a light to change. I'll call her Diane, because I believe that's her name. She's a short, solid, middle-aged woman with steel-gray hair. She wore a button on her black sweatshirt that said, "ANOTHER QUAKER FOR PEACE."
"That was great," she said of the wacky pose. "They should put this idea in places like Yoga Journal. Doing the full pose isn't the point. When you're working hard in that direction, that's the real yoga! They need to come take pictures of our class and put that on the cover. Instead of these skinny-ninnies who can do everything."
And that, in a nutshell, is what Denise teaches us. Whatever we do, the spirit and heart of our energy is what truly matters. Setting our minds in the right place is what gets us there. It's easy to forget this sometimes watching her. She's fifty-four with a totally gorgeous bombshell body. But she does set us on the right path. Especially when it comes to our expectations about what yoga can do for us.
"I get annoyed at some claims people make for yoga," she said once. "Practicing yoga doesn't mean you never get sick or bad things never happen to you again. It gives you the skills to deal with that stuff."
So I learn, again and again, that the practice of health and balance is neverending. I will never get to the perfect life balance and then rest there. It takes intention and practice and re-evaluation.
Like now, I have regained a certain level of mental health, which has led me to be stronger and more capable, which has led me to pile more things on my calendar and desk. So I'm sort of shaking the water off my face and asking if this was the actual point of getting well. If I am to stay well, the answer is no.
So I guess I just keep moving toward what really matters and let everything else fall away. How else can I do the important work of my life?
Readers, what do you let go of when something has to give?