I’ve been taking yoga on and off for the past ten years. During this time, my level of commitment has ranged from being an absolute devotee to having such limited concentration I’d only show up to class after my muscles had been completely exhausted by doing other work.
During those off years I’d try to smuggle in the New York Times to give me something to do — obviously completely missing the point of what yoga is all about.
After some time of focusing strictly on intense cardio sessions, I decided to come out of yogi retirement. I thought it might aid in focusing better, and calm me down after a hectic day at work.
Since I flipped the switch last spring I’ve seen my practice evolve fairly quickly. I can do things I couldn’t do twelve months ago. The flexibility of my legs and back has greatly improved. My lung capacity is greater, allowing me gain greater distance during those beloved cardio sessions. I can almost walk into a handstand.
Lately I’ve been into balancing poses. There’s something crazy about being able to rest your entire body on your hands and triceps. It’s taking time, but I enjoy trying the movements to the best of my ability. Finally, a use for gangly limbs!
In last week’s session I sliced my way through the poses, happy as a bunny rabbit as I hopped forward and back, quickly down into chattaranga with my face mere inches from the ground.
Back up on the exhale, into downward facing dog.
When we went into side plank pose (or, vasisthasana – what did we do before Google? honestly) I was almost boastful in my pose. I balanced on the side of my left foot using my left hand as support. I stretched my right limbs up and out, growing from toes to fingertips, creating what I thought was a flawless line with the side of my body.
Then the instructor walked by.
“Try not to stick your butt out,” he murmured.
What? Who is this guy to critique me so bluntly? Isn’t their a more technical term for that?
And what exactly does he mean? Am I walking around all day without knowing anything? Am I sticking my ass out in life?
A few days later we worked our way once again through class. The girl next to me was demonstrating the ultimate in yogi ninja skills. She flipped back and forth, up and out, in and out of poses, all with the sinewy grace of a catlike ballerina (if ballerinas were in fact catlike, which may or may not be an internet meme).
She erased the preconceived image I had based on our earlier exchange of pleasantries — which lead to notice of a helpful serving of crazy piercings along with quite intricate tattoos.
“I’ll never be as flexible as she is,” I thought to myself. “What am I doing here, thinking I’m actually good at this practice? Am I just fooling myself?”
I reluctantly went through the poses, thinking that I was probably doing it all wrong — likely due to my tight hamstrings, not me — and I’d never, ever come close to the perfection of the tattooed cat ninja.
It came time to go into vasisthasana. She went into a crazy variation by grabbing her big toe, stretching her leg all the way out, then up, then off to the side.
The instructor walked by.
“Try not to stick your butt out,” I heard him whisper.
I wondered if she was as miffed as I had been – she certainly didn’t appear to be. Then again, the class happened to be a strenuous one and as most yogis know, at a certain point it becomes hard to break face when you’re in the zone.
But there was a lesson here.
What I learned, in that very moment, is that yoga is not a race to mastery nor perfection.It’s a continuous journey — one with many peaks, plateaus, and valleys with miniature discoveries scattered along the way. After we conquer one there will be always be another waiting right behind it.
Someone once told me that there will always be something to worry about.
There will always be something to strive for.
The cycle will never end.
We live in the present but constantly make small adjustments to build a future that (fingers crossed) perpetually evolves upward.
I continue to vinyasa with this newly minted nugget stored somewhere, planning to apply it later to my daily routine.
Perhaps even…starting now?
At the end of class I often meditate on my purpose – things like what I was created for and what I’m meant to do in this world. Maybe this is it. Maybe the little actions we take in the present that eventually add up to something larger and more advanced for the future.
So for now, who we are in this very moment should be embraced and rewarded. Because it took some time to get here, too. Even if it means we’re occasionally sticking our butt out along the way.