Arm Balance Fun

Are balances are poses that constitute “crazy”-contortionesque yoga poses, the sort that elicit students to think to themselves that they could never do that, but they really could, or might be able to, with enough dedication to drilling strength and technique. Just as with all poses it takes time to develop the bodily awareness of what each area of the body should be doing in terms of strength, where to push and pull, what to engage, what should be lifting or sinking. Every pose, even those considered beginner poses such as Warrior II involve a lot of technique, the same is of course true for arm balances. If you’re struggling with an arm balance that has been evading you for months, or if you’re just considering taking the leap into practicing them, take a deep breath and read on.

They should be fun. All yoga should be fun and enjoyable. If you find that your practice causes frustration and annoyance at not being able to do a pose, then you need to breathe more deeply and recognize the negativity in your mind, push it out of there, and replace it with positive thoughts such as – “I am trying my best” or “I am building strength” or ” One day I will succeed, it may not be today, but the work I do today will bring me there when my body is ready.”

That last part is important to remind yourself of because your body may not be ready for what your yoga teacher is doing, at least not yet. All poses require strength and flexibility, for arm balances the strength is in the core, so work that a lot. Flexibility will vary pose to pose, but consult a teacher to find out where you should be opening for each individual pose. Once you have the knowledge of what to work to move towards the pose that you’re aiming for then work it, a lot. Train your body for what you’re asking it to do. This will take time and effort. There are poses that I have been working towards for years that are still out of my reach, so I work them. This may continue for a few more years and I may or may not ever reach what I’m trying for, but I build strength and awareness while I practice and I try to be unattached to the pose, whether I land it or not.

To practice nonattachment to your goal pose you must focus on the physicality of it and then release whatever emotions that it brings up. As mentioned earlier, if you find yourself becoming frustrated because you “can’t” do a pose (and there’s no such thing as being bad at doing a pose in yoga, for more on that read here) then simply shake those frustrations out of your head. The same is true for the reverse, if you try something different or for the 100th time and are finally able to get your body into the pose, then smile and have a humble celebration within, but also let that go. Do not let the ego run away with itself, practice nonattachment to either outcome.

The fun in arm balancing comes in opening your heart to try new things, in pushing your body to it’s limit and expanding it’s capabilities, and in one day lifting off and flying. When you’re ready to tone up and build strength put on some of your favorite tunes and welcome the sweat then use that heat to stretch out your body and work your poses. You’ll get there one day, or you won’t, it’s the journey that matters, enjoy and have fun.

 

 

 

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“I’m bad at yoga” An Untruth of the Ego

Yoga is a practice of body and mind. By synching our breath with our movement, we bring ourselves into the present moment and forget about our worries or anxieties about the past or future, if only for an exhale. To be completely aware is something that needs to be developed and practiced, it does not come easily for most of us. In fact, our minds can often wander into a dark place- our ego.

This is a topic mentioned before in a previous post; it often happens that we got to a yoga class and instead of focusing our dristi (gaze of the eyes) where it should be, we let it roam around the room to our fellow classmates. In doing so, negative comparative thoughts can creep in such as, “Wow, she’s going so much deeper than I am.” or “I wish I wasn’t right next to this insanely flexible girl, I must look terrible.” A good thing to do if you find yourself thinking like that, is to take an audible exhale through the mouth, create a sound like a sigh, and as you do so, imagine that the exhale contains that negative thought and  through the sigh it has been expelled from you.

The ego doesn’t always put you down, sometimes it lifts you up. For example, you might hear the teacher give cues to come into a pose that is new to you, and wow! success! you can do this new and impressive looking pose. In that moment a smile should come to your face and you should feel proud and empowered by your practice. That’s a very healthy feeling to have. Yoga teachers want you to have that feeling in their classes, to explore your body and your limits and progress your practice, but a place that isn’t good to let your mind go to is to compare your practice with the other students in the class in a way that lifts yourself up above them. Don’t get cocky. Try your best not to compare for better or for worse, and if you do, use that breath as a tool to bring your mind into a neutral place focusing on the present again.

Another common happening in yoga is to compare yourself to yourself. You might find frustration when today’s bakasana (crow pose) is less steady than yesterday’s. Exhale it out and remember that your body will perform differently day-to-day depending on an array of factors such as the way you slept, stresses in your life that are causing you to lose focus, if you drank alcohol, etc. You will find differences in not only your balance day-to-day but also in your strength and flexibility.

Yoga is a skill like snowboarding.

Yoga is a skill like snowboarding.

My final thought (for today) on this is to remind you that yoga is a skill. I think that most people come to the conclusion that they have the same two legs and arms as everyone else in the room, so therefore they should be able to do the same things with their bodies. Yes, most of us have the same number of limbs, but they are not “the same.” Due to gender, natural flexibility, lifestyle, other areas of practice, all bodies are totally different. In terms of yoga as a skill, while teaching a class I likened yoga to snowboarding (or insert other individual-skill-based-sport,) you wouldn’t go snowboarding for your first time and feel down about the fact that other people at the resort were pulling tricks in the half-pipe and you could not. That would be an absurd thought to have, so why do people often think that way in yoga? Come to your mat again and again, and one day, maybe years away, you might drop into that half-pipe, but if you don’t, don’t worry about it, just enjoy where your practice is today.

To have thoughts like these are utterly normal while practicing yoga. I have had students come up to me and vocalize such thoughts by asking, “How were my poses today?” or “It’s been a while, so I’m bad.” and I reply to them by saying that there is no such thing and that their practice is perfect, for them, today. I’ll come out and admit that I still have these thoughts now and again, especially as a teacher, I sometimes think, “I should be able to do that- I’ve practiced long enough.” When my pesky mind goes into that dark corner, I smile, shake my head a little, and exhale it away.

Reflecting on 2014; Opportunity for Gratitude

Gratitude is a wonderful emotion that doesn’t always happen freely. It’s easy to become comfortable with where you are and forget how truly fortunate you may be; I know that I am guilty of not feeling or expressing gratitude as much as I could or should. As I looked back on my 2014 (which Facebook made so easy to do with those nifty “Look Back on my Year” photo albums) I thought of all of the happy times that I shared with my friends and loved ones. I felt and feel grateful for those relationships and experiences. It’s nice to scroll through all of the beach and dinner party photos, but it would be even nicer to vocalize my gratitude, and I don’t mean by means of posting either, I mean by an old school phone call, or a (recycled and/or homemade) card even! Lucky for us all, gratitude is an attitude as well as an emotion, meaning that we can mindfully practice moving towards feelings of gratitude.

However, what social media doesn’t tend to capture are those times in the last year when we were down and out for whatever reason, because in general we selectively chose what sort of virtual image we want portrayed of us, and leave out the bad bits. But if we go within and pull out some skeletons in the closet and recall some of the negative experiences of 2014, then it can potentially be another opportunity for gratitude. We can be thankful for the obstacles and difficult times overcome. Myself as an example, at this time last year I was out of a job and had been briskly kicked out of my apartment in a foreign country, and I can tell you that I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about the year ahead. But things lined up: I got a job, an apartment near the beach, and I’ve been happy where I am since. I’ll admit that while recalling that negative time in my life it wasn’t an instant feeling of thankfulness. Initially, I felt pretty down remembering just how miserable of a time that was, but I made a mindful, strong effort to pull myself away from the negative thoughts. I realized that because of that experience I had learned many lessons, and now a year later, I can be totally grateful for the difference a year makes and where I am today.

This same principle of turning negatives into positives can be translated to our yoga practice on the mat. It’s a wonderful thing that not too often do people remember their times practicing yoga and come up with negative experiences, or at least I hope that that is the case. But certainly there can be a tendency for our minds to wander into those dark little corners even during a yoga practice. It can be true for all of us at some point or another that we let our eyes wander to the outrageously flexible yogini, kitty corner to us in class, who is unexplainably contorting her body into a tightly bound balancing pose and then it happens, our egos creep in and we feel inferior, embarrassed, and bad at yoga. But harness that ego in! There is no such thing as “being bad” at yoga; it is a practice meaning that no you may not be at the same level as someone next to you, but you will progress with practice, just like any other skill. It doesn’t happen over night. The next time you notice your mind creeping towards self-doubt in a class, mindfully exhale those emotions away and feel grateful for the learning opportunity.