With humility, an open heart and mind, we begin the sacred study of yoga.
(Translation from Nischala Joy Devi in "The Secret Power of Yoga")
I often describe my yoga mat as my "magic carpet" - it's that place that I can go and no matter what kind of day I'm having, I am instantly transported to my happy place. Other days, however, my mat might better be described as my "humble abode" - a place that strips me down to my core and exposes whatever needs to be let out, addressed, or accepted.
Yesterday was such a day on my beloved mat. I was feeling strong, confident, and adventurous as I practiced in a group of advanced yogis. Our practice was focusing on strengthening the lower abdominals and activating the lowest two bandhas or locks. The mula bandha, or pelvic floor, and the uddiyana bandha, or navel center, which gives us our personal power and that strength to float in and out of postures. Mid way through the class, the teacher offered time to play with an advanced transition from lifting to tripod headstand then lowering with control into a side crow (and going back up again to tripod if possible!). Knowing that I was perfectly capable of both those postures individually, I decided what the heck I'll try it! With slow, steady focus and control I lifted my legs from a pike position up to my headstand. So far so good. Then with even more control, I bent my knees and brought both legs down onto my bent right tricep. A slow lift of the crown of the head from the floor and - voila! I was in side crow. Woo hoo! Where's the humility, you ask?? Oh it's coming. Once I got there, the body decided that was quite enough thank you and the concept of going back up to tripod was just not gonna happen. No biggie. I came out of the pose, took a few breaths and then decided to give the other side a whirl. This time as I lifted again from that oh so pretty pike up to tripod, I felt a slight urgh in my low back. Rather than being a good listener, I proceeded onward. Pressing legs up, I then attempting that lower down to the left side crow. No go on this side, the legs didn't quite land on the left arm and I was on my butt. Now I'm quite familiar with plopping out of poses when I first attempt them. Lord knows it took me a good 10 attempts to nail my first jump back from crow. That kind of humility I am used to and I find laughter goes a long way when attempting something new.
What humbled me yesterday was that realization that the thing that originally brought me to yoga some 10 years ago, my low back disc degeneration, was still ever present in my life today. I know that my strong core and consistent yoga practice keeps me "glued together", but what I'd forgotten was how easily thing can come unglued when I don't listen to the signals my body is sending me. As class wound down, I spent the final 15 minutes or so on my back doing the things I know my low back needs to feel loved. While everyone else around me was pressing up into backbend variations, I was hanging out in supported bridge and happy baby. Today, that low back is still talking to me and will do so for another day or two at least. A friendly reminder that I am human. That just because I can do something, it doesn't mean it's a good idea. That when I let me EGO take over my decision making process, I am no longer able to hear those signals the body is sending telling me to stop before it's too late.
This practice of yoga is humbling. It not only exposes us to the limitations of our bodies, but also the weaknesses of the ego mind. When we can learn to accept those limitations, or even love them perhaps, then we can begin to move from the heart and not the head. This is the embodiment of the first of the yamas - Ahimsa. Literally translated as non-harming, or embracing reverence and love for all (and that includes my low back!), Ahimsa reminds us that with love and compassion we can make the world a better place.
It's very easy to get wrapped up the the "wow factor" of yoga poses. To want to impress either our students, the FB world, or even ourselves with our physical abilities. What I am reminded of today, is that yoga asana is just one limb of this journey AND the ultimate destination is that place of complete surrender of body, mind, & spirit that allows us to reside in our true nature - joy! It's perfectly wonderful to find joy in advanced asana, however the even higher form of true yoga is to find that joy in stillness and in every breath.