“The journey of yoga isn’t about mastering the poses. It’s about finding the feeling of being at home in your own skin” – Kino MacGregor
I don’t usually post these progress over time collages, but I thought this one might be helpful in illustrating a few important points as we all continue to progress in our yoga journeys.
First, this might not look like much progress at all! It is pretty darn subtle. And it is 3 years of slow continuous effort in scorpion forearm stand (aka vriskikasana in pincha mayurasana). What you might notice is that my back is bending ever so slightly more over these 3 years, and my feet are coming slightly closer to my head, due in part to the deeper backbend, but also due to more opening of the hip flexors (front side of hips) and quadriceps, which allows the legs to stretch further back and down. Eventually, the feet are supposed to reach down and touch the top of the head. Obviously I’ve got a long way to go before I’ll reach that point. Maybe 3 more years? Maybe 10!
So the first point is that the practice of yoga is a journey that requires slow, continuous effort over long periods of time. We can’t expect our bodies to just pick up these abilities with one or a few months of half ass effort. We really have to commit some time and earnest energy to give our bodies and minds time to adjust and develop. This brings us to my second point, which is that in order to be able to commit to slow steady progress, we must learn to practice non-attachment. This means that we aren’t so attached to the specific goal of touching our feet to our heads (or whatever other specific pose-related outcome we might be striving for). If we were, we would give up after we weren’t able to check off that box in some period of time. I sure wouldn’t still be working on touching my feet to my head. I might just say, “well I don’t think my body can do that one”. And the truth is, maybe my body never will do that one. And that is ok. But I am certain that I am gaining strength, resilience, patience, and love for myself each time I try. As Kino says above, yoga isn’t about mastering certain poses. It isn’t about collecting certain accomplishments, or checking off the boxes after each pose we learn to do. It is about so much more. It is about everything we learn along the way. It is about realizing our strength and our tenacity and our capacity to continue to try again and again, even when we fall. Even when things are hard. Of course, it is ok to have some goals in mind, so that we have something that we are working toward. But we must recognize that whether or not we ever arrive at that goal isn’t the measure of the success of our practice.
As the rest of Kino’s quote reads, the journey of yoga “is about finding the feeling of being at home in your own skin”. And THIS is what I really thought about when I put together this photo collage of me practicing my scorpion in forearm stand. As I was looking at the pictures, I realized that you really can’t see the biggest difference in this posture over these 3 years. And this is often the case in yoga. There may not be big changes happening on the outside, but profound changes are happening on the inside, and they are actually the more important ones. You can’t see it, but I can FEEL it. The biggest difference in this posture is that I now feel so much more comfortable in the pose. Several years ago I could get up into a forearm stand, partly just out of brute force and stubbornness, but now I feel truly at ease in this position. I can breathe easily, and spend some time here, working slowly on the shape, feeling each part of my spine, my neck, my hips, and my legs. I can actually tune in to what my body is doing, where I need to engage and where I need to relax, and what happens when I explore those movements. Instead of feeling strained and uncomfortable, I feel at ease, graceful, and at home in my own skin. Even though my feet don’t touch my head. Of course I’ll keep working on it and maybe one day they will. Or maybe they won’t. But in the meantime, I’m so grateful that I finally realized it just doesn’t matter.
So next time you step onto your mat, remember that the practice of yoga is a long and gentle journey, that it isn’t about “perfecting” any specific shape or pose, but instead about how you feel as you are practicing, and what you learn along the way. Challenging ourselves on the mat teaches us to truly tune in to ourselves, to our bodies and our minds, as we practice. And as we tune in more and more, we learn to embrace and work with what we have, rather than fighting or struggling against ourselves or trying to be something that we are not (like flexible in the spine for me LOL). In this way, this practice teaches us to be at home in our own skin. This is the true measure of the success of this practice. And AHHHHHHH, what a feeling!
Interestingly, navigating a cancer experience can teach us similar lessons. We learn that we can’t force that year of herceptin to go any faster, or that we can’t expect everything to be perfect once we get that “final” surgery, or that we’ll be done and feel back to normal once we finish xyz treatment. Often things are delayed, complications arise, or plans have to be adapted and adjusted to best take care of our health. Maybe we have to re-evaluate our priorities and bow out of some obligations that we no longer have the energy for, or some friendships fade away as our needs change. So we have to learn to be patient, to let go of our expectations and not torture ourselves if things don’t go just as we had planned. Instead, we can try to take the opportunity to tune in to ourselves, to listen to what we really need, to be loving and understanding with ourselves and know that we are learning and healing as best we can. When we do this, just as in yoga, we can feel the struggle release a little, we can find some grace and ease in the midst of this truly challenging time, and we are at home again in our own skin. And AHHHHHH, what a feeling!
If you want some help developing your yoga practice or need any guidance, please let me know. I’d love to see if the practice of yoga can help you find your own AHHHHHH moments.