Limiting beliefs are wonderful things to have! Aren’t they? They keep one’s expectations nicely contained, prevent you aiming so high you set up for an embarrassing fail, and just keep everything safely within reach. I’m not known as a shirker among my friends, family and work colleagues: I have the reputation for being hard working, dutiful, and dedicated. But put me on the yoga mat and I realise I shirk endlessly. Sure I practice regularly, put effort in and I’m very focused on what I’m doing. But there’s a whole load of stuff I step away from without being aware of it — until quite recently.
A classic example is binding in Uthitta Parsvakonasa (Side Angle). This is a staple of any vinyasa class I’ve been to and there are always options offered by the teacher about how deep to take the pose. The thing I’ve always picked out most strongly from his instructions is not going too deep and forcing the bind so that the pose collapses down to the floor. I used to practice next to a girl who habitually did this and it looked ugly, I mean it looked sagging and desperate and full of wilful arrogance. I didn’t want my yoga to look like that or to feel how I imagined that would feel inside. Instead I turned my attention on someone else in the room with a beautifully modest practice. All straight lines and precision shapes, it looked strong but light. Hmm, maybe that’s more a role model? But she never binds in Side Angle…
So I never tried. I didn’t want to look arrogant, I didn’t want the teacher to think I wasn’t paying attention to his cautions, and I didn’t want to hurt myself. I limited myself to the most modest shape — which I actually found pretty hard for a long time. (How exactly do you keep half the weight on the back foot so the pose has a sense of upward lift and energy?)
But time away from home recently was a wonderful thing for my practice. The change of scene encouraged a freer attitude in mind and body. The temperature was warmer which suits me, I had more time to explore and repeat, more energy without a tiring office job, and I was on my own with no teacher to worry about and no other students to compare myself to. Any limitations were more a lack of imagination or confidence or good understanding.
It was an opportunity to explore what could be possible if I allowed things to be as they really are, not as I expect them to be or fear them to be. Ah, such freedom! Quite terrifying, quite wonderful! I tried all sorts of stuff out, shapes I usually don’t attempt in class for fear of causing mayhem as I knock out the person next to me or cause my teacher to do a Hanuman-like leap across the room to save me from some injury-inducing thing I’m not ready for. Some of my attempts were hilariously bad and I literally fell about with laughter at how inaccessible the shapes were for me. But often I started to feel where the beginning might be and that was so inspiring rather than frustrating. And others again I sensed were tantalisingly close, requiring me just to put in some focused effort — to breathe and believe.
So now that I’m back home I asked my teacher if we could look at that elusive Side Angle bind. I almost expected him gently to suggest that we looked at something else, implicitly implying this isn’t for me. But the photos he took of me in this posture, the first time I’ve seen what this shape looks like in my body, were quite revelatory (it isn’t me in this photo — you know I hate yoga selfies!). Of course I can see stuff to work on, but really my pose looks pretty open and comfortable. It looks kind of how I’d want it to… if I habitually entertained such ‘wants’ in my practice 🙂
I came away from my time with him with a whole bunch of refinements to think about from tip to toe, and the suggestion that in some months we might look at how to bind the hands ‘properly’, rather than my current interlacing fingertip stretch. I’m pathetically excited by this invitation and token of faith in my practice.
Come on Body, let’s do this! Brain, you can come too, but only if you act sensibly and don’t get in the way! 🙂