Chasing the challenge

I’m starting to write this in the evening time, but I’m almost too tired to sit up (or slump on the sofa) to write, maybe too tired to think coherently. I’ll likely to have to finish writing tomorrow. My whole body is aching and I think it’ll be early to bed for me. Why? I attended an online workshop this afternoon. Two and a half hours on hand balances. The teacher is really good and I learned a lot, but wow… that was HARD!

Tbh the beginning of the workshop had me thinking it was going to be a bit too basic for me. Ha ha! I needn’t have worried. The teacher came good (a bit too good, in fact!) on his advertising blurb that was all about getting people out of the habit of faking difficult poses without finding proper engagement and a full-body integration, that he would show how we should get really good at the fundamentals before we tried anything fancy. It turned into a really fascinating exploration of things I thought I could do well enough (but by his line of thinking I’m on the ‘faking it’ end of the spectrum) and a lot of conditioning drills which were so tough I had to keep stopping to rest (and to laugh hysterically at the impossibility of my body ever being strong enough… ) 🙂

At one point (perhaps being kind to give us a breather!) he talked a little about his teaching philosophy and his take on yoga. He spoke of the need for challenge, that without challenge there is no growth; being comfortable is stagnation. I don’t really agree with this as a description of yoga overall: if that’s what he meant, I would find that depressingly one-dimensional.

But I do certainly seem drawn to teachers who help me explore out of my comfort zone in a much more physical way that I would if left to my own devices. They are all ex-athletes, martial artists, marathon runners, with a high degree of physical discipline and competitive drive. I’m the opposite in both experience and inclination. If I am ever competitive in yoga, I’m more likely to feel smug at my ability to sit still in meditation, or recite something in Sanskrit, rather than being the person who can hold in caturanga the longest.

Physicality is a tricky place for me. Recently, with a lot of help, I’m beginning to explore more, finding that it’s kind of cool seeing what my body can do, observing changes over time and how I too become stronger and more flexible, despite an extremely sedentary lifestyle and long, debilitating illness. This on its own is far out of my comfort zone. But more than that, I come to see that physical challenges are an interesting way to observe the mind and begin to work on updating old habits and thoughts: the way I prefer to retreat from anything difficult in case I fail, the shifting of goalposts I do to prevent anything that could look like ‘success’, the feeling that I don’t deserve that kind of achievement, clinging to the belief that intellectual capacity cannot co-exist with any degree of muscularity. Yes — I have to work hard in my thought patterns before I allow myself to work hard in my body.

I used to think this made me uniquely weird and ill-suited to a dynamic vinyasa practice: now I am proud of the courage it takes for me to step into this difficult territory over and over. I used to be easily intimidated by my teachers’ vigour: now I see them rather as playing yang to my yin. They help balance out my energies, bringing the rajas to my tamas, bringing confidence to my uncertainty, and helping me frame my own practice with honesty and integrity. One day it might look like an exploration of correct muscular engagement in crow pose, but really they don’t let me fake anything. They teach me to seek balance everywhere. And maybe that’s closer to my definition of what yoga is…?

… And ironically enough in this workshop, I was called out by the teacher for faking it in baby crow, of all poses 🙂

2 thoughts on “Chasing the challenge

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  1. The body doesn’t lie – so I’ve heard. I wonder what this teacher sees. It’s all so complex… I no longer believe that there is one right way to do a posture. There are as many expressions of a pose as there are embodied beings.


    1. It certainly IS complex. No, I don’t think this teacher was advocating a single way at all (I hope I didn’t give that impression). He’s just very clear about his own aims/take on yoga. Not quite the same as mine (of course!) but an interesting perspective and fascinating always to see things from a different point of view. That in itself is a challenge…


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