Even though it seems like it’s snowing everywhere but here, winter has definitely arrived in New York City. I’m planning to start running again this week, and I’m already shivering thinking about how cold it’s going to be at six in the morning. BRRRRR.
Today is December 5th, which means that it’s the fifth day of the Holidayasana! challenge on Social Workout, which, so far, has been intense in a very good way. Although I’m planning to get some studio time in at some point this month (with the help of a deal I got on Groupon and a special Holidayasana! coupon code), so far I’ve done my practices through Yoga Download. I’m planning to create a page for the Yoga Project wherein I’ll write more about my individual practices, with reviews of the classes I take, so that my blog doesn’t become all yoga, all the time. For now, though, I’m going to devote this post to yoga. Warm up your vocal chords and get your OM ready!
I’ve talked a bit about the difficulty I’ve been having the last few weeks being on a reduced running schedule while tapering and a break while giving myself time off after the marathon. Part of what has been so good about doing yoga is that it has given me a way to engage my body in a healthy activity rather than an unhealthy one, which is easy for me to turn to when I’m stressed or having a hard time. Things aren’t peach keen by a long shot, but having a near-daily yoga practice (I’ve practiced 4 times in the last 5 days) has been incredibly beneficial.
One thing that you can’t get around when you’re doing yoga is being present in your body. In order to fully reap the benefits of your practice, you really have to tune in to what’s going on in your body. Are your feet firmly rooted to the ground? Are you opening where you should be? Contracting where you should be? Squaring your hips? Relaxing your shoulders? Yoga asks you to be aware of what is going on while also making you accept that every practice and every day is different. Maybe yesterday your heels touched the floor in downward dog and today you’re struggling to straighten your legs–in yoga, this is par for the course. And for someone like me, this is absolutely essential.
I spend so much time trying to get out of my body. I try to ignore it when my stomach is growling, and I put a lot of energy into wishing my body were different than what it was and that everything about me were somehow different and better. That may be why yoga is so good for me: in order to get better at yoga, you have to accept that things won’t always be better. Instead, things are as they are. You can’t necessarily change them, but you can accept them and learn to be present in them. Being present allows you to tolerate the imperfections, and stop struggling so hard against the way you are.
The yoga class I chose today, a gentle hatha practice, ended up being much more difficult than I expected it to be because of the presence and awareness it required. Yesterday I did a more intense practice that went really smoothly, so I expected class today to be a breeze. But from the word ‘go’, I had a hard time. Things got worse when the instructor started cuing a bunch of repetitions of utkatasana, or chair pose. My quads, already sore from yesterday, started burning. Immediately, I wanted to check out and be anywhere other than this pose. I started bargaining with myself, telling myself that if I wanted to, I could just turn the class off and do something else. I really, really wanted to just stand up, let my quads relax and stop shaking, and find something else to do. But I didn’t. Instead, I decided to be present in the pose. I focused on what I was feeling in my quadriceps, but also in the strength I had, and on my breathing. And I got through all the repetitions of utkatasana. And I got through the rest of the practice. It wasn’t easy, and there were 1,000 more times after that initial struggle in chair pose when I just wanted to give up again. But at the end of the practice, I felt much calmer and more relaxed than I did when I started, and this evening I am still feeling calm. I’m also feeling satisfied that I didn’t walk away when I could have, and that I didn’t tune out like I wanted to.
Being present during your yoga practice is definitely not a miracle cure. It takes work, and I know I have a long way to go before being present starts to come naturally. Maybe it will always be a struggle. But in my opinion, working hard to get to that place of presence is worth it for the benefits you can find there.