God bless her, my mother keeps asking me to teach her some “yoga poses”. It makes sense. I taught her dance aerobics, step aerobics, zumba, weight lifting and roller blading. Each craze I’ve embraced, she’s embraced, and I adore her for it. So why did I get so annoyed when she kept pushing me to teach her some “yoga poses”?
It took me some time to figure this out, but I did. I thought back to my time with her and my sister 2 winters ago in Florida. Both were anxious to embrace the activity that has changed my life, so I put on the podcast of one of my favorite instructors. It was a short vinyasa class, and I felt sure they could both do it.
If you are a yoga student you know that the foundation of most flow classes is Downward Dog. There were many instances of Downward Dog during this podcast. Each time we were sent into that pose my mother objected. I hate DD, she said. I understood, and I told her so. I said it is a difficult pose to master. It seems basic but it requires strength, alignment and focus. She complained that she was shaking. I assured her that was part of the process and, as long as she wasn’t feeling pain, she should go with it. I also told her that she didn’t need to do any pose, she was free to sink into child’s pose. None of that worked. She continued doing DD, and she continued to complain about it.
I am not opposed to complaining during exercise. In the past this has been part of the attraction – bitching about how difficult something was. It was like a badge of honor, to feel the difficulty but to keep going. We are competitive people, so we’ve always embraced this aspect of a good workout. There are many who view yoga as a good workout, so theoretically this should have worked. I should have been able to do this class with my mother, bitch about how difficult it was, yet enjoy the challenge, the rush of accomplishment. But I didn’t. I felt annoyed. And the more she asked me to teach her, the more annoyed I became.
Eventually I got it: Yoga, for me, is not a physical workout, it is a spiritual, psychological workout. Yoga is the exact opposite of what we have done for years. A good yoga instructor will say, repeatedly, feel free to take child’s pose. Do not push yourself till you feel pain. Modify, modify, modify.
There is an edge in a good yoga class. There is a point in which you will wonder: am I feeling actual pain or am I simply uncomfortable. Eventually you learn the difference. When you are in pain you sink into child’s pose, grateful that you are aware enough not to hurt yourself. When you are uncomfortable though – that is when you learn the lesson yoga has to offer. It is a very simple lesson. The lesson is this:
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is a choice.
As you integrate this idea into your mindset you begin to reap the rewards of the practice. You become calmer yet energized, you cultivate patience and motivation. and you begin the very difficult process of accepting all parts of yourself and others.
If you wandered into a yoga class at the wrong time, with the wrong teacher, you will miss the essence of the practice: integrating the Yin and the Yang, the good and the bad, the sad and the happy, the health and illness. The right class/teacher will transform your life, if you are ready.
It has transformed me.