Week 24 Review: Old Lessons Made New

Person performs mystical "Sun Salutation&...
Image by mikebaird via Flickr

I attended a two-hour Chakra Vinyasa™ workshop with Simon Park this morning at Prana Yoga. He’s been doing mini-workshops all weekend, but in the interest of balance I decided to attend only one. I think I’d rather have a more regular practice again before I do an arm balance and inversion workshop, anyway.

In 2004, shortly after we moved to California, I completed a yoga teacher training program. For the most part, I really enjoyed it despite something of an inferiority complex about my own proficiency at yoga. I’m not a naturally flexible person, physically and perhaps emotionally, too. I began taking yoga classes because I had a desk job that was giving me back pain and I had done a physical fitness assessment that showed that I was a good six inches from being able to reach my toes with straight legs. At the class I took during lunchtime at work, I felt pretty good. I felt a little intimidated by the discrepancy between where I was and how much more path was ahead of me, but I also felt myself getting stronger, feeling less pain, and just in general feeling healthy.

Then we moved to California and I started attending classes at an honest-to-goodness yoga studio. I’ve found that a lot of people are drawn to yoga from dance and gymnastics. In a room full of dancers surrounded by mirrors, I really felt like an ugly duckling but with no firm conviction that swandom was anywhere in my future.

In retrospect, it’s amazing I persevered. Every time I walked into the studio, I remembered what one of my teachers in North Carolina used to say, “Leave your ego at the door.” It was a Risk Looking Silly immersion course, except there was no “risk” about it. Just showing up, I looked silly, and I could either accept it or flee.

Near the end of teacher training, one of our instructors led us in an inversions intensive. For the first time ever I was practicing hand stands. It was exciting and scary, and I tried to greet each class and new challenge with enthusiasm.


We were practicing assisting one another doing handstands against the wall. It was my turn to do the handstand with one of my fellow students assisting and our instructor giving suggestions. I planted my hands about a foot from the wall and began kicking my feet up as gracefully as I could manage.

“Be careful,” I heard our instructor tell my fellow student, “She’s beyond clumsy.”

That hurt. It was true, but it was not at all fair for our instructor to make that proclamation. He was an Iyengar teacher, so I guess I should be grateful he didn’t kick me. But after that any proficiency at handstands that I’d earned evaporated. Not only could I no longer get anywhere near actually doing a handstand, since that comment I become very emotional whenever I attempt one.

While Simon Park did encourage us to try handstands and forearm balances today, he did so in a very gentle way. His manner was wonderful. He smiled a lot, genuine relaxed smiles that helped me feel at ease even though I knew no one in the class. (On a side note, I was surprised how few people were at the workshop. I thought with an internationally known teacher like Simon Park, the place would be packed. Salt Lake City frequently surprises me.)

I loved watching Simon demonstrate the poses. I was pleased to find that, while I was watching him effortlessly flow from downward dog into a forearm balance, I admired the beauty of the control he had of his body and the strength he’d cultivated rather than dwelling on how unlikely it was I would ever be able to do something like that. It’s true: that level of grace and strength is something I’m not likely to achieve in this lifetime. But today, that wasn’t a sore point for me.

When he finished demonstrating, Simon said, smiling, “So, you can do any of that or none of it. Any part of it you do is beneficial. Even just watching, you learn.”

I see how people fall in love with yoga instructors. (No, I’m not in love with Simon Park. I just see how someone could be. It’s powerful stuff to be told so convincingly by someone clearly so comfortable in their own body that I’m fine just the way I am.)

So, why is it that I go to a yoga class where I can’t do everything and leave feeling uplifted and encouraged, while I go skiing or to Aikido and find myself nearly in tears?

I think the answer is the nearly eleven years of practice I’ve put into yoga. I’m not great at physical pursuits. That’s not where my natural gifts lie. But I’ve been loving and hating yoga for so long, I think I’ve figured out how to focus on the process rather than on the product.

It also helps that there’s so much focus on breathing and flow. It’s harder for me to get pissed off and frustrated when I’m constantly being encouraged to breathe as part of the practice.

Also, there were no mirrors in the studio we were in today. That goes a long way towards helping me just feel what my body’s doing rather than trying to make it look like the body of anyone else in class.

I suppose the challenge is to apply that embracing of imperfection to other parts of my life so I can allow myself to be open to new experiences and whatever emotions come along with them.

Something else Simon Park talked about today resonated with me. He talked about how the throat chakra is the link between the lower body chakras and the upper intellectual and spiritual chakras.

“While the chakras aren’t technically ‘real’ structures,” he explained, “they do represent different areas of energy in our bodies.” The suggestion he made was that, by chanting or singing, we activate the throat chakra and integrate those different energies.

Not a new idea for me, but with my thoughts lately of trying to balance and integrate the feminine and masculine aspects of myself, this seems like a timely suggestion. The fact that pretty much any religious tradition has some musical element like chanting or singing just lends credence to the effectiveness of this practice. While I’m not ready to add a “singing” resolution, it certainly has given me something to ponder.

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