One of my yoga instructors—a friend, fellow teacher and new-ish mama to her own little boy—opened class last week by asking us to consider setting an intention for our practice in 2017. Now, I already wrote about how I do like intentions but I don't like specific resolutions, and so this kind of thing was on my mind that particular afternoon.
"Strength!" I thought to myself. "I want to be stronger. Build back up my core and arms. I want to be strong in all aspects on and off my mat, I want to take up challenges with postures I typically avoid, I want to feel competent and grounded and powerful. Yes, yes, yes."
Satisfied, I approached my first downward facing dog. Class began.
And within the first 15 minutes, I was like "wait, fuck that, this is way too hard, I don't wannaaaaa, I quit." To be sure, the challenging flow pressed me up against my limits and forced me to be super present thinking about each transition to the next. All I could think was: I am not strong. I am not strong enough for this.
But as much as my mind immediately vetoed the hard work, I checked in with my body and realized that . . . I was ready to work that day. Trust me, there are MANY days where I go to yoga for my own little restorative sequence, for the warmth of people and movement, for loving adjustments, for some peace and quiet and me time. I skip chataurangas and high plank; I drop to my knees; I take it slow; I embrace the "zen." I know what it feels like to take my practice down a notch. I recognize the signs for when I need to be humble.
Instead, on this day, I craved the sweat and determination of pushing juuuust past my own limits. On the fourth (Fourth! Oh my god, are you serious, said my mind) bakasana (crow pose) invitation, I thought, "Okay, let's see"—and then went there, staying for several breaths, even though I wasn't sure if I could do it. When I left class that day, I felt invigorated, challenged, happy and tired, but in the best way.
I realized that my default attitude toward strength goes like this: I want to be strong when I "feel like it," when I expect it, when I'm ready for it. I have no problem being strong when I've gotten ten hours of sleep and drank eight glasses of water and ate three home-cooked meals and met all my deadlines and feel in sync with my brain and body and went to church and caught up with all my friends and connected with my husband.
But I rarely want to be strong when I'm running on minimal rest and lots of coffee and half-finished plates of take-out and bites of protein bars in my car between meetings and fifteen texts I haven't yet responded to and running behind on, well, everything.
That, however, is not really how it works. Life doesn't gently tap us on the shoulder to say, "Hello, giving you a head's up that tomorrow will be very tough, so prepare appropriately for battle." Nope. Even in the moments where I do kind of see a rough patch coming, it still often takes every ounce of mental and emotional and physical strength to push through it.
The gift that yoga has given me, though, is an ability to take that deep breath of pausing when I'm up against struggle. It doesn't make it easier; it doesn't remove the obstacle. But I can at least step back for a second and realize A) okay, this is hard and B) now what? And then I move forward, imperfectly.