So, You Must Be Really Good at Yoga

There is a story about a group of people climbing to the top of a mountain. It turns out it’s pretty steep, and as soon as they get up to a certain height, a couple of people look down and see how far it is, and they completely freeze; they had come up against their edge and they couldn’t go beyond it. The fear was so great that they couldn’t move. Other people tripped on ahead, laughing and talking, but as the climb got steeper and more scary, more people began to get scared and freeze. All the way up the mountain there were places where people met their edge and just froze and couldn’t go any farther. The people who made it to the top looked out and were very happy to have made it to the top. The moral of the story is that it really doesn’t make any difference where you meet your edge; just meeting it is the point. Life is a whole journey of meeting your edge again and again. That’s where you’re challenged; that’s where, if you’re a person who wants to live, you start to ask yourself questions like, ‘Now why am I so scared? What is it that I don’t want to see? Why can’t I go any further than this?’ The people who got to the top were not the heroes of the day. It’s just that they weren’t afraid of heights; they are going to meet their edge somewhere else. The ones who froze at the bottom were not the losers. They simply stopped first and so their lesson came earlier than the others. However, sooner or later everybody meets his or her edge.
— Pema Chodron, ‘The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness’

Last week in the cafeteria at Northwestern, a classmate came up to me to ask me about yoga. She had heard I was teaching a class in the park for our program, and wanted to know what led me to offer this. I filled her in that I had just spent the past month completing a 200-hour yoga teacher training, and I wanted some bodies to practice on and to give people the chance to move and unwind after sitting all day. “Oh wow, so you must be really good at yoga. You can do all those handstands and crazy poses and stuff?” she asked.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time I had been asked if I was good at yoga, and I replied like I usually do with a “Well, I’m OK. I can do a handstand against the wall, but I couldn’t even touch my toes when I started practicing a couple years ago.” It’s a qualified answer I’ve gotten used to giving, because no way could I actually call myself good at yoga. After all, I do still need that wall to do a handstand, I can’t stick my foot behind my head, and my hamstrings and hips have no interest in taking me anywhere near hanumanasana. And that’s what this whole yoga thing is about, right?

Until fairly recently, I halfway agreed with this idea. I knew I was getting the physical and emotional benefits of having a dedicated yoga practice, and I knew it was about more than the asana, but I still couldn’t help but get frustrated about the fact that it took me two years to finally kick into a handstand and that my poses weren’t advanced at all when compared to some of the pretzel shapes you see on Instagram. But Pema Chodron’s idea about edges has really been sticking with me lately. Even if I meet my edge really early on in ardha hanumanasana and live my whole life never doing hanumanasana, it doesn’t mean I’m any “worse” at yoga than someone who can slide effortlessly into a split. We’re all still getting the same benefits of the pose, some of us are just meeting that edge a little earlier than others. Being good at yoga means meeting and playing with edges. It means respecting your body enough to say “I’ve gone far enough today” and being OK with that. It means coming up against edges in life and handling it with a little more ease. So, really, that answer I’ve been giving about being just OK at yoga? Complete bullshit. Next time someone asks, here’s what I might say:

“Hell yeah I’m good at yoga. I’ve been working on this crazy pose called NotRoundingMySacrumInForwardFolds and it’s been working pretty well for me. I’ve also recently nailed FallingInHeadstandButWhoCaresAsana. My left foot falls asleep every time I meditate and my mind is usually full of thoughts about food and my to-do list, but I have been starting to get a few minutes of peace, so look out for a photo of that coming to Instagram soon. Oh, and this is way less interesting, but I’m getting a lot better at breathing through uncomfortable situations and I’m less reactive than I used to be. I feel comfortable in my skin and I like myself way more than I ever have.”

Any other questions?

BlogKristen Domonell