Trying to Become a Pretzel
Humans are not rubber bands. When we attempt to stretch ourselves in opposite directions, we do not snap back into place — we just snap. Or maybe that’s just me. Many people love yoga and appreciate its periods of quiet meditation, the strength and flexibility it builds, and the lightness they feel when emerging from the class. While this is all well and good — for a semi-competitive, awkward individual who can barely touch her toes — getting into this practice can be a challenge.
Contrary to popular belief, the exercise consists of much more than sitting on a mat practicing out deep breathing. Rather, those participating in class are asked to twist into impossible sounding positions, wobbling uncontrollably, and then told to, “breathe like this feels good because we’ll be here for a while.” That’s when I usually fall over.
Building heat and a strong core is imperative to the practice. As I look around the studio and see that I am the weak link, I grit my teeth and adopt a sort of “no pain, no gain mentality.” Trying to stretch and hold asanas for minutes at a time amongst people who succeed easily is more than a little intimidating. While others have the perfect posture and flexibility, I shake and struggle and go until I’m sore for the four next mornings. This inequity begs for additional exertion in an attempt to stay with the class. Yoga, though, is not a practice built on this competitive nature.
Yoga can be traced back to ancient India. It is a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation. The word yoga, from the Sanskrit word yuj means to yoke or bind and is often interpreted as “union” or a method of discipline.
When done correctly, this exercise can round out and influence a healthy life-style. The stretches and poses are meant to align the body and open it up so energy can flow freely. Yoga is linked to easing chronic back pain, improving heart-disease risk factors, and so much more. However, that occurs when the focus points inward. Instead of projecting outward in a competitive struggle, the practice calls for introspection and a focus on the breath and the present.
This activity should be centered around learning and respecting one’s own body and capabilities. While it should not always be comfortable, forcing oneself to endure actual, physical pain is not the point. I am still learning this. Patience, as they say, is a virtue. It’s difficult to turn my mind off from competing with the capable strangers next to me, but it is getting easier as my mind and body get stronger.