Exploring Struggle and The Boundaries of Comfort

Side crow as a way to view your relationship with discomfort

This week’s sequence was a pretty rigorous, twisting and balancing series of postures, getting students ready and into side crow. Arm balances are my thing; not that they’re effortless, but at this point I can usually drop into them at will. We all celebrate what we do well. The challenge is celebrating what you cannot do well, being humbled by it, at times focusing on that instead of reverting to what you know and love. Like most people, I am victimized by my comforts. Yoga helps bring me out of that pattern, helps me bring me out of myself.

There is generally three responses to the call for side crow in my classes: students drop right into it, perhaps exploring straight legged variations or headstand transitions; they put down their palms and give it their best; or they sit down, gaze at the clock, drink some water—whatever option best allows them not to attempt the pose.

Granted, side crow is no easy feat. Not only does it take coordination and a bit of upper body strength, it depends on an open side body, which must twist enough to even get outer thigh onto triceps shelf. This is why we had done a number of twists for long periods of time to warm up. Even then, it might not be physically possible for some students to even attempt it. Still, there’s always something to be said about trying.

I emphasized the negative mantra we tell ourselves in times of struggle: I don’t wanna. Cousin to infamous sentiments such as "I could have" and "I should, but," "I don’t wanna" is a dangerous occupation to be employed by. It stunts our growth; it removes the mystery from the experience. If you don’t even give yourself a chance to fail, it’s impossible to succeed. I always remember one female student, seventy-four years old, who, two years ago, started shouting “I’ve got it!” when she dropped into her first side crow in class. She surprised even herself. Sure, self-congratulations are not the point of any posture, but still. She had been trying it for months and suddenly understood the dynamics of the pose. Others in the room smiled at her victory. Some knew it had nothing to do with the fact that she actually performed a side crow. It was the fact that she attempted something she could not do, and succeeded. This lightened the room, allowing others the freedom to attempt their own. It was the type of moment teachers teach for.

Those moments returned this week. Some of my classes had a 100% attempt rate, twenty-some students giving it their best. Putting heart into what you do is contagious. Others, though, became clock watchers, water sippers, toenail pickers. I emphasized the difference between having an injury and not forcing yourself into any pose your body cannot do and I don’t wanna. They’re completely unrelated, and each student should know the differences in that non-relationship. If you confuse them, a problem lurks. I’m not certified to talk much about not pushing an injury myself. I do it all the time, which is why after one year, a TFL strain in my right thigh has not completely healed. Sometimes my "I hafta" overrules my "I should rest," probably too often. That’s a topic for another column.

This one is about "I don’t wanna" and the dangers attached to those three words—well, two words and one ungrammatical conjunction. "I don’t wanna" is the mantra of lethargy; it squashes our confidence, our faith in ourselves. Side crow is a great example of this pattern, as the pose calls for a certain sacrifice of the heart, and another of the head. You have to allow your heart to tilt forward and your head to act as what it often is—dead weight—to accomplish the pose. Like many forward bends, the heart leads, the head follows; both are involved in a sacrifice. So much better to sacrifice and fall then to gaze at the timepiece on the wall. You’re only a few inches from the ground anyway, and you might just learn something important in the falling.

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