The yoga of stretching my mind

Downward dog is supposed to be a resting pose.

Hands on the ground. Feet on the ground. Hips in the air. Head hanging down. Stretching like a dog does after a nap.

I fight tightness everywhere – calves, shoulder-blades, hamstrings, jaw. Resting pose, my ass. Lying on the couch is a resting pose.

Head dangling between my arms, trying to stretch out my violin-string taut calves, I realize: I have wrinkly knees. That’s weird. And kind of gross. And not very sexy.

Saggy like elephant knees. And I need a pedicure. All the feet I can see, on the mats around me, have very pretty toes.

Yoga is so stupid.

Rewind.

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Five minutes ago I was sitting cross-legged, hands at my heart, beautific expression on my face. Setting my intention. This is my favourite part of a yoga class. I love when the teacher asks us to do this. I’m really good at it. I try to come up with something different every time. I try to come up with clever, poetic, zen intentions. Little word poems. I could happily just sit here, legs-crossed, for the entire 45 minutes, thinking up clever zen word poems, and maybe breathing every now and then.

Today, I decide that my intention is to explore how flow impacts effort. I think maybe by promising to remember to breathe, even sway a little bit, to “flow”, that I’m tricking the universe into letting me have an easy class. Go with the flow, struggle less. I’m thinking, this is a good life hack. I’m thinking, this is going to be a keeper.

But here I am, confronting my wrinkly knees.

How did I go from feeling enlightened to petty so fast? As if I just slithered back to Square One in some cosmic game of snakes and ladders.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

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I’ve already sized up my classmates – from past classes, I know who is the bendiest, who falls out of balances, who I’m better than. So my wrinkly-knees and unpretty-toes are compensated for by a quick mind spiral into a sequence of petty “at least I’m not as xxx as she is” asanas. SHUT UP. Stop judging! You’re such a fraud, acting so nice. What if the teacher can hear your thoughts? It’s not about being better than, you idiot. You’re never going to attain enlightenment. You’re too horrible.

The voices in my head are now squabbling like my brother and I as kids.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Summon some goddamn kindness.

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Scrutinizing other people for flaws, so you can distract yourself from your own, is kind of petty, I tell myself. Where is that coming from? I see in a sudden mind flash a pile of glossy magazines, the face of someone I grew up around, hear echoes of that same kind of talk, the slippery trash-talking.

Petty is learned, I say to myself, kind of surprised. And that means, it can be unlearned.

We’re still moving through ridiculously hard yoga poses (all yoga poses being ridiculously hard when you’re stiff), so my thoughts do not flow, do not leap and dazzle. They manically swing back and forth, on repeat, like the ear-worm songs that get stuck in your sleep-starved mind when you have a new baby.

Petty is learned. It can be unlearned.

Petty is learned. It can be unlearned.

Over and over, because I want it ingrained. Repeated until it’s as effortless as habit.

When we finally lower our bodies down on our mats, the teacher tries to bring us back from wherever we’ve all been battling it out.

Settle into your stillness, he says, and we lie quietly and all my pettiness and chatter and mind battles cease.

We roll up our mats, thank him. “Thank yourselves, he says. “We don’t do that enough. We’re Canadians – we thank other people even when they’re hurting us, but we don’t thank ourselves.” 11045487_910507809013771_1249368956324301110_n

So I do, as I walk back into the blaze of an August day. I feel the thanks in the lightness of my step, the space between my shoulder blades, the unclenchedness of my jaw. I feel thankful for my fellow flow-seekers. For the opportunity to get out of my head and its laughable conceits (“and now we shall explore how flow impacts effort”) and I feel a tender teasing appreciation for the laughable conceits themselves, which I will always love crafting even though they somehow manage to turn themselves, or me, inside out, every single time. For the snakes and the ladders and this little bit of ground I’ve gained, for now. Until the next slide. And I feel thankful for this body, all our bodies – these vehicles for walking, limping, dancing through life, imperfect, wired for struggle, the sum of our stories, unbowed.

Photos via Tadasana Yoga and Wellness.

 

 

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