Thoughts on progress

Today, while doing yoga, it came to me that a pose that was well nigh impossible for me when I started yoga comes easily to me now. And in fact, many do. The spark today was what some call wheel pose and others call upward bow or more simply, a back bend.

When I was a kid, I did gymnastics. Walkovers, cartwheels, back bends, splits – they all came easily. In fact, some of you with whom I went to middle school might remember that I was a basketball cheerleader. So, I did that stuff all the time. Then, came many years of relative inactivity. Sure, I exercised and worked out but I didn’t work on my flexibility or balance very much and true to form, I lost both. Then, about eleven years ago, I started doing yoga with a book and then later DVDs.

I was stiff and sore and unable to do many of the poses that required flexibility, balance, and upper body strength. Slowly, ever so slowly, I built those up. For years, nothing moved. My body refused to remember the days when I could bend into a back walkover with ease and every victory was hard won.

I recall the day I first tried the first part of Marichi III (a twisting pose). One variation of it necessitates that you bend one leg so that your foot is under you and then the other leg over your bent leg and put your foot flat on the floor. Well, I got the first leg under me, but the second leg barely made it over and I couldn’t even put my foot on the floor. I was somewhat distraught, but I kept trying. For years, when I did this particular pose, my foot did not touch the floor but still pretty much every day, I did the pose. Then, about four years ago, I suddenly realized that the outside of my foot not only touched but sat comfortably. Today, as I moved into the pose effortlessly and as my whole foot rested on the floor easily, I smiled at the me from eleven years ago and at all her struggles, because here I was doing the pose and enjoying it.

It came home even more as I moved into upward bow (back bend). As I pushed my body up onto hands and feet and as I arched my back and breathed into relaxation of the pose, I paid tribute to the twelve-year-old me who did the same pose but for fun or to cheer on her team. Upward bow was easy when I was twelve, a physical impossibility at thirty two, and is now back to being relatively easy. It’s almost as if this is regression rather than a progression, and I look forward to progressing to the point that the twelve-year-old me comes full circle.

There are some who say yoga should be done for its own sake and that progress happens and can be noted but shouldn’t be sought specifically. I think differently. I believe we as a species love to categorize and make hierarchies. We like seeing progress and in this case yoga provides it beautifully and consistently. Then again, we need to approach the practice of it the same way, beautifully and consistently. Then, we will progress and a certain peace comes on those days when something sparks us to look back and see our journey.

I love to teach and I particularly love to teach yoga to those who think they can’t do it. Modifications to the poses are key both to learning the poses and to building the confidence to try them consistently. I always tell my students that they will want to be consistent – that this is a process of the every day not the someday. Too much is left to chance when the practice is sporadic and the best way to gauge it is both a long- and short-term awareness of our bodies, and their strength, balance and flexibility.


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