I've practiced yoga for more than a decade and I've taught a lot of classes. Yet recently I encountered one pose that threatened to shake my entire foundation.
Now, yoga is all about letting go of the ego, releasing all the mumbo jumbo running around inside my head that likes to tell me how badly my day is going, how much I can't do this or that, and especially how futile all my effort seems. Sometimes my head tells me how much better I am than someone else, how much better I eat, or how my outlook is surely superior. Whatever the dialogue, this part of me, this id, likes to chatter away and amplify whatever emotion I might be experiencing.
Yoga quiets that mental chatter. It teaches us that we are amazing beings with our own quirks that are exactly what make life interesting. It teaches us to embrace these differences and learn from them, expand mightily within them, and do our best to understand them. It teaches tolerance, for one another and for ourselves.
Still, when the time came for me to practice a pose that I had never attempted, I found myself full of fear. The name of this pose is irrelevant — in fact, you might substitute any number of challenges for my problem pose. What matters is that I had so built up its difficulty in my mind, it took on an extraordinary power over me.
I heard the mental chatter, the chitta, as it's known in Sanskrit. "You'll never accomplish this, are you kidding?'' it told me. "How old are you now? You're going to hurt yourself."
So I hesitated. I moved from a place of love and trust back into one of loathing and fear. I'd been in this dark place in the past before I managed to rise out of the abyss. It took time for love to really take hold and grow as tall as a sunflower. And the trust that accompanied it was equally majestic and beautiful. Fear would pop by now and then. Ego would attempt to intrude and chat again. But in time, I learned to see only what my heart knew to be real.
Still, I had lapses, and that's what happened on the day that I faced up to this particular yoga pose. I got exactly what I expected; I fell. Then I tried again and again and again and each time I fell. Soon, my ego was as bruised as my skin.
Then the bruising reached even deeper. I worked so hard, I told myself, and still I struggled. What was I teaching people? Was I giving them false hope? How could I tell them about the eternal spring of love within them if I could no longer see into the water?
Now you may be thinking, isn't this a lot of drama? Isn't this just a yoga pose?
It was — and it wasn't.
The real issue was my reaction to the pose, and what I thought my inability to perform it said about me and my life. It was a lesson in the power of expectations. When I encounter those expectations and the self-recrimination that comes with them, I need not to fight so hard I bruise myself. Surrendering to fear, doubt and worry means those emotions can no longer hold me. As I let go, I felt the grip loosen, I recognize that I'm once again traveling forward and I'm okay.
So ego laid aside, fear cast out, I again tried the pose in my home practice. The fear and ego still were there, but so was the love and trust. I stopped fighting.
Suddenly, I was in the pose, breathing easily, feeling strong, seeing from a new perspective.
Surrender paved the way for light to shine through and the spring to flow abundantly. And just there, in my periphery, I caught sight of something beautiful, capable and unattached to result: It was me, surrounded by sunflowers.
Diana Reed is a yoga teacher, writer and co-owner of Gaya Jyoti Yoga in Hernando County. She can be reached at gayajyotiyoga.com or (352) 610-1083.