Stretching to the limits

We are on our last stretch, figuratively speaking. I am seated on my mat, the soles of my feet together and as close as possible to the rest of me, my torso bent forward. This is supposed to open the hips. With every inhale, the soothing voice of the yogini asks me to lengthen and with each exhale she asks me to sink deeper into the pose. At some point she moves behind me, gently but firmly pushing my back some more towards the front while her hands also push down my knees even more than I already have. I breathe through my discomfort, and whatever real or imagined sting I anticipate. I concentrate fully on my breathing; there is really little else I can do at this point. Two, three more breaths… this, too, will pass.

This particular pose is not so comfortable for me to do (well, not many poses really are easy, come to think of it, my being so new in the practice and all), but for some strange reason I like it. Not just this pose but most of what we do in class. There is a peculiar mix of pleasure and pain, one not more than the other, but both just enough to offset each other. Pleasure and pain in perfect balance. How strange is that?

At that point when my body does not quite know what it is going to do or where it is going, I surrender, giving in completely to the feeling, that hot stretch, and almost immediately it is easier — not exactly effortless but definitely easier, more manageable. When I believe I can go no further, I am surprised to find out I still can, yet some more. And because it is done in stages, ever so gently and gracefully, I feel no soreness the day after. It is empowering, really — not just physically but mentally.

I think of the strange simplicity of all that as I head home, my mind swimming with a million little thoughts. A few days back I was struggling through an entirely new dance form with moves I have never done before, and I was stressed out by the constant exchange of calls between myself and travel agents regarding flights and confirmations and changes in ticket names and other details for the trip we are taking soon. Aaaargh. It is no fun being a travel agent; I don’t think I could handle that kind of stress on a daily basis.

But just when I relaxed and threw away all my worries to the summer wind, things started to fall into place. Just when I was too tired of analyzing how the hips can go very fast in circles counterclockwise while the hands move ever so softly up, down and around, I managed to make heads and tails of it. Then I started actually enjoying it, this very strange but beautiful dance form.

By simply yielding to what is, things are simplified. Through no coincidence, too, I believe, just when I stopped being so anxious about flight details not being confirmed on time, I get a call from the agent saying all the kinks had practically been ironed out. Something came up just today and I have to again move our return flight. It will all work out somehow; what will be will be.

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Yoga, I’m thinking, is a lot like life, actually. Maybe that is the reason why it appeals to so many. In yoga, we try to shift from pose to pose, movement to movement, as gracefully as possible; never mind if it feels new, awkward, impossible. In time we know for sure that it will no longer feel new, awkward, impossible. When I started I could barely reach my toes. Now I am just an inch short of that, although if I micro-bend my knees I can (but I feel that is cheating already so I try not to do that). I do not really notice myself improving but in the middle of one session last month it just stared me in the face. I did not notice it happening, it apparently just did. Being faithful in attending class, keeping at it even when it did not exactly come easy, just getting myself to class as often as my schedule allowed, they sure counted for something in the long run. It is empowering in a way that lasts even beyond class.

In everyday situations, applying the same principle simplifies a lot of things. When we simply settle in any given situation, acknowledging it is there, present and real, things do not get muddled as much. The moment we stop struggling, stop fighting every little thing that gives us discomfort, we surprisingly stay afloat. Surrender: it is beautiful in that it makes things quite easy even when initially we feel they are not. We make space within ourselves to let go, to simply breathe through what is not entirely welcome or wanted, and suddenly, almost magically, they do not feel too much like enemies/strangers anymore. We are often given the chance and the choice to befriend them so that they cease to feel like real threats. We take it.

I am really loving this feeling of being stretched beyond what I believe I can do. I like this gentle chance given me to push my personal limits. This is a feeling I would really like to carry with me even when I step out of class, after I have sipped my cup of tea, and when I face the rest of what the day holds for me.

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