Practicing Yoga

I’ve been taking yoga again.

I enjoy practicing yoga, despite that fact that I have very poor balance and terribly weak arms. I fall over a lot. The poses I do successfully are the ones that could be achieved with cooked spaghetti— I do well with anything that involves folding into a limp pile on the floor. I do not do as well when I am expected to stay upright. The students around me are all younger, stronger, and seem to have better balance than me. But I do like yoga.

The best thing about this yoga class is that I can take it for free. I might have a hard time justifying taking yoga three times a week on a teaching assistant salary, but I am able to take yoga as an extra class with a room full of undergraduates and so I do. In the morning I am a teacher then I take yoga and transform into a student. It works out very well.

A fellow graduate student is also a yoga instructor. She was the one who explained to me that yoga meant a “yoking” of mind and body. Practicing yoga is the practice of getting my mind and body to work in sync. I like that idea very much.

Lately our class has been working on something called “muscle energy.” The idea behind this, as I understand it, is to be a little less liked limp spaghetti and a little more like energized spaghetti. I’ve got a ways to go, but I like the concept. I especially liked the way our teacher explained it.

She said it was: “finding a balance between flexibility and strength and between stability and freedom.”

Well, duh.

If that’s muscle energy, I’ve been working on muscle energy for the better part of my life— I just never applied it to my muscles.

Much too often, I rely on strength and tenacity when, if I were a little more flexible, I could change plans and have a better outcome. Constantly, I am torn between my desire for the freedom to live out of a backpack, travel without an itinerary, live for the moment, and my need for the stability to put down roots, plant a garden, and make a five-year plan.

The funny thing is that my reaction to perceived shortcomings in my life is the same reaction that I experience in yoga class. I look to my right at the young woman with the pierced nose balancing on one foot as though it were the most natural thing in the world, and then to my left at the young man with the shaved head resting comfortably with the weight of his whole body supported by his wrists, and I feel dreadfully inadequate. It seems to me I should be better at this business of living inside my body by now.

But I know that practicing yoga isn’t about being perfect. It’s about finding that balance, striving to become better aligned with the person I am inside. I also know that yoga is about the practice itself. It’s about doing a thing day after day until it becomes a part of who I am. As John Dryden said, “We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.”

So I’m working on my habits. I wobble off balance. I drink too much coffee. I doubt my choices. I wonder if I have wandered off track.

But now I know that it’s okay. Now I just remind myself that I’m practicing my yoga.

Till next time,

—Carrie

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