As has been my good fortune, today February 20th was another gorgeous Sunday morning in Manhattan. As I write today’s blog, I would first like to acknowledge and thank all of you readers. There has been an overwhelming amount of positive feedback about this blog, as well as insightful comments and supportive text messages. Thank you! As I mentioned in my very first post, I never would have imagined I would take to blogging as I have. At this moment, writing this blog is one major highlight of my week. Life is so amazing- we can stumble onto something that enriches us so much – all we have to do is be open to it, most of the time not being fully aware of what that thing will be. Any number of my friends can testify to the vast barren space that is my computer literacy. Yet here I am. Blogging. Incredible.
I was originally going to title todays post “Commitment and Fear”. What loaded words those are! And as I thought about what those terms mean to me through my yoga practice, my yoga teaching and my life outside the yoga studio, I found myself looking at the space between…that is ambivalence. Of course what I mean here is both the metaphorical state of being ambivalent, vacillating between two points, not sure which way to go or what direction to follow, as well as the more concrete feeling of just not knowing what to do. Being stuck, and living there for a while. What is on the two opposing ends of ambivalence is commitment on one side, and fear on the other. Commitment implies making a decision, knowing there are good and bad aspects to everything, yet sticking with the path and consciously deciding to work through the bad parts, and relish and enhance the good parts. My students who regularly come to 9am yoga class on Sunday morning certainly are committed. They have decided that the good outweighs the bad, and their dedication to their practice is far more important than any inconvenience of getting up early or reigning it in a bit the night before. I made my commitment to yoga a long time ago, when I fell head over heels in love with what it had to teach me, with the intense vulnerability I felt, and with the deepening of awareness I continue to cultivate after each time I teach, each time I practice, each time I devote myself towards being the best me I can be.
But what about the things in life where we cannot commit? Lets stay away from the obvious relationship example – too loaded, plus we will all probably go there in our own mind anyway – and use a yogic metaphor. Lets explore two poses: one grounded, the other inverted. Lets look first at downward facing dog, the pillar of any yoga practice. Often in downward dog there is such an intense sensation of stretch and lengthening, I see students really pull away from it rather than deepen it. What is this really telling us? Well for one, there is an absence of the commitment to take the stretch deeper. When you see someone fully committed to their downward dog, it is a sight to behold. Their heels stretch and reach towards the floor, simultaneously their hips are stretching and reaching towards the ceiling. Their shoulder blades are drawn into the middle of their back, allowing space for the full rotation of the scapula and therefore full extension of the shoulder. Everyone does not have the range in the musculature for this, which is really not so important in terms of their commitment. Commitment isn’t something you have when everything is perfect – its what you need while you are on your way there.
Sometimes something is damaged beyond repair and commitment isn’t the issue- the issue is should you even be there in the first place – what is keeping you in a place/asana that is not open, not structurally healthy, not able to receive stretch and grow, closed off.
What is often mirroring commitment? Fear. Fear brings us to our inverted asana. The group that I had today in class was phenomenal. We did handstand today for our first inversion. Handstand, either using a wall or not, involves really confronting fear, and yes, gathering up commitment. If either of these elements are not in place, the experience will be ambivalence…”I want to, but I don’t.” ” I want to, but I am afraid.” “I want to, but I don’t know how and I am scared to try and learn.” “I want to, but I am stuck and cant seem to get unstuck.” What does it take to try something that we are afraid of? What does it take to examine ambivalence and ask ourselves what is our obstacle towards progress? Well, in yoga class it takes breath, awareness, patience and commitment. Commitment to the process of letting go- letting go of worries, fears, hang-ups, insecurities…things that stand in our way of making commitments to our asanas, that stop us from having that deeper experience where we do indeed meet our fear, and move past it.
One of the most wonderful things about yoga practice is that yes, ideally, we have all those elements: breath, awareness, patience with ourselves, and commitment to the process of becoming our better selves. But we really only have to have one of those things at any given time, and the rest will follow – if you have breath that is deep, steady and full, you gain awareness, you gain patience and perspective and you learn to commit to that breath as you see how much it gives you in return. There is reciprocity again, my all time favorite elusive quality to be sought after in the goings-on of life. If you have awareness, you can bring that awareness to the obstacles you may face, or the resistance you experience when you do in fact face them. With awareness comes patience, as we understand that life is not a race to self understanding but rather a journey that is as magnificent as it is perplexing and beautiful. Along the way, we may feel ambivalent – should I? I want to…but I cant, or it is going to be too hard, so I wont…OR, I don’t actually know what to do- so I wont do anything.
Ultimately, whether you dig deeper in your downward dog, fly up into your handstand, or remain ambivalent is entirely up to you. Fear is no match for breath, patience and awareness. Next time ambivalence calls your name, sit with it and learn from it, then move forward. Life – and yoga – give you the freedom to make the choice, feel the fear but not be controlled by it and commit yourself towards all the levels of greatness that are waiting for you.
“It is the truth we ourselves speak rather than the treatment we receive that heals us.” – O. Hobart Mowrer (1966)