Today was the third day of morning intensives with Ana. I’m happy to say this is the first day my cold has been significantly better, minus a few hacking fits and pile ‘o Kleenex beside my mat. I was relieved to be early today and was able to settle in a more relaxed state.
I loved that it worked out that by chance I was practicing alongside the other two teachers who teach yoga with me as part of the Lemonade program over at SF Juvenile Hall: Nora Dwyer and Sandy Till. We wished we’d had a camera there to take a picture to show the boys our epic practice today.
Today’s theme was selecting an area in the body in need of attention to focus on for the duration of the practice. Ana related a teaching story about how in the practice she’d had some old feelings of hurt and . “So I let myself wallow in it for a good five minutes or so, she said. “Then I decided I needed to choose differently and consciously started breathing the feelings of love that I have in my life into my area.” While we all have our areas, be they emotional and/or physical, but Ana relayed the story to remind us that we always have the opportunity to choose another path. This is one of the key ways I find Forrest Yoga to be empowering: you really can choose to change your energy. It’s also heartening to know that I’m not alone in throwing myself a big pity party sometimes. Even someone as accomplished as Ana has her moments. The key difference I took away from this story is not that you’ll never get caught up in old baggage, but rather how fast you decide to get out of it and do something different.
The practice included a lot of fun arm balances including scissors, twisting scissors, twisting crow to twisting scissors, and titibhasana. Ana did an awe-inspiring demonstration of transitioning from titibhasana into astavakrakasana on both sides and back.
As the sweat poured and we began to move into the more advanced peak poses of the practice, I overheard Ana say to another student, “Yeah, you know you can flex right into that pose and balance, but can you breathe in the pose and really move some lines of energy out through the body?” Now Ana is known for having eyes in the back of her head in the way that she can see energy in a room, but I wonder if she knew that she could have just as easily been addressing that comment to me. Boy did this hit home for me. I’m naturally quite bendy and years of yoga practice and a propensity for arm balances has left me with some arm strength and ability to do a number of advanced poses. However, this was a new challenge. I started to approach the arm balances not as something to muscle into and glide out of perfectly just so I could have that mental satisfaction that I did it and could cross it off the mental checklist of Poses That I Should Always Be Able To Do Without Error. Instead, I concentrated a lot on set-up and getting into a pose, taking my time to get there (it helped that I had to stop periodically to blow my nose). Once I was there, I tried to focus on just breathing and staying there, reaching out through my legs, but not feeling like I “had” to do anything other than that.
And wouldn’t you know it. I held some balances today longer than I ever have. I even rocked some of that aforementioned gravity surfing from titibhasana to astavakrakasana and back on one side before falling and laughing as I attempted the other. Even though I’m sure I’ve done more hardcore arm balancing in a class before, this felt different. I wasn’t gripping my way through it mentally determined to hold it for a precise amount of time. Instead, I felt like a ray of energy, immersed in my breath and moving my body. For a few brief minutes, I was completely present in the flow of the practice.
Of course, choosing differently most of the time is a lot of work and often you’re having to out-shout the part of you that wants to just stay in the old ways of thinking and acting. Yet today I got a taste of the exhilaration that is also part of taking that other road.