It’s been a month since I started the yoga series and behold what little progress I’ve made with it! I’ve only done two posts. But, as consolation, I can assure you that your faithful yogi-writer has been busy in the studio perfecting her moves and finding her banda’s.
Last time, I wrote about the mini triumphs in yoga, those small moments of elation you get from just breathing or standing right. Today, I’d like to share my five favorite “big triumphs” in yoga. Remember, I’ve only practiced seriously for one year, so my biggies may not be as big as the self-contorting pro’s.
1. Getting your toes off the ground in “crow.” It sounds absolutely insane the first time you hear an instructor calmly say, “Put your knees on your elbows. Lift one foot off the ground. Now lift the other.” Crow looks like a hunched over flying maneuver and is embarrassing as hell to practice. The starting point is a very unaesthetic squat and the failed attempts land you flat on your face with legs splayed out behind. But like many awesome looking yoga moves, crow is less about brute strength and more about finding that delicate balance. I felt sheer euphoria one unexpected day when I lifted one leg and, oopsie daisy, up came the other one as lightly as a feather! There I was, perched in the middle of my mat on with knees on elbows. I imagined the rest of the room stopping to gape in awe and applaud my finesse.
2. Belly to thigh: the forward bend. My favorite Aussie-Zimbabwean instructor, Matt, said this in a class recently as he directed us into sitting forward bends, “If you can’t reach your toes with your hands, don’t worry about it, just bend your knees. If you’re really flexible, you can press your belly to your thighs. The very talented few will bring their foreheads to their feet.” Chuckles, muffled into thighs, knees, and shins (no one in class was among the “talented few” who might have laughed into their toes) went up around the room. When I first started doing yoga seriously a year ago, I could barely touch my toes with my fingers, so I cheated with a towel. As time went by, I learned how to “breathe into the move” and also to elongate my body from the inside (imagine hollowing out your body by lifting your organs up). Voila, now I can press my belly to my thighs on a good day. I’m still working on the head-to-foot bit though.
3. Leap of faith: “crow” to “chaturanga.” Yoga is a thoroughly humbling experience. Just when you think you’ve rocked a move, you discover a little fine-tuning that makes takes you back to square one. Somehow, angling your foot a slightly different way (in the correct way) makes your whole posture fall apart. Other times, it’s the modifications that take an already difficult move to a whole different level. Shortly after I had the “crow” down pat, my instructor started saying, “From crow, lift your knees off your elbows and jump back to chaturanga.” Woman, are you kidding me!? Jump from a hunched over flying maneuver into a half push-up without breaking the bridge of my nose? For a few months I struggled and alternatingly squashed my nose, or gave up and crawled out of my crow in defeat. The stunning failures only made personal victory that much sweeter on the day that I did finally send my legs flying through the air behind me.
4. Toe stand: look Ma, no hands! In my “5 small triumphs” piece I wrote about the simple satisfaction of a solid “tree” pose. When you’re ready to take it up a notch, your instructor will be more than happy to bring on the additional challenge of a toe stand. You start in standing tree pose with your legs in “half lotus”, reach your hands upward, stretch them out and down in front of you, then bring your entire body weight to bear on your toes. Yes, you’re “sitting” in “half lotus”, with hands in “prayer” in front of your heart, trying to not wobble on your big toe. This is a fun little exercise, less of a challenge than the “flying” balance moves, but tricky enough that it makes you want to try it again and again, until you finally get that light balance just right.
5. The handstand, the ultimate victory. Without getting into ridiculously advanced poses, like “peacock”, I think the envy of every new yoga student is the effortless-looking handstands that their neighbors lift into at the end of class. It’s gravity defying, gracefully straight, and the lucky few who can do it just look so damned comfortable as they perform this incredible feat. I’m still working on my handstand, but each little milestone along the way has given me a natural high. From learning to support myself on my head and elbows, to teetering into a half “tripod”, to squirming my way up while leaning against a supporting wall, to finally realizing that it is really as easy as just lifting your legs into the air when you do find the balance. Just this week my teacher revolutionized my whole approach when she told me to stop using momentum to propel my legs up. In firm Chinese “tough love” fashion, she barked, “Don’t try to swing your legs into it! And don’t lift one leg at a time either! Trust yourself, walk both legs up at once!” She was right, once I trusted myself, my legs came up as though I were a puppet pulled by master strings from above. Signing off now to go practice trusting myself some more before I forget the wonderful sensation!