(a quick shout-out to theflicker pageI keep stealing these awesome Mr. Pretzel photos from.... So awesome.)
I'm having a bit of a Mary Dana love-fest at the moment, as she keeps blowing my mind with her Sutra-liciousness and kick-ass sequencing. I wish she had a website to which I would direct everyone...I'll just say you can find her at Laughing Lotus where she will teach classes you can sing to...
Okay, so, as I've said previously here in Shanti-Town, I clean mornings at the yoga studio once a week, and they can often be a little difficult for my brain. Meaning: I tend to go on little mental journeys best left un-taken. And always after I am done cleaning I reward myself with an early morning class, which can, depending on how tight a ball I've managed to wind myself into while scrubbing toilets, be much needed and sometimes as mind-heavy as the rest of the morning. Most often I take the AM classes with the lovely Mary Dana, who spares no amount of Navasana or Utkatasana or crazy arm-balancey-ness, despite the early AM hours. For which I love her (though my body sometimes does not).
Yesterday morning, MD was in fine form, and she started the class by talking about struggle. She talked about embracing struggle, about making friends with struggle and using it to open you instead of moving away from it. Yes, fine. Good. Heard it. Know it's right. Have no idea how to do it. At least, not with the really difficult stuff. Every time I'm having a hard time and I tell myself I have to "embrace" my struggle, I just end up digging my hands into it and rubbing it all over my face. Which is not, I don't think, the same thing.
So, as I'm sitting there with my eyes closed, dutifully moving into child's pose and on to all-fours, she says to the class, "So right now, maybe your struggle is to overcome fatigue. So, see what you can do with that. See if you can open up to that. Breathe into that."
And I think, "huh." I hadn't thought of that--that my body is fatigued in these early morning classes. I felt around. It is. Of course it is. And it suddenly made sense to me why I struggle more with worry and round-and-round thoughts in these AM classes--maybe my body IS tired and in my effort to avoid that feeling of fatigue I am retreating into my mind. Alright, I thought, I'll work with this. My struggle is to overcome fatigue. I am going to embrace that struggle.
First thing, I started to tune in to the sensations of fatigue--the muddiness in my joints, the heavy feeling in my calves and arms, the weight and gracelessness of my limbs and back. I started to examine all the machinations of that feeling, and to really let the poses work those areas. Fatigue was my point of focus and every pose was about speaking to, communicating with and ultimately relieving that feeling of fatigue. Two things happened because of this newly focused effort:
1. My mind quieted.
2. I had an awesome practice.
Because I had such a specific and body-oriented point of focus, the class became very personal and I felt myself really working moment-t0-moment within it. I found that my fatigue dissipated very quickly and a deep connection to the workings of my body during the practice took it's place. And because of that, I finally stuck a real Vasisthasana (toe in hand people, toe in hand!) in a way that I never, ever have.
This pose has always proved problematic for me, as I have tight hamstrings and even tighter groins. It has taken a long time for me to find truly straight legs in a lot of poses that require it and I am still just inching my way towards Hanuman and Wide Angle Seated Forward Bend. So most often when I have tried for the toe-in-hand variation of Side Plank (Vasisthasana), I have been woefully contorted, my leg bent and my spine all out of alignment. But because I was moving moment to moment in this practice, when we moved into Vasisthasana I found that my leg (and I) just opened up right into it. I found for the first time the quality of big exuberant opening in the pose. Like flying.
And as we wrapped up class, oh so fatigue-free, I felt like I finally understood a little better what it means to embrace one's struggle. It means, I think, not to think and think and think on struggle. Not to grudgingly tell myself that I'm going to play nice and be friends with struggle. Not to pretend that struggle isn't there and paste a smile on my face (while I'm busy struggling all the same) and not to cave in the face of struggle--like, say, deciding I'm fatigued and there's nothing I can do about it so I'll just suffer through my class--but it is to acknowledge that there IS struggle, and then to engage in a conscious effort to RELIEVE the struggle. Not to add to it by judging or badmouthing it, but to gently mediate and resolve. I am fatigued, I am struggling with fatigue -- I am pulling away from my body and into my mind -- how can I work with this? How can I USE what I am doing/thinking/feeling, to address and relieve this fatigue?
And contained within this approach is an acknowledgment and HONORING of the struggle, because I'm not saying oh screw you, fatigue! You're always fatigued! Stop being so fatigued! And I'm not saying, poor little fatigued me. I'll never feel awake again. My muscles have failed me and I'm less of a person because of it. No, I'm saying--okay, there's a struggle happening here. I can not alter the fact of fatigue, but I can try to work with it. To USE it to open and feel and move forward.
I have heard again and again, in so many different forms and forums, that EVERYTHING is an opportunity. That, if you can change your perspective, all of those things in your life which cause you pain or which you struggle with can be the exact thing that leads you to greater opening, greater peace, and I really believe that's true. I am really bad at DOING it, but I really believe it's true. Joseph Campbell talks about how the things that threaten us in our lives are dragons, and that so often we run away when we see the dragon, but what we don't know is that the dragon is guarding the entrance to a cave, and in that cave is all our treasure.