We’re not there quite yet, but it’s beginning to look like this strange life in the time of Covid might actually end someday. All things must pass, and this is no exception. Vaccines are ramping up, the weather has finally turned, and we are slowly moving towards some semblance of the “normal” life we so sorely miss. But we can’t jump right back in until we’re certain it won’t lead to further unnecessary sickness and death. With the end in sight, some of us are feeling more antsy and trapped than ever. My friend likens it to needing to use the bathroom on a road trip. The closer we get to the rest area, the more desperately we need to pee. We’re stuck in a strange limbo between still living in the discomfort of limitation, and being far enough past it to recognize the gifts it’s yielded. It’s hard to see around corners when we’re marinating in the emotional experience of upheaval. I know that with the clarity of hindsight, we will be able to recognize the valuable lessons gained from this experience… acceptance, compassion, patience, fortitude, the beauty of simplicity, renewed respect for our ability to adapt and thrive…but first we just have to hang on a little bit longer. Ugh!
The insights we gain on the yoga mat train us for difficult times like these. I studied with my incredible teacher, Bhavani, on the north shore of Kauai for many years… two hour asana classes, five to six mornings a week. Bhavani is a LION, who offers yoga as a tool for psychological and emotional transformation. She famously begins almost every class with five minutes in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog). It’s hard and illuminating, and not terribly fun. I’ve watched many a visiting student roll up her mat and leave class a few minutes into that journey. There’s a reason why fast moving flow classes with a pumping soundtrack are so popular. We are not very good at being quiet and still. We are doers and movers and multi-taskers, who want to get our cardio in while we’re getting our yoga on. There is plenty of value in this type of practice, but if you want to get down and dirty with your resistance patterns and self-limiting habitual thoughts, HOLD YOUR POSES!!! The way to expand your comfort zone is to practice being uncomfortable.
Five minutes in Down Dog will teach you some things. You will quickly discern your energy level. One morning I would breeze through it, feeling strong and powerful, and the next day I would crumble 90 seconds in. It can highlight how you handle discouragement, “What’s wrong with me today? Why am I so weak? Am I even capable of improving?” Or maybe you just get mad at the mean teacher who is keeping you in the stupid pose forever. It will teach you about self-care. Can you allow yourself to come down and take rest in child’s pose when that’s what you need? Or will you muscle through to the detriment of your breath and alignment in order to prove something to yourself, your teacher, or your fellow students? Eventually, it will show you the power of surrender. Maybe your arms are shaking and your legs are burning. But what if instead of fighting with the pose, you just dropped into the experience of your breath? As it deepens and lengthens you might discover a new ease and vitality, because ultimately the asanas are there to serve as hosts to the universal energy of prana.Once we start to tap into that limitless energy, we realize that we’ve been trying to do all the work ourselves, when universal assistance has been patiently waiting for an invitation to help.
Long holds remind us that time is elastic and suffering is optional. Five minutes can last forever, or pass in the blink of an eye. You can spend it in a battle of wills between you and the pose. We’ve all done it. Or you can use that time to refine your alignment, focus on your breath, and observe the whirling dervish of your monkey mind. You can certainly give yourself permission to take rest and regroup when you’ve slipped back into combat mode…your breath will let you know. You can strengthen your “Hanging On” muscles by picking a challenging pose, setting a timer, and living with that pose for the allotted time, regardless of your experience there. And then do it again tomorrow.