Do you stretch? Or do you force yourself into a posture? Normally, I think I take things pretty gently and that I never fall into the latter category, but after yesterday's class, I'm not too sure. But more on that later.
Last weekend, I went to a way cool talk on meditation given by a dharma teacher, Sharon Salzberg. It was chock full of insights that I let wash over me. Many ideas from Sharon's talk stood out, but one seems particularly relevant to yoga. Sharon discussed the difference between stretching and forcing. The goal of meditative practice is not to force the mind into unnatural realms. The result of doing that is simply more anger or fear! Instead, we work to gradually stretch ourselves out, to move out of our conditioned brains and connect with the vast consciousness that is already within us. The result of doing so is an ability to react more appropriately to whatever stimuli we encounter--we respond to a colleague's suggestion with equanimity and acceptance, for example, rather than out of fear or anger that we've been judged.
The relationship of stretching vs. forcing to yoga is obvious enough to you yogis, right? The point is not to force ourselves into a posture; we move at the edge of discomfort, trying to continually hold ourselves there, until gradually that edge moves further and further away. But what about forcing yourself to get to class? To maintain a practice? To think that this yoga is right for you when some days you're just not sure? These are the questions I've been grappling with lately.
I admit to feeling a bit like I'm forcing my yoga practice these past couple of weeks. Heck, I feel like I've been forcing a lot in my life lately! It's a time in the semester where just maintaining the status quo is hard enough--forget trying to make progress in yoga or other aspects of life. When I'm going, in, and returning from class, I have a lot more doubt than I've had since returning to Bikram yoga a year and a half ago. I wonder, "is this too hard on my body? Am I helping or hurting?" "In a time of stress, as this is, should I take it easy on myself, or make myself go to yoga in order to maintain my health and consistency in my life?" Heck, my blog is called Eat the Yolk--it's all about going for it--but maybe you gotta go through a phase where egg whites will do!
I had a class yesterday that scared the living daylights out of me. It was a super-hot one, which I can typically handle under normal circumstances. But by the fourth posture, standing-head-to-knee, a migraine headache came on seemingly out of nowhere. I felt like one of those cartoon characters that randomly got whacked over the head with a giant hammer.
It scared me. The excessive heat, the lack of circulating air, a new instructor, and the headache combined and put me in freak-out mode. I struggled to get a hold on my thoughts; it seemed they were roaches scattering across the walls as the light flicked on--they were quick, frightening, and too numerous to address any one of them in particular. Among other things, I thought of Salzberg's idea of stretching vs. forcing. In that class, I really felt I was forcing it.
I took a quick break, leaving the room to check my tongue in the mirror to make sure I wasn't having a stroke ;-) Really, I did do that! The rest of class, of course, I was OK. No strokes! The headache persisted for a while but eventually dissolved, and by the end of class I had a handle on my thoughts by recognizing them as simply... thoughts. Like the cockroaches, they're there. They can be ugly and scary, but when the light is on, they scamper away pretty quickly.
I reckon this post could seem a little wishy-washy. There's the nice idea about not forcing, just stretching, but I don't always feel I can recognize where the line lies. I know, however, that not every question can be resolved and tied up in a neat little package. Maybe the goal is to become more and more comfortable with that uncertainty.
Until I know for sure, you will probably find me at a Bikram yoga class. But I'll be stretching, not forcing! :-)
Randomly awesome quote:
"At least he keeps the borders of his mind realm well patrolled."--Sam Lipsyte, "The Dungeon Master"