Do you also have something you used to love to hate, and then one day you woke up and noticed it had turned into a thing you hated to love? And then slowly, slowly, the hate subsided and you found yourself at least ambivalent, if not slightly attached to the challenge? Did you ask yourself what changed? Was it persistence? Ignorance? Motivation? Or something else?
They say yoga happens when you connect your experience on the mat to your life off the mat. One of the walls I ran into on the mat early on was Wheel Pose. You know the backbend we all easily lifted into as kids, standing on our straightened arms and legs, hanging our heads upside down. Easy-peasy, yes? Since we did it as a kid we can naturally kick into it 15 years later, yes?
No. That pose we all kicked ourselves into as kids seemed impossible to me. I could not budge the crown of my head off the floor. “It is not about arm strength but leg strength”, my teacher said. “It is not about strength at all as much as stacking your bones right”, my sister said. I felt like Neo in the Matrix, trying to understand that it was not my body that was supposed to bend but my mind.
I clearly recall the shock of one of my first led ashtanga yoga classes, where the teacher asked us to go into the pose. I was still working on a Bridge pose variation, where the shoulders and head stay on the floor while the back arches up. Suddenly, there were strange figures lifting up all around me and as I lay on the floor it looked like the shala was invaded by Orwellian, long-legged Martian war machines. Hell’s bells, I thought, these must all have been doing wheel poses straight through their twenties into their thirties. I thought I was the only one in the world whose body forgot how to do it.
And then suddenly one day I mis-aligned my hands, too far from the head. Without noticing what happened I was up, looking at the world upside down. It really was all about forgetting strength and just stacking the bones as they felt most comfortable. It was bending the mind more than bending the body. The next few weeks I worked the pose into something I hated to love, until the one day when I straightened my arms and felt the luxurious stretch in my abs and hips and decided to increase my repetition count from two to four just because it felt so good.
Where did the transformation happen? We never catch the actual “click” as we only pay attention to the effect. The magician snapped his fingers and was gone before we knew it. The end result is all we have, and it can be a marvel. And so here is a challenge: next time I will try to catch the magician in the act. I will try to catch his hem to understand what changed, and why. Perhaps, just perhaps I will be able to understand how to bend the mind after all?
(top image courtesy of yogabloga.tumblr.com. Bottom image from Kathmandu, Nepal.)