Something cool happened: I entered a contest on Twitter and won a new Manduka mat in the sexy, limited edition color: Black Cherry. It is fab. It looks like the spawn of my two older mats: the majestic Black Manduka and the lightweight maroon Prana mat that has been with me for many years. It has that new mat smell. Getting the mat in the mail -- and a love handwritten note from Manduka -- felt like affirmation that I'm on the right path, and for that I am grateful.
Meanwhile, lately I seem to leave yoga looking as if I've gone five rounds with (super hot) UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. First, I blackened my left eye. A week later, I did the same to my right. Then, last Wednesday, I was in pincha maryasana when all of a sudden blood began to drip off my face onto the mat. Ever lame, I had ripped open my lip with a quick swipe of a towel just before going upside down. After class, Sherman put me right.
One of my issues is that I never think I'm working hard enough. I didn't pick this up out of the blue. It was planted deep in my psyche early on. I'm working on it... still... always... But something Sherman said on Friday about there being no finish line where the practice is concerned made me realize that I've brought this particular neurosis with me to the mat. Surprise.
It's not that I muscle through the asanas, but, rather, I throw myself around a bit, and rather than inching up to the edge and peering over to see what's there, I dangle a limb or two over the abyss just to test the air currents. I do this because I suspect I'm a lazy wimp, that I'm too easy on myself. It's gotten worse recently, along with feelings of shame that my body's not changing fast enough, and a host of other "not enoughs" that are currently playing on an endless loop in my over-active cerebellum.
What Sherman was basically saying was slow down.
So this morning, I decided to dedicate my practice to "seeing what happens." I went to an unfamiliar spot in the room -- a corner where I could feel fairly private -- hooked my mind to Sherman's voice, and let myself be as if this were the first class I'd ever taken. I made myself forget what was coming next, and, for some reason -- exhaustion? -- it worked. I flowed in flow class. My shoulders were tired after three days in a row of hard practice, but at a certain point they released and the rest of whatever I was holding onto followed, like dominos.
In some asanas, I went back to basics, choosing not to try the advanced options because I knew I'd just end up sitting on my butt waiting for it to be over. In others, I tried to take a small step forward. I have tripod headstand in my sights -- mostly because it looks fun. And since I had the wall right there, I took a stab at sending my feet up to the sky. They would have gone, too, except that I actually took the pose correctly -- hips over shoulders -- and my feet lifted off the ground all by themselves. I held them there for a split second, then freaked out and did what I can only call the dance of the dying house fly.
Afterward, over hummus and babaganoush at Le Pain Quotidien across the street from Yogaworks, I read the following about tree pose in Dani Shapiro's new memoir: Devotion:
"Standing on one leg, the other foot pressed into my upper thigh, I reach my arms over my head and then - then, I bend. I lean to the side, and allow my head to be dead weight. I forget about the idea of balance. I forget that there is a self who is balancing. I have learned that this is the only way that balance is possible. The minute I start thinking about it -- Oh, look at me! Look how far I'm bending today -- I will fall."
Amen, Dani. In the micro, I mangled my tripod headstand because I noticed I was about to do it. But in the macro, today's entire practice was an exercise in balance. In fact, when the dread direction: "High Plank," rung out, and I knew it was time for push ups and crunches -- that class was winding down -- I had to turn and look at the clock. We had been practicing for 75 minutes, and it felt like 45 -- or rather, it felt outside of time, because I had let go of the goal and thought only about what I was doing right then.
Or maybe it was my new mat.