One important difference between yoga and my running routine is that in yoga, I go to class, and someone tells me what to do for nearly an hour. Sometimes I really welcome that opportunity, a chance to do something that will benefit my mind, spirit, and body, and no decisions to make on my own for nearly an hour. As a person with a job that requires massive amounts of self-direction, laying that decision-making burden down and letting someone else guide me towards good things can be such a relief.
Other times, I find myself resistant, to yoga, to instruction, to moving in hard ways. There’s a funny sign in my neighbor’s yard, which I walk past on the way to work. It says “Do Hard Things.” I always smile, thinking, yep, I’m on my way to do hard things for a good chunk of my day, even though I know there will be rewards in the midst of the challenges.
In yoga, some days, I just show up, but with sort of a bad attitude. I’ll find myself annoyed that the instructor is telling me to do things that I just don’t have the energy for, or that I know my body isn’t good at, including really basic poses like Warrior I (that one has never agreed with me), or wheel–there’s no way my arms are lifting my upper body into that position–or inverted poses that require core strength I just don’t have. Yoga can be humbling in that way. It’s always important to remember that, as my longest-standing instructor always says, “Yoga has no ego.” I need to leave mine at the door, and where possible, recognize my resistance and just breathe my way through it.
But today, oh joy, there was so little resistance! I was in the flow, just like I am on a good run, ready to use even the weakest parts of my body (like upper arms) and just do my best. I enjoyed stretching places that haven’t been stretched in awhile, like the side of my stomach, and my low spine while in up dog. I gave it my best today, and got the reward, which was, of course that lovely shavasana at the end, in which I practically fell asleep. My body and mind felt happy and buoyant, and the stiffness that plagued me during my half-marathon training was gone. Feeling my body’s strength and flexibility throughout made me feel good, and after 50 minutes, I was happily spent.
I think today’s happy yoga time was partly the result of another pattern that yoga has helped me discern, the idea of opening up space so that new things can happen. In yoga, instructors are always reminding us to open up space, across our chest and shoulders, in our hips, in our lungs even, anywhere where we hold ourselves down and keep ourselves tight. I think there’s another meaning there, too, which is about how we do have limitations in terms of what we can expect our bodies or our overall energies to accomplish at any one time. There’s only so much space.
Today’s class is a power yoga class, one that I was doing most Wednesdays during the half-marathon training, mainly because it fit into my schedule. But I was already doing so much “power” stuff in running 9 or 10 miles on the weekends, that my body and mind resisted that much yoga-related exertion for a reason. It was hard to accommodate so much high-energy working out in my body and my psyche. I was trying to create more space than was genuinely available to make it all work happily. I was overcommitting.
Today, I think I enjoyed a deep, strong and long yoga workout because I’ve opened up space: I’m a gentle 3-mile-or-so runner again most of the time these days, and now I can enjoy new things. The same kind of pattern shows up in my life. Now that I’m finally finished writing my book, I’ve got more energy for teaching and a few of the million and one things that a large institution of higher education calls me to be involved with. I even feel like getting dressed in clothes that aren’t workout/writer-at-home clothes. I’ve had to keep going to work even at the hardest times of writing, but sometimes it was such a slog. Now that there’s more space, less of my energy being focused in a single direction, I can enjoy the other aspects of my life more fully.
Oh, that over-commitment thing. We all do it, and even at my age, I often only recognize it when I’m in between large commitments, and on the verge of taking on more! This all makes me think, how much balance do I really want in my life, and what am I willing to do less of to make it happen? These are questions I’ll probably always have, because I’m a busy person who expects a lot of myself.
Today I’m grateful for what my body can do when it’s in the flow, or when it’s resistance, and I’m grateful for the time and space to write and think about this part of my journey. Having just had my annual physical yesterday, I’m also so grateful for my health, and the health of my nearest and dearest. And now, I’m going to open up the space to enjoy Thanksgiving!