One day a few weeks ago I attended a yoga class taught by an Ashtanga teacher. I do not normally practice Ashtanga, but she was subbing for someone, and I have always been intrigued by it (though honestly a bit weary of its intensity). Before class began, several of us were talking about various postures, and she brought out a book by her teacher whose name escapes me. We sat in a circle looking through this book on asana simply stunned. Some of those postures looked like he needed to be missing vertebrae to be in them. It was like looking at a modern version of "Light on Yoga," which if you have not read and are at all interested in amazing asana explanation, give it a go. It remains the asana bible to many.
Flipping through this asana book with a group of non-Ashtanga students, some of whom were fairly new to yoga, instigated a discussion that has been running through my head ever since and in various forms. Interestingly, it also crossed the yoga-lawyer line. A few people bemoaned the fact that these postures looked impossible. Even though I was a student in that class, I went into teacher mode and made two remarks. First, everyone’s body is different, and that just means that there are certain postures that some people may never be able to do (a discussion for the next post). Second, I look at a book like that and find inspiration.
And so the conversation began . . . The teacher mentioned she also turns to such books for inspiration rather than a reminder of how far she has to go.
As students, are we to look at those more “advanced” in the posture as proof that we are lesser? Are we to feel inadequate because we have not achieved as much as they have? What if we have been practicing for nearly a decade and still have injuries, pains, and fears? Does not being able to fully express a posture make someone a bad yoga student? Does it make someone a bad person?
Of course not! Quite the opposite, in fact!
Having a posture to aspire to provides the basis for the practice. When I started doing yoga, I could barely touch my knees in a forward bend. Today, if I am warm enough, I can place my nose on my knees. But I am also that person who has been practicing for almost a decade and still has injuries, and there are other “basic” postures I can barely do, if at all. Thus, I know where to work. I know what must be done.
That is why asana books are inspirational. Yoga has helped me learn that it can take years to increase flexibility and strength, but it is possible. We can go from not understanding our bodies at all to listening to them and letting them guide us through life. We can go from no balance to Dancer. Seeing others who have gone down the path before is inspiring because it helps me see how much is possible. On the yoga mat, I understand this concept.
I find this harder in the professional world. What really inspired this post was not the discussion around an asana book, but an email from an organization I love. The new President wrote her first President’s Message, and even though I have known her for years, I was amazed at how much she has done. I wrote her an email telling her how inspiring she is. I meant it. What I left out, however, is how it was also a bit like looking at an Asana book thinking, “there is no way I could ever do that.”
The reason I came to New Zealand to study was to learn about a system that I thought was working and share it with the United States. My inspiration was to bring a model of children’s representation in custody cases to the States, to give children support during a difficult time in their lives. That same organization I love provided the inspiration, and the connections, to make it possible. But now I am here. Now I am learning. Now I am seeing how difficult it really is.
It is like standing in a forward fold with my hands on my knees thinking that the ground is a mile away. The professional world is different than a yoga mat because our actions and internal awareness cannot change others. It can seem overwhelming at times, impossible even.
But then I remember that I did not touch the floor overnight, and the new President did not become the President of an international organization overnight. Change comes in increments, slowly but surely. And change comes from within first, and then we can share it with the world and make a difference in the professional world in which we inhabit.
So we can look at the “great” practitioners, on and off the mat, and think, “I could never do that,” or we can look at them and say, “I am going to do that!” With teachers and mentors, we can begin to reach closer and closer to the floor in our forward folds and higher and higher up our dreams in our lives. The first step, though, is to see those who have come before as inspirations and not proof of how far we have left to go.
Who inspires you? Do you allow yourself to be inspired instead of paralyzed?
© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved