Good At Yoga

Since my “graduation” from teacher training a week ago, I’ve gratefully accepted congrats from friends and colleagues. Very  heartwarming. However, this exchange inevitably leads to, “I would like to do yoga, but I’m not good at it.” Le sigh. But, it’s my task, nee mission, to let people know that asana, advanced asana, is only a tiny part of this massive moving organism that is yoga. Unfortunately, I’m still guilty of wishing I was “good at yoga.”

Case in point, I was in a particularly challenging class the other night. My normal vinyasa 2-3 class, with this particular teacher, is usually only very fast-paced, ashtanga-style, which presents its own set of challenges  when my old rotator cuff injury sparks up sometime after my tenth chaturanga. This class, however,  was very top-loaded with arm balance variations, forearm balances, handstands, full iterations of eka pada rajakapotasana, “advanced poses” etc…All well and good, but here’s where my ego gets in the way.

I can’t do a handstand. I can’t do the full form of eka pada rajakoptasana, there are a lot of things that I can’t do (yet?) And it still makes me a little sad.  For a long time, I felt like it was the one barrier between me and full yoga teacher-hood. I wanted to dive into the world of yoga teaching a few years ago, but I was worried that I wasn’t “good at yoga.” At that point, asana was my main focus (and I know I’m not alone!) All I saw was photos of yogis who were, as I imagined, “good at yoga.” Fortunately, over the years, the more I studied and made pranayama and meditation a more substantial part of my practice, I realized that asana wasn’t the end-all-be-all. Even more reassuring, I have had the good fortune to work with teachers who inform the students that there is no “good at yoga.” That you could spend the entire ninety minutes of class, in child’s pose on your mat and you are still practicing yoga!

A few days after that class, I brought my handstand conflict up to one of my yoga teacher friends (ooh, I love that I can call them yoga teachers instead of yoga teacher trainees!!) This particular yogini informed me that she’s been working on hers for THREE YEARS (this woman is quite adept at her physical practice, so the knowledge that she didn’t just kick up one day was very reassuring.) And then she reminded me that it’s the practice, the journey, that’s important.

Of course, the other extremely crucial element that I somehow manage to forget is that I actually have to PUT IN THE WORK. I’m not quite sure where I got the idea that by practicing vinyasa for a few years, I would all of a sudden be the next Kathryn Budig, who looks as comfortable on her hands as I feel on my feet. I actually have to work on the damn poses and if I don’t, I can’t feel sad that I’m not rocking pincha mayurasana in the middle of the room. I’m a quick one, right?

That said, while I still battle my ego, at least I am aware of the absurdity. I do feel that it is my duty to remind myself and others that there is no “good at yoga.”

Tom Selleck, Prana Vayus and Bandhas

Tom Selleck on the red carpet at the 1989 Acad...

T’Om’ Selleck, get it? Ok, I’m just being cheesy…

Last Thursday night I went to my usual 6-7:30 p.m. yoga class, which is a  practice class before my teacher training session. I was all geared up to go through some massive Kundalini with the pixie sprite yoga teacher, but alas, she was sick and we had a sub. I’ve had this sub once before and she got major points for showing up to teach in a Tom Selleck t-shirt. I really like it when a yogi isn’t deadly serious all the time. A little levity goes a long way. Although she had a really sparkly personality, she was no joke about the asana she was having us practice.

An hour and a half later, we had a little bit of time before teacher training started, so we ran across the street to get some nourishment, which we typically do as the teacher training Thursday sessions have thus far been lecture classes. Unfortunately, this was a practice class. Now, I’m all about the practice. The more the merrier, but I was starving. I hadn’t even had a chance to uncork my kombucha or shove more than 2 or 3 almonds in my face.

Once I got past my hunger grumpiness, it ended up being a pretty fascinating practice. We learned, via movement, about the 5 Prana Vayus (the 5 vital currents that are continually moving through us and the universe in all directions):

  • Apana: downward energy
  • Prana: upward energy
  • Samana: inward energy
  • Udana: outward energy
  • Vyana: expansion in all directions, all-encompassing.

To illustrate these concepts, we paired movement that matched the direction of energy. It was a fantastic way to reinforce what we were learning. Fascinating stuff in general!

Then, we learned about the bandhas. I’ve used the bandhas before, but I never really grasped their implication in the blocking and redirecting of energy. Even more fascinating! We also did asana to incorporate the bandhas. Let me tell you, downward dog is a whole different beast when you’re engaging your mula, uddiyana, and jalandhara bandhas at the same time! I love this idea of harnessing the energy and reversing its course and directing it where I want. So awesome.