Archive | April, 2011

Taking the plunge to ground with yoga

13 Apr

I stood at the edge, my feet under the wobbly board, beneath me a sea of deep blue water distorting the surface at the bottom. To the frightened child in me, that dark blue bottom seemed  endless.

But it was just the deep end of the pool, and that summer, as I confronted my paralyzing fears about jumping off the diving board  for the first time, I found myself in a state of panic.

What if my feet didn’t reach the bottom after I jumped, propelling me back to the surface, where I could gasp for breath. What if swallowed water….or worse, could not make my way back up?

For days, I walked on the board, taking the few steps needed to get to the edge, a journey started on solid footing but ending on that last stretch that undulates with your weight, and really, nerves. Each time, I turned around, too scared to jump.

All my friends were jumping off, some doing bombshells, others diving head on. I was too gripped by the fear of jumping into an unfamiliar depth. I walked to the edge, looked down into the depth, stomach turning, then steeled myself to retrace my steps back to the ladder. I was too scared to jump.

I’ve relived those feelings in yoga, stepping up to a pose, going to the edge, peering over….then letting fear get the best of me as I back away. What am I afraid of, I ask myself. Of falling? All four inches to the ground?

Fear is such a powerful force. That preoccupation with the unknown and uncertainty can take such hold of us that we lose sight of what’s in front of us and the richness and bounty we stand to seize if we give in to that fear.

I love that  yoga offers me opportunities to face my fears — whether in a pose or a challenge to practice a yoga principle. I think of my mat as the diving board that summer in my youth: a place I trembled with fear, but once I take the plunge, conquer my fears and just do the task, find profound stillness and grounding.

I jumped off the deep end that summer — and I’m jumping still.

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How yoga answers a weighty question

5 Apr

A prospective student wanted to know if yoga had anything to do with weight loss. Could doing yoga help her lose weight? Or maybe she meant: Did she have to lose weight first in order to do yoga?

The answer on both counts is no. Well, maybe no.

Yoga is all about going inwards. About shutting out the world and coming into our presence, our breath, our true essence. It has nothing to do with the size of our jeans.

We are so preoccupied with the external world —  our looks, our weight, how we come across to others that we judge ourselves — without mercy — by standards that take into account only the fleeting: Supple skin, firm muscle tone, taut tummies, hard-rock quads. Trees age and wither; our dogs age, slow down and go blind. And yet, we hold ourselves up to impossible standards.

We go to class, get on our mats and the first thing we do is look around the room and compare ourselves to others. Do our hips, thighs and tummies pass muster? Will our jiggly bits jiggle so much more in downward facing dog, forgetting yet again the true gifts of yoga.

Yoga teaches powerful lessons in honor — honoring yourself in everything you do. That includes eating. It teaches patience, kindness and moderation — not only in the postures, but in our lives. So when you step off the mat and walk into the kitchen, you can tap into those lessons. You reach for food that will nourish you; and you consume just enough to nourish and sustain — not insult with greed.

Yoga meets you where you are. That could be in a wheelchair — or in a body that is maybe dragged down by excess — unnecessary — weight. The gift of yoga is that as you come to honor and respect yourself, you come to a place where you want to do no harm to yourself: And that includes eating unhealthy foods and, in unhealthy quantities.

So unlike popular TV series…yoga won’t make you into the biggest loser – only the biggest gainer.