Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Utkatasana...Just a Pose or Mirror of Self?

Recently, I was in a wonderfully challenging Hot Vinyasa class when I found I was giving myself more permission than usual to get out of the poses when the going got tough. I started thinking about why I was doing this, why did I keep backing down? My norm was to push and push and push. That's when I noticed how closely my effort in yoga class resembled what I was going through in the outside world. I realized professionally, I was somewhat slowing down my fervent push as well. The more I thought about it the more I saw how much my yoga practice mirrored what was happening in my real life.

Take for example, Utkatasana - or chair pose. You stand with your big toes together, drop your hips like you're sitting in a chair, and raise your arms overhead. In terms of yoga poses, it is a fairly simple one (no levitating required). But there are different commitment levels. You could keep your hips fairly high saving enough juice to just wait out the teacher until they move on. Or you could get low and just keep stealing quick little leg-straightenings when it starts to get tough. Or you could give it everything you've got for as long as the teacher holds you there. Regardless of anything that comes up, you stay committed.

The first option - staying just low enough to be considered in the pose - is how many people live their lives. They glide through just waiting for something to end. Waiting for what comes next. They give effort, but save enough in reserve because they have no idea how long they will need it and don't want to come up short. So they hold back. This is often called Playing It Safe. Maybe it's not opening their entire heart in a relationship. Or not throwing out extreme ideas at work. They live in a way that keeps their life constant. There is no fear of failure because there is never a push for greater success, for growth. Instead, they coast.

Some people do put in extreme effort, but quickly back down. They sink their hips low but at the first sign of trembling, they ease up a bit. They come back into their safety zone if there is a chance of failure. At work they might throw out that crazy idea but then play it off like a joke if no one jumps on it, even if they truly believe in it. Or maybe ask someone out in a roundabout I'm-asking-you-out-but-you-totally-don't-have-to-say-yes way (recently I had a friend who asked someone out like this: "I know people get very busy around the holidays but if you are ever bored maybe we could grab coffee or something". Compare that with a direct "I would love to take you out on a date" and which would you prefer?). They step a foot outside that comfort zone but never quite plant it. It almost seems like they want to extend themselves, yet don't quite have the discipline to really commit to it, so they live their lives pretending they're going to push but never actually do.

Lastly, there are the shakers. The ones who get so low in Utkatasana their thighs almost immediately begin to tremble. But they breathe through it. They know in their heart this pose cannot last forever, so they give it everything they got. They commit to the pose for whatever length of time the teacher chooses. They know a deep dark secret: The body can take it, it's the mind that cannot. By knowing this, they get an edge because they learned the secret to success: overcome the fear of failure in the mind and you will succeed. These are the people who fight for what they believe in off the mat. They don't take no for an answer. They live whatever life they want, go out and push their own boundaries because they know failure is 100% mental. Even if they start a business that goes bankrupt, that is not failure. They still learned and grew from the experience. Knowing failure only exists where they create it in their mind gives them the courage to keep putting themselves out there. To keep pushing. To keep growing. To get those hips down one more inch and stay there.

Somehow, I woke up in the second category this month. Luckily, I recognized it and am taking steps to push my way back into the last category. I want to grow. I want to push. I want to banish failure from my vocabulary so it can't get a hold on me. Last night's intense practice (and today's intense soreness) is a good first step. What does your practice say about where you are in life right now?

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