Thursday, July 29, 2010


In yoga we learn that our thoughts and feelings line our joints like hard water deposits. I never give this much thought, partly because I'm so inflexible that I never get to that layer and partly because I'm too busy trying to match my perfectionist tendency to my woefully imperfect poses ("practice" be damned).

But late in May I committed myself to going to a hot yoga flow class every weekday through July, which I've done with few exceptions. There have definitely been changes -- things I can feel, effects I can see, progress in good directions on many fronts. In the past week, I noticed an opening in my hips that has certainly never existed before and almost immediately heard a concomitant litany of past voices -- my voices -- saying all the things I say to myself when things are hard for me: This is impossible. How can anyone be expected to do this? I can't stand it for another minute. It's so hard I have to stop, etc.

The memory associated most strongly with these messages was a summer swim team, my first swim team, without ever having learned "real swimming" beyond 2-week YMCA classes when I was little. A seemingly irrelevant yet probably vital detail: my oldest sister was one of the coaches. We swam lap after lap, and as I struggled to breathe, I struggled harder against the growing panic in my lungs that this just wasn't FAIR. I couldn't do it, so by logical extension no one could do it: it just couldn't be done and therefore asking it of me (and us, I rationalized desperately) was fascist. Did I mention I'm a perfectionist? Yes, the ugly side of perfectionism is the utter inability to deal with not being good at something, even when it's YOGA for god's sake, as though being good at yoga is anything more than practicing it intentionally!

I know this, yet the voices are so distracting this week that I cannot calm myself, cannot focus, cannot stay in that hot, unbearable room. Today, cooling myself like a nuclear rod in the shower, I realized this simple truth: I do not know how to be gentle with my ... what? failure? It's not that. Imperfection? It's not quite that either. With my own inner fascist demanding that only perfection equals even "practice." Trying means giving 100%. Not trying means skipping the pose, leaving the room, checking out. There's some subtlety here that I can't quite finger. Throughout the class, I modify the poses to be less difficult, but then I give 100% within the modification. What I can't do is approach a pose half-heartedly knowing I can do better and (gasp!) choosing not to.

This seems like a life skill that I should know by now. Yet the fact that I don't clues me into why I'm so baffled -- and resentful -- at the majority of folks who seem to be floating through life entirely unfazed at their lack of exertion and unapologetic about ignoring expectations and responsibilities that affect those around them. Who was your mama? I want to ask them. And maybe that's another clue that there's a voice other than mine distracting me in yoga.

So I need another way to think about effort - a valid middle ground between all or nothing. A new way to be gentle with myself and the chasm between my intention and the unforgiving hardness cementing my joints closed, tight, and unmoving.

These adjectives no longer serve me.

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