Learning to do back bends, is really about learning how to live my life.
Yoga is a significant part of my life, both in practice and teaching. I am constantly learning. On Tuesday night my teacher’s words struck a chord with me. She lead the class through a back bend series and described the vulnerability that comes with back bending as an opportunity for growth. I’m a body type that finds forward bending, easy, comfortable. Back bending is scary, uncomfortable, destabilizing. Yet, when you nail a solid back bend, it feels so good, you are so open, you feel free.
Asanas (yoga positions) are about a psychological balance. On one hand, you need to push yourself to an area that is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and push your boundaries. There is a sweetness to going beyond your comfort zone, in finding a place that you grow. On the other hand, if you push too hard, you put yourself in a place of pain and risk injury. This pulls you back into your comfort zone; the walls much higher to climb the next time you try to go beyond your boundaries. In this way, pushing too hard limits our growth.
Life choices are much the same. We often find ourselves in comfortable rhythms; patterns of interactions with places and people that we identify with or provide comfort. This can be fulfilling, but we find ourselves looking over the fence wondering what it would be like over there. At the same time we fear traversing that ground because it would mean letting go of our familiar patterns, the patterns by which we define ourselves.
I found myself in this position in October of last year. I had a loving community, a committed partner, job opportunities, everything was there. However, there was an itch. It started subtly, where it could be ignored. But day by day the itch grew until it was alive, clawing at me from the inside. I couldn’t ignore it. This itch wanted me to go anywhere but where I was. I was conflicted, I was afraid.
I let that fear push me. I chose to leave, leave my friends, partner, and community, taking up an internship overseas. However, it was like collapsing onto my hands in a back bend without warming up, or ever even learning how to do a back bend. I just believed I could do it without putting in the hard work to prepare myself. I hit head first, falling, and injuring myself. I was hurt and was not in a place of comfortable growth. Those around me could only watch, as I insisted on doing it. I resented the place I had come to, I longed for the comfortable spaces I had left behind.
Despite this initial shock, it brought me to a place where growth could happen. From lying back flat on the floor I built strength. I learned how to support myself, I learned how to push a little each day. Preparing myself, understanding the vulnerability I was experiencing, and learning how to accept that feeling. I didn’t know what it meant to leave, or what it would feel like to be in that position.
Only now can I tell you, being here in the full supported version of this posture, this version of myself, is the most liberating experience. It informs my other experiences, having built strength and awareness through pushing myself and respecting my boundaries. I have a vantage point on my previous self that I could never have had continuing my regular patterns.
From here, I am able to make decisions with more clarity. I still have a lot to learn, and there are endless postures to master. I wish I could have gained this perspective without having to fall on my head, but I am one of those unfortunate souls who learn from doing it themselves, no matter what wisdom others have to offer. But now, I have a broader picture of myself.
I am able to experience fear and deal with it in a way that is productive. Fear does not hinder me, neither does it make me rash and ignorant, causing me to deal with it in a way that harms both myself and those around me. Fear can rule us by trapping us, or by sending us on a mad rampage over a cliff. I work day by day to challenge fear, to work with fear, and accept fear.
In learning to do back bends, I choose how to live my life.