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Perfection is a destination. Destinations distract me from experiencing where I am right now.
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST RUTH FARMER
Of all the yoga postures, Warrior is one of my least favorite. The position feels tortuous, and sometimes even torturous, especially Warrior I and Warrior II. Still, I am determined to perfect these postures – knowing that this will never happen. Warrior keeps in the forefront of my mind that I am trying to give up being perfect. I accept that I will fall down and pursue perfection in something.
Perfection is a destination. Destinations distract me from experiencing where I am right now. While I am thinking about what might be or could be, the present passes me by. Agonizing over the past and worrying about the future are obsessions. I embrace them as manifestations of straining toward perfection. Warrior helps me to focus on the present.
You might say that I have been an advanced beginner in yoga for 15 years or so. I used to be a beginning intermediate, but I don’t practice enough to retain that status. In the past year, I’ve attended a yoga class once a week and most of the monthly special sessions offered by my yoga instructor. In between, I set aside a couple of days for a 30-minute focused practice – standing poses, for example – or a 15-minute I-gotta-do-something practice. The latter usually entails sleepily stretching and alternating between downward-facing dog and plank, just to wake up my body.
Over the years, I have cycled, jogged, and practiced karate and tai chi, all in an effort to keep my body mobile. I abandoned other physical outlets after a few years, never to return. I continue to come back to yoga. I have a fear of being a creaky old woman who can’t get out of a chair without cringing in pain.
Well, I am creaky – my knees are anyway; however, I can get out of chair without moaning.
A few years ago I realized that I didn’t know what my body was doing. As in,
“Am I sitting up straight now?”
“What did I do to my hip?”
“Are my feet parallel, pointed in or pointed out right now?”
Did I consciously think these things from time to time? Unfortunately, yes. What other folks took for granted, I questioned.
Yoga has reacquainted me with my body. Warrior has reinforced my understanding that certain postures can inform everyday life.
It is difficult to drift while moving into and holding Warrior. Instead of thinking about the appointment I have at eleven o’clock, I focus on my back foot, making certain that the balls of the big and little toes and my heels provide grounding.
The project with too many parts and not enough partners fades as I deepen my stance by bringing thigh parallel to the floor, moving knee over ankle. I have forgotten about the wrong word spoken during yesterday’s meeting as I coax my tailbone downward. I am here in the Now, rather than there, in the past or the future.
Warrior stretches and strengthens my ankles, legs, and thighs. I feel taller. Moving between Warrior I and Warrior II, I lift not just my arms but my heart. The physical act of lifting the heart brings energy toward me and releases tensions. Throughout the day, this one movement – lifting of the heart – helps me to become intellectually and emotionally open.
I still resist the posture. As soon as my yoga instructor says “Take a big step back,” I get into a Warrior frame of mind. I begin doing battle with my body’s limitations. Squaring the hips? Yeah, that’ll happen. Knee over ankle? Yes today; tomorrow maybe not so much. And I still have to concentrate on planting my feet without gripping the floor as though I’m going to spin off the planet. Staying present helps me. I grip the floor if I’m worrying about falling; that is, if I anticipate a future occurrence or focus on the time when I lost my balance – (Did anyone see that?)
Breathing helps. I hold my breath when I am concerned with doing the posture “right.” Fortunately, my yoga instructor is attentive: With a touch, she encourages my shoulders to stop helping so much; they relax. I breathe; my shoulders relax a bit more. As I type this article, I remember that I don’t need my shoulders’ assistance to manipulate the keys. I breathe and lift my heart.
My body doesn’t do Warrior the way other bodies do it. Even though I know this, I scan the room sometimes, comparing postures. Doing this, I miss what my instructor says. We have shifted from Warrior I to II; my arms are up and others’ are out.
Good thing I have given up Perfect.
My instructor gives us permission to accept how our bodies experience the posture, while encouraging new experiences (like helping the shoulders to relax). Some days I am a good student; some days I wish she would forget the word Warrior.
For me, Warrior as a practice means focus, attempt, yield, accept, remember, learn. It is an all-body experience (and this includes the mind). In the past few months, I’ve shifted my attitude toward it (though it is still up there with Bridge pose as my least favorite). I try not to sigh when my instructor says “Take a big step back with your right foot.”
Instead of enduring, I focus on the movements as they come. I learn a bit more about my body. I learn a bit more about my mind. I notice I am becoming stronger, more grounded, and more fluid, just by experiencing the moment.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.