Saturday, January 12, 2013
Yoga Everyday (12) - Challenge
The rest of the world may chase after New Year's resolutions. Yogis sometimes prefer to chase after poses.
They're called "challenge poses," and practitioners sometimes start the year off by picking an asana or two that they commit to exploring deeply (if not mastering) throughout the year to come. Choosing a challenge can keep your practice fresh and interesting, can add a focus to your daily practice, and can teach you about the unfathomable breadth of yoga by dropping deeply into the teeniest of spaces.
Yes, there's a danger of fueling your ego with the promise of mastery. Yes, there's a danger of losing sight of what yoga is all about. (It's not about the poses, after all.) And certainly - if you're not smart and careful - there's a danger of aiming too high and tearing a hamstring or blowing out a knee. But kept in perspective, and practiced with care and proper supervision, slipping a challenge pose onto your mat can add a little juice and joy to your life.
Is there a pose just beyond your reach? One that your body aches to master? A posture that just looks like it sings, that inspires you with its beauty and it's majesty, but that you've never done?
For me the answer is yes. (Don't ask, for I won't tell!) I want to know what it feels like to be a body in such a beautiful state of complicated wonder (even though, again, yoga is not about the poses). I love the challenge of finding my way there.
And so each day when I settle onto my mat I make sure to include a few postures that open my body in a way that moves me toward my challenge. In idle moments I consider preparatory poses that will help strengthen and open my body in the direction of the pose. I design sequences that might culminate in the desired pose; I head back to my notes in search of strategies I've learned from teachers in the past.
Like a mountaineer, I stand at the base of the mountain gazing upward, trying to figure out the best route to the top. And then each day, I challenge myself to head a little farther up the mountain.
I find it helpful to recast my challenge as "exploring" the pose rather than "mastering" it. This helps me keep the process in perspective, and helps me care less whether I ever actually make it into the final pose. It helps me enjoy the process and appreciate the insights that may arise through my exploration, wherever I may be. And it ensures that I will attain my challenge and meet my goal simply by giving it a try, whether or not I ever make it to the mountaintop.
With each passing year I grow less interested in the yoga postures themselves, and more interested in the inner energy that is fueled by and expressed through them. With each year I more deeply understand that poses are merely tools that feed inner exploration. The poses are tools that lead the body toward the breath, the breath toward the mind, and the mind toward some beautiful universal space.
But still, every once in a while, it's fun to return like a kid to the playground to hang upside-down on the monkey bars.