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From Stiff as a Board to Bendy Like a Pretzel

Like an onion, or maybe a tasty piece of cake, a yoga practice yields layer after layer of discovery. The journey begins with a thrill for the physical. Your body bends in ways you never imagined and age-old injuries seem to vanish. Then the unseen journey begins: You realize balance doesn’t always mean finding a perfect tree pose, it means giving your mind and body equal time on the mat.

UNDOING YEARS OF DOING

“Oh you must have been a dancer or gymnast, huh,” she said. I almost laughed out loud as I looked up at Janice, a new student in one of my yoga classes.

“No,” I sighed as I shut down the front desk computer. “I was actually a basketball player and ran track.”

I looked down at my legs. My heels were resting comfortably on the edge of the small, oval-shaped chair I was sitting on, my knees pulled tight to my chest. I was sitting in the position of a flexible person, but all I could see was the scar from a knee surgery I had in seventh grade after a collision during an AAU basketball tournament. Janice was complimenting me, yet all I could hear was the loud crack of my ankles —  after multiple sprains from running track — as I released my feet back to the floor. And that’s when I realized something: I had practiced yoga for eight years and made huge physical changes, but mentally, I was way behind. 

AN UNSEEN JOURNEY

One of the biggest tricks of a photo, or a moment in time for that matter, is that’s all we get. That snapshot of time is all we see. We don’t see the years of practice the singer went through before a big moment on the grand stage, or the hours of sleepless nights a medical student endured to become top in her field. So, it’s easy to think that someone who can do the splits in front of a full room of people was born that way. Sure, some people are born with innate gifts, but when it comes to yoga, we must remind ourselves of the unseen journey. Picture the time you pushed a stretch too deep and pulled a muscle or the day you finally found your first arm balance pose, only to fall on your face seconds later. Only you will ever understand the pain and joy it took to struggle, heal and pick yourself up. That’s the beauty of your practice: It’s all yours.

FINDING YOUR EDGE

Your practice truly becomes yours when you let go of what you think it should be, and simply focus on what it is — this moment. One of my favorite sayings is, “we’ve been should on our whole lives. The last thing you need to do on your mat is should on yourself.” That’s yoga in a nutshell. It’s about finding your edge: your maximum threshold in a pose while maintaining your breath. Then, you soften. You soften around that edge and find that every pose has strength and every pose has softness. It’s the beauty found in the edge.

…every pose has strength and every pose has softness.

MORE THAN THE PHYSICAL

Janice reminded me of my edge with those few kind words (which was shocking, because I had just taught a 7 a.m. class — and let’s just say, I’m not my most enlightened self before 8 a.m.). She reminded me yoga isn’t just a physical journey from a board to a pretzel; it’s a mental one, too.

I had been practicing for eight years, yet when she complimented me, my first reaction was to tell her I wasn’t what she saw:

Flexible.

Loose.

Peaceful.

It’s like the woman who loses an immense amount of weight, but all she can see when she looks in the mirror is her old, overweight self. She doesn’t believe internally what she’s become externally.

That’s what yoga is all about: It’s not just about the physical being, it’s also about transforming the mind from an inflexible, rigid board into a resilient and fluid pretzel. Are the poses beautiful? Yes! Is the flexibility healthy? Absolutely! But it’s in the journey inward where we transform to who we’ve always been. Yoga, and the mindfulness it fosters, are the glue that reconnects the body and the mind.


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