Last year, my neck and shoulders were a wreck. Any stress or worry I have goes right there, always has, so when little spasms of pain started shooting through my shoulders and up my neck, enough was finally enough. I asked my friend who practices yoga if she thought I would benefit from a yoga class or two. She nearly shouted YES and gave me the name of her instructor, Janet.
My first impression of yoga class was, in retrospect, ridiculous. It looked so effortless. I was accustomed to cardio classes and thought exercise wasn’t worth its salt unless there was lots of sweat, so the seeming relaxed nature of yoga was a surprise. I can do this, I thought. Yoga is no big deal, there’s so much resting in it.
I’m good at resting, right?
I embraced yoga like I do everything else – wholeheartedly but competitively. Bought the mat and a few cute outfits. Bought a card for lots and lots of classes. Told all my friends.
I felt very yogic. I am going to be great at this.
The first thing I learned is that yoga is a practice. At each class, Janet had us practice downward dog, a common pose, considered a “resting pose.” Down dog builds strength while stretching the whole body and, frankly, from the outside, it looks simple. But I had some real trouble with my down dog. For one, I am completely out of balance. My left arm is shorter (and weaker) than my right, so any pose requiring putting weight on both arms is difficult for me. With a short left arm, this pose is hard. For someone out of balance, down dog is not a “resting pose.”
Mastering this was going to take practice.
It takes practice to get better at anything – physical or metaphysical. Shooting basketball, writing a sound sentence, gaining strength in yoga – all require practice.
Being kind, growing patient, choosing to forgive – all require practice, if I want to get better and live better.
All of us are out of balance somewhere, sometime. And getting back into balance takes concentration and plain old hard work.
That is why we are encouraged in Scripture to practice.
“…Practice kindness and compassion,” says Zechariah.
“…Practice patience,” says Peter.
“…Practice forgiveness,” says Paul.
“…Practice love,” says John.
These are the practices of mature folk. Or at least maturing folk.
My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. I John 3:18
Friends, are we practicing these things, or merely talking about them?
Janet got me a soft block, and with my left arm resting on the soft block and my right arm on the floor, I am much more in balance, and my yoga is becoming more sound and strong.
Just the other day, we were having a particularly strenuous class when Janet instructed us to “go to down dog.” I moved with ease into that pose and breathed well and long. And in that quiet moment, I realized for the first time that, for me, downward-facing dog had become a resting pose.
With practice, I can learn to rest in the difficult places. I can live and rest well.
It’s my decision, to practice or not.
For the record, I am currently working on a smoother transition to upward-facing dog. It think it will come soon.
With a little practice.