My ashtanga yoga practice has always (okay, for the past year that it has been a part of my life) been a curious mix of meditation, peace, fear, love, motivation, determination, competition, desire..and I’m sure a long list of other emotions. I am competitive by nature and I instantly loved the way that one can “unlock” new postures, even new series, with time, with patience and with effort. From the beginning, I have felt internally driven to improve such that I can progress within each series. Well…maybe progressing wasn’t always my goal. Once I was practicing full primary, I had the sense that I would be there many months and so the real fire in me became one to improve my hip mobility (oh, supta kurmasana…how you taunt me) and to master my standing drop-backs. Always though, I have been striving for “better.”
When I began to practice Second Series however, months before I ever expected to, I saw amazing postures ahead of me that I could not wait to learn — could not wait to be “gifted” by my teacher. I viewed each added posture as a reward for my hard work and persistence, a “gold star” to tell me how “good” I am. (I am realizing that, like Gretchen Rubin, I too am a bit of a “gold star junkie”). Then, this past January, two new yogis joined my studio, both at a similar place in their practice as I…and suddenly I had this secret race in my head, a burning to not let them get ahead of me. We were all working on kapotasana and I knew I had to master it first. I had to. Oh the ego…it really, really does not have any place in Yoga. But darn it, I said this was my yoga practice, not yoga “perfect!”
I began to grow nervous each morning as I neared kapotasana in my practice — it was so uncomfortable and my shoulders screamed as I tried to work them into position. I would spend many breaths at the wall, stretching them preparation. I had imposed an imaginary time limit on myself — I had to get this. Fast.
Eventually, I did. One day, my Teacher was able to move my hands so that I was clasping my heels…and the next, she had me try on my own and I succeeded. I was over the moon…but full of anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to do it again.
I did, however. I did, and I was taught supta vajrasana. I felt rewarded and…relieved. I had a slight breather now, a bit more space between myself and my fellow two yogis. (If you practice Ashtanga and you are reading this…you will think me ridiculous! How “un-yogi!” How absurd! I know my Teacher Frederique will likely read this. But it is what it is).
The fourth day though…I could not grasp my heels. Nor for the next week after that. I was told that kapotasana will come and go…but I wanted to should that I had only just achieved it! I felt a fraud for practicing supta vajrasana, and especially bakasana. I didn’t deserve these postures if I could not do kapotasana.
The dread before kapotasana grew stronger than ever. I spent longer and longer preparing for my backbend and experienced real fear each time I entered into the pose. I ignored the fact that I was experiencing shoulder pain with every chaturanga….and soon, in every down-dog as well. One morning I could not lift my arms to shoulder height in warrior II without a sharp, stabbing pain.
Finally, I was forced to wake up to what I had been doing to my body. I had blatantly ignored its shouts and pleas, so intent on feeding my ego, with “beating” this lovely yogi couple whom I honestly liked. Intent on competition. I had tendonitis in both shoulders and was forced to modify my practice. With no other option, I began stepping rather than jumping back into nearly every one of the dozens of chaturangas and I stopped catching ankles in my assisted backbends.
…I can now grab my heels in kapotasana nearly every practice. But I still experience that anxiety — that dread, not of the discomfort I still experience in the posture, but of “failing,” of being found un-worthy of it and of where I am in Second Series. I fear discovering that I am an imposter, who progressed too far, too quickly. And perhaps I did — perhaps I needed to go slow, to learn patience and humility. Weeks later, I still rarely jump back and land in chaturanga — my shoulders are still healing and any one thing might cause a flare of pain and inflammation. Only twice have I caught my ankles in my standing backbend in the past month.
I am still learning the Lesson of Kapotasana — in this and in all areas of my life. But it has been a powerful message in patience and humility and one I cannot ignore. It has forced me to remember why I practice yoga — if I knew I would never learn another posture, would I stop? It has forced me re-connect my brain to my body, to both listen to and nurture my body. It has reminded me to leave my ego at the door and to keep my eyes on my own mat (or more accurately, my drishti). It has taught me…that often in life, you have to go slow to go fast. Build a foundation. Learn patience and consistency.
I know that I will continue to grapple with my ego, my desire to prove myself, to earn “gold stars” from myself and others. I hope, however, that this lesson will serve to give me pause — in my crossfit training, in my Master program, in my overall life’s journey. It is a lesson I have been trying unsuccessfully to apply in my internal battle regarding quitting my program. It is a lesson of letting go. It is a lesson of learning to accept myself as I am, where I am, regardless of the contests I may win or lose, participate in or abstain from. It is a big lesson. It is one that I am tackling slowly, day by day.
Sometimes, we need slow, not fast.