When notions of yoga progress get turned on their head

Janet's World

September 12, 2010|By Janet Gilbert

As a sport, yoga is definitely not all about competition and progressing to a higher level, which is good, because it forces many of us to let go of our annoying tendencies to be competitive and drive ourselves to a higher level.

Or so I thought.

Semester by semester, I've been moving into a smug yoga zone wherein I started to believe I possessed core muscles that could support my actual body weight. Fortunately, last week I had a very Zen experience that brought me back to my center.

I smacked my instructor in the face with my feet while falling backward out of a headstand.

In a way, I was mortified and thankful that no one except my very nonjudgmental class witnessed my tumble. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure a video of this moment would have gone viral on YouTube.

The thing about yoga is, it's very hard. There's really only one pose that I've mastered, and it's called "Utkatasana" or "chair pose," and this is only because I've been involved in the diligent practice of this pose ever since I was toilet-trained. In fact, I learned this pose from the master — my mother. Of course, my mother did not know the Sanskrit name for the pose; it was simply what she instructed me to do when using public restrooms.

In Utkatasana, you lean forward with your knees bent and hover over an imaginary toilet, with your arms held awkwardly up over your head so as to be sure you don't touch anything. If I think I'm about to fall out of the pose, I simply recall my mother's voice from the next stall: "You're not touching anything, are you?"

I hereby challenge anyone to an Utkatasana marathon! To give it the proper yoga spin, the Janet's World Utkatasana marathon will require participants to collect pledges. All proceeds will go toward building decent bathrooms in train stations in underdeveloped countries.

Sadly, my Utkatasana prowess has led to a false confidence, causing me to forget that I am the class bobblehead when it comes to the other poses. So last week, when my instructor was leading us into a series of headstands, I gave it my all — in fact, a little more than necessary.

I was thrilled to be able to raise my legs slowly in the first variation. But then, as happens with yoga, I became fatigued from the effort of sustaining the headstand. My instructor announced that we might as well proceed to the second variation and do the headstand resting solely on our forearms.

Once in the ready position, with my head on the ground and my toes unnaturally close to my face, I knew immediately that — as we say in Sanskrit — there was no way on God's green Earth that I was going to get my leaden legs into the air. I decided I would just stay in the mildly uncomfortable ready position. But my teacher thought I could do more, and I suppose, to be truthful, he was about to witness exactly how much more I could do.

By this time, the rest of the class had descended from their forearm headstands. He gently instructed me to raise my legs slowly, and, miraculously, I did. But then, gleeful about my accomplishment, I completely lost concentration and began teetering back and forth.

"Hold it, hold it," my instructor said.

And that's when I just flopped back and cuffed him with the soles of my feet, which made a sharp smacking sound like a belly flop from a high dive.

"Ooooh, sorry!" I said.

Kindly, he steadied my feet and told me to lower them gently, which I did with all the finesse of a pirate dropping a body overboard.

I fell, appropriately, into "Balasana," or "pose of the child." And for the rest of the class, I expertly maintained the "Chucklatsana."

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