Yoga can feel really serious when you are trying to hold a Bird of Paradise while looking over your shoulder, dropping your hip, lifting out of the other hip, opening through the chest, extending the leg, and breathing. When we first start our yoga journey, there are so many challenges that it feels a lot like work.
You have to try really hard to find peace, even though all that trying doesn’t exactly feel very peaceful.
Frustration and Intense Concentration
For the first few years of practicing yoga, I think I had a permanent scowl on my face from how hard I was concentrating. I would muscle through a Tree pose unaware that my third eye was covered in concerned wrinkles of stress. I was so focused on the effort it took to do the things my teacher was asking me to do that I looked and felt as solemn as the day I took my SATs.
“You can do this Toni… just keep going!”
Then one day, I was in class and we were trying something particularly challenging. The teacher demonstrated a one-armed handstand using just her right pointer finger, and then splayed her legs and came into a Flying Crow, balancing on the tip of her nose.
I was like “ummmmm… yeah, right” -- but everyone else was trying, so of course, I did too. Surprise, surprise - I couldn’t do it! And I immediately felt frustrated. The sweat dripped, and the grimace on my face was so intense, it scrunched up all distinguishable features until all that was left was flesh as smooth as Barbie’s crotch.
“Don’t Forget To Smile”
Just as I was about to scream with the desperation of a cat in heat, the teacher said “and don’t forget to smile.” At first I was like “Yeah, I will smile after I walk up to the front of the room and slap that smile off your face,” but then I thought, “whoa… she is totally right.”
It is just yoga. It is totally okay if I don’t do this. I am not a Green Beret. All I have to do is try, and it if doesn’t happen, I can always try again another day!
When we are putting our bodies in unfamiliar positions, of course there are going to be moments where we have to exert energy and be determined – yet that doesn’t mean that we should lose the spirit of play. Yoga, although profound, is still a life-long practice. We are not going to be graded at the end of the day, there is no one judging your posture, there is no gold star.
Yoga is for you, and for your own spiritual, physical, and philosophical growth.
The more playful I got with my practice, the more enjoyable it became – and I also improved faster. I found space within my body because I was approaching poses from a place of exploration, not strain. As adults in the Western world, we forget to play and celebrate the lightheartedness of life. Yet the more we connect to our inner child -- both on and off the mat -- the more we find the flow of the moment.