“Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.” — William Shakespeare
I have an unusual relationship with my body. Or maybe, quite possibly, I have a very common and usual relationship with my body—more usual than not. What I am finding more and more is that all of us have something we wish to be different.
I have an unusual relationship with my body.
Ever since I was a kid I was slightly disconnected from my body. My mind was more attuned to the world around me, rather than the world inside me. It didn’t matter how I got from here to there or there to here, just so long as I did. I could be clumsy, I could trip over my own feet and land face-first in the driveway, I could be always just a little disjointed and uneven, but I didn’t really care.
I spent a year in gymnastics, followed by many years in dance. Heart to bone, bone to muscle, muscle to mind. As I grew, I found a way to thread together all the parts into a whole.
I’ve heard that muscle has a memory, and this assertion rang true when I took my first yoga class. Each pose, each motion, seemed to hold fingerprints somewhere on the strings and bands that connect every muscle in my body. My mind latched onto this feeling of movement, resistance, sensation, and let go of all the thoughts and words that seemed to plague my monkey mind. I was present—slightly imbalanced and out of practice—but present. And I was hooked.
Class after class, I faced myself. Time after time and pose after pose I would try so hard, only to not quite reach the pose in the way I thought I should. My stance wasn’t wide enough, my fingers dangled in the air too far from my toes. My shoulders clung firmly as I reached upward, and my elbows were never straight enough. I pushed. I pulled. I forced and I willed. No matter how much I wanted it, I couldn’t make that connection. I felt hinged and uneven. Wishing for a fluid form, a steady and effortless gait, yet still quite divided.
This theme of not being strong enough, limber enough, nor capable enough had been woven into all the parts of my life. I wanted to be better. I wanted to be smarter and stronger. I wanted more confidence, spirituality and understanding, and more overall happiness. If I could just get on the other side of where I was—this space of “almost there,” but not quite. Whether it be my palms flat on the floor in a forward bend, or the ability to keep my emotions from taking over my mind—if I could just get there, then I would be truly content.
This theme of not being strong enough, limber enough, nor capable enough had been woven into all the parts of my life.
Every week, I returned. Or at least most weeks. There were these long periods of life taking over and creating pauses in my practice. But regardless, I would find my way back to the mat and again be confronted with this uneasy place of not being enough. How could I so easily float back and forth between strong-minded and strong-bodied one moment, and flimsy wobbly overthinking mess the next?
I came home one day after yoga feeling frustrated. I had just spent 90 minutes of pushing and pulling, shaking and sweating, and I felt weaker than ever. The thoughts in my head were circling round and round. How could I be taking yoga for this many years and still be unable to do certain things? Why was I still terrified of trying a headstand even though my teacher had said I was ready? Would I ever be able to go into full arm balance? Why was I not strong enough or flexible enough? And why oh why, after all of this yoga and study, was I not more balanced as a person so that none of this mattered so much?
I tossed my yoga mat to the floor and paced my living room. I wondered if it were possible that there is no being on one side or the other of this space—this crusade to be better, stronger, wiser, or even just more than what I am. Maybe it wasn’t about bridging a gap between here and there, beginner to intermediate. Maybe it was walking a fragmented line—one that sometimes circles round and loops back on itself. Maybe progression takes many forms, and sometimes moves more slowly than what we would like.
Kicking my mat up against the wall, I knelt down, pressed my forearms and the crown of my head firmly into the spongy surface of the mat, raised my hips in the air and lifted my legs up one at a time. My feet hit the wall and I was up, in headstand. Heart to bone, bone to muscle, muscle to mind. I was up. I stayed there for a few minutes, reveling in my accomplishment and in conquering my fear. Then I bent my legs and came down into child’s pose. Panting slightly from the exertion and adrenaline that had been coursing through my veins, I rested.
I have grown stronger since I began taking yoga, this is true. I still have a lot more strength to gain. But in that moment of being alone in my living room and going up into headstand, it occurred to me that growth isn’t about achieving individual poses, but rather cultivating the landscape of a practice. And it raised a larger question: could it be that at the heart of our weakness and fragility grow the roots of our strength?
Growth isn’t about achieving individual poses, but rather cultivating the landscape of a practice.
I rolled up my mat, feeling slightly unhinged and disjointed. This shadow of a moment was no more. That fragmented line was beckoning me back.