When I was a kid I was in gymnastics. I don't say that to illustrate how flexible I am. I was kid flexible. I could do all the stuff that kids can do. Then I hit puberty and grew boobs and hips and that was the end of my gymnastics and my bendiness.
One of the tricks we did in gymnastics was what we yogis call wheel or urdhva dhanurasana. Back then we called it bridge. Bridge was just one of those things that I could do as a kid. I could drop back into it from standing. I could easily bring myself back to standing. I could do a handstand and walk over into it.
I haven't done that pose for two years now. Because it was something that I had always done as a kid, I thought it could be part of my yoga practice. And it was for awhile. Maybe teachers didn't want to discourage me, but I wasn't actually doing the pose.
At my teacher training I worked on the pose a bit with my teachers. It was after we had done an entire day on backbending. I could no longer drop back, although I had been doing that in my practice. And, once I was "in" the pose, it just felt wrong. Maybe it was my new knowledge of anatomy and backbending. But my back was not the beautiful arch. It was severe and cranked. Other students commented on it.
I was devastated. I felt so defeated. Teacher trainings are intense anyway. This was not the first pose that I found out I was doing "wrong" (hmm...by wrong I mean not really getting it). And I was just emotional at that point after doing backbends all day. My heart felt exposed and raw and all that giddy energy from being so open just flooded out of me. It was like coming down after a caffeine high. Just a wall.
After my teacher training I just thought, well we are all built differently and this might be a pose that I just cannot do. Then I started breaking it down. My shoulders are extremely tight. My hips are unbelievably tight. So, I changed my practice. It was no longer about getting into the impossible pose. I made it about actually feeling and noticing the changes in my body.
I added all the things from my yoga salt post into my daily practice: baby cobras to strengthen the back, lunges and crescents to open the hips, chest openers to open the heart, and lots of shoulder work to loosen up.
I have been working on these things for two years. One thing every day. Or all things about four days a week. I actually forgot what it was I was working toward. Turns out that I WAS ENJOYING THE JOURNEY. Instead of discovering how to work toward that impossible pose, I discovered the heart of my practice.
Yesterday I woke up and out of the blue, before I even got out of bed, I thought about urdhva dhanurasana for the first time in two years. I didn't wonder if I could do it. I didn't wonder about if all my hard work had paid off. I thought about some of the ashtanga yoga blogs I read. How they talk about drop backs and doing so many wheels in a practice...I can't tell you exactly what I thought about my practice and my wheel, but it was akin to a sigh. A surrender.
I went to my favorite class last night. My once a week class with my amazing teacher Kelly. She said we would be working on backbends. I didn't even think about it. But, when she had us put blocks against the wall and straps on our elbows and then demonstrated a modified wheel...I honestly felt the very first surge of fear that I have ever felt in my practice. I'm usually willing to try anything. To work toward anything.
I sat there and watched my fellow students with this ugly thing knotting in my belly. I wanted to run out of the room. I wanted to not try.
But, I did try.
I got down on my back. Put my hands on the blocks. Breathed deeply into my belly. Used my exhale to calm myself. And then I pushed up. But it didn't feel like pushing up. It literally felt like I was pulled up from the heart center. There was no crank in my low back. My shoulders weren't screaming. I kept lifting higher and higher.
And the tears started streaming down my face. Literally dripping onto my mat.