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Compassion and My Big Toe

June 22, 2012

“When acting and actor disappear, all actions become correct.” – Milarepa

So often in yoga class we consider the balance of “effortless effort”, being versus doing, presence versus accomplishment – an array of ironic opposites that merge for a few precious moments on the mat.

Recently I began to be able to see my toes peek out over the top of head in standing bow pulling posture; well, on one side (right), for a millisecond or two, before crashing forward and hoping I didn’t smash the mirror or take out the rest of my row.  I have to admit: the “accomplishment” of seeing my toes (maybe it was just one toe?) was really exciting, and after I stopped thinking, “Wow I really need a pedicure,”  I felt like I achieved something and isn’t that what our practice is all about?! Achievement, accomplishment , checking off our yoga-to-do-list?

I have been doing hot yoga for almost two years and it has taken me this long to develop just that momentary modicum of balance, concentration and flexibility.  23 months of regular practice feels like a very long time to achieve something so deeply fleeting.  Granted I am not very flexible to begin with and had pretty poor balance.  In any event there are times it feels like it takes forever to see “progress”.

Of course now that I have seen my toe over my head, I DEMAND that this occur every practice, and the reward of that demand is close encounters of the mirrored kind, potentially harming other yogis as I fall onto their mats (you know who you are) or a complete inability even to hold my ankle up while standing the opposite leg.  Further I now resent the left side of my body which just simply isn’t keeping up; frankly I don’t think it is really trying, complaints about sciatica not withstanding.

And then it occurs to me: almost every other part of my life is doing, completing, achieving, working hard … and I am bringing that same ridiculous, over- driven mindset to my mat … all because I saw a toe, an unpedicured toe, poking out the top of my head for less one second.

If there is one thing we might aspire to in our practice, it is compassion.  Compassion is the basis of all yoga practice, and, as the world stage shows us, compassion is usually the first thing to go when achievement gets involved.

Have you seen the billboard celebrating the softball player who helped an injured opponent , costing her own team the game?  This is billboard-worthy because it is so rare that compassion trumps accomplishment.

So as I come to my two year anniversary of practicing hot yoga, my aspiration is – no matter what – to return to a mantra of gently smiling compassion on the mat: for myself, for the (UGH) map snappers and for my right hip, which probably isn’t actually doing this just to vex me.   I am going to take my time, not rush to my “fullest expression” of the posture but use the full allotted time to carefully, thoughtfully move into whatever space the day allows.

I hope I will see my toes dancing over my head, but in the mean time I am opting for being a less driven, happier yogi.

-Rabbi Chava Bahle

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 4, 2012 5:08 am

    Keep doing practice because what yoga requires is practice and I wish you will see your toes dancing over your head very soon.

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