On Binding, Commitment, and the Teacher that Is Struggle

Baddha Parsvakonasa because I had some things to work out in my spine and side bodies, in my heart and mind. Also, Go Warriors.

Baddha Parsvakonasa because I had some things to work out in my spine and side bodies, in my heart and mind. Also, Go Warriors.

I tell my students that our practice of yoga is seldom about all the fancy and interesting shapes we can but out body into; but instead is about putting our body into shapes, and then practicing being present there. Sometimes the shapes are striking, or lovely, or impressive, at least on the outside. Sometimes they're easy; sometimes they're quite complicated. 

This morning I found myself craving practices that would require a bit more effort, would on appearance, confine and prevent expansion, but would have an effect of creating more space, more energy, more movement and expansion and rest. So I found myself in the shape above and some others: twisting, binding, contortions that are (for me) challenging. There isn't any great, cool epiphany that I experience in bound side angle pose; I practice expanding into integrity in this shape, I make sure the bind isn't inhibiting my alignment; I enjoy breathing into the shape, and trying to make sure that I'm dwelling with my breath, listening to it, and staying present in the posture and sensation. 

This kind of practice is important to me because of how often it mirrors day-to-day. Professional challenges, relationships, desires, even attempts at personal growth, can all be fraught with struggle and obstacle. This week I celebrated my seventh wedding anniversary with my husband. I sometimes want to use the word struggle, along with words like laughter, joy, affection, intimacy, connection, to describe the last seven (to ten) years. They haven't been consistently easy: we've fought, and sometimes quite ugly; each of us has experienced personal struggle that has required a lot of the other. I believe deeply in the personal, admirable, and brave choice to commit one's life to another person, because there's a lot in our current world that seeks to supersede, compromise, or even destroy that commitment. I think we're still married not because we're scared of being apart from the other, or because we're lazy, or because we won't let the bastards get our marriage. I think we're still here because each day, with all of its snares and vines, we'd still rather do life together than apart.

So, in marriage, like at work, like in yoga practice, like when I'm faced with fear or a journey that feels so uphill as to seem perfectly vertical, I put myself in the shape, and I take it one breath at a time. This isn't really a post about marriage; commitment to another, like any yoga posture, is just an opportunity to look closely at yourself in a particular shape, and see where we are gripping or holding, where we're working too hard, where we might need a bit more integrity or discipline, or where an adjustment from a pair of loving hands might be in order. The challenge of the posture, like the challenge of relationship--work, platonic, romantic, and individual--serves us as a mirror to show us our tendencies, our blind or weak spots, our successes and growths, and allows us to continue to seek openness, non judgment and equanimity, one breath at a time. 

I won't say anything quite so hackneyed as, embrace the struggle. (It's in the yoga teacher handbook, but I want to roll my eyes at that one.) But I will say sometimes a shape you find yourself in is hard, and that struggle has something to teach you. It can't teach us if we're too busy complaining about how hard it is, or if we're trying to force it, or backing off it because we're scared. All we can do is find the deepest shape we have access to, breathe and witness.