Balance, Being Strong Enough to Bend

Throughout this yoga teacher training program I have been constantly encouraged to “live my yoga”. In other words, your yoga practice should not end once you step off you mat, it should become a part of your life, a part of your every breath. I thought, so confidently, that I was succeeding in doing that, until this past week or so. Yoga seems to be getting really good at letting me know when I’m not seeing a situation 100% correctly. Yoga is just cool like that I guess.

I have in fact been doing yoga off the mat: breathing deeply in stressful situations, being aware of judgements, preconceived notions, expectations, or negative thoughts, practicing compassion for all people–even the ones who annoy the hell out of me. I sit up straight when I’m driving. I meditate as I walk to work.

I think that I was so focused on doing yogic things off of the mat that I forgot about doing yogic things while still on mat. I also forgot about practicing yoga while climbing. Afterall, climbing is yoga. The rock is your mat. The moves are your asanas. Breathing as you move is pranayama. Keeping a clear mind is meditation. The cracks and grooves and pockets and indentations in the rock are your teachers–they are your guides and tell you what to do next. Climbing is without doubt, yoga.

I was very confused for a while about both climbing and yoga. I felt like I had hit a plateau with bouldering–I thought, maybe I’ll start sport climbing more, or maybe I’ll try being a badass trad climber, or maybe, just maybe I’ll take a break all together. Same thing happened with yoga–maybe I should just do Ashtanga? Or more Kundalini? Maybe I should try Bikram? Anusara? Or maybe…Ill just stop for a while.

Then came the real “living your yoga” realization–as soon as I started having these thoughts about yoga and climbing, I started getting very confused about my life in general. Maybe I should move back to California? Maybe I should start teaching just power yoga? Should I go to grad school? What the hell should I eat for lunch?

Or maybe the confusion about life came before the confusion with yoga and climbing…either way, they directly affected one another.

When my toes have a death grip on my yoga mat, or when my hands have a death grip on the rock, it is always because I am gripping somewhere else in my life. I felt especially “grippy” when I was holding on to some past resentment I had for a certain person in my life. My yoga poses were stiff, my climbing felt so forced and shitty. When I started practicing letting go of tension in my yoga practice: either in my jaw, my shoulders, my toes, I noticed that I started letting go of mental tension as well–I cultivated forgiveness, compassion, and love.

I remember a yoga class I went to last week where all of the asanas were all accompanied by a sense of ease. It wasn’t a necessarily easy class, I just felt light, fluid, grounded, and strong. We practiced Lolasana, a pose that is usually extremely hard for me, and during this class it was no easier necessarily. I just didn’t let it bother me. My legs floated up above the ground. I was having fun and my body felt good.

Lolasana-that’s BKS himself.

While bouldering the other day, I felt these same feelings. Hard moves were still hard but they didn’t make me want to shout “FUCK THE WORLD” after I fell. My body felt light, fluid, grounded, strong. I, for a very long time, was a v4 climber who could dabble in v5, but on that particular day, I flashed (completed on the first try) a v6.

What I have learned here is a lesson in balance. When climbing and yoga-ing and living, we must be strong to feel light, we must let go to have the energy to keep going, we must flex to be fluid. Strength and flexibility are both necessary, without one characteristic, the other is useless. It doesn’t matter if you are strong enough to hold yourself up in a handstand, your shoulders must be flexible enough to be all the way above your head. We must forgive and we must let go of resentment to understand the correct way to stand our ground. Are we strong enough to bend?

No more clenching jaws. No more fuck the worlds. No more gripping, holding, restraining, fighting, or wrestling. Of course, there will be some more of these things in my life. But now I can ask myself, why? Why am I fighting this? If I clench here, it means I am clenching somewhere else. What’s up with that? Strength is something I have a lot of. I got that from my Mama. What I need to cultivate is softness, while keeping that strength. This is what I aim for in yoga and climbing and life, every day.

Perhaps you are like me. But perhaps you are on the opposite side of the specrum–flexible, maybe a little too flexible. Maybe you let people walk all over you, maybe you are never in control of your own life. Wherever you are on the spectrum, know that you have a precious gift: you are either flexible or strong. These are both good things. Keep those things. Cherish those things. Just try to add a little of the opposite into your life, your practice, anything at all. And watch how everything will start to reach a midpoint, a center point, a point of balance.

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