I feel like I’ve been keeping a secret from you. Not just you, but my yogi friends, my yogi teachers, my yogi students. It’s kind of an embarrassing secret, one that might ruin my credibility (in some people’s eyes). But, I’ve been trying to practice satya or truthfulness, so it’s time to come clean. And man, that episode of Glee the other night really made me feel like celebrating what I’m insecure about, because after all, it’s what makes me interesting. Yes, it was mainly Glee (and Lady Gaga, naturally) that prompted me to write about this. Satya…not so much. Patanjali would be so proud. Here it goes…
I can’t do this pose:
Yep, that’s right. I can’t sit in a cross-legged position. Makes me feel even better about myself that this is called “easy pose” or sukhasana. For me, this ain’t easy. In fact, it hurts like hell.
I was born this way baby.
Well, not really. I can’t sit this way because my hips are so tight, namely my IT bands, that they pull on their attachments to my knees, which makes for a LOT of pain while sitting cross-legged. Years of running, hiking, gymnastics, cycling, climbing, and other hip-intensive activity has caused this. So I wasn’t really born this way, but I’ll just pretend I was because I love that damn song.
At the beginning of this yoga training (can you believe I’m less than a month away from graduating?) I felt all weird that I couldn’t even do the supposed easiest pose in yoga. I found myself thinking…Georgie, not only is this the “easiest” pose, but it’s also the quintessential yoga pose. When someone thinks yoga, they probably think of suhkasana. And I couldn’t (still can’t) do it. This pose is also the base for a lot of other poses, like janu shirshasana and ardha baddha padmottanasana and many, many others–none of which, I can do.
This used to frustrate the hell out of me, mainly because I could remember back to a time when I could do all of those poses, and they used to feel really good. I still haven’t found a pose that feels as good on my lower back and hips and hamstrings as janu shirshasana. But I was also embarrassed–I would dread the seated sequences in class because I knew that there would, undoubtedly, be a pose that I couldn’t do.
And more importantly….how the hell was I going to teach all these yoga classes and have people learn from me if I couldn’t even sit on my damn mat?
Well, it turns out that I can sit on my mat, just in a different way–thunderbolt pose (legs bent underneath you, sitting on your heels, aka kneeling). Sometimes students ask me why I sit that way, and for a while I would say that it was just more comfortable. But now, I tell them the whole truth–my hips suck, so my knees suck.
About five nights a week before I go to bed, I practice yin yoga, where I hold the poses for a long time and really relax down into the mat. Hip openers are what I do the most of, because they feel really good and help me sleep. I don’t do them in desperate hopes of being able to sit cross-legged, not anymore at least. Although, every once in a while, I sit down and slowly cross my legs, just to see where I’m at, if I’ve gotten more flexible, if maybe my knees don’t hurt. But, they always hurt. They hurt a lot.
Shitty, is usually the first thought that comes to mind.
Yes, it sucks. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m totally at peace with my knees. But what I’ve learned is that by letting go of wanting my body to be different than it is now, with open hips and knees that can do all sorts of awesome shit, I can also let go of those feelings of being weird or sucky at yoga.
We all have some physical, bodily thing that we wish we could change about ourselves. This thing brings us insecurity and that feeling of being different–something that we are all scared shitless of. But these differences in our physical beings are super, super interesting. They aren’t shameful. Yes, they are weird and odd, but they are the good kind of weird and odd.
Yoga will make these things stick out even more. All of the sudden, every imperfection that your physical body contains starts to either hurt or show itself. Even a tiny paper cut on my pinky finger was stinging like hell during my practice this morning. While on your mat, all of your physical (and emotional) ailments will start talking, and this can be an experience that isn’t so fun.
Yoga is for the brave.
Whatever physical shit you’ve got going on–face it, accept it, live with it. You don’t have to love it, because I’m sure as hell never going to love having painful knees, but do admit that it’s there. Most physical stuff that we don’t like about ourselves is permanent–I don’t know if my ailment is a permanent one, but after five years of practicing yoga I haven’t seen much improvement. I keep going though, practicing hip openers because they feel awesome and if they someday help my knees, then great. And hey, my problem is not half, not one one-hundredth of what some people have got going on. Be thankful.
My hips have opened a lot though, because on Tuesday I finally did this pose, which requires a lot of hip flexibility:
Yep, I can do this pose but I can’t sit the hell down. Yoga is weird like that. The body is weird like that.
So whether you were born this way or not, this is what we have. Work with it. Do what you can do, and to all of the stuff you can’t do, say you’re awesome but not today, friend.
You’re on the right track baby. : )