In yoga, like in real life, breakthroughs are exciting. The first time your legs float into headstand or fly to chattaranga from crow brings a rush of energy and lightness not unlike the feeling of landing that dream job or a first date with a person with whom you just know there will be a second.
But what happens when, next time on the mat, suddenly legs feel like lead and the fleeting springiness no longer seems to exist? What happens in between the breakthroughs?
The answer, honestly, is I do not know.
I do not know what makes something seem so light and easy one second and then pretty near impossible the next. I could spend time speculating the apparent shift in energy. However, even just starting to think about it makes my head spin. I would much rather stick with I do not know and it does not matter.
What does matter is continuing to show up, in between the breakthroughs. Because those moments, even though they may just seem like breakthrough transitions, are really critical.
Baron Baptiste says that the transitions between poses are poses themselves.
In other words, getting from point A to point B should not be skimmed over, but rather cherished as a vital part of the experience. Right now on my mat, this shows up in between wheel pose. The peak point of practice, wheel comes when I am most tired, physically and mentally. In between wheels, it is really tempting to dilly-dally on my mat just a teensy bit longer, or wait for the teacher to count down to a reasonable number before I pop my hips back up.
On the flip side, sometimes I find myself staying in wheel, skipping the transition completely, simply because it is easier to do so in that moment. Holding one, 36-count wheel feels more feasible than four separate wheels, broken out into 6 breaths, then 8, 10, and 12. After the mini, tease of a rest in between, it is mentally tough getting back up there.
My approach to these transition moments changes every day. Some days I really do want to remain in wheel for 36 counts, because that option feels right in my body at that point in time. It feels like staying past the resting point will give me the opportunity to open up that I need right then. Other days, the rest is crucial, as is coming back up into wheel, trusting my body no matter how tired my mind says I am. When I surrender completely to my physical body in these peak-exhaustion moments, I usually surprise myself.
Something most athletes are probably familiar with is the concept of training to muscular failure to grow stronger. One time, taking wheel, I had a flash of inspiration, thinking to myself “let this one be a wheel failure”. Meaning the only way I would come out of the pose was if my body physically stopped holding me up.
This had a surprising effect – I actually surrendered. Instead of forcing my muscles to push further, I allowed the pose to happen in my body, and trusted my own strength.
I may have just gone on a tangent – beginning with transitions somehow led to trusting myself. But I think that happened exactly on purpose. Because a major part of sticking with transitions, no matter how trivial, tedious, and difficult they appear, is having trust that the breakthroughs will come at the right moments. All I need to do is stay awake through every moment: big, small, and just shoulder-shrugging average.
Recently I have re-committed to noticing how I approach transitions in my life, both on and off the mat. Am I rushing through, trying to skip over the uncomfortable, in-between moments? Or am I staying awake to what is happening around me, allowing each of these moments the opportunity to make its own impact?
This impact does not need to look like a breakthrough. A couple of my favorite things are overgrown wildflowers in the highway median, and a small, white rosebush I pass on my way to yoga. These flowers only bloom in summer. When I rush through, in transition to the next thing, mind off in space, I fail to notice them. But when I am present and notice, their familiar presence gives me a sense of calm. And so these transitory symbols become stand-out moments and a beautiful part of my day, for which I am grateful.
Bretton began writing for crossfitters curious about a class she teaches. In her blog she found an outlet for her love of everything yoga, that happy hour strangers may not want to hear about. She loves german shepherds, the beach, and arts & crafts. http://brettonkeating.wordpress.com/