Are Your Limits Limiting You or What?
Posted on October 2, 2014
Well, it happened. I did my dream pose this weekend. No, not some stupid pose I’ve been trying to do. This is so much cooler. So much yoga-er. It’s an embodied message seven years in the making. Hell yeah.
Seven years ago I had a dream that I could do this pose – Eka Pada Rajakapotasana II, like the dude in the picture above. 😉 It’s a deep open-shoulder bound backbend. (“Bound” meaning one of your parts that you never thought could hold on to some other part, does.)
There’s a huge case against me ever doing this pose. Everything from short arms, limited shoulder flexion, short legs, and a backbend when I started yoga that was, well, not bent back. Plus nobody ever teaches this pose, and you don’t see it used in those yoga body glorification ads. And I wasn’t working on it at all. Not for seven years.
But I knew at the time of the dream that it was significant. I knew in that way you know when it feels like there’s a period after it and you can’t even imagine a question mark. And what I knew was, I would do this pose one day. And that when I did, I would have to pay attention.
So this weekend, when I saw alignment and sequencing wiz Christina Sell’s body moving into the pose we would do next, and it was Eka Pada Rajakapotasana II, and I remembered my dream, I thought, “This is it.” (See the period there?) But that was pretty quickly followed with, “Shut up this is not it!”
Let’s back up to give you a few milestones and context. The first style of yoga I studied was Anusara. Christina was a senior teacher in this system who departed from it prior to the 2012 scandal involving its founder, John Friend, whom, it seemed, had chosen soliciting sex from students over what was “life affirming” for them. (And I used to love that tag-line term of his – “life-affirming.” Now? Lurch.)
But, before all that, when I was introduced to Anusara, what I saw was a system focused on heart-opening. Going at it from the physical with tons of backbends. At the first workshop I went to, I tried an Urdhva Dhanurasana (you know, the “back arch” with hands and feet on the floor – just page down, there’s a 2013 pic of me doing it). My head barely came off the floor, and you could have probably set a full coffee cup anywhere between my hips and shoulders, no risk.
I hadn’t found out about my limitation in backbends before this, as I’d been a good fitness center yoga warrior (i.e. my practice was 90% warrior poses). Plus, even back then in my early days of practice, bend me any other way, and I looked like yoga. So this “closed heart” was a surprise for all of us, and a dude nearby reckoned I just needed a little more help figuring it out. He gave me a hefty assist pulling me up from under my shoulder blades, and my hands came a foot off the floor. Yep. That sucky backbend was all I had.
I worked at backbends incessantly, gained access slowly, and got all analytical about my limitations, since you know, I’m an engineer. I would add up the strikes against me: my proportions, the force required to overcome shoulder joint resistance, blah blah blah. I would play with props to address these things. I got damn good at finding creative ways to expedite progress for unfortunate people like me, who yoga was so unfair to. And I was bent (well, not literally) on making the point that unfortunate people like me had to work way harder than those with bodies minted for yoga.
And I was bent (well, not literally) on making the point that unfortunate people like me had to work way harder than those with bodies minted for yoga.
Soon, I was getting more access in Urdhva Dhanurasana, but I needed a wide hand placement to do so. Without it, I couldn’t even bend my spine, as the shoulders were what was keepin’ this girl down. Wide hands, though, is discouraged for presumed safety reasons. After 10 years of working this way, moving my hands incrementally closer year-by-year, I can say I’ve never had an injury. Even now, only the thumb-side of my hands are on the mat (a mat is 2 feet wide).
I stuck with Anusara for two years, had some great progress on and off the mat, you know, given my limitations, and started looking for a yoga teacher training program. And one day I said, Enough of this one-dimensional practice. I don’t wanna figure out any more shit to get my heart open. And I don’t want another teacher to try to figure out why my hands are still wider than the mat in Urdhva Dhanurasana. I think I need to get out of my mind before I go out of my mind.
So what did I do? I went into my mind. What?!? Well, I started practicing Para Yoga, got me a fine teacher in Karina Ayn Mirsky, and recently, a 500-hr certification from her. And instead of figuring things out with my mind, I learned practices for stopping all the think chatter. It took a while, but I started getting into more of a feeling place – a place I found I had remarkably little access to, even after years of practice. Surely my stupidly analytical mind was to blame.
I started getting into more of a feeling place – a place I found I had remarkably little access to, even after years of practice.
So here I am, in this workshop with Anusara-trained (and Iyengar, and Ashtanga, and Bikram) teacher Christina Sell, who is a walking corpus of alignment knowledge applicable to all proportions and flexibilities. And she does something extraordinary. She brings in the analytical mind for the purpose of achieving more feeling. Here’s Christina:
“Elbow way across like this” “outer hips lift faster than inner groins” “less chest more legs” – and whenever the room pauses a little too long before taking her up on something: “This’ll be great.” And when we do what she says, new-found feeling happens. It. Is. Great.
I haven’t realized until now that even though I believe in this approach of analytical guidance to experience more, I haven’t fully given myself permission to do this. It’s like I’ve become ashamed of my analytical mind. I’ve heard from too many peers that taking the time to teach alignment sacrifices the flow and therefore the feeling. (God forbid we teach something in a yoga class.) And then there’s the think-shaming we analytical types get in yoga circles. I’d been put into a box many times for trying to put yogic concepts into boxes. So I haven’t been owning the power of my analytical mind. But here it was. Permission to teach granted. And with it – permission to feel.
Throughout Christina’s workshop, I resist asking the questions specific to my own limitations, since they are so unique and all. But it’s more than that. In this moment, more than not wanting to put others’ time into my limitations, I don’t want to put my time into my limitations. I’m rather bored by them. I just wanna do what Christina said, and see what happens. I am briefly not attached to my story. The lie one. The one where my limitations needed ‘splainin’ in order to avoid the judgment I fear from others. The one where I put a shit-ton of energy into my limitations, and keep them well-nourished and in charge. That one. I am so done with it.
I am briefly not attached to my story. The one where I put a shit-ton of energy into my limitations.
So, it’s time to give Eka Pada Rajakapotasana II a go, and I partner up with my ol’ pal Kathy O’Rourke, another Para Yoga teacher. I just let the pose process play out, however it shall go. A dose of analytical mind keeping track of the process – which is wonderfully intricate – and a whole lotta feeling.
Kathy guides me expertly, and I keep going deeper and feeling no resistance – no limitation. I’m surprised but totally accepting of this at the same time. At one point, Kathy says, “You can touch your foot.” That doesn’t register. I say, “How?” You see, sometimes in these poses, you have no idea where the fuck anything is in space, even your own parts. So she says, “Straighten out your fingers.” I do, and I feel something that as far as I’m concerned, could be Kathy’s foot. It’s mind-blowing. And after a bit, it connects synaptically. It is my foot. I am bound in Eka Pada Rajakapotasana II, just like my dream. I am bound – and it frees me.
And – get this – next we do Urdhva Dhanurasana. Christina walks up to me and says, “Put your hands closer together.” Oh gawd this again. But instead of ‘splainin’ anything, I just do it. And -BAM- another first: both of my hands are fully within the width of the mat, and I am deep. It’s like a band of angels starts singing “Hooooolyyyyyy shiiii-iiiiit.”
So, what exactly did I get free from? Oh, this is good. Looking back at my notes, I found something Christina said at the beginning of class, when talking about the value of an analytical approach to practice:
“By learning how to practice, we are empowered by our inabilities rather than diminished by them.”
So, damn, a limitation is an opportunity. For our analytical minds to become a part of us yogis again. For – wait for it – wholeness. Unity. Yuj.
Personally, I see it like this: I’m free from a life of believing in the reality of limits, and doubting in the reality of everything they’re holding in. I’m freed into a life of limits as opportunities, and living the bigness of who I am.
This really isn’t about blasting limits. Because that would be about limits. It’s about beholding all that we are inside some limits that we just happened to draw too small. Now go. Behold.