I started practicing yoga in the midst of big energy and big life plans. I had just completed my Master of Arts degrees at the University of North Dakota, got hitched and took the first road out of dodge. We headed west - south west, that is - to the land of eternal sunshine: San Diego, California. We were rock climbers, (rock stars in our own minds), and were pilgrims on the path to the climbing mecca that is Joshua Tree National Park. I'd be taking my first academic position as a lecturer at a local community college and my partner would be settling into a teaching gig. On the bucket list was learning to surf and competing in triathlons. Life was good.
I'd been an athlete for most of my life - I'd been captain of the soccer team and captain of the swimming team. I'd been academically accomplished, as well, making the President's Honor Role each semester of my final two years at university. I received the outstanding graduate student of the year award in my second year as a Masters student. I was published in an academic journal. Twice. The world was my oyster. So it was no surprise when I launched myself head first into yoga practice with the same vigor and vitality - dare I say ego - with which I approached everything else. Each time I rolled out my mat I expected nothing but the biggest poses from myself.
I was fortunate to have both strength and flexibility. I could muscle my way through almost any arm balance. I could pretzel my way into almost any hip opener. In combination, this made for some pretty gnarly-looking postures! Headstand? No problem. Crow? No problem. Galavasana? Got it. And so the tick-list of postures coincided with the tick-list of classic rock climbs. My field of vision narrowed as my eyes set on the prize with laser-beam focus. I was striving towards my goals. I was, in many senses, posturing.
Even as I type this post I can feel the old pattern of striving in my body. It feels hard. Closed. Cold. It feels competitive. Calculating. Incomplete. Lonely. Thinking back, it is almost humorous to recall all of the energy and effort spent on making these shapes. After all, I did not compete in rock climbing. And there were no yoga competitions that I knew of...other than my own, internal competition. But who loses when the competition is within?
Throughout the following years I struggled with big poses - not to practice them, but rather to find meaning in them. I realized my tendency to posture; to make an asana out of myself. I quickly became disenchanted with big poses. I quit teaching them and quit practicing them, opting instead to go back to the basics with todasana, triangle, tree and the like. These postures became a consistent part of my home practice, teaching me the humility and grace found by cultivating a "less is more" attitude. Because sometimes less IS more. I found that these more basic postures better complimented my already busy and athletic lifestyle.
Fast forward several years - okay, a decade. My life included two children, a dog, a house, a job, and a supporting role in the development of two non-profit organizations. We needed a break and decided to return to New Zealand for a four-month family holiday.
A month after landing in New Zealand and planting our feet in Te Anau we decided to permanently relocate to this beautiful country - leaving behind the house, the non-profits, the job, the dog (we kept the kids!). And I found myself once again, posing big...on my mat and in my life.
As I write this post I am sitting in a cosy lounge, next to a large window, in a cottage on a hill. Out that window I can see the township of Te Anau, the lake bending to the north towards the fiords, and across to the Murchison Mountains. It was in this room where I practiced astavakrasana for the first time in a decade and I came to my purpose for practicing big poses.
Practicing big poses - like arm balances - allows me to develop the strength to take a chance; to take a risk. Big poses like urdvha dhanurasana require the flexibility and openness to take a big chance and falter. Focusing on my breath in these poses offers a sense of abiding calm in the midst of a big, energetic output. And when I falter in these poses it is an opportunity to practice grace, humility and a lot of laughter.
There have been some challenges with our choice to move across the world - sometimes we've felt unsteady and hesitant. And other moments are filled with the strength and joy that come from the reward of a successful risk. It's a big pose! Fortunately, I've brought my mat!