When I first starting practising yoga, my main goals were relaxation and managing my increasingly stressed out mind and body. Flowing through the familiar postures, trying to link my breath to the movements were a welcome escape from the demands I faced while studying and working. I had no desire to stand on my head, in fact, I’m not even sure that I knew that was even a possibility!
Moving from a predominantly home practice using DVDs, to attending a class in a beautiful studio, changed my yoga experience in so many ways. Firstly, my lovely teacher encouraged me to hook my toes in a forward fold, I did not even know that I could do that. My alignment was corrected and improved in a variety of basic poses and I was introduced to more ‘challenging’ yoga postures, including bakasana (crow pose) and urdhva dhanurasana (upward bow pose or crab/wheel pose.) But a lack of upper body strength, and uber-tightness in my back/shoulders/hips, made accessing these poses more of a long-term journey than an ultimate destination.
We all had to start somewhere
Beginning my yoga teacher training, I remember getting into a discussion about my goal poses, and number one was the arm balance bakasana. I spent so much time obsessing over the pose, using Social Media as both inspiration and fuel to fire my lack of ability to balance on my hands. So I booked a one-to-one with my teacher and by the end of the hour I managed to hold the pose for 5 (hurried) breaths. I felt amazing, and seriously thought I would not be able to achieve anymore with this pose.
‘Practice and all is coming’ – Sri K Pattabhi Jois
Sadly, I could not re-create this pose myself at home, and fell into a bit of despair over it. I know, it’s only a yoga pose, but I believed that I had worked hard and had ‘earned’ the pose. Sorry, but that wasn’t the case. My journey still had a long way to go, and I needed to go back to the drawing board to re-learn how to move so that I could break down the posture and build it back up again.
I began working with an amazing Personal Trainer, who helped me to build up my upper body strength, loosen off my chronically tight muscles and most importantly, to believe in myself and my abilities. I have learned that I can achieve any of these postures, with lots of time, patience and hard work. Also, it’s quite good to let go of the ego and work away at the pose without having any expectations. When you least expect it, that is when transformations and breakthroughs happen!
Yoga Challenges are mental as well as physical
In December 2016, I dedicated myself to follow a 30-day yoga challenge to improve my home practice. As a yoga teacher, it’s very important that I make my own yoga a priority, and the lead up to the Christmas holidays seemed to be the ideal time to focus on this. I choose to work on bakasana again, but this time approaching it from a playful, fun perspective. I used blocks, my suspension trainer and the wall to play with the asana and each day I spent 5 minutes working on it. By the end of the 30 days I had found a space in the arm balance to breathe, for more than 5 breaths and I was beginning to feel the strength and calm required to hold the balance.
The journey continues
This pose is still a work in progress, because there are always additional elements to work on – straight arms, knees in armpits, more core engagement… the list goes on. But I was pleasantly surprised to note my progress 6 months later, especially when I compared it with the first photograph.
I am proud of the progress I have made in this pose, but more of my ability to release my expectations of how quickly I ‘should’ be able to achieve the pose or even the ‘need’ to be able to balance on my hands. I learned a lot about myself and about yoga while working on this pose. For me, that was the biggest area of progress, but internal changes don’t photograph as well as external ones!