One day I will wake up and realize how stupid I am.
The scenario usually plays out like this: for one reason or another, I feel bad – sick, tired, lazy, whatever – and so I start to argue with myself about doing a yoga practice. Here in Spain, where I practice on my own, outside, on the terrace, there is nobody to witness the argument or to take note of my presence in or absence from the hot room. For the time being, it is me and my ego once again. I am answerable to nobody.
The argument can stretch out for some time; I restate my past experience, my certain knowledge that when I feel bad this is exactly what I need. I know that I will feel better afterwards. I always do; this practice has never let me down. Even in my darkest days of grief, it has still been there to help me find one tiny piece of peace. But I also know that it is hard work. And like many humans, I am inherently lazy. It is so much easier and attractive to find a way to get out of the hard work. I am a master of finding rational, sometimes even urgent, excuses for not doing my practice.
So I woke up yesterday feeling extra cranky: maybe I just slept wrong – sleeping has been a challenge for me for a couple of years now. I had a really painful, stiff neck, so that must have been the way I slept. And that generated a headache of some proportion. Many years ago, before I started yoga on a regular basis, I had suffered from migraine headaches, so I know that the predisposition exists. I napped a little during the morning but that did no good. I know that I needed the yoga; that was the only solution. But still I argued.
Where does that come from? I really have no idea. Over the years there have been countless occasions on which I have discovered something else that needed to be done just as I was getting ready to take a class. Often it was a business call, a meeting, an e-mail that had to be answered. I was too busy with the real world to take time out to do this luxury. And yet deep down inside, I knew what I was doing. It was stupid and I knew it.
Yesterday, I made a deal with myself: I'll just go outside on the terrace and do a little breathing, that's all, no commitment to do anything past that. I will do that slowly and with as much attention on that one activity as I can muster. I will do my pranayama breathing really well, like I am showing it to a new student. And if I want to, then I will just stop after that is done. That was the deal.
I did the breathing, two sets, nice and slow. I felt okay, in fact I had to admit to feeling a little better already. So I made another deal: I'll try one set of “Half moon with hands to feet” and see how that goes; but I'll do it really well, as far as my poor old body can manage on this day, together with some nice deep breathing, all the way in and all the way out, with all the attention I can muster. And if I want to, then I will just stop after that is done. That was the deal.
One set felt alright; I made myself pause for a moment, let everything go, and then thought that another set would be okay too. And that was alright; in fact I felt just a little better after that second set. The pain in my neck had eased and my headache seemed a little less intense. So I made another deal: I'll do one set of “Awkward” and see how that feels, but with no commitment to anything else, because I know that this posture takes a lot out of me and my legs are getting tired etc etc, so no promises here. I'll just give it a try. In fact, if I want to, I'll even cut the posture a little short because of, you know, some reason I have forgotten right now but at that time seems entirely acceptable. And if I want to, then I will just stop after that is done. That was the deal.
It was okay; not too shabby. I felt I could manage the second set, so I did. I even stayed in the postures a bit longer this time. A little rest in between; head feels a little better. Let's try the next one, but no promises, no commitment, I can stop at any time if I want. That was the deal.
You get the picture? That's how it played out for the next hour or so. When I laid down in final savasana, I was laughing at myself for being such a baby, for being so stupid. I had to remind myself of something I have told students on countless occasions: there have been plenty of classes that I never wanted to take but not a single class that I have regretted taking. I expect this to hold true for ever.
I felt that my whole day had changed after that practice. My neck was totally fixed and my headache was a thing of the past. I had kept my attention all the way through on just that one thing I was doing, and so I was surprised when the end came and there were no more deals to be struck. No more debate. Just complete relaxation as I sank onto the cool stones of the terrace. Never has hard stone been more comfortable.
Why do I put myself through this charade? I know what the end result is like and I want that more than anything else. I know it is the only way to repair my body and my mind – and then my spirit. But I am so full of frailties and weaknesses – always looking for the easy way out. It's a little disappointing but what can I expect? After all, I am just human.
But that is the enduring nature of yoga: when all is said and done, it is an essentially human activity – Bikram's “science of life”. I come to practice full of doubts and fears and [sometimes] expectations. It is so easy to find a way out – even for someone like me who should know much better. At my age you would think I would have figured all this out by now. It seems that I never stop learning. That's a surprise!
I expect to have another debate at some time in the future, maybe the next time that I come to practice. Maybe I will feel bad, sick, tired etc and I'll start to look around for some really good reason why I should do something else other than this hard work for the next 90 minutes. But the truth is that I haven't found a better way yet. The only way through is the only way through.
I'll accept that some day soon.