“Place your hands firmly against the wall, middle fingers pointing up, fingers well spread. Place your feet under your hips. Find your distance. Using the pressure of your hands on the wall, turn the inside of your forearms downward while at the same time spinning your triceps in. Open your elbows.
“Now, maintaining that action, stretch back through your hips. Elongate your spine and make your back straight.”
Suddenly the teacher’s voice changes. The zen is gone; it’s time to get serious: “Ok. Hold that. I’m coming around with a stick to let you feel how straight your back is – or isn’t.”
I hold and breathe. In and out. In and out. Spin here, stretch there, stay straight, hold…
I have been practicing yoga for 15 years or so. There have been times that I couldn’t get myself to classes regularly but still practiced at home (hello, year in France) , and others where I couldn’t even practice at home regularly (I’m looking at you, baby #2), but I still count about 15 years.
I love yoga. I find both peace and challenge in my classes, some space that I can’t create when I’m not stretching my body and concentrating on my breath. Yoga is one of my mainstays.
And yet, second semester last year, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was tired and stressed out and my body ached. These are all the reasons a person SHOULD go to yoga, but I ended up not going, and I was the worse for it. this year I decided to recommit. I hired a girl down the street to pick the kids up after school on Wednesdays and enlisted my husband to get home a little earlier.
Excited, I went online to sign up for my class. The scheduled loaded and I was suddenly paralyzed: My class is level 2/3 at 7:30, but at 5:45 there was a level 1 class.
Yoga teachers often talk about going back to the basics, about how there really is no level 2 or 3. There are just the poses, our body and our breath. Teachers remind us that even an experienced practitioner can learn from a level 1 class. After all, despite appearances, the challenge in yoga is mostly internal. Still, level 1 after 15 years? What would I learn? Was I just looking for the easy way out? I stared at the schedule for a long moment, and I signed up for level 1.
The first two classes have been both freeing and challenging. Even the simplest of instructions have nuances, and now I hear the teacher’s instructions anew. Concentrating on the foundation of poses I’ve been doing for years is helping me make changes that I never dared to in my other classes. I don’t cut corners to get into complex poses because I’m busy working on all the tiny complexities of the basic poses. Plus, in level 1, cheating shows. My teacher might not comment on a lifted heel when every other bit of me is twisted into a new space, but there’s nowhere to hide when I’m working on Uttihita Trikonasa (Triangle Pose) or Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2).
Level 1 means I’m letting go of expectations about what I should or shouldn’t be able to do and accepting what my body can actually do. It means admitting that there are things I’ve been faking for years. It means practicing concentrating on myself and not others. (I stink at this, in case you’re wondering). As it turns out, level 1 is hard.
So I breathe in, I breathe out, and I grow. And I’m ready for the next class.