Once upon a time, I was a marathon runner. Not a particularly accomplished one, but I did manage to slog my way through two full runs in the space of a year. I wasn't fast, but I wasn't the slowest either, and on both occasions I came through the finish line alive and kicking.
Sometime after marathon #2 I started having problems with my left hip, which was getting in the way of my yoga practice. My daily 10k's became weekly, then bi-monthly, until they fell off my schedule all together. I loved running, but it seemed that my body couldn't take it. I was really doing a lot of yoga though so I convinced myself I was in pretty good shape.
Until this day in August. A typical day in Cologne—it starts off rainy and cold, and then suddenly decides to be summer when I'm already out and about and overdressed. I'm uncomfortably warm, and late for work.
It's a 350m dash from the tram stop to the Yogaloft. A tad shorter than a 42.195km marathon, but nevertheless, I'm an out-of-breath mess by the time I arrive.
While I dissolve into a sweaty pile in front of the class, I tell my students: This is what we do in yoga—we surrender to the temporality of everything.
Let's take the yoga equivalent of a marathon: something challenging, like hanumanasana (the splits). If you tell me you can't do the splits, what you mean is you can't do the splits today. Your ability to say with absolute certainty that you can't do the splits ever is relatively low (although I'm a believer of the maxim 'if you think you can't, you won't'). If you tell me you can do the splits, what you mean is you can do the splits today. At some point we all get injured or old or dead. Which ever comes first. No more splits. (Until you get healthy again. Or reincarnate.)
In everything we do—in yoga, in work, in living our lives—our abilities shift from day to day. Sometimes we power through, sometimes we struggle. The practice of yoga lies in developing the awareness to carefully observe your physical body and your emotional state and find the edge that works for you right now. We accept the stamina and the strength that is available within a given moment, and we sit with it. Without judgement. With sometimes sweaty grace.
Even though I'm not running, my hip is still bugging me. It's getting in the way of yoga, and long car rides, and comfortably sleeping. I've tried every hip-healer I can think of on the scale from gentle restorative to deepest-soul-shaking stretch, and nothing seems to help. After yet another night of tossing and turning, I admit I need professional help.
The osteopath spends about 30 seconds working on my hip, and 59.5 minutes on my abdomen. "You have a lot of hardness around your bladder," she says. "The tightness around the front of the pelvis is probably pulling everything forward and straining the hip." I leave with directions to buy cleansing homeopathic salts and up my intake of cranberry juice. She doesn't say anything about running.
It's already starting to get dark by the time my evening class begins now. The candles throw their shifting light against perspiration-steamed window panes. Walking into the studio is like stepping into a good sauna, just being there melts the bones. It's a night for delicious hip openers.
"When we work on the hips, we get too caught up in thinking about the hips themselves," I tell my students. We focus all our attention on whatever intense muscular stretch we're feeling and we lose our whole mental energy to the struggle against that particular resistance. We forget to go to the source—emotional pain, patterns of holding in the body, the connections of pulling and pushing that link the seemingly disparate parts of our mental and physical being.
This is what we do in yoga—we go to the source. Don't think about the hips. Follow the breath into the entirety of your being.
When we learn to follow the path of the breath, we invite spaciousness into the body. We allow the tensions of sensation and thought to flow away from the body. The breath leads us into every dark corner and brings us back to wholeness.
After the osteopath fixes me up, my hip feels pretty good and I start putting easy, loping 5ks back onto the schedule. Meanwhile I'm reading Osho's book Tao: The Wisdom of the River. Tao means 'the way.' Osho writes that the masters of Tao don't speak in terms of goals. Goals take care of themselves, he says. Our work is simply to find the path, to make that path our destination.
It crosses my mind that today would be a good day for a quick run, but I'm in the flow of reading and doing whatever else I'm doing without really paying attention to the time, until it's time to go to work. I unlock my bike and realize, in the space of two clunking pedal strokes, that my back tire is flat. I live in a neighborhood poorly served by public transportation, and I know if I wait for the next train I'll be late for my class. The only thing is to make a run for it.
Jogging towards the Yogaloft is like stepping into a cool stream. I put one foot easefully in front of the other and the current carries me there. 18 minutes later I stride into the studio. Just in time for class, rosy-cheeked and tingling with the thrill of being alive.
While my students giggle at my red-face grinning, I tell them: This is what we do in yoga—we dive into the river.
We let go of our goals and our preconceived ideas about what we can or should be able to do, and we simply follow the flow of the breath. What we find, at least in retrospect, is that the goals do take care of themselves. There is a space, after all, for that quick run we wanted to fit into our busy schedule; our practice ripens over time until muscles soften and lengthen and the legs split gracefully into hanumanasana, for as long as the ability to do the pose serves us; until we grow into a different set of goals and transform again. When we surrender to the current and focus our whole selves into simply staying afloat in each glistening, wet moment, we end up exactly where we need to be.
barefoot philosophising on yoga, food, and the meaning of life.