Friday, July 13, 2012


One of the questions on my yoga final reads like this:

What is the purpose of the integration series?

For the yogger and others who may be unfamiliar with the structure of a typical yoga class, the integration series is at the very beginning.  It consists primarily of spoken words from the instructor.  During the integration series the ground rules are explained, ujjayi breath is established, the class may be themed, and the student should be offered a chance to set an intention or otherwise personalize their practice.  The final portion of integration is moving the body into position for warmup, typically consisting of sun salutations.

But there's a bigger answer to this question.  The integration series, those initial moments of each yoga class, are truly about arriving.  Don't gloss that bit over simply because the word is so familiar to all of us.  Arriving is a process, not a discrete moment in time.  Arriving doesn't all happen in one day even, arriving can take days, weeks, years or even a lifetime.  We might think that we will arrive at work at 7:55 am and begin work at 8:00 am but the reality is that the lines are not nearly so straight, the boundaries are not impermeable.

Today, in class, I arrived.

Let me set the table first.  I had to chat with Summer, about the car sharing situation since I have to pick up one of the guys who will be crewing Badwater with us tomorrow morning from the airport.  I could have called her but I figured, hey, I've got time, why not meet up for her class and talk before/after?  I figured class would be fun, probably just a few of us and a chance to experience Summer in an environment she is now very comfortable with, the Haute Carlsbad studio while Shane, who regularly teaches the class, was down at the yoga journal conference.

Only one other student showed up, a guy named Rob.  Ripped and covered in pretty cool ink, Rob was on his 5th or 6th class, the very beginning of his yogic journey.  He expressed all sorts of insecurities about his flexibility, apologized several times during class, and asked a number of questions which I actually was able to answer afterward which says more about the questions than about my knowledge of yoga.  Rob was me 2 years ago, bright eyed, bushy tailed, full of great intentions, a fresh sponge ready to soak it all in.  I looked over at him and saw myself, minus the ink (I'm still too much of a wimp to willingly take ink into my skin).

Through Rob I was able to see what I've become, I was able to realize that I have arrived on my mat.

Shane and I, about 8-10 months ago
I don't want to sound like some sort of narcissist, I don't want this post to be about how I think I'm special because I can touch my toes, that's not the point.  The point is that I have developed a little bit of appreciation for what my body is able to do and how that differs from the previous limits and physical boundaries before I began my practice.  I have developed an appreciation for the results that come from dedication and persistence.  Today this was most evident in paschimottanasana or seated forward fold.  I fear this pose the way I fear a snake when running trails.  Just hearing the pose called by name or the prep for it from the mouth of the instructor creates an internal panic that matches rounding a curve and seeing that reptile coiled up in my path.  I remember this pose from grade school and I feared it then too.  The sensations are deep and to be able to engage my quads and flex my feet while not giving in to the pain in the backs of my legs takes every bit of concentration I can muster.  Until 2 years ago I could not touch my toes.  With dedication and effort, over time, my hamstrings have opened, gradually, millimeter by millimeter.

Shane hard at work, about 3 months ago
The photo above is from April 6th.  I remember looking at it when it was taken and wondering how I was able to do that, it seemed like the experience I had while the photo was taken felt completely different than the resulting image makes it look.  That was a moment where I sort of half-arrived, seeing the photo and thinking "that is me?" and "I can do that?"

Today I went deeper.  Today, I did my first real forward fold.  It actually felt like a fold.

Now, I don't want to get too excited about this.  Summer and many others can do a backbend that rivals any forward fold I've ever done.  But for me, for my body, today was a milestone.  I frequently fail to notice the small steps along my journey, just as I don't notice my hair growing, only when I cut it.  Today I noticed.  Today I felt something.  Today I arrived.

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