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I won’t be coy about it or polite. Warrior I and I have had a difficult relationship. I prefer this first-born Warrior’s siblings, Warrior II and III and perhaps it is my first-born status that has created the tension. Warrior I seems bold and bossy, daring and makes every part of my body feel like it is not quite right. It is as if I am Alice after she ate the tiny cake that said “EAT ME” and has grown so tall pressing into the ceiling. It feels really uncomfortable. This is not why I practice yoga…to feel uncomfortable.
Hmmm…the irony of yoga. Yes, I come to my practice with expectations of feeling good. That is the first, and most important whispered invitation of yoga. It is about feeling good. Yet sometimes it is a curious journey.
Recently, I was asked to work with a group of public high school seniors in Philadelphia. The program included yoga to help them relax, gain perspective and find their authentic voice to write a personal essay for college and scholarship applications.
Most of these students had never tried yoga and were nervous. Their teacher admitted she too was uncomfortable with yoga, especially doing it with her students. She also affirmed that her job is to push them beyond their comfort zones to help them grow and explore new possibilities.
As they assembled on the mats, you could feel their awkwardness. They made jokes about ugly feet. If this were not part of a required class, most of them would not be standing here. We found mountain pose and then moved into sun salutations. The movement and connection to the breath helped focus their attention on their bodies and the present moment. The energy began to settle as they got into the flow of the practice.
There was one student, however, who could not stop talking. I could feel his energy ricochetting through his body like a pinball. As everyone else settled, the paddles seemed to slap the small silver ball in his body and send it back up for another round of energy chaos.
As we moved into the floor postures, bridge and reclined twists, his discomfort finally seemed to dissipate. His energy grounded. He got quiet, and the whole tenor of his movements smoothed. As they lay in savasana, I guide them through a relaxation from their toes to the crown of their head. They sat up, and we did a short meditation.
When we finished, I walked over to him and asked how he was doing. His head was down, and he said, “I’ve never felt like this. This feels sooooo good. ” He just shook his head, slowly rolled up his mat and walked away. A few minutes later he found me again. “Do you teach any other classes that I might come to?”
Their class dismissed, and their teacher came over with a look of disbelief. She said he had asked her if he could skip his next class to stay and do the yoga session again. “I have never seen him that calm. Ever.” She said.
This is what calls me back to my yoga practice, over and over again. I have learned to surrender, to stop deciding which pose I like or do not like. When I suspend my judgment and stay curious in poses like Warrior I, I am pressed into uncomfortable shapes that I can receive like an Alice in Wonderland elixir. When I drink it up, I discover that I am the perfect-sized Alice for this moment in my life. Warrior I is a friend who has taken me on a curious and unexpected journey to feeling good.