The unexpected lesson from retreat...and that monkey

I really thought that this week would be about getting to a "new level" in my yoga. And it was. It just wasn't the level that I thought I was striving to reach.

After being sidelined after Wednesday night's practice with a back strain that I was finally honest with myself about, I was feeling pretty poorly about my practice. Not being able to do yoga makes me antsy and tense and any injury or strain makes me nervous. I have been sidelined enough with injuries during marathon training to know that sometimes your body can't keep up with your mind. And I was really down for the count - toting my heating pad to work and even feeling sorry for myself for a bit. I broke down and took ibuprofen - something I rarely do.

But in taking the time to STOP for a day and a half - I was able to listen to my body. To realize that it wasn't just my back. My wrists were sore from handstands. My ankles were tired from being so forceful in my vinyasas. My arms hurt. I stopped moving, started listening, and wow, was my body talking.

I went to Freedom Joy on Friday just to dance it out - but my back was still hurting. Of course I still loved it - but I left feeling a little sad about being limited in what I could do. I had worked so hard on finally getting to handstand on my own - and now I could hardly do it because of my back! So on Saturday, I showed up for that day's Yoga Retreat session with a fairly poor attitude about what I could do in the practice. My teachers Chanel and Bonnie were more than positive before class, though, and I started to warm up to the idea that I might be okay. They offered some suggestions about how to modify. Just knowing that they knew I was struggling made it a little easier. They reminded me to be gentle and to listen. To be mindful. Welcome to the recurring theme of my week!

And then Chanel opened the class and mentioned that the whole practice would be geared around Hanuman.

And I smiled and felt like I was in exactly the right place. How did she know?  I love Hanuman. I love his story of devotion to Rama - his singular faith and love. I enjoy the way that he is drawn and depicted (his appearance is that of a monkey and he is sometimes referred to as the monkey god). He is often drawn with a look of happiness, or contentment in his devotion. In one of the stories from Indian folklore, he moves a mountain in order to save someone  - which is illustrated in this picture here.

The Hanuman pose (splits) is a devotional pose in my opinion. Even Alex (who can fly all over the place on his hands) jokes that he is on the 15 year plan for splits. Unless you are incredibly flexible, it is a pose that takes a lot of time to master. Well I'm on the extended path to Hanuman. But I think that is the point. Devotion. Faith in the process. Belief that you will be able to do the seemingly impossible. Like lifting a mountain. And when Hanuman lifted the mountain and carried it - he was injured!

So what did I learn this week?

I learned to modify and to dial it back. I did some serious contemplation about a little bit of competition and pushing that I was developing unintentionally in my practice. I learned that being devoted means being honest and true to myself and what my body says. I learned that being present in that way was a big step forward in my practice, even if it felt like two steps back.

I love that monkey.


-Grateful Yogi