The yoga pose that you avoid the most, you need the most. – Unknown
In the constant scientific experiment that is my life, I absolutely believe this quote to be true. For me, it meant switching from a slow Hatha practice to the quick moving Ashtanga style. I am a person that generally moves slowly. Ballet called to me as a child, and then I became fanatical about Martha Graham’s dark shapes, which seemed to glide like honey. Then, of course, I met my life’s calling in yoga. When I was first introduced to the practice, Ashtanga seemed too quick and masculine for me. It wasn’t until I heard a senior yoga teacher say, “the practice you most avoid, is probably the practice you most need.” That changed everything.
This is one of my favorite sutras in the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali (as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda):
“The practice of concentration on a single subject (or use of one technique) is the best way to prevent the obstacles and their accompaniments.”
I find great truth in this sutra as it pertains to meditation, practice, and really any goal. When I committed to practicing solely Ashtanga for the next two years, I did it as a yogic vow.
Now, Ashtanga as a spiritual practice has completely transformed me. There is hope and love in my heart every day and I could not be more grateful. That being said, I did experience some moments of detachment, which is good at times, but not so great at others. To be unattached in moments that are challenging can allow you to think of level-headed solutions, but there were times when I wished I would have defended myself more. It’s as if I didn’t have the ‘heart’ to fight. This got me thinking a lot about my heart…
I also thought a lot about what practice I might be avoiding, so I decided to run. Generally, I despise aerobic activity; while at the same time, I subscribe to Runner’s World and have an enviable collection of running sneakers. What can I say? I’m a riddle at the end of a maze.
I started running about once or twice a week with some regularity. It seemed to improve my stamina and patience in my yoga practice.
“Expanding your exercise horizons beyond yoga is a good idea… It’s good to challenge the body in new ways. Most traditional yoga styles don’t raise the heart rate high or long enough to develop true heart-saving cardio-respiratory fitness.” – Walt Thompson, Ph.D. (RW, January 2008)
Still, I wasn’t convinced running had really improved my ability to function at a higher level overall. For some months, I’d been researching interval training, specifically HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). My primary focus was to create a class for my students and myself around the principles of HIIT. I have to say, it’s quite the learning curve when you’ve never actually done a workout. Sitting in bed pouring over James Driver’s research in HIIT, High Intensity Interval Training Explained, was not getting me very far. I shelved the idea for some time. If I was honest, it was probably because I had no real interest in causing myself that much pain, regardless of the gains.
Then, in a moment of possible insanity, I reached out to I AM Crossfit. For the uninitiated, Crossfit is arguably the reigning champ of the HIIT scene. I told the head trainer that I wanted to learn more about his athletes and how they train, and was willing to go through an entire workout myself. A couple days later, I suited up for Crossfit 101. Eight newbies, including me, paced the ‘box’, which is what the company calls the black warehouses filled with such torture devises as kettle bells and conditioning ropes. We giggled as most nervous people do while awaiting impending doom.
In years past, the warm up itself would have been my full day’s workout. So, you can imagine my surprise when we were told there was a whole chalkboard left of drills to do. We ran, jumped on boxes, squatted, and swung kettle bells. About halfway through, I had an existential crisis. My mind chimed in, “you know you have extremely low blood pressure. You’re vision is getting blurry, which probably means you should sit down before your head slams against the floor.” I credit my meditation practice for allowing me to watch this thought and allow it to pass each time it entered my mind. And it entered my mind quite a bit for the last twenty minutes of the workout.
I survived and more importantly there was a mental shift. I became a champion of my own values, and felt I had the ‘heart’ to fight for those beliefs. Now, I’m wondering what if we, as yogis, added this type of training to our practice? I know I’m venturing into the taboo for most yoga purists, but isn’t yoga all about attaining optimal health, so we can meditate comfortably and attain samadhi? Shouldn’t we include the latest in fitness research to attain that level of health? I’d love to hear your thoughts.