Yoga by Ceci, Dacia and Gina in Rogers Park, Chicago IL
yoga@yogagratitude.com

The Best

Tonight the Olympics begin in London, WHOOO HOO!!!!  As Americans, this is our chance to unite behind ONE team, our team, in every sport and cheer as a nation.  And, no offense, but our nation is awesome.  America has won more medals than any other country that competes in the Olympic Games (2298 medals in the summer olympics alone!); we’re the best!  How cool is that!?  And I don’t have to feel weird (or arrogant) saying it, because the numbers don’t lie.

Thinking about being the best reminds me of growing up in a town where sports were The Thing.  If you were good at soccer, good at lacrosse, could run really fast or for a long time, you got your name in the paper and you were–by small town standards–kind of famous.   In short, being The Best meant being the best at (enter name of sport here).  One year, a couple of seniors from the theater department pulled off a very subtle prank.  They sent out a letter to all the parents of the Junior class saying that parking spaces were to be given first to the 3 Sport Varsity athletes, then the 2 Sport Varsity athletes, and lastly to the students who played at least one Varsity sport.  NO parking spaces were to be given to students UNLESS they played an extracurricular sport.   Nobody got out of any school, and it wasn’t super funny, which was– I thought– the true value of a Senior prank, but it took A WHOLE WEEK for anyone to notice that the Varsity athletes had just been given the whole parking lot.

I was keenly aware of this quality of my hometown because I was Not That Good at sports.   I was marginally good at swimming, and OK at soccer (and I looooved to play it) but being The Best at non-newsworthy things seemed, well…non-newsworthy.  It wasn’t lame to be smart, thank goodness, but it didn’t exactly get you invited to parties.  I have often though about how it might have been if the tables were turned: if writing essays had been a Varsity offering, I might still hold school records in Punctuation and Grammar.  If I could have lettered in Reading Comprehension, I would have left thousands behind in my eraser dust.  I can still see it clearly, the heads turning in awe as I passed–my strides long, triumphant, my head held loftily– to hand over my AP Literature exam, twenty minutes before the proctor called time.   By the time every one else was finished I was long gone, probably talking to the librarian.  I don’t even want to tell you about my verbal SAT scores.  

It wasn’t until I started practicing yoga, several light years after high school, that I learned what it felt like to be The Best.  I had to relax my neck, get some air to my brain, and chill out about sports.  In yoga, there are no points, no teams, no scoreboards.  And on the yoga mat, it’s always “practice.”   There is no big game, it’s just practice.   Even if you are Ana Forrest, even if you are sitting on your own head, you are still just “practicing.”  It takes the edge off of mastery and allows you to develop your practice in a slow, falling-in-love kind of way.  There is no urgency, no competition, just your own desire to seek the edge, and each time you surge a little deeper, you win!  Yoga is very cunning that way;  the simplicity is disorienting and distracts you from thinking.   Your desire to understand Warrior 1 with Interlock will not get your body to agree to do it; you simply cannot think your way into a pose.  It is breath, not logic, that opens our bodies and clears the stagnant energy.  Once I embraced that adjustment, my “limitations” ceased to matter and then finally ceased to exist.  **When you don’t feed your limitations, they die.  Try it.**

I began to learn, as my teacher taught me, “to pay attention without judgment.”  I had so much fun sweating out toxins and hunting around for shielding in my heart chakra and dark corners in my hips that I forgot to be judgmental at all.  When I felt energy moving in my legs, I was ecstatic because I could feel that I was doing it right. One day after a really long Baptiste-style hot yoga class, our gifted, eternally-smiling teacher, Sean, approached me and asked, “How long have you been doing yoga?  You’re really good!”   Wow!  It was such a lovely surprise, such an unexpected compliment, that I surprised myself again; rather than deflect his words with something self-deprecating and sassy, I absorbed them!

 

 

In that moment of acknowledgement, I truly felt that I belonged among The Best.  My skin breathed sweat and happy pheromones, my mind was a flood of pride and seratonin.   I knew with certainty that he was right.  I was good at yoga.   Having that fact validated by someone whose practice I so admired, whose work I so wished to emulate, was like a thousand As.  I wore his words like a gold medal around my neck.

 

Before I practiced yoga, I was in a state of near-constant comparison.   My grades, my weight, my clothes, my this, my that.  I set myself up for misery by comparison.  Let me tell you something: The best way to defeat yourself is by not trying, the next best way is to lose by comparison.  When I teach, I say, “If it’s not on your mat, don’t worry about it!”  That means, ditch the comparisons.  Your neighbor’s pose has nothing to do with your pose, (and you’ll splat if you’re trying to use him or her as a focus point).  Her pose isn’t your pose, and it never will be.  Your right hip might not even have anything to do with your left hip!   I teach to my students on Monday as if Sunday never happened because EVERYTHING– daily changes in weather, your emotional state, the class-sequencing–can affect your experience in your body.  All you can do is arrive, practice, observe and feel your internal atmosphere.  In one practice, I may be able to completely express shoelace, with my shins all the way together, in a forward fold (what a GREAT day for my hips!) and that won’t have any bearing on how long I can stay in Half-Moon before I fall over.  You  focus on the wins.  Was I able to keep my neck relaxed the whole time?  That’s a win.  Did I remember to breathe?  Another win.

The thing I realized about being The Best is this: it’s validation through recognition.  When Sean told me I was good, it validated something that I already knew to be true, and made it even more meaningful.  And here’s the beauty part:  YOU can validate and honor yourself.  It’s what we do in namaste at the end of class, when we acknowledge the light within ourselves and each other.  When your practice deserves acknowledgement, do it!  Step up to podium, so to speak, and attest to your strength and effort!

When can you do this?  Any time. Your gold medal moment comes when you feel into your pose and become aware that you are FREAKING NAILING IT.  It could be during pranayama when your spine is stacked and you feel fully supported in your core.  You could feel it in downward dog when your hamstrings feel long and your shoulders are wrapped and you are working completely free of struggle.  It’s especially great to reinforce your grounding in standing poses.   As you move through your poses next class, choose your Gold Medal pose and grant yourself the highest honor for expressing it so well.   If it feels more true this way, do a visualization of yourself receiving this award; close your eyes and imagine your teacher, or your mentor, or your kids handing you a gold medal, shaking your hand and placing the wreath around your neck.  Feel the metallic sensation of tears of joy in the back of your throat.  Let the beauty of this envelope you.  It is very appropriate to feel pride as a swelling, tearful, so-happy-I-don’t-know-what-to-do feeling.

 

Have you ever seen such smiles as on the faces on the Olympic medalists?  They look exactly the way they feel:  like The Best in the world.

 

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