Winter is one of my favorite seasons, I love this time of year! I love the cold, crisp weather, the comfort foods, the winter activities - both indoor and outdoor - it is a time to reflect on the past and also carries the promise of a new year and the exciting possibilities to come.
I am also a secret, not-so-secret lover of New Years' Resolutions. Let's be clear - I am not a fan of the "this year I am going to lose 10lbs" resolutions or other attempts at superficial and often temporary change or success. What I am a fan of is the idea of giving oneself goals, of trying to implement a new habit or two, or a resolution to do something new (or finish something old).
I generally set myself a long list of things I would like to accomplish over the year - ranging from more trivial things like 'cook more' or 'read 3+ books for leisure' to larger things like 'take more auditions' and 'train for a specific event' (hello hood to coast in 2012). But sometimes resolutions with a seemingly straightforward outcome can open a multitude of other possibilities in need of exploration. For example:
Last year one of my resolutions was to accomplish Hanumanasana aka the splits. This was a year long endeavor that I did not successfully conquer...yet. My anatomy and lifestyle preferences have lead me down the path to tight hamstrings and stiff hips. I blame this partially on genetics and also my affection for endurance running. As a result the required openness in the lower body has not come naturally or easily to me and I have struggled with this all year. Some days I came closer than others but to this day (the very last day of 2014) I have yet to achieve the full expression of this pose. After months of practicing yoga almost every single day; going through sun salutation after sun salutation and attending class regularly I wasn't seeing much progress. This was frustrating but did not stopped me from learning some very interesting lessons along the way. I could not make sense of my limitations and this frustration and confusion coupled with a borderline manic desire to do the splits lead me on a quest to confront my body and anatomy. I found new classes that taught me flexibility through strength and alignment and I learned little by little how to release and open parts of my body I previously did not have access to. Here are a few more lessons I learned through NOT accomplishing my New Years Resolution of 2014 -
- I learned that by telling myself how tight my hamstrings were actually made them tighter. That seems confusing - but it is analogous to getting on stage to perform and saying to yourself "I hope I don't screw up!" and then having a performance mishap. By saying "my hamstrings are tight that is why I cannot go deeper in this pose" adds rigidity and limits motion. Now I try really, really (really!) hard to accept how it feels in the moment without judging it as good, bad, tight, inflexible or painful.
- On a related note I also learned that you cannot judge something while you are trying to be successful at it. As one teacher put it; "it is impossible to create and to judge simultaneously". It is much more effective to reflect back on your practice and evaluate what happened, where the tightness and weakness exist rather than to convince yourself of some other reality in the moment. -If you tell yourself a tale it may just come true - so why not tell yourself something positive like you can do something! Or simply forget the narrative and just acknowledge how good the stretch feels.
- ~NO JUDGEMENT, JUST BREATHE~ One teacher gave me this mantra and I still repeat it almost daily. This little saying works wonderfully in all settings. From a yoga practice, to teaching violin, to performing, and even to everyday human interactions. It helps one stay calm and present and ultimately have a more rewarding experience that is not hampered by ones own psyche.
- I learned that, as in violin, swimming, running or anything that involves using the body, good technique and focus garners better results than mindless movement and repetition. Try practicing (the violin) mindlessly for 5 hours versus 1 or 2 hours with immense concentration and you will almost immediately see the difference. Pamela Frank speaks briefly on this here. The same can be said for learning and executing proper swimming technique; less repetition with better form is more beneficial than 100s of laps without purpose and attention.
- I learned a great deal about anatomy - way more than I ever expected to know....ever! Basic structure and physical alignment, joints, superficial muscles vs. deep muscles, opposing muscle groups, how to use my body more efficiently and how to best lengthen hamstrings (and other muscle groups too) were regular talking points in yoga class. This knowledge is like a constant hum now in my life. Now I try to use specific muscles required for good posture as I sit in the car, and engage specific muscles as I practice violin. Life in general became much more exhausting when I learned to turn on areas of my body that typically remain passive and unengaged in my daily routine.
- By strengthening my basic poses, more advanced asanas improved as well. Much like practicing scales daily and feeling more secure in difficult repertoire, practicing the core yoga poses - those that can seem easy, basic, beginner level and unrelated to more advanced postures - yield unexpected results in more demanding poses. Who would have guessed that having stronger legs made handstands easier? I certainly didn't!
The moral of the story is that I didn't achieve Hanumanasana per se in 2014. What I gained instead was more information, a passion for the process, a deeper love of asana practice, an approach to being a musician flavored by my yoga practice, an appreciation for my body, and motivation to stretch the boundaries of my physical body even further. I plan to carry this resolution into 2015, 2016, and into the unforeseeable future not only because I still can't do the splits but also because I learned so much from this quest that I did not anticipate learning...And I have a feeling 2014 was just the beginning of the journey.
Happy New Year!