I spent quite of bit of time last week thinking about the quote “Slow and steady wins the race” from Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare. Through many times in my life this has been a motto of sorts for me. As I checked the boxes from childhood to adulthood to motherhood and beyond I always felt a sense of accomplishment in moving from stage to stage. However, what I have come to realize and even celebrate is that there are many times when the path is not slow or steady. For me during times of big personal growth I have found the journey to be anything but that. Instead it is often stepping backwards before moving forwards with plenty of sidestepping thrown in. I think about it as a zig zag path instead of a straight line. This truly is what the journey is all about; the zig and the zag are the times when we challenge ourselves to step out of the line and out of our comfort zone. It is a recipe of self doubt mixed with elation and some faith thrown in… and its amazing, exhilarating and not a deviation from our slow and steady path, but rather a critical part of it.
The practice of Yoga is very much the same. As Yogi’s we are taught that slow and steady consistent practice is the path. But within that practice the same zig zag can occur… a pose that was available last week may be inexplicably gone this week. The reverse is also true. As part of our consistent yoga practice we learn to accept whatever our journey is on the mat each day. So, on the mat this past week I asked my students to embrace the zig and the zag of both the practice on the mat and the journey off of it. As we warmed up I shared with them that the asana was going to ask them to zig zag, that the journey from the back of the mat to the front of the mat (which is usually a straight line forward) was going to require going backwards first and then springing forwards.
We warmed up with some gentle back bending and twisting and moved into our first Downward Dog. From there we flowed through some opening sequences and found ourselves once again back in Downward Dog. Instead of hopping forward to the top of the mat, we walked the hands back to the feet and sat in a Malasana squat at the back of the mat. From there we “frog jumped” forward several times while lifting the legs until we found our forward fold at the top of the mat. Comfortable, typical poses such as Warrior 1, 2, Trikonasana and Half Moon were intermingled with this very zig zag flow to remind us that sometimes the journey is slow, steady and comfortable and other times it is wild and unpredictable. The practice is seeing the message in all of it; understanding that those crazy times are not a deviation from the path; rather they are all part of it.
Just as this physical zig zag practice strengthened the arms, legs and core in the physical body, mental strengthening occurred as well. With practice we began to see that moving backwards on our path before springing forward strengthened our awareness, our resolve and our resiliency all while quieting the pesky inner critic. This important combination is what we need to truly live our truth and see our path.
Off the mat, this concept works the same way. When my children were toddlers the days were so long.. each nap was a victory, each cry-free meal was a gift from god. And during those very long days at times it seemed that my child would never get older, never get out of diapers and never be able to dress themselves. It was the slowest and steadiest time in my life. My life was one big routine. However within the routine there would be those days when my miraculous toddler would do several amazing new things in a day. Then just as amazingly half of them would be gone the next week not to return again for weeks or months. Even as a 12 year old, I can usually tell when my son is about to take a big maturity leap forward because he often takes several steps backwards first. Why do we forget that this is how we work as humans? Being “grownup” doesn’t mean we just march forward in a straight line. The path to growth is not a straight or steady one. Accepting and understanding what the path is today is truly the only way to find our way along it.
As we moved into final back bending and spinal twisting I reminded my students once again that whatever their individual practice offered them on the mat it was all part of the practice and part of the path. Sometimes we have thoughts such as “that was a bad class” or “that was a bad day”… things didn’t go as I planned, my body didn’t feel the way I wanted it to so as we sat together in a final meditation I shared again that the first part of this process is acceptance. From acceptance we connect to our inner strength and awareness and quiet the critic at the same time. Together, this perfect combination of strength and space allows for the journey to be revealed and the path to be clear. Namaste.