I'm lying on my stomach, arms underneath, "elbows should be between your hips and touching someday," hands flat on the floor, "little fingers touching." We're in the locust pose, made bearable only for the fact that we're on the floor and each part is only ten seconds.
It's during the third part as we're grunting to keep our "cobra tail" lifted a few inches off the floor that the instructor tells us about someone in California who is able to lift his legs not only off the floor, but also to touch his toes on the floor in front of his face. It takes me a few seconds to create that picture in my mind, and then we're in blessed savasana.
Kay goes on to remind us it's not how far we get into a pose but how well we do the form.
My yoga practice is shifting. I'm actually starting to believe her, and the other two teachers, when they say that. After months of throwing body parts into poses and hoping they stick somehow, trying my hardest to follow every single instruction to the max, and feeling frustrated at my lack of progress, I've begun to explore the possibility that they're telling the truth. Not that they weren't before, but now a truth that might have meaning for me.
The question that keeps asking itself is "How do I know I'm working hard enough?"
If I answer that question with how far I'm able to get into the poses then clearly I'm never working hard enough. If I answer it with how much I sweat and how hard it is to breathe, then just as clearly I'm always working too hard. So what if there's a different answer?
Form. Breath. Concentration.
We're told constantly to suck our stomachs in, to breathe, to keep our eyes open. It's interesting how hard it is for me to do all three of those at the same time. It's interesting how easy it is to skip all three in my desperate attempts to fling my cobra tail legs into the air. And, here's the aha, it's amazing how much easier it is to do locust (or any other pose) when I'm able to focus on the first three things.
How do I know I'm working hard enough?
"Suck your stomach in. Come back to it over and over. It doesn't matter how many times you forget, keep trying."
"If your breathing isn't normal, you're working too hard."
"Keep your eyes open. Don't let your mind wander away. Focus."
It's so clear, yet so difficult to trust as truth. A lifetime of working at everything as hard as I can - the level of difficulty and pain being the standard for success - and never feeling like it's quite enough. "So how is that working for you?" Maybe it's time to give a more gentle approach a try. To make form, breath, and focus the priority and standard. To trust in the possibility of a new definition of hard work, of enough, of success.
pictures from Flickr