The Frog and the Yoga

He wasn’t going to make it.  I could tell immediately.  And after all, even if he did manage to scale all the way up the glass wall enclosing our yoga room, where would he go from there?  He’d be high up on a ledge, with an open window his only way of getting back to the great green outdoors he was clearly seeking.  And that would be a hell of a jump, even for a frog.

“Are you feeling the negative energy pour out of you? Let the air absorb it. Let your cares and worries float away.”

Crap. How was I supposed to let my cares and worries float away while distracted by this frog trying to climb Kilimanjaro over there?  He slid back a few inches, but gamely held on – to what, I don’t know.

This was my third, maybe my fourth yoga class.  Ever.  About a year ago I decided I was going to start thinking about contemplating maybe somehow sometime doing something about my high intensity and stress-inducing lifestyle. Friends like Maggie Arden had written about how finding balance in yoga had helped them achieve balance in life as well.  Personally, I wasn’t convinced quite yet. But as a woman who lives by words, well, I needed to try something to quiet my mind.

My yoga instructor here in Panama has quickly learned that while I look as though I should be strong and flexible, in reality, I have almost no muscle  – anywhere.  And any flexibility I had attained from 10+ years of dance had quickly eroded. I felt like a 100 year old woman, barely able to stretch, hold positions for absolutely any length of time, or even keep my balance.

And to top off the difficulties, that damn frog was still inching up that glass, farther away from the ground with every step.

Yoga Studio, Boquete Panama

Current popular thinking places the origin of yoga at about 5,000 years ago, in what is now India.  The Indus-Sarasvati civilization was named after two great rivers that once flowed in Northern India, but which is believed to have declined due to climate change, which dried up the Sarasvati River.  That river is one of the most celebrated rivers in the Rig-Veda, the text upon which much of Yoga is based.

The text upon which much of Yoga is based.  Ah, ok.  Words.  Words I can deal with. Words, I’m good at.  Words, I can wrap my head around.

It’s funny how this simple understanding can help me feel more appreciative of something. Less intimidated by it as well.  Growing up in a Russian Orthodox Church, the idea of connecting your body and soul (in this case, to God) via chanting of ancient texts doesn’t seem strange to me.  And so when I started to learn more about the texts upon which yoga is based, and how the concepts translated to the movements of my oh-so-tight muscles, it just became more approachable.

Which, I think, is just part of taking on a challenge.  Understanding what lies ahead of you, connecting pieces of it to what you already know, and then moving forward from those building blocks.

And yet, the idea of relaxing, of focusing on one thing at a time – on something as “simple” as breathing – was frustrating for me.  Even when I could manage to relax, that damn frog kept pushing forward, up this slippery wall that there was no way he was going to conquer. A little how I felt about holding that incredibly simple pose that was really starting to ache my poor underdeveloped leg muscles. Wasn’t it breakfast time yet?

So instead I forced myself to think of crew.  A high intensity sport that I love with all my being, but one for which you need to focus, to concentrate on every muscle, every movement, every connection your body and your mind can make to push forward.

And it helped.  Closing my eyes this time, I reached farther, held longer, and breathed deeper.

Splat!

Ok, yeah, no.  Just hearing this frog tumble towards the hard floor snapped me out of reverie.  I resisted the urge to abandon my cobra pose and check on him.  Was he dead? Injured?

No one else seemed to have heard it, or else even noticed the journey this frog was undertaking. I tried to refocus, but my utter lack of success (caused likely by both mental distraction and utter lack of ability) discouraged me.  I felt good, moving my body even a little bit, but a zumba class or erging session would have made me feel better.

Maybe trying to change myself so much – to take my intensity to a calmer, more focused place via yoga, was really just a way of rejecting who I really was.  Is loud, extroverted, intensity any less valuable than what I was trying to achieve here?

I left class this morning knowing that there was going to be much more to learning yoga than just a work out.  I would have to get to know my body – to know its inherent strengths and how to build on them, to know its limitations and which could be pushed and which had to be worked around.  To know my weaknesses and my challenges.  And all the while, to still love myself.

As a woman, this was challenging enough.  Women aren’t taught to love our bodies.  We’re taught to hate them and to criticize them and to mold them to men’s desires and to society’s expectations.  And for a woman with as much on her mind as any other in this day and age, well, yoga was going to be all kinds of challenge.

But that’s ok.  I’m here in Panama for at least another few weeks.  And this is one challenge that won’t have a goal attached to it.  I’m not seeking to do a certain pose for a certain length of time.  Or really to do anything quite so measurable.

Instead, I’m just going to do it.  To see what questions come to my mind and to my body as I work them in single-minded focus.  And I will not even answer the questions.  But just open myself up to the questions themselves, and learn to feel the parts of my body and mind opening and connecting to one another.  Just doing it, allowing myself to move forward, seems a challenge enough.

As I left the studio, I saw that the frog had started its journey up the glass again.  I still didn’t know where it was going, nor what it would find when it got there.  But that’s ok.

After all, every journey leads somewhere.

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