Yesterday during my yoga class the teacher noted that downward dog was a restful pose. I inhaled and settled deeper into the pose, and thought ‘Yep.” She continued to say that often in the beginning it does not feel restful because a lot is happening in the pose and the body must get organized around that in order to rest. And it is so true. In downward dog, and in life.
I remember when I re-dedicated myself to a daily yoga practice six years ago, I had a frozen shoulder and couldn’t straighten both of my arms above my head. And the pressure on my shoulders and wrists was very challenging (almost excruciating!). I had the shortest down dog possible. And I went into child’s pose to keep myself going.
But I did keep going. In spite of my mind telling me that it was not safe for you to do this because of the pain. In spite of my mind telling me that I looked stupid for going into child’s pose ALL the freakin time. In spite of my anxiety level spiking every time I knew I would need to take the pose. I kept reminding myself that I was doing it to feel better. And this was part of the process.
I kept on. Mostly with being as gentle with myself as I could without letting me stay at home in bed. I talked to my teachers so that they knew I was not slacking off. And I observed.
Observation has become my best friend in yoga. I began to observe how the three second down dog became five seconds. And how my wrists screamed a bit less than they had the week before. I observed how I actually had more forearm strength and a bit less flab. I slowly saw my arms lift higher over my head, like a centimeter at a time. And I celebrated these tiny little milestones with myself often. My own little party, because I was just a tiny bit better than I had been the week before.
Now when I go to a yoga workshop and the teacher uses downward dog as a posture to teach us about our alignment and how we reach for structural “perfection” in that pose, I remember myself. I have reached structural perfection for my body more than a thousand times doing downward dog. It has looked a thousand times incrementally different, because my body has opened, closed, loosened, tightened, lightened and softened in so many ways. And now I can settle into that perfection of the moment and rest. And breathe.
Off the mat, of course the translation is more subtle. But still the same. If am deliberate and observe small changes each day, they begin to add up. And yes, there are setbacks and meanderings, but still an observer can still notice the changes settling in, organizing themselves to give us more strength or patience or tenacity to move onward. Those too are victories. And are well worth celebration.
So take some time, wherever you are beginning, to observe the place. So you can offer yourself celebration for the changes that happen once you begin.