On random whim, I recently decided to open up one of the old archived entries from the original Diary of a Fledgeling Yogi. It was one of my longest posts, titled The Rescue. It had been Week 17 of yoga teacher training.
Part of it was this story of one of my asana teachers, and how he was fretting over a meeting at his non-yogi job where he was predicting he’d get yelled at. I went on to write about swimming and blah blah blah…
…and then I get to this chunk:
These are challenging, stressful times. No one will dare contest that. Life did not ask you, “Are you ready?” Chances are, even if you saw it coming, even if you lit the fuse yourself, you did not know when Life would shove you into the deep end of stress. Perhaps you are, like me, facing unemployment. Perhaps you are facing new employment. Perhaps you’re newly single. Perhaps you’re newly committed. Perhaps you know there’s an argument coming. Perhaps you’re suddenly in one. Perhaps you don’t know how you’re going to afford rent. Perhaps you’re lying in a heap on the floor begging for a rescue.
These are the times that you say, “My debt anxiety is no different from trikonasana (triangle pose). I can breathe when the fear of debt threatens to drown me.” And when you find yourself stifled by paying bills, you will find yourself able to breathe and address those concerns, because the twisting poses taught you how to breathe.
These are the times you say, “I cannot breathe in forward folds (like paschimottanasana). If I will loosen my grip. I will find where I can breathe. Then when in life I find myself so clinging, I will loose those things that no longer serve me.” And then you can breathe again.
These are the times you say, “My fear of moving is no different from my stumbling in the standing balances. I will breathe, and I will focus, and I will not stumble.” And when the fear of moving drags you to the ground, you will rise again.
I was weeping, because I hadn’t done my practice in so long. Cycling seemed like it was really eclipsing my physical training. I enjoyed my bike practice, but even that felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. I wanted more.
In searching for a goal, my father suggested that I look at the ole’ Boy Scout merit badge guide to see what would be required of a spritely boy of 15-18. I’d fulfilled pretty much everything up through the penultimate requirement; I was already riding 10 miles a day. But then I saw the final test:
Avoiding major highways, map out a 50 mile bike course. Complete it in under 8 hours.
After a short bout of wanting to accuse the writers of the merit badge requirements of insanity and demand they take a little trek through these back streets, another feeling began to surge upward: this merit badge has been awarded. People were capable of accomplishing it. That meant…I was capable of accomplishing it. But not me, the way I was.
I had taken a long break from cycling. When I wanted to get back into it, I didn’t just throw myself at ten miles a day again. That would’ve been stupid and torturous and a fast track to hating bicycling—and life. So I promised myself, “No, I’ll do half the course for a week to get my muscles used to it again.” I was impatient, but I held myself to the commitment, and now my ten mile course doesn’t seem so bad.
When I practiced the Primary Series regularly, I bummed myself out a bunch because I would skip vinyasas, poses or sometimes even full chunks that I didn’t like on any particular day. Confession: it was actually really rare that I completed a full Primary Series as handed to me by my instructor (sorry!). But I feel like it’s because I didn’t build a good foundation. My asana was my dream kingdom, the way I pictured my highest self practicing…and I saw that it had fallen apart when I left it unattended, not unlike what Neil Gaiman’s Dream of the Endless saw when he returned to his realm after a long exile.
My teacher also granted me a minimum practice; apparently it’s what Krishnamacharya said was the minimum daily practice for ashtangis, in cases where time or fitness did not allow for a full practice.
When he saw his kingdom falling apart, Morpheus didn’t magically make it all return with the wave of his hand; he went section by section, chunk by chunk. He spent volumes rebuilding his kingdom. And it was different; stronger somehow. That’s how we have to go about it: start at the minimum, the foundation, and work the way back up.
We oftentimes look at the goal of a practice, the dream kingdom; we see that we are not there after the first practice, and quit. I know I do. But what if we instead started with a strong foundation: I will never do less than x?
Next thing I know, I’m on Google Maps plotting out how far it would be for me to ride to a little town called “Friendship” (I’m picturing a one-street town at the bottom of a valley with a general store. And a saloon. Because yes). It’s 20 miles one way by back road. If I worked up my mile count slowly, I could fathomably get to 50 miles in under 8 hours before the winter made riding inadvisable…
There was no time to lose. To get back my asana practice, I would have to start like I did with the bicycle: with the absolute minimum practice:
—3 Sun A’s
—3 Sun B’s
—Navasana (including the part where you lift yourself up and sit back down five times)
—Ending Sequence (Starting with setu bandhasana/Supported Bridge through savasana)
After the practice, I set out to go. On the way out, I looked in the mirror. I could not recognize myself.
The king had returned.
This week, may you look back at something you created in the past (writing, videos, something you stuffed in the attic, etc.). May you set a new goal, and chart a path towards its completion. And may begin to rebuild something that crumbled.