When Downward Dog Goes to the Dogs

After a solid week of ecstasy over my realization that I was truly in love with yoga, the small punctures of self-doubt deflated my starting-to-soar mind. Luckily, my body is still a happy horse, although one that seems to be trotting or even walking slowly at times instead of galloping. I’m still going to yoga daily, and I’m still reading, watching yoga videos, and often — when standing in line or talking on the phone — doing some simple balance poses. But I’m also encountering my original response to yoga: it’s just hard for me.

It’s hard for me to get into some poses. It’s hard for me to hold some poses. It’s hard to remember to breathe. It’s hard to get down. And it’s hard to stand back up. At each class, I find myself going through a tragicomedy of emotions, starting with the thrill to being ready to go again, tthe surprise at how unflexible I became overnight, the trembling and hard breathing and onslaught of doubt (occasionally interrupted by looking at people around me step wider, bend lowerand reach higher), the reprimand not to compare myself to others, the second wave of doubt about becoming a teacher, and then — usually in the middle of Corpse Pose — a slow chime of joy that’s so exquisite at times that it’s all I can do not to cry on my mat.

I realize too how choking and hot this doubt can be — the same kind of doubt that has plagued many students I’ve worked with over the years about their desire to write and call themselves writers. While tabletop (a pose) and forward bends might come easy to some (but not me), writing always came easy to me. Yet whoever we are, and whatever we do, to practice an art is to bring yourself to your edge, breathe, relax and dwell there however long it’s healthy and productive, and then exhale slowly and stand back up.

I tell myself this while holding downward dog (a supposed rest pose that’s always been more like running a marathon for me). I also tell myself that like any good practice, I’m just showing up, trying to cultivate curiosity and drop judgment, and find greater compassion for living in a body, this body, forward-bended or stretched out, upside down or back on its feet.

Pictures: Me doing Downward Dog-With-Photography-Variation; other — someone on the internet I found doing Downward Dog.