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  • Facing your nemesis...

    My yoga practice has been going through an interesting phase this year. After a stressful few months, tension had built-up in my back and I was struggling with back-bends for the first time in my life. I completely stopped doing the Ashtanga second series, as traditionally you’re not supposed to start this until you can drop back into urdvha dhanurasana and stand back up unaided. Deep down, I knew this was just an excuse, because second series was becoming more difficult and unpleasant, and it seemed easier on my body and mind to stick with the less demanding primary series.

    Meanwhile, things with my back and body continued to worsen and I felt stiffer and stiffer. Two voices vied in my head; a loud, opinionated one full of stories about my injuries and how I needed to take it easy and not over-work my back, and a quiet yet persistent one that gently nudged at me, telling me to trust my body and act with courage, not fear. The loud voice liked to make itself heard, and I found myself telling anyone that would listen about my troubles. But the quiet voice was patient and refused to go away. It would come to me mostly when I was alone, meditating or on my mat. “You can do this, Becky”, it said.

    Coming back to the UK from teaching and travelling in Morocco, I felt nervous as I headed back to my local yoga studio. I hadn’t attended a class, practised alongside others or had the guidance of a teacher for months, and suddenly I was afraid to re-enter that world, worrying that I would be judged on how much my practice had regressed during my absence, whilst simultaneously berating myself for such un-yogic self-absorption.

    Entering the basement studio, the familiar smell of Nag Champa incense and sweat tickled my nostrils and the sound of ujahi breathing filled my ears. The sight of people grafting away on their mats, fully immersed in their own yoga experience, melted my fears. Still, the loud voice told me to take things steady and ease my way in with a simple primary series practice and no drop backs, and I listened willingly. As I entered the finishing sequence, I felt the usual agitation as I approached urdvha dhanurasana. I pushed myself up off the floor, and my breath quickened and face tensed, even as I tried to remain serene. After my third attempt I gladly sank back to the mat and took a deep breath, hugging my knees to my chest. As with every other day, I silently told myself to be happy with where I was; that it was all part of the journey and things would change when I was ready. My teacher’s gentle voice by my side roused me.

    “Want to try dropping back?” He knew I had been doing this unassisted before I left, yet somehow he sensed I needed support right now.

    “Um, OK.” My heart sank, but inside my quiet inner voice gave an encouraging cheer.

    Standing up, my heart-rate quickened. The floor had never seemed so far away. However, with my teacher holding my waist, I tentatively started to arch back – and there it was, finally my hands found the floor. OK, it didn’t feel good in my body, but coming back up afterwards, knowing I had tackled a demon and survived, felt really good in my mind, so I knew the body would follow in time.

    Afterwards, I lay blissfully in savasana, feeling a deep sense of peace, happiness and a sense of having somehow ‘come home’; to my local yoga studio but, more importantly, to myself.

    A few weeks on and I’m going through a wonderful ‘opening’ phase in my practice – I’m back on second series and working deeper into kapotasana, the notoriously intense back-bending pose. Yes it’s tough, yes it’s scary, but this time I’m sticking with it, and I’m just starting to feel the benefits. It’s as though, by committing to facing a fear, the mind is stating ‘I can do this’, so the trusting body softens and a paradigm shift occurs.

    There will always be tough phases in your practice and there will always be scary nemesis poses but, let’s face it, this is what makes the lifelong yoga journey interesting! These are the juicy bits, the nitty-gritty. These are the times when we learn what yoga’s really about; when we learn to overcome fear, have faith, have courage, believe in ourselves, be determined, commit. Through these challenges we learn to tune into our quiet inner voice that knows what’s best; to quieten negative stories and to trust in our own unbelievable strength.

    Just keep telling yourself: “You can do this!

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