During the Easter break I went hiking in the mountains. We did about five hikes, around 5 hours each. Not ridiculously long and not very strenuous. But still, it kept me in shape, more than if I would have crashed on some beach for a week. Or so I thought.
But after two weeks without hot yoga (one week facing deadlines at work and one week vacation), my body had all but relapsed into its ancient pre-hot yoga state of extreme inflexibility. Especially my hamstrings seemed to have shrunk back several inches – due to the hiking? – and during my first classes back it seemed incredible that I had ever been able to kick out in Standing Head to Knee pose.
On top of that there was the muscle ache. Some people seem to be pretty much immune to this, but if for some reason I have to skip a week, by now I know what awaits me in the morning after my first class. Instead of energetically swinging my legs out of my bed, I have to make a kind of slow, rolling movement under my blankets to get my feet on the ground and, having reached the edge of my bed, I very slowly attempt to lift my upper body up. It’s painful, very painful. In my experience, the only thing that helps passing this stage is getting back to class that same day. And the day after that.
These classes can be very difficult. More than is normally the case, I have to consciously adjust the posture to what I am able to do that day. I try to take it easy, but I find that the class is somehow designed in a way that it is quite hard to make an effort that’s less than 100%. So halfway through the balancing series, my heart is racing, I’m getting desperate and start to feel weak and I find myself wishing that there’s a superhero that will come and save me.
Fortunately, there happens to be one just around the corner.
Let me explain.
‘Where your eyes are looking, your body wants to follow.’ This must be one of the most useful suggestions in class. In one way or another, all postures require us to lift our limbs off and up from the floor. We are stretching, balancing, working with all our muscles against gravity. Even though our gaze is not a muscle -well, I suppose it is in a way, but let’s not get too technical here -, I’m always amazed by the enormous physical and mental support you get from focusing on one point. By looking at the ceiling in Floor Bow or Full Locust, you can actually pull yourself up some inches.
The other day in class I was thinking: By looking up, it is as if you’re shooting a web up to the ceiling and pull yourself up. Indeed, just like Spiderman. Check out his focus, his backbend and how he works against gravity in the pictures below. Isn’t that a great example?
So, in difficult classes I make sure that I keep my chin up and don’t drop my head. In a way of course, dropping your head is just a common reaction to being tired, but it doesn’t really give you much rest. It actually tends to make things worse. You loose your focus and it’s in itself a posture that increases a feeling of defeat. Instead, why not keep looking out for Spiderman? If you’re looking down you’ll miss the chance of ever making eye-contact.
Look up, spin the web to the ceiling, to your reflection in the mirror, to all points that give you support.
Focus your gaze. Survive class. Be your own superhero.