Attitude Adjustment

When I attempt a posture that’s new to me, or difficult, there is usually a sense of separation. I can’t help but think of all those people, through the centuries, who were able to do this posture. Oftentimes, I look around and see that those close to me can do it… but I cannot. Isolated, alone on my island of no-can-do, I make half-hearted attempts at performing a posture I know is beyond my abilities. Then one day… I come to the posture with a different attitude… I move toward the posture calmly, deliberately, without fear or desire, only interest and pleasure… I experience a connection to the posture by which I am forever changed.
— Rolf Gates

I struggle with back bends.

They are so pretty when other people do them, but when I attempt to bend my spine backwards the result is less than pretty and can quickly become painful.

We all have physical limitations. You won’t hear me say, “just keep practicing and you’ll get it!” I mean, you might, but you might not.

It depends.

It depends on your bony and muscular structure. It depends on your connective tissue. It depends on how much you work on it and how you do so.

But what happens when we let the idea of physical limitation be the excuse to not work at all? To dread. To complain. To always say, oh, I don’t do that po


There’s a fine line, right? It’s your mat. Your practice. Your body. Your decision.


At the same time, there is room for experimentation and practice. Practicing a pose will likely make that pose “better.” I qualify “better” because I don’t mean bigger, bendier, more like the picture in the book or the show off next to you in class - ok, ok, she’s not really a show off, she just happens to have a spine made of rubber and can knock out the impressive stuff like it’s no big deal. Give her a break. Admire her pose, her ability, but also admire your pose, your ability. Hers is not better. Swear on my stash of chocolate! Bigger is NOT better. Bendier is NOT better.

“Better” means more comfortable, less effortful, more enjoyable, regardless of what it looks like from the outside.

And that’s the real rub.

Outside vs Inside.

We want them to match, we know that when they do, practice feels amazing, the pose feels amazing, our breath feels amazing. We recognize how amazing we really are!

Except… we also want the outside to match that damn picture, or that sweet girl who is just minding her own business and doesn’t even know that she is causing you pain with her folded in half spine.

So, the goal is to let go of the picture; let go of the expectation and be curious instead. Approach the pose with “interest and pleasure” and “without fear or desire.” That’s when shit gets good!

Let go of the ego, the part that insists there is a right way to do the pose and you are doing it wrong or the part that says, don’t even bother because your body can’t do this.

Grab hold of the inquisitive part, the part that doesn’t give a shit about what the world says the pose is supposed to look like, and simply match the inside - the joy, the excitement, the try it slowly and see what happens - with the outside and assume (correctly) that the result is nothing short of beautiful.

I am under no illusion that this is an easy thing to do. I fall into the trap of blaming my body for not being able to do things all the time. When this gets sticky is when I don’t even realize I’m doing it. I’ve stuck it under the label of being good to my body, to listening and being smart and stopped being curious.

I can honor my body and still approach a pose that I know I have to be careful with, a pose that usually eludes me, or a pose that I’ve never even attempted before, with joy and a spirit of exploration.

Instead of being leary of what will happen, I can be optimistic. Smart, but assertive.

I will never advocate pushing into the known or unknown with blind abandon, but it might be really cool to push a tiny bit farther that you did last time, breathe there for a bit, then see if there is a tiny bit more room to gently push.

As I practice backbending this week - I’ll be teaching bow pose - I commit to coming to my mat with a good attitude. A positive attitude that says, of course I can! A firm belief that I can sync the inside with the outside. Eyes that only see the beauty in the pose, the beauty in my body, the beauty in my breath.

I commit to practicing with joy and without fear. I commit to not just appreciating, but celebrating the pose I find myself in, instead of judging it to be lacking in any way.

What about you?

Is there a pose that you dread? That you criticize yourself for not being able to “nail?” What would it look like if you took out the “fear and desire” and practiced with “interest and pleasure”?