Painfully Aware or Gently Present

I’m trying to do more things that are good for me. Because I want to be a better person, a different person. Someone who can take pride in herself. I know I should not be thinking these things about myself.  I should not be approaching my goals in yoga or mindfulness practice with the hidden agenda of “new-me-ness.”  I know I’m supposed to be accepting myself, in my entirety, right here right now.  And right now, here I am, in my living room upside down.

After practicing for many months, I can finally do a full backbend from the standing position in yoga. There, see, self? I can be committed, I can be healthy. For a second, I’m proud. A rare feeling, pride pulls the trigger; what haven’t I got to proud of, why don’t I always feel this way? A well rehearsed script, I’ve memorized this scene. Because I am lazy, judgmental and too sensitive. In my reflection, I can see my backbend is off. I am bent too far in my lower lumbar region. My upper spine unwilling to compensate, plateaus. I’m straining. What’s to be a gently spaced curve, appears more as a series of harsh edges and right angles.

I spend more time in the preparation for events than the doing of them. Being new to yoga, makes me feel unprepared, so I read a lot about it. I read that I’m doing something wrong. In my haphazard backbendings I’m not supposed to be doing opposite stretches to recover. That once I have concaved my spine, the impulse to convex it, is in fact incorrect. The best thing I can do for my spine is a series of neutral stretches and then to Simply Sit.

Any yogi knows yoga has a spiritual component that rejuvenates more than your body. Sitting, I think about what I’ve read about the backbend, not the how, but the intention behind it. It is a heart opening pose. It releases stress and tension that we carry in our chest. Simply sitting with my heart open I feel for myself, not about myself. I, like all of us, must do things in order to have a “right placeness,” because belongingness is a basic human need. This makes sense, I make sense. Mindfulness has allowed me to be present through observing and I’ve noticed that my actions and thoughts are valid, I’ve accepted them. Because this makes sense to me, I am less ashamed. I have compassion for myself, softly bridging the gap between self-improvement and self-acceptance; between painful awareness and gentle presence.

Three months ago I could barely lean back while standing. Now I can lean all the way back without falling, it just looks like a little rickety. This reminds me of something. I get a vivid image of my three year old niece my niece and I applying makeup on ourselves in the bathroom mirror. She puts way too much and in all the wrong places. She gets up close to the mirror, pauses for a moment and takes in the finished product.

“It’s a lil’ bit messy, but it still looks good.”  I recall seeing her satisfaction, her okayness, her belongingness and even her pride, and I felt it too. Her electric pink blush against the backdrop of unashamedness, an unfamiliar combination. I remember us laughing together. What would it be like she thought about herself the way I thought about myself. What if my little cherub didn’t know her own goodness?  It would be painful for me, because I know her and I know she is whole, perfect and lovable. It’s not a one sided relationship, she loves me, cherishes me even. What kind of model of self-acceptance am I providing? What does she feel about me? What would she feel about how I thought about myself? She knows my goodness, my wholeness.

My backbend is a little bit messy, but it is still good. I am a little messy, but I am good. When I opened my heart without compassion for myself, I felt shame about the distance between me and my higher self. I know I should be on the self-acceptance route instead of the self-improvement one. But I don’t want to backtrack or start over. I want to accept myself and be better.  I need a bridge.

Instead of reading how my backbend is wrong, I know that it is good and could be better. I read about ways to improve it. Many people have difficulty with an area of their spine. This is a common human experience. I feel connected to others in this struggle. It’s a common experience that is about more than just your body. In a full backbend the heart is far above the head the heart is opened. Anxiety, insecurity and stress are released and I feel them. This is what it feels like when a person struggles this way. I am doing okay, this is hard. I want to live with my heart open for the sake of it being open, not for a great looking backbend.
I lay shoulders down and begin to lift just my legs and hips, they are good at this. I slowly extend my arms straight on the mat keeping my shoulders on the ground. Bridge pose. I feel the parts of me that work well first and I thank them. I feel the parts of me that need work and I breathe into them. I do not need to push, I’m grounded. I’m doing things that are good for me. Because I am worthy person. A good person, worthy of goodness. I am someone who can give love freely when her heart is open. I can bridge the gap between me and my higher self through love and compassion. I am proud. My heart is full. I sit with it, simply full.

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