Sometimes the simplest things can be the most difficult.
- Like responding with kindess when someone meets you with anger.
- Like letting go of the fact that sometimes there’s nothing you can do to make it better.
- Like accepting that you can look externally for help and guidance but the person who’s got to do the work? You.
Also, like Warrior I.
All of these are relatively simple decisions. In the case of Warrior I, step right foot forward, turn back toes our 45 degrees, lunge into front knee, arms up. Done, right?
But then there’s that whole “squaring the hips forward” part. And the awkward sensation in your back knee. And the lunge in your front leg feeling more like a nudge. And, and, and… soon we’re avoiding the pose just like we avoid changing behaviors we’re none too proud of.
Unfortunately, avoiding doesn’t delay suffering; it involves suffering.
And we’re back to where we began. The simplest of decisions to avoid pain and problems leads to a buildup of hurt because:
- It’s difficult to diffuse when others are shouting.
- It’s easy to hold on to suffering because we feel a sense of connection by commiserating with others.
- It’s routine to hold others responsible for our reality (the blame game) rather than say “I’m sorry.”
Warrior I — or any yoga pose you find challenging — isn’t going to make any of these directly easier, per se. Except collectively, and inevitably, they do. It all starts in the mind’s reaction.
Befriend your brain
Our brains are always on. Think about that for a minute: Your brain never takes a break. Even when you’re sleeping, the darned thing keeps on keepin’ on.
And thank goodness for that or we wouldn’t have consciousness as we know it. But our brains also present our minds with a built-in challenge: They detect negative information faster than positive, say the authors of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom.
Our “negativity bias” is so strong that Dr. John Gottman, known for his research on marital stability and divorce prediction, has found that it takes five positive interactions to overcome the effects of a single negative one.
Certainly this plays out in relationships with others. It also occurs in our relationship with self. We often miss the small wins because we’re too focused on everything we “can’t” be or everything we’re doing “wrong.”
But as Buddha’s Brain points out, your brain may have gotten you into this mess but you can get the brain out of it.
Here’s the deal: Today, you are creating You.
According to the authors, a typical neuron, of which you have 100 billion, fires 5-50 times per second. And neurons on average have 5,000 connections, or synapses with other neurons. That is a whole heck of a lot of opportunity at any moment for you to begin anew in the brain, and subsequently in the mind.
But how? Examine your reactions. This constantly shifting brain and world can only be corralled by how we choose to react to it.
Yoga is not what you do
I’ll never forget the time I came to terms with Warrior I.
My mat was rolled out on the sideline of a basketball court in an elementary school gym. Master yogi Saul David Raye walked through about 50 or so of us and guided us into stillness, except I was moving.
The best I can do with words: I stopped thinking about it. I just was. And Warrior I flowed effortlessly. All because of this from Saul:
Yoga is not what you do, but what you make. (tweet it!)
When you step onto your mat or sit in meditation, you’re transforming yourself through mind/body alchemy. We may put ourselves in difficult situations on and off the mat, but what matters is how you show up — rather than avoid — the unpleasant conversation or the very idea that you can be anything you want to be.
Say Buddha’s Brain neuroscientists: There are 10 to the millionth power possible combinations of neurons firing or not in your brain. Possible combinations of atoms in the universe? 10 to the eightieth power.
Do overs are not just reserved for playgrounds. They occur with every synapse and, likewise, every time you don’t “do” yoga.
Our vast mental universes mean ample opportunity to shape them, and in turn shape ourselves, however we want. And it’s not difficult. It’s simply returning — awakening! — to the You you’ve been all along.
What You will you create today?
Try it: Warrior I, Virabhadrasana I
Ah, Warrior I. It’s interesting how the first in the series of Warriors is so most difficult for so many. We’re used to things with a “one” after them being simplest, but in yoga, all poses are game for ease or effort. Tackle this one with a mindset of ease.
Note: It’s not uncommon to tweak your knee in this pose, especially in the standing back leg. For this reason, if this pose is painfully uncomfortable (not just awkward) stick with Crescent Lunge instead.
- Stand in Mountain Pose, Tadasana at the top of your mat. Exhale and step your left leg back about four feet and turn the toes outward 45 degrees. With both legs nearly straight, take your hands to your hips and rotate your right hip back and left hip forward. If you find your hips are not squaring over the front leg, try stepping your left foot farther to the left. Anchor into the outer edge of your left foot so as not to collapse the arch.
- On another exhale lunge into your right knee, tracking the knee toward the pinky toe side of the foot and directly over the ankle. If the knee moves past the ankle, inch your right foot forward. Protect your back knee by maintaining a slight bend in the joint.
- Traditional Warrior I has your arms reaching straight up overhead, palms facing one another. If you do this, extend through your fingers but soften your shoulder blades down and together on the back. Otherwise, clasp your arms together behind you as I’ve done here. This variation helps you focus more on the legs and squaring of the hips.
- Breathe for 4 to 6 even inhalations and exhalations, continuing to square the hips and firm the low belly into the spine.
- Release your arms back to your hips and straighten your right leg. Turn the toes both to the left and bring your heels into alignment. Rest for a few breaths in this standing wide-legged pose before turning your left toes to the back of your mat and repeating the pose on this side.