Yoga as Metaphor


It is the first day of yoga teacher training. On the way to the studio I am feeling confident– I am fifteen minutes early, off to a good start, I tell myself. I am going to be such a good student. I turn into the full parking and a panicky feeling takes hold—there is no coming and going, everyone is already inside. Somehow I am, in spite of my efforts, in spite of plugging the schedule for the training painstakingly into my Google calendar, and writing into my planner, for each month from now until December, I am late. The rest is classic, I walk into the class, and everyone turns to look. It was college all over again.

Then yoga teacher training commenced, the study of Sanskrit, anatomy, and asana practice, for five days.

My illustrious entrance into teacher training aside, what I came away with was a strong sense of yoga as metaphor. The first time that I noticed a lesson from yoga that was oddly transferable to everyday life was during a beginner’s workshop series, when Heather Anastos, the owner of Yoga Community, encouraged the class to practice some moderation in poses. She said to do the pose to 80% of your strength and ability because you need to allow yourself that remaining 20% to come out of the pose. This idea has never gone away. Of course at that time it was antithetical to what was then my current practice—balls to the wall everything—do everything as hard as you can and then try to do it a little harder. Get your nose closer to your knees! Head to the floor! Leg higher! Stretch! Hold! It was Pitta Gone Wild! So, she said that, and it penetrated my practice.

Then I began to look around at my life and notice how many things I was involved in that seemed to need way more than 80% of me; grad school, being a mother, a job, to navigate the break up of a relationship and its effects on my family, and then to begin one anew, even just keeping my house clean, or staying in shape. Somedays I was maxed out on just one of these things, sometimes completely overwhelmed trying to give everything 100% at the same time.

As my yoga practice has matured I have greater awareness about when to it is ok push and when I need to pull back. I have become more attenuated to what my body is telling me. When my body is in alignment in a pose, say Virabhadrasana II, and my legs are burning, that’s good—it’s a strong pose and it’s a good time to go for it, to kick ass. When I’m in Supta Baddha Konasana and the feedback from my body is not, “Awesome stretch!” but instead visions of double hip replacement, I know I need to support my hyper-laxity by putting some blankets under my knees.

It’s not always as clear to me in the rest of life. I suspect that, just like in Virabhadrasana II, when I want to push, work longer hours, or take on a new challenge, I first need to be in the correct alignment, and that what this means is that the foundational things are in order; kids, health, finances, relationship with my significant. This requires awareness, being present, in both my life and my practice because I usually don’t figure it out first and then do it, I usually figure it out as I’m doing it. Sometime in a pose, as in life, I am practicing my strength, sometime it is only an exercise in strain.

After the teacher training I began to wonder, where in my life am I straining, trying to do too much? Is it not asking for as much help from my family as I need around the house? Am I financially hyperextended? And where in my life am I practicing my strength, where my alignment is there and I know it’s ok to ask a little more from myself? And just like a yoga teacher would make sure there was flow and focus in her class, is there any flow and focus to my days? Would I be the teacher trying to cram too many poses into one class? And finally, do I have anything in my life that is like Savasana, where I rest, process and recharge? Some of these questions I know the answers to, and some I am still sitting with. The possibilities for extended metaphor are endless as individual practices and practitioners.