Yesterday I took a workshop breaking down some arm balances and inversions. For me, these two categories of poses are especially challenging. Some poses that many yogis seem to be able to just glide into seemlessly such as crow pose (bakasana) and headstand in the middle of the room are to me, rather elusive. Crow in particular I have been attempting for about ten years or so now. I try and try, fall over, try again, and get frustrated. Oh, and I watch those who can do it and get jealous. I know, super yogic of me.
But here is the honest truth about my attempts: I get so frustrated when I can't do a pose that I will stop trying for a while. I walk away. Sometimes I avoid taking classes with teachers that I know will be arm balance heavy. It feels like hard work that I don't want to do. So really, I practice the poses that challenge me significantly less than the poses that feel good in my body. And I know what you're thinking, if yoga is a practice, then aren't you supposed to actually, uh... practice?
As humans, we know logically that the only way to get better at something is to practice. Physically, we know this to be true too. The Principle of Progressive Resistance says that muscles must be challenged in order to change, strengthen, and grow. When required to, muscles will progressively work to overcome a resistance and will, as a result, upgrade.
Culturally, as well, we know that practice, dedication, and willingness to try is the way to overcome a challenge. We've probably all heard the Nietzsche quote "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."
So then, what is it that keeps us from confronting our challenges? What compels us to be fearful and to think "I can't" or even "I won't" instead of "I will!"?
For me, probably the major driving force that keeps me from facing my challenges head on is fear. Fear of failure of course, but also fear that the old stories I have been telling myself may be true. Fear that maybe I'm not actually as strong as I thought I was. Or as smart, or likeable, or capable, etc. Additionally, there is fear of the work. Fear of the hurt, pain, or discomfort that may arise from the work. Fear that it will be hard, and messy. "I've already had a lot of challenges this year, so don't I deserve an easy time for a little while?"
I don't belive not resisting that which is hard work is simply laziness, the propensity that we humans often have to avoid the hard work seems to be more closely tied to fear than just lack of desire.
As humans, we experience two different kinds of fear: real fear and psychological fear -- ego-fear.
Real fear is to keep us safe, it is the body's natural response to a threat. The fight or flight response is the result of evolutionary history and development. We cannot overcome real fear, and we shouldn't.
Psychological fear, howevver is not helpful. But it can trigger the fight or flight response in the body as well, which explains the prevalence of anxiety in our society. Ego driven fear is the story that you tell yourself. It is what brings the negativy. Ego-fear is the voice in the head that says "I'm not good enough," "I'll never be able to do that," "I'll probably fail," "I don't don't deserve _______." The ego can grip tightly, but the good news it that it isn't really who are you, but rather just who you think you are. Ego-fear can be overcome.
Obviously, as it shows with my admission that I avoid regularly practicing arm balances in my yoga practice, I have not yet overcome ego driven fear. But what I can say, is that I am aware there have been many victories along my journey, both on and off my mat. For example, on the mat, chaturanga used to be completely unavailable to me. I did the worm or belly flop to lower from plank in my sun salutes. And then I practiced on my knees for years. Several years. And then slowly, I began trying a few off my knees, until finally, I felt confident and aligned enough to practice the pose regularly. And that feels great! I can see that I got stronger and I am proud of that.
When I can remind myself of my victories and stay grounded in the reality that, with time, and with yup, PRACTICE, everything gets better, or at the very least easier. This philosphy applies to difficult yoga poses just as much as it does to emotional challenges such as getting through a break up, dealing with grief, or healing from a past trauma.
So yes, practice is key. But so is celebrating the victories. And giving yourself a break when you don't want to practice. I never liked the phrase practice makes perfect, because you know what? I just don't believe that "perfect" exists. Maybe instead we can say "practice makes improvement" and "I am awesome just for trying."