In my gentle class this week, we spent a long time in supta padangusthasana, reclining big toe pose. The pose provides a relaxing way to stretch the hamstrings and strengthen the legs, while allowing for a deep release in the hips, back, and neck. Much as I love this pose today for the perspective it has given me on and off the mat, it still brings back some painful memories.
As someone who is naturally flexible, when I first started yoga I delighted that many of the poses played to my strengths. I moved deeply into forward folds, bent myself into tight backbends, and pursued the goal of making my poses look like whatever the teacher demonstrated or whatever a yoga book pictured. I exploited my flexibility, played with the line where a stretch crosses into the danger zone, and then pushed further, impatient to see a visible ‘improvement’ in my pose.
You might be able to guess what happened next. My poses didn’t so much improve as they served to teach me some valuable (though painful) lessons. As the teacher led us into supta padangusthasana, I went through the first side following the cues, a little bored as we were instructed to wait and work our way into the pose gradually. When I came out of the first side the teacher had us compare the two, giving us perspective on how far we had come. That first side felt incredible!
But when we started in on the second side, that leg felt stiff, dull, and reluctant. With the memory of the after-effects of the first side so close, I just didn’t want to have to wait to get that feeling again. So I tried to skip steps, forcing my leg deeper into the stretch, and that’s when I felt a snap in the back of my leg.
Having not yet learned patience and perspective on the yoga mat, I was forced to practice these virtues as I waited for my hamstrings to heal. My injury was a waiting-period, an imposed time to reflect on the true aims of the practice and how I was approaching it. Weeks later as my hamstrings began to feel close to normal again, my approach on the mat became slower, more measured. I found that waiting was not, in fact, boring. Rather it gave me perspective that a rushed approach would have never allowed.
The patience and perspective I’ve since practiced on the yoga mat has helped more than my hamstrings. Whether in the context of the writing process or in decisions pertaining to my role as director at Bloom, I’ve made my fair share of rushed decisions because I felt the pressures of time or expectations. When I’m on a deadline, it doesn’t seem practical or possible to wait and process. Particularly now that the speed of personal and business interactions has so rapidly increased, when I take extra time it feels like I’m shirking my responsibilities, so I rush to some sort of action. Without exception, the hasty decisions have not turned out to be the best ones. Without the benefit of time, there is always some element that I forget to consider in my process.
Now when some time-sensitive situation comes up in my personal life or at the studio, I imagine the decision is the second side of supta padangusthasana. I reassure myself that a little extra time will help rather than hurt, I send feelers out, and contemplate the issue from a variety of angles. But mostly, I just wait. I’ll often experience moments of panic as the deadline looms, worrying that I’m not actively ‘doing anything’ to resolve the issue. But sometimes doing is not what is required. Often patience and perspective are more effective.
As my experience on and off the mat has shown, you can’t rush a good thing. I’ve come to trust that. I practice being okay on the mat during in the in-between time when my hamstrings are not yet open, I give myself permission off the mat to slow down and wait until a decision becomes clear. In this age of quick replies and instant everything, I now savor the chance to productively wait.