So I’m struggling a bit these days. In the context of a yoga practitioner, I am an infant. I came to yoga just over a year ago. With that first day in Erin’s Hatha Beginners’ Series, a fire ignited that burned bright and large and all consuming. In short order, daily classes led to Teacher Training and to the door — or should I say, heart — of Anusara. Not unlike newcomers to other “athletic” endeavors, my initial gains and improvements on the mat were dramatic and quickly attained as my body and mind became stronger, flexible, more open. The “Aha” moments (as Oprah calls them) were daily occurrences. My practice and classes energized and invigorated me. I couldn’t imagine missing a day.
But lately I’ve experienced a bit of a “training plateau.” (In fact, I think you might even call mine a “training chasm.”) The improvements aren’t coming, the principles I should know seem muddy, and to top it all off, I still can’t get the head of my arm bone BACK in Chaturanga Dandasana. Frankly, I’m not sure I ever will. I have been frustrated and filled with self-doubt. If I can’t do this, how am I ever going to teach it?!
All of this does NOT inspire or motivate me to practice. My mind freely offers excuses that my body is only too willing to buy: “You’re getting old; You should have started yoga when you were younger; You’ve gone as far as you’re going to; You’ll never get it anyway!” After today’s Immersion, those doubts and recriminations nagged at me like tight hamstrings – limiting, painful and unyielding. Where am I going with this? What is the point of my practice? I left the studio, got into my car, and turned on my CD player.
And then … the Universe spoke.
I recently purchased a 5-CD collection of the NPR show show This I Believe. The collection highlights 80 essayists — both famous and every day people — sharing their ideas in response to the prompt: This I Believe. The stories intrigue and inspire me with their authenticity. Listening to these personal, yet universal stories has evolved into a kind of car-time meditation for me: pondering my own beliefs as I consider those of others. As I began my drive home, the CD player clicked to track 13. My speakers and my soul reverberated with the voice of Martha Graham, the iconic choreographer and modern dance pioneer. She spoke the truth I needed to hear, no better than if God Himself was riding shotgun …
An Athlete of God
~ by Martha Graham
I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing, or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated, precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which come shape of achievement, the sense of one’s being, the satisfaction of spirit. One becomes in some area an athlete of God. Practice means to perform over and over again, in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.
I think the reason dance has held such an ageless magic for the world is that it has been the symbol of the performance of living. Many times, I here the phrase, “the dance of life.” It is close to me for a very simple and understandable reason. The instrument through which the dance speaks is also the instrument through which life is lived: the human body. It is the instrument by which all the primaries of experience are made manifest. It holds in its memory all matters of life and death and love.
Dancing appears glamorous, easy, delightful. But the path to the paradise of that achievement is not easier than any other. There is fatigue so great that the body cries even in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration. There are daily small deaths. Then, I need all the comfort that practice has stored in my memory and the tenacity of faith. But it must be the kind of faith that Abraham had, wherein he “staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief.”
It takes about 10 years to make a mature dancer. The training is twofold. There is the study and practice of the craft in order to strengthen the muscular structure of the body. The body is shaped, disciplined, honored, and in time, trusted. The movement becomes clean, precise, eloquent, truthful. Movement never lies. It is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather to all who can read it. This might be called the law of the dancer’s life, the law which governs its outer aspects.
Then, there is the cultivation of the being. It is through this that the legends of the soul’s journey are retold with all their gaiety and their tragedy and the bitterness and sweetness of living. It is at this point that the sweep of life catches up the mere personality of the performer, and while the individual—the undivided one—becomes greater, the personal becomes less personal. And there is grace. I mean the grace resulting from faith…faith in life, in love, in people, in the act of dancing. All this is necessary to any performance in life which is magnetic, powerful, rich in meaning.
In a dancer there is a reverence for such forgotten things as the miracle of the small beautiful bones and their delicate strength. In a thinker there is a reverence for the beauty of the alert and directed and lucid mind. In all of us who perform, there is an awareness of the smile, which is part of the equipment, or gift, of the acrobat. We have all walked the high wire of circumstance at times. We recognize the gravity of pull of the Earth as he does. The smile is there because he is practicing living at that instant of danger. He does not choose to fall.