Dear Reader: For the remainder of 2021, to continue celebrating the release of my first book Kicking and Screaming: a Memoir of Madness and Martial Arts, I will be posting a monthly bonus chapter. While these stories didn’t make the final cut, they were still important moments in my life and in my black belt journey. Enjoy!
[Note: This would have occurred between chapters 27 “Vices” and 28 “Black Belt Candidate”]
“To surrender,” Scott the Yoga Teacher said as he looked around the dark room at our upturned faces during Saturday yoga class, “you sometimes first have to build heat.” It was my first yoga class in about a month thanks to my icy weather depression. When asked about my long absence I gave my typical answer of “I had things going on” with a Robert De Niro-esque shrug.
Sometimes I avoided my practice on purpose when I was dealing with tricky issues or need some mental downtime. Despite having practiced yoga my entire adult life, my mind never could shut off and focus in yoga the way it did in taekwondo. About halfway into a yoga class my mind always quieted down, but for the first thirty minutes thoughts would bounce around in my head like a racquetball. When a sticky issue was top of mind it liked to crab-walk down my spine as I dangled in forward fold, slither into my ear and whisper, “Let’s think about THIS.”
Mental discomfort aside, it felt fantastic to be back to yoga. My body unfolded into the poses as if I were smoothing out a crumpled piece of paper on a cool kitchen counter. The old familiar pinching pain in my left shoulder was gone, so the million high planks and low planks we always did didn’t have to be modified. About halfway into the practice, as predicted and much to my delight, my mind was finally quiet.
My teacher continued his original thought as he gently grabbed my hands, which were clasped behind my back, and tugged my arms up and away into a fuller expression of locust pose. In locust pose, the yogi lies on their stomach and hoists their legs and arms behind them into the air, making a slightly curved shape with the body.
“When you think you’ve reached your end,” he said, “Notice the tension in your body…and ease off.” He lowered my clasped hands an inch. “It’s a life lesson. When you hit a plateau in your practice or your work or relationships…just ease off a bit…and then you can get back into it.” He released my hands, and as my arms and legs floated to the ground they felt twice as long as they had before. It was just what I needed to hear after mulling over the burnout I had been experiencing.
Plateaus and burnouts weren’t necessarily bad things as long as I didn’t let them overrun me. They were cues, feedback to ease off for a bit in order to rest, recharge, and make any necessary changes. They were opportunities for me to surrender and let go so the heat I’d built wouldn’t burn me to the ground. A healthy practitioner, no matter the trade, knows when to recognize these cues and surrender to the needs of the body, mind, and spirit.