On beautiful struggle (a follow-up)

Remember when I wrote about beautiful struggle? Well, I’m being forced to prove my words. Not only did I have a rough finals week, I had the most grueling yoga (where I learned the idea of beautiful struggle in the first place) session ever last night. Our instructor opened the class by telling us that today would be about complete surrender. It would be about letting go of our resistance to certain difficulties.

The session was laden with what she called “nemesis poses;” these are the poses we find most difficult. The poses I hate the most are the ones that target my hamstrings, because they’re extra difficult for me and I can’t find the line between reaching my limit and pushing past it. So yes. Yesterday’s session was full of hamstring stretches.

I had not been to yoga in two weeks because of obligations. I launched into finals week on autopilot, and it wasn’t the healthiest thing. I threw into mediocrity some of the things I had promised to work hard for. One of my goals has already been flushed down the drain. All in all, I’ve been carrying a lot of guilt, shame, bitterness, blame–negativity in general. Our instructor prepared a yoga sequence that would stretch the parts of our bodies that store all those strong negative emotions.

I was thinking about all this during the session: my finals, my negativity, my promise to welcome struggle.

Photo by Umberto Salvagnin

So I tried. I pushed until my limbs were shaking from being stretched so much and my sweat was forming tiny pools on my mat. My legs were burning, but I told myself that I wanted those stupid stupid negative emotions out of my system. I wanted to forget those oral exams where I was a trembling wreck, or the papers I knew I could have aced if I had taken the time. I wanted to let all of it go. Even if–especially if–it hurt. My efforts were quite literal, but I told myself that this would be the metaphor of my letting go.

It was over sooner than I thought it would be, and I went back to breathing. We’re always told that focusing on the breathing helps, but I didn’t really experience that calmness and that quiet emptiness until this session. We were told to travel inside of ourselves and go to the place where we felt most safe, and I took a while to think about what that place was for me. A feather bed and blanket, a large glass bubble floating in nothingness, a deep empty underwater space, a sweet loving embrace.

Today, I’m still paying the price for yesterday’s yoga session: my back and all four limbs are tired and sore, while my mind is obsessed with the thought of sleep. But I thought I owed myself a tiny congratulations for the little victories of the past week or so. The extra challenging yoga session, the especially traumatic finals week, the resolve to surrender my resistances. I made it, when I had every reason to believe I wouldn’t.

For me, for now, that’s enough.

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