A dear friend of mine has dreams of wolves and lions–wild, majestic creatures. She identifies with these beasts and has even had intense visionary experiences involving them. These are her spirit animals. She is one of my most favorite people and her yoga practice is intentioned and advanced.
The closest I can relate to the spirit animal thing is the kinship I felt when, in a Brit Lit class as an undergrad, I read about sea turtles caught and held captive on sailing ships. They plodded and plodded about the ship’s deck and when faced with a mast or some other non negotiable object, instead of going around it, they pushed against it with their old leathery heads, the claws scraping against the ship’s deck, for hours on end. I felt an instant kinship with these turtles—their stubborn attempts at progression when their only destination, at some day’s end, was in someone else’s soup.
I’ve been regularly attending the Deep Stretch class at Flow on Fridays. (It’s usually taught by Lauren Hand.) The class is gentle but challenging, with poses and stretches held for several breaths so that it feels like a rinsing out of all the joints; a reset for the body. I’ve told more than one person that this class, in particular, feels like the actual physical embodiment of self-care. But then I hurt my back, again, just a few weeks before Christmas. Sciatica ensued. Pain, even in child’s pose, and when I tried cobra pose I almost wept in my yoga class, and not from gratitude. In the past, like the stubborn spirit turtle, I would have gritted my teeth and mustered through the pain in order to get through the necessary things—what my job, my kids, my husband, the house all need—cursing under my breath at the pain all the while and not doing a thing beyond taking medicine to heal it.
The shift I noticed in me was this: I knew I had to get to that Friday class because my back was hurting. I knew I needed to tend to it, not to push through the pain but to work through it. Gently, consciously, with an awareness of what was in my way, when I’d need to back up, go around, or stay still, breathe through. Was I doing chaturanga on my knees? Yep. Did I take child’s pose more than once while others moved on? Uh huh. But no one scolded me or gave me side-eye. The teacher guided the flow, offered wisdom here and there about tending to the body’s own needs and I offered her silent thank yous as I worked.
The thing that is so transforming about yoga—good yoga—is when what happens on the mat somehow follows you off of it. I noticed I wasn’t mad that my back was hurt, wasn’t cursing under my breath when standing up was difficult or moving towards some normally available task and finding the pain too big and too bright. I slowed down. I paid attention. I made it to yoga class. I did A LOT of child’s pose at home. I tended to it.
I don’t expect that I’ll ever dream of lions. But, then, I don’t expect I’ll ever find my way to headstand either. Maybe it’s enough to know that instead of a captured sea turtle, I imagine it somehow redirecting long enough to find another path, maybe even one that lets it slip effortlessly back into the sea with no one noticing the sound of the splash.
— Rebecca Brock