Posted by: Bruce Black | December 6, 2010

Falling Out of Tree Pose

It’s cold this week here in Florida.

Last night the temperature dipped into the low forties–a far cry, I know, from the sub-freezing temperatures up north–but cold for a Floridian accustomed to balmy nights in the 70’s and stifling days in the high 90’s.

It was still chilly this afternoon, so I sat on my mat wrapped in a long-sleeve sweater, long sweat pants, socks, and a wool hat in an effort to stay warm.

Ordinarily, before beginning my practice, I sit for a few minutes writing in my journal, but today I wanted to start moving, to create some warmth in my body and on my mat.

After jotting down a few notes about the cold and how it made my practice more challenging, I put aside my journal, kneeled on all fours, and began doing a series of Cat and Dog tilts to warm up my spine.

Little by little, as I moved from the tilts into Downward-Facing Dog and then into Plank and Lunge, I could feel the heat begin to rise from the mat. And by the time I started my Sun salutes, I felt as if the sun itself was warming me from within.

Toward the end of my practice, I raised my leg in Tree Pose to begin a series of standing balance poses.

Ordinarily, I wear shorts and practice barefooted on my mat. But today I was wearing socks and long pants. No sooner did I set the sole of my foot on my inner thigh than I felt my foot slipping. And before I could re-adjust my pose, my foot slipped off my inner thigh to below my knee.

I had fallen out of Tree Pose.

But instead of feeling annoyed, frustrated, or disappointed in my inability to find my balance, I laughed as if I was a child again engaged in a game, not caring about the outcome, simply enjoying the process of tree-climbing and falling and climbing again.

After anchoring my foot on the inside of my calf, just above the ankle, I regained my balance and stood in Tree Pose for a few breaths. Only it was a different pose than the one that I’d originally envisioned.

That moment of falling out of Tree Pose stayed with me the rest of the practice. It wasn’t a moment of failure or disappointment, but, on the contrary, a moment for celebration. In that moment I hadn’t hesitated to let go of the expectation that I had for myself in that pose or to give myself permission to find a new pose.

While writing in my journal after finishing my practice, I realized how I had regained my balance soon after my foot began to slip because I was able to let go of any expectations of how the pose should look or unfold. I simply let go of expectations. The act of letting go let me find my balance in a new pose.

When I first started practicing yoga, I didn’t have the ability to let go of expectations in any pose. Then, I could barely hold my balance in Tree Pose.

But over the years my balance and understanding of the poses have evolved, and I’ve come to understand that there is no perfect Tree Pose, only the pose that I’m in at this moment.

Journal Practice: Holding onto expectations, wanting life to be a certain way because, well, we want life to be that way, can constrict our practice and our lives, keeping us from expanding into the fullness of who we are in a particular moment.

If you find yourself holding onto ideas of perfection or expectations of what you think a pose should look like as you enter the pose, you might take a few minutes before stepping onto your mat to examine these expectations in your journal.

When has holding onto unrealistic expectations kept you from moving forward, or prevented you from seeing new ideas or reaching for new goals?

Can you describe your expectations? Can you explore why you hold such expectations, and, more importantly, why you resist letting them go? What would happen if you let go of certain expectations?

Think about these question the next time you practice your asanas. Then, afterward, sit down with your journal and write for five or ten minutes about the thoughts and insights that you may have discovered.

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