By Alex Pogeler
I was taking a particularly challenging class the other week and a question popped into my head: What is the most dreaded phrase in Yoga? Is it “Core Work?” “Arm Balances?” “Inversions?” Maybe “Choose a partner for this next pose?” There are so many candidates and all of them have compelling arguments. I however would reject all of these possibilities in favor of one that might not immediately come to mind.
Yoga demands a lot of concentration. Maintaining a steady rate of breath requires focus. Holding a posture for an extended period of time is taxing both mentally and physically. Humans by nature have a limited amount of sensory capacity. When all of our senses are engaged in something as demanding as Yoga, there is a tendency to lose track of time and space. This happens to me all the time in class. I get into a trance-like state where all my attention is fixated on the posture and the breath and I’m not really thinking about anything beyond the poses. When I am in this “Yoga zone” it leads to a great practice but it also sets me up for the cruelest of revelations.
In Yoga everything is done in a balanced and equal manner on both sides of the body. When we do a pose on our right side we complement that with the same posture on our left side. When we engage in a complex flow that encompasses a series of postures on one side we do that same flow of poses on the opposite side. When I am in the Yoga zone and oblivious to anything other than the pose I am engaged in I sometimes have no clue what side I am working on. This is where the cruelest Yoga phrase ever comes into play.
So at the end of a particularly challenging flow of poses there is an inner sense of relief and accomplishment. I congratulate myself at the same time that I thank my lucky stars I don’t have to go through that same series again. Now if I am in a mental state where I have no idea which side we are working on I can sometimes be lulled into a false sense of completion. I will be basking in my victory when I hear the instructor say one thing I don’t want to hear: “Now the other side.”
Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. There’s nothing worse than the cruel realization that all the effort and energy I put into that last exhausting flow of poses I have to conjure up again for the other side.
It’s perhaps the most demoralizing aspect of Yoga yet I think it teaches a valuable lesson at the same time. Namely to keep your ego in check and hold off on that victory parade until you are sure that both sides are done.