Wonderland Adventure - Who in the World Am I? (audio 6:54)
At the beginning of chapter two, Alice feels very lost and alone. Her White Rabbit has hopped away, and she doesn’t have anyone to show her what to do or how to be. The rabbit hole isn’t such fun and adventurous anymore, rather it is somewhat scary now that she is all alone. She has decided to try something new, go someplace she has never gone, and the world she has entered is nonsensical and strange to her. She drank a potion that made her shrink. Then, she ate a cake that made her grow. The odd circumstances around her have changed who she knows herself to be. She begins to question her identity.
“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English). “Now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!” (for when she looked down at her feet, they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off).
I’d be liar if I told you that my home yoga practice was always wondrous adventures of play and curiosity. Like Alice, it was all kinds of fun, until it wasn’t. Once I found myself alone on my mat without a teacher, I had my own identity crisis. And, I have to admit, I let myself wallow in it longer than I probably should have. I realized much later that I was attached to who I thought I was supposed to be and how the yoga practice was supposed to look rather than who I really am and what the yoga practice meant to me, both psychologically and physically. Both on my mat and in my life. I didn’t know who I was, what I was doing, how to do it, or where I fit. I had to face every one of my own insecurities by myself. I felt very lost. Like Alice, Yoga Wonderland often created a sort of identity crisis.
The poses often felt foreign, odd, weird, and often downright impossible. More than once a practice, I felt like my body was betraying me because it wasn’t doing what I thought it was supposed to do. Or worse, I pushed it too hard to do what I thought the pictures in the books and teacher’s instructions described, I injured myself.
For the first several months of my home practice, every self-doubt ping-pong-ball bounced through my head into full-on arguments with myself.
“I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“Well then, make it up until you do know what you’re doing.”
“I’m not doing this right.”
“who says there has to be a right and wrong way?”
“Why does wheel pose hurt so bad?”
“if it hurts, you don’t have to do it.”
“What am I doing wrong?”
“what does wrong even mean?”
“I just wish I could find a teacher.”
“your best teacher is right here.”
Poor Alice! It was as much as she could do, lying down on one side, to look through into the garden with one eye; but to get through was more hopeless than ever: she sat down and began to cry again.
Ultimately, when I didn’t know what to start with or where to go next in my practice, or what else to do, all my teacher’s voices echoed like a cacophony in my head.
“if you feel overwhelmed, take child’s pose.”
“if you need a break, take child’s pose.”
“when you find yourself out of breath, take child’s pose.”
“child’s pose is always there for you.”
Child’s Pose was something I figured I could do right most of the time. Even on those days when I thought I wasn’t doing it right, something about putting my head down made me stop caring or thinking too much about it anyway. Child’s Pose was safe. So I did it (and still do it) often. I mean A LOT. To this day, I still use Child’s Pose, every practice. Usually it is at the beginning of practice, but often it comes at unexpected times as well. Whenever I feel lonely, tired, overwhelmed, lost, bored, anxious, or anything that is inside-out or upside-down or twisted-away-from goodness, I collapse into Child’s Pose. And somehow, after a few deep breaths (or a lot), I feel safe. I feel safe enough to keep going.
Alice took up the fan and gloves, and, as the hall was very hot, she kept fanning herself all the time. . .
The White Rabbit’s fan represents air (breath). Alice stops crying and breathes in the fullness of her situation. As yogis do, Alice is breathing in the present moment. Still in Child’s Pose, between, and after, and sometimes instead of the crying, I breathe. I drink my breath. A LOT. the combination of Child’s Pose and Deep Breathing makes me feel safe. Once I feel safe, it is okay to start exploring what it is like to be me, and just me. Just as Alice does, eventually I emerge, and start again, reminding myself to practice with the innocence, openness, and adaptability of a child, the beginner’s mind.
“Dear, dear! How queer everything is today! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, ‘Who in the world am I?’
Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”
Pushing up and out of Child’s Pose, I get into the present moment and get curious again. And my curiosity leads me to push away from the ground, onto my hands and knees (still close to the ground for stability), into other poses that emerge from the base pose of Child’s Pose: Tabletop, Cat Pose, Cow Pose, Thread the Needle. All of these poses push me away from Mama, but not too far away. They urge me towards the ultimate goal of getting onto my own feet, remembering how to stand and walk on my own, my way. They also all allow movement of my spine, exploring different articulations of how my back body can move, and how it feels when I move it in different ways. Curiosity pushes into wonderment, and that builds my imagination.
What "identity crisis" have you felt as a result of giving up your teachers and practicing alone? What poses comfort your the most when you feel unsafe or unstable?