For the last four months I’ve been holding utkatasana. Also known as awkward pose, chair pose, thunderbolt pose, and the pose that makes me roll my eyes, wrinkle my nose, and sometimes stick out my tongue when it’s inevitably called out in yoga class.
I hate utkatasana.
But is that a good reason to NOT do utkatasana? “I believe that the postures that make us the most uncomfortable, also offer us the most opportunity for growth,” I can’t remember whose words those are, but I read them somewhere over twelve years ago, and have been living by them ever since. So, I do utkatasana because it is what is being offered, and because sometimes, if I’m lucky, I can find an inch of space to relax. I squat down, toes spread wide, feet hip width apart, I tuck my tailbone, pull my navel point back and up, inhale, and reach my arms up towards the sky, fingers spread like starfish. And then I breathe, and I feel my shoulders creeping up towards my ears; I pull them back down, my thighs start to quiver, my mind starts to panic…how much longer? I find my breath, I find a space to soften…eventually…. then I straighten into my legs, reach up into a gentle backbend, move into a forward bend, let it go and forget about it.
I play my “edge”, the place in the posture where any more intensity would be too much, and any less would be not enough. You are working just hard enough to challenge yourself, and there is still space to breath and expand. By playing the edge, we push our edge, we increase our capacity to relax into uncomfortableness, in yoga, and most importantly in life. If you aren’t to your edge, you’re just hanging out, filing your nails, picking your nose, checking your mental inbox, and moving away from the intensity that is calling you to step up and experience what all the fuss is about. If you go past your edge…you are in survival mode…the intensity is too great, there is no space to breathe…you are in fight or flight, and your adrenal glands are exhausting themselves fueling escape from the big bad wolf. The antidote is to step back, to move away from the intensity that is stealing your breath…stealing your life.
I went past my edge. Way past my edge……
I have a tendency to move closer to the things that scare me, because they cause oodles of curiosity in my hypercurious mind. So, I often move towards my edge with great gusto, with passion, and of course, with curiosity. I like to think that I am a good judge of when I’ve gone past my edge, when I need to pull back, to let go, to breathe. But somehow in the last four months, since I made my big move….the part of me that monitors and responds to the signals of too much edginess has been barreled over by some other part of me that rose up to keep me in the intensity of the posture. Even though the opportunity for growth was long gone, the space to breathe was gone, and what was left was simple shaking , white knuckled, survival, this part of me didn’t care. Because….
It was too early to leave. I didn’t want to let myself down. I didn’t want to let you down. After all, I was facing my fears, living my dreams, pushing my edge….and most of my trusted confidantes supported this philosophy. So I stayed.
Even though I’ve been having nightmares for the last four months, I stayed. In my dream I’m desperately running around trying to remember what it is that I’ve forgotten. I’m forgetting something REALLY important, something of tremendous significance. It feels tangible, like forgetting to take a life saving pill, or going on vacation for 4 months and forgetting to get someone to feed your dog. Sometimes in my dream I remember, and I wake up out of sleep with my heart pounding…I try to remind myself while I am awake..but I’m never able to bring the message back to my concious mind. The last time I had this dream was Wednesday nite. I talked to a psychic from Phoenix on the phone that day. I called her because I was freaking out, wanting to come home, wanting to quit my job. I asked her about these things, and about the dream. It cost me 39.95 for her to tell me that I should stay, that I would eventually like my job, that San Francisco had a “sharper” vibration than Phoenix, but that I would eventually get used to it. The dream? She told me to forget about it, that it was nothing to worry about. Just my subconcious trying to adjust to all the changes, it would go away in time. I felt good after talking to her, she told me everything I wanted to hear. I kept holding the posture.
I had landed a job at one of the top ten hospitals in the country. I was suddenly earning over six figures, I doubled my income!! But, I hated the place. I was appalled at the shitty care the nurses and the doctors served up. I Hated running around in circles chasing paper, barely seeing my patients who desperately needed me. My dear friend Christine told me I’d have to throw away my white scrubs, and with them, my Florence Nightingale perspective of nursing. I’d have to toughen up, and she assured me this experience would make me a better nurse. But I just wanted to care for my patients, I’m not afraid of hard work, but I’m incapable of shutting down the part of myself that cares about people. I would have to become someone else to work at this “prestigious” medical facility. I’m still not sure how they earned the distinction of number seven, of course I have only a small snapshot of the facility, and I admit the care may have been better in other parts of the hospital, but all of my patients were unhappy and sicker than they were when they arrived at the seventh best hospital in the country. My shift was 7pm to 7am. Fucked up shit for me….but okay for many, so I kept holding the posture even though I was barely breathing. I could see the Golden Gate Bridge from the parking lot when I got off in the morning, and this filled me with positive emotion, and for a moment I let go off the holding. Then I would get in my car, fight the morning traffic, dodge pedestrians, bikers, and motorrcycle riders, eventually finding my way “home”, and then drive around in circles looking for a parking place where my car wouldn’t get towed while I slept ( if I was lucky I would sleep, if not I’d take a friends Lorazepam) for 4 hours.
I woke up Wednesday nite after finally falling asleep despite the caucophony of sirens, screaming car engines, drunken idiots, and a riot of other sounds right outside my window on 16th st in The Mission. I woke up on the bathroom floor. I “slept” there because it was quieter than sleeping on the bed. Even though my corporate studio apartment cost 1600 a month, ( not including parking…that was 175 a month..paid to an asian gang member with death in his eyes…cash only) I woke up saying ..”the psychic was wrong”, before my concious mind was fully awake, I was saying these words and struggling to remember the thing I forgot…in my dream I remembered with more clarity than ever before…and I was sure this time that I would bring back this slippery bit of important information. I got up from my nest on the cold bathroom floor, and pulled my daytimer out of the nitestand and started flipping through pages looking for the forgotten thing…. I found nothing….I was half asleep…The psychic was wrong…that was all I could bring back.
I REALLY wanted to go home. I didn’t go back to sleep. I called my super-hero friend Mark, and he came to the rescue. After just helping me move in to my apartment, he happily came back to help me move out. I couldn’t NOT SLEEP on the bathroom floor anymore. I didn’t know where I was going, I thought about driving to Phoenix, but Mark talked me out of it. I hadn’t slept much in two days. He helped to keep me calm, made me laugh, and had me wishing I didn’t have to leave. Mark is my hero.
I was still holding on…. I went to my friend Bhavana’s house to regroup. I still wasn’t sure I was ready to give up. I called into work. The thought of going to that place, working twelve hellish hours after having no sleep…filled me with anxiety and dread. I slept on Bhavana’s floor in a sleeping bag for two nights, she cooked me yummy vegetarian food and took me to a yoga class. It was in a standing back bend that I began to let go of the other posture. It was here that my heart reminded me with tears and with heat what it was that I had forgotten. It came in a rush of feelings, and I am still struggling to find the words to articulate the message.
But what I did get was this….It was time to go home. It was time to back away from the intensity. I was sure. I was calm. I was breathing.
I got my job back at The Mayo Clinic, I quit my job at that other place….I got into my car…I drove to my friend Adam’s in Bel Air. I slept for twelve hours in a heated bed made of feathers and dressed with twenty million thread count sheets. I woke up to rain drops falling on a skylight. I woke up smiling.
I don’t know why I went. But I know that I had to, and I have no regrets. I don’t even regret pushing myself when I was way past my edge.
I also know that it is time to go home, and as for the part of me that kept me in utkatasana way past my edge?
This part is under compassionate investigation.