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Matter over mind.

February 8, 2011
Eleanor Roosevelt at 15

The lovely Eleanor (image via Wikipedia)

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

I actually do one thing that scares me every day. Every morning, in fact, at around 6:45am.

Kapotasana scares the crap out of me. Why? Well. Come to your knees, about shoulder (or a little wider) apart. Bring your hands to heart center, and then lift them over your head. Bend backward until your head hits the floor. Bring your hands to your feet.

It looks like this:

Kapotasana (image via The Yoga Space - so no, it's not me).

And you’re not done. That’s Kapotasana A. For Kapotasa B, you do something that, especially once in Kapotasana A, pretty much seems impossible. You straightened your goddamn arms.

Kapotasana B (still not me - and stop looking at his junk - image via

I can do both kapotasanas. Really. But I have my toes, not my feet in A. And my arms are not straight in B. And I need help – my teacher always assists me in getting out of these asanas (read: yoga term for postures). Yes I mean that literally.

So, yeah, I know. What’s so scary about that?

Are they painful? Not really, interestingly enough. I know that I rely more on my lower back than I should. But I’m not in pain. It’s the good kinda hurt.

The anxiety isn’t about pain. It is about being so completely out of your element.

I am in an utterly alien place when I am in Kapotasana. Every single time, it’s… “oh, hello, floor, where did you come from?” and “Toes! What are you doing back there??

It is also the absolute trust I must have in my teacher – the complete reliance on another person. I don’t know how I would get out of these postures without help. Ever do that trust thing where you fall backward into the waiting arms of your colleagues/friends/random acquaintances/whatever? Yeah. It’s kinda like that.

It is also the attempt to surrender my mind to my body.

It is quite clear that my body is capable of doing this. It is my mind that is not.

It is my mind I have to quiet every morning in practice when as I move through the first two backbends, Ushtrasana and Lagju Vajrasana.

Ushtrasana (

Laghu Vajrasana (

I am fine with both of these, but when I finish my vinyāsa after Laghu Vajrasana, and come to the front of my mat with my hands in prayer at heart center, every single time my mind just wants to chant “shit shit shit shit shit…”

And I have to shut it the hell up.

It’s really interesting when your brain is terrified of something your own body can do.

In addition, about a month ago, I was given modifications to begin learning the Eka Pada Sirsasana series.

Eka Pada Sirsasana A

Eka Pada Sirsasana B

Eka Pada Sirsasana C

In case you were wondering, these are really effing difficult. I don’t do these. Yet. I pretty much flail around, trying to get my leg behind my head, when really it just goes about to my bicep. Then I try to get it to stay there. Which it would rather not do. Then I try to lift something (anything really) up.

Ha. Ha ha ha. Today, my teacher came over in mysore while I was flailing around attempting Eka Pada Sirsasana C and said, “let’s try to get your foot off the ground.”

That’s funny. Sure. Let’s try that. Oh look. I have NO control over my foot right now. Like, none.

So. Not only does yoga scare the crap out of me on a almost-daily basis, but it makes me flail around and look like an idiot, one without control over my own limbs, as well.

And. I have only been given the first half of second series. This is what is coming…

Dvi Pada Shirshasana (ok he looks a little special in this one)

Oh Tittibhasana... you are so going to kick my ass one day...


Parighasana (

Yeah, ok. All that shit looks fucking hard and it is (now you understand how yoga can be scary). But I just want to say that once upon a time I was not at all flexible. I could not touch my toes. I still am not flexible in some respects (*hamstrings,* thank you very much, and really, you can’t move that way at all, hips?).

It doesn’t mean these things are impossibleit just takes practice. In addition, if you’ve ever practiced any kind of yoga, you know that everyone is flexible in their own ways. Some things are reallyreallyfuckinghard and some things seem natural and you feel like a Yoga Stud (yes. I did just say “yoga stud.” With capitals.)

These are things yoga has taught me. Difficult things are not necessarily impossible – but they do take hard work and dedication. Not everyone has the same skills – but we all have qualities that we should be proud of.

And then there is the fear and the hey-you-look-like-an-ass part of yoga.

Yoga teaches me that sometimes we need to quiet our thoughts, our “shit shit shit” chants and the fear and self-doubt chief among them.

To trust others just a bit more.

To trust our own bodies a bit more – sometimes it is not mind over matter. To trust that we are capable of doing things we’re afraid of – to let go of “can’t” and embrace one of my all-time fav sayings of K. Pattabhi Jois, the yogi who brought Ashtanga yoga to the Western world:

“Practice, practice, practice. All is coming.”

To put ourselves in places that are outside of our comfort zone, outside of our element, and completely alien and uncomfortable.

To twist ourselves, in mind, spirit, and (obviously) body, because doing so changes our views, our minds, our bodies – it changes our selves.

It’s also about staying humble. Understanding that you can and will look like a fool sometimes when you try new things. As you learn new things. But you can’t not do them because you’re afraid of looking like an ass.

These are good things. These are things we should do. Even if you don’t practice yoga (and actually think I am totally bonkers right now – for more than one reason), there is something to be learned here.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

There’s a reason Ms. Roosevelt gave this little piece of advice. And I don’t think she practiced Ashtanga.

K. Pattabhi Jois.

For more information on the practice of Ashtanga yoga.

27 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2011 10:30 am

    Holy shit!!! Ok I bow to your guts and am very impressed. Talk about human pretzel.

    The overall message is great. If we do not push ourselves then we will never get anywhere or discover what we r capable of. Making a fool out of ourselves is something that can take more guts than what we r actually attempting to do. I can find that equally challenging than any new mad conditioning exercise we do in the dojo. But then I am a stubborn bitch and I hate failure more so I try…. and am pretty good at looking like a fool. 🙂 Just never ask me to do karaoke, cos that will never happen. 🙂

    • February 8, 2011 5:31 pm

      WhatEVS girl – you’re the one who can kick my ass, Miss Martial Arts or whatever kick-ass thing it is you do! 😀

      YES to your comment! And yeah, you have to get used to looking silly if you’re going to try new things and push yourself – I think they go hand-in-hand!

      No karaoke for me, either!

  2. February 8, 2011 11:07 am

    i wouldn’t even attempt to try to do this.

    i haven’t been able to touch my toes since the 6th grade gym class. and even then, it was iffy.

    • February 8, 2011 5:32 pm

      Touching your toes is no way to tell. Like I said, I couldn’t touch my toes once either. At all. No iffy about it.

  3. February 8, 2011 12:01 pm

    You must be a very seasoned “Yogi”. These postures are not easy. In fact, they’re the most difficult I’ve seen. You are very ambitious and yes, unafraid. Too bad you won’t let us see a picture. I bet you’re stacked!!

    I’ve found Yoga to hurt. Both mentally and physically. I’ve tried every physical activity from Kung Fu to boxing to Yoga and Yoga is by far the hardest.

    My bikram instructor taught me a lot. She said that the areas where it hurts the most is where you need the Yoga to do its work. Uh yeah, the pain never went away for me and I’m in good shape. Or maybe I’m not in as good of shape as I thought since I couldn’t master the pain. Hmmmm…. 😀

    • February 8, 2011 5:38 pm

      Yoga can be painful – but it is also one thing where “no pain no gain” does not apply. You learn to be very mindful of the pain that is good, that you need to breathe through, and when you need to back off. That’s another good one from yoga – learning that backing off is ok, too. But – also the idea that your Bikram instructor talks about: paying attention to areas that need it most, instead of continuing to ignore them because they’re uncomfy.

      It’s true about the mental thing too – when I started second series (these asanas are from that series), I was SO IRRITABLE and I couldn’t explain it. Turns out that’s what second does often, when you start it, because it moves your body and your energy around in such foreign ways. Your mental state reacts to it – until it can let go.

      I’ve tried Bikram as well – I really enjoyed it, too. I do LOOOOOVE Ashtanga, and I know this is a lifelong practice for me.

      • February 9, 2011 12:12 pm

        How many years have you been practicing? I recently took it up last year and it’s been tough for me since day one. I think a day off in between sessions definitely works to ease muscle pain. But I’m ALWAYS sore when I do it, nonetheless. 😦

      • February 9, 2011 4:49 pm

        Ummmm I’ve been practicing Ashtanga for a full two years, but have taken various types of yoga (including the standard gym class) off and on for about eight years. I’ve never been as committed to a practice as I have with Ashtanga, and I am on my mat about 5 – 6 days a week. That consistency is a big part of it for me, since I was not very flexible.

        It is really tough – but shouldn’t hurt you every time. I think maybe part of it is Bikram. Because it’s so hot in the room, you are super-bendy, and can injure yourself or overdo it really easily. Maybe back off a lil? How often do you practice a week? Regular practice also helps, even if you’re sore – and you should be able to practice daily. That is one thing I like about Ashtanga – it can be a self practice (with your teacher there to provide adjustments) so I can tailor it a bit to how I’m doing and how long it’s been since my last practice.

  4. February 8, 2011 12:07 pm

    Another thing though…. How does that guy not fear his balls falling out all over the place?

    • February 8, 2011 5:39 pm

      HA HA I’ve totally wondered about that. Can’t help it. It’s like horseback riding (which I’ve done since I was 5). How the hell do they do that without squishing something too???

      • February 9, 2011 10:30 pm

        To answer your question about how long I’ve been doing it (your thread didn’t allow a response), it’s been about a year. It hurts every time, I’ve had to back off. I can only handle every other day and I’m still sore. ??? 😦

        I guess I just have to keep working on it.

  5. February 8, 2011 3:36 pm

    It’s funny that you should mention the importance of self today Nikki. Well self awareness anyway. I do believe that it’s very important to retain sense of who we are and keep a connection between the mind and body. As I said in my tweet to you earlier the only yoga position that I can regularly attain is the letter “I”. Not a very bendy person of late.

    I used to pride myself on my flexibility and ease of movement, but over the years as injury and age conspire against me I find myself less and less bendy. There are a number of free yoga classes being offered in my area. Do you think it would be a good way to get my bod back under control?

    There was also this article in the Winnipeg Free Press today. Thought you may enjoy it given your post.

    • February 9, 2011 10:33 am

      Absolutely try those free classes! You will regain your flexibility and awareness of your body – if you make practice a regular thing. And DON’T be intimidated if you aren’t flexible now. Yoga is not a place for judgment or comparison. Period. A good yogi knows this – and the real serious ones will remember a time when they were not flexible either! 😉

      Enjoyed the article! I’ve thought the same thing a lot – what are we rushing for? I feel like many of my friends complain to each other how busy they are – how much they are doing and how little time they have. It’s like a damn pissing contest – one I never ever want to win! I’ve thought about posting on that subject, too… probably will eventually…

  6. February 8, 2011 5:34 pm

    Oh. My. God. I just tried to do Position A. A few minutes and failed attempts later, I decided you are a demigod. And those people in the pictures are gods.

    • February 9, 2011 10:34 am

      Hey – if you practiced, it would come. That’s not just for ballparks in cornfields any more.

  7. February 8, 2011 6:01 pm

    I have a shitty schedule but I’m so going to yoga or pilates one of this days I promise.

    [“Do one thing every day that scares you.”] Great advice!!

    • February 9, 2011 10:36 am

      You find a way to do the things you connect to – and we should all find a way to give back to our bodies. For me, that means a 6am mysore practice before work. At first, it sucked, but now, it’s what I do.

  8. February 9, 2011 11:50 am

    Wow that is so impressive and inspiring. I really thought that kind of stuff was only the domain of saddhus in India.
    How long have you been at it for?
    That is such impressive dedication and incremental change.

    • February 9, 2011 4:53 pm

      I’ve been practicing on and off for about 8 years, but with a regular Ashtanga practice for over two years now. I am by far not the most flexible person at either shala I practice with – some people are truly amazing! At least 60 years old, and totally kicking my ass!

      It is about dedication, and change happens slowly. Suddenly, you’ll realize how far you’ve come – that’s pretty cool. But learning patience and to appreciate slow change is something good too. So many things in our lives don’t happen suddenly.

  9. February 9, 2011 6:17 pm

    Elenor R….most smokin.

    Flexible dudes with packages rivaling Love Slave #3 in Madonna’s Justify My Love video…no Rooseveltian good vibes.

    • February 10, 2011 8:21 am

      What… no like flexible dudes with packages?

  10. February 10, 2011 1:26 am

    :O Holy Behoyzus!

    I admire your dedication. I tore a muscle in my neck and shoulder a week ago (yay whiplash!) and I’ve been on the train to pain town. In fact, the last 4 or 5 weeks has been one long circular bus ride around pain town. I’ve never done yoga, or dance, or martial arts, even though I find all of them intriguing.

    I am alternately enraged/terrified by groups of people, so Pepper is Not A Joiner.

    I’ve considered dorkily trying to do any of the above at home, using video instruction, but I’m afraid I would only end up hurting myself. Like, possibly dying in the most hilarious and awkward way possible:

    “Oh lord, it was tragic! He came home and found Pepper ass up in her bellydance gear with a lamp cord around her neck and one arm stuck through the TV. Yeah, he’s just lucky she didn’t burn the house down. Real nice funeral though. Closed casket. The Rigor Mortis had already set in by the time they got to her.”

    That said, I will be SO happy when I can move my head again and go to the gym.

    • February 10, 2011 8:28 am

      Bummer about your whiplash and pain town! I hope you’re healing!

      As for the whole group-thing… I actually practice mysore, so it’s a silent self-practice with a teacher there to help you and give adjustments. I actually love it because I’m not always a joiner, either. Especially at 6am.

      There’s also more to Ashtanga than poses on a mat – I also try to practice the spiritual side: the eight limbs of yoga.

      I’m sorry I laughed at your pretend death. It was awkward and hilarious. But I don’t want you dead.

  11. Sass permalink
    February 10, 2011 4:32 am

    Damn you’re flexible if you can do either Kapotasana pose. I can do neither, hehe. I think Salamba Sarvangasana(shoulder stand) is scary because I don’t have very good balance, so I feel like if lose my balance my body will come crashing down on my head and I’ll break my neck or something. But I do it nonetheless, I just like to have a spotter there to catch me if I start to fall.
    I’m actually dreading Karnapidasana, because then my body will actually come towards my face.

    • February 10, 2011 8:31 am

      Do you practice Ashtanga too??? Yay!!

      The shoulder stand series have always been very difficult for me, too. From horseback riding, my hips tend to want to fall open instead of in, so it’s extra difficult to keep my bundas engaged and all that. Think about moving energy up – focus on that, and it’ll help! We all worry about the falling-over-break-you-neck, but it’s one of those times to tell you head to shut the hell up! 😉

      Karnapidasana (and the other two that follow) aren’t nearly as bad as you think. If you can handle shoulder stand, you’re all good.


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