Wheel. What the fuck is it with this yoga pose? It is my nemesis.
I started practicing yoga in 2002 but I didn’t get really into it until a couple years later when it kind of looked like I could get an ulcer if I didn’t deal with some anxiety issues. All I really wanted was to improve my health, a good and pure intention. But in the fall of 2010, I’m telling my boot camp instructor I want to bulk up my shoulders because I think it’s a lack of upper body strength preventing me from pushing all the way up into the deep back bend known as “Wheel”.
It just so happened that my boot camp instructor also taught Hatha yoga at a studio near my home so we devised a plan. On a Saturday morning, I went to her class and she led a session designed specifically to prepare me and the other students for Wheel. Sadly, even after being given these optimal odds to pop into Wheel, over and over, I got stuck half-way up with my head on the floor.
“You have enough upper body strength,” she said, tapping each of my triceps with a forefinger as she knelt at my head. “And your back is bendy enough.”
From my upside down vantage point in my pathetic version of Wheel, I waited for the key advice that would help me finish the pose.
“I don’t know what’s going on here,” she concluded. There was simply no physical explanation for it.
After that, I got really pissed off with yoga. I’d had a revelation: the pursuit of Wheel pose was destroying my yoga practice. Competition, which is totally anti-yoga, had snuck into my practice without me even noticing it. I decided I needed to back it up a bit, and quit one of my weekly classes. Then came the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and Sarah, my Sunday morning teacher said she couldn’t lead our class anymore because of some personal obligations. I think that Sarah is actually an angel, as in, when you look at her, it seems as if she is radiating light. I sat on my mat and cried. After that, I half-heartedly tried to find a new teacher, but ultimately said, “forget it.” It’s not that easy to find angels.
Since my grandmother died in May, I’ve slowly been repairing my relationship with yoga. At first, it was pretty terrible, I had lost a lot of flexibility, particularly in my back. But it didn’t take long for it to return, and my jaw is unclenching, thank God. I wouldn’t recommend jaw clenching as a way of dealing with stress, frankly.
In yoga, you’ll often be told to let go of everything that is not serving you, and I thought about this in my class last night when Monica suggested we might want to go into Wheel, rather than it’s preparatory pose, Bridge. Wheel, in its full expression, is ebullient. I know this, because I haven’t been honest with you, I did do it one time – the seed of my obsession – with the help of an instructor named Emma. She stood behind me and told me to grip her ankles, then push up. I don’t know why this worked, but it did.
I haven’t tried to do Wheel since I quit yoga, so, at least a couple years. And I thought, oh what’s the use in this? But I put my hands backwards beside my ears and shoved off. Of course, I got stuck halfway. Monica came over and we tried to work out the issue. But I know there’s no reason I can’t do this. I’m 150% strong enough and flexible enough.
“I think that’s it,” I said to her.
“It’s okay,” she said. And it was. It really didn’t matter. The attachment was gone. Maybe next time, or maybe not. I’d let go of what wasn’t serving me.