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Up Against the Wall at Yoga

And so I'll look for my bandhas all day long, because I know the attempt is what's making me strong. And I'm going to keep on dropping back, because, apparently, I've already opened up a crack.
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The only thing I knew how to do was to keep on keepin' on ... -- Tangled Up In Blue, Bob Dylan

"Less from me and more from you!"

These were the words of the yoga instructor as we moved through our Sun B's while we jumped back and forth in our vinyasas. She was asking us to find our bandhas, or locks, and to look for our quiet landings.

I was looking for something else. I was looking for a way past a wall that had appeared in my practice. I was looking for the strength to tear it down.

I started getting annual physicals right before I found yoga. The doctor spoke with me about exercise and strength. Specifically, we talked about the strength of my bones.

She took one look at me and exclaimed, "You must be careful!"

"Why?" I asked.

"Well," she answered, "because you are small and white!"

These are things I cannot change! But, apparently, people who are both small and white are more at risk for osteoporosis, or a weakening of the bones. I was sent for a scan and discovered that I was indeed teetering on the brink.

What was also discovered was my family's now long-running joke about how small and white I am!

And I was left to wonder whether it's ever possible to return from the brink, or if it's just inevitable to one day hit a wall - the place where we are only what we think.

Maybe this is why I've yet to capture the lift when I jump forward or back, or why my arms sometimes shake after Fire Jumps. And what about Warrior III? My back still feels this pose when I think it shouldn't. And don't get me started on the handstands. Oh, the handstands!

The other day after class I was talking about this brink with a friend. He has lots of muscles and teaches something called Chiseled Yoga, a class that incorporates weights. We talked at length while he made several motions this way and that, demonstrating the curls and squats and lifts that he thought might help me in my practice.

And then he lowered his voice. "And this, too," he said softly. And I watched as he jumped in place and came down hard, both feet landing at the same time, again and again. "Women of a certain age," he whispered, "need to jump 10 times a day like this. It's good for their bones!"

My bones! For months, I'd been lagging on my calcium regimen. I made a mental note to start them up again.

Days later, I was at another practice. This was Rocket yoga, a practice on which I count to build my strength. And it was a good practice, too, but still my wall wouldn't budge. Afterward, I chatted with the instructor as I got ready to leave.

"Something's missing for me in there," I told her, pointing to the practice room from which we'd all just exited.

At one point, she had actually removed another wall for me. She had literally turned my back to it. That's how I finally got my freestanding handstands and my freestanding Forearm Stands.

So I explained about this new wall. Surely, she had seen it, too.

Her answer was to remind me of how to deepen my practice. She encouraged me in my efforts to drop into a backbend from standing. And, most important, she spoke about the ever elusive bandhas that were causing me so much doubt.

"You've got them," she said. "You have the strength!"

We made our way out of the studio, passing the newly painted wall adorned with the golden letters of a chant. She was several steps ahead when she looked back with one more thought.

"You just wait, Anne," she said. "Those drop backs are heart openers. Once you get those, your life is going to change. It's already cracked open some."

I was surprised to hear her mention a wall I thought no one else could see. Did she really believe there wasn't an end to whatever it is we could be? I have to say this was a revelation for me!

Days later, I was practicing again, and I was feeling good. The music was playing and the room was full and I was flowing. We hit the floor and moved into Forearm Plank.

The instructor encouraged us to hold ourselves there, to lift our hearts into our backs, to tighten our quads and press into our forearms.

"Be honest!" she said. "Don't wait to get stronger later. Get stronger now!"

I held myself in the pose and felt a trickle of sweat roll down my forehead and over my nose. I tucked my chin and watched it drop to my mat with a splat.

And in that moment I realized something grand, that perhaps our strength is always at hand. I could see mine right there in that drop of sweat. It was the reason my mat was soaking wet!

And that was all it took for my wall to fall. And now I'm hoping it's gone, once and for all.

And gone now, too, is the thought of a brink, because my plan is to keep on going. I want to plant my seeds and see what's sowing!

So this is how I've turned a new leaf, which to me has been a huge relief. I've made the decision to continue to sweat, because I don't want to be done just yet.

The practice is only a gift to explore. It's an effort to feel what I've not felt before.

And so I'll look for my bandhas all day long, because I know the attempt is what's making me strong. And I'm going to keep on dropping back, because, apparently, I've already opened up a crack.