Friday, April 2, 2010

Yoga for Flexibility

Tonight I did headstand for the first time in years. Whenever I do headstand, I think of Dan Paul.

When I first met my friend Dan Paul, he was very into yoga. We worked together, and because of the free-for-all nature of our internet-based company culture, we would do yoga during the afternoons sometimes. I never imagined I could do a headstand. But after a while watching Dan Paul do headstand, I wanted to try.

What always stands out about the hardest yoga poses for me (tree pose, seemingly so simple, caused me undo fits for years) is that I can't do them when I push myself. When I go in with the competitive and ambitious attitude that this time I will do it, I invariably fall over. After years of struggling with tree pose, one day I just did it because I was asked to by an instructor. I'd given up on the idea of being able to hold the pose without putting my foot down early or maybe even losing my balance completely while struggling to maintain control. I felt light and free from any ideas about what the outcome would be. And then I just did it. When I lowered my foot, I felt elated as if a miracle had just occurred. It didn't feel like something I had done consciously. It felt like something that happened on its own through me. I once heard a yoga teacher say during tree pose, "If you begin to sway, don't give up. Trees sway." This perfectly illustrates acceptance.

After years of doing it again and again and failing in frustration, I gave up and opened myself up to any possibility. Then something changed and I was let in.

If tree pose was so hard, headstand seemed truly impossible, a pose for the big boys and girls who were much prettier than me. I have no idea what looks would actually have to do with such a thing, but that is usually how I translate my sense of deficiency. Dan Paul was always so light. That's the word I would use to describe him--light. Light in the sense of glowing and radiant, but also light in the sense of unfettered. I know there are times when he feels weighed down, but I always experience him as light. It is his gift. Having Dan Paul there made me feel like it was at least worth trying. After a few failed attempts, which are to be expected with almost anything, I performed headstand. I wasn't propped against a wall. I was in the middle of a room on a wood floor, and I was doing headstand.

Moments ago, as I did headstand, I thought of Dan Paul. The immediate impulse was to think, "I never would've done headstand without Dan Paul!" As I became conscious of this thought, I countered with, "But aren't I the one doing it? Is there really any credit due to anyone but myself? Isn't it possible that I might've learned it from somewhere else eventually?" Then I thought about change. I've read and heard a lot about change lately. People wondering if they change themselves or if life's events change them. People wondering when the change they so desperately seek will happen. People wondering how they can change and why they cannot seem to will themselves to change, and people wondering why other people won't change their minds so that they may have the change they seek.

The truth is, every single moment and event, no matter how tiny, changes us. When we're asking all those questions above, what we're really saying is, "Why won't reality bend to my will?" or, "I refuse to admit that I've been affected by anything other than my own conscious decisions!" The truth is that what happened is what happened, and Dan Paul influenced me to take on headstand. I do headstand without Dan Paul, but I do headstand because Dan Paul helped me. It's not an either/or proposition. When someone and I interact and after that interaction I am never the same again, it is because this is the nature of change--two forces bumping up against each other, exchanging molecules or changing trajectory because of the collision, after which neither are the same again. Even if we don't notice the change immediately, even if it is only a tiny shift, it is happening within and without us. As with tree pose, the change isn't about bending anything to our will. It is about becoming flexible and open to the change.

I do know that I like it very much that I always think of Dan Paul when I do headstand.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

-Max Ehrmman


  1. Beautiful piece and beautiful quote, Nan. I am absolutely honored.

  2. Thanks, DP! You deserve all the kind words in the world.

  3. 喜樂的心是健康良藥,憂傷的靈使骨枯乾。........................................

  4. Very nice Nan. I think this is one of the most beautiful pieces I have read. I once had a friend who introduced me to Yoga. We did just a few poses each day after riding our bikes around White Rock Lake. Sadly, she died some years back, but I always look back fondly at our time together especially during yoga time. I would love to come do yoga with you sometime. I am a bit rusty but have been dying to get back into it.