Shaking Hands With My Feet

I’ve stolen the title of this post from Matthew Sanford’s memoir Waking, and although his experience with “shaking hands with his feet” is a little different than mine, I feel like it fits the experience I’ve had in my yoga practice the past week.

When I first started practicing yoga, one of my primary goals was to become more flexible, particularly in my hamstrings. Historically, I have had very tight hamstrings and struggled to even brush my toes with the tips of my fingers. When I was in high school I started getting excruciating spasms in my back. When I went to a chiropractor, he told me that my hamstrings were so tight that they were pulling my pelvis out of alignment and straining my lower back muscles, causing the spasms. As a student, I spend most of my time sitting in desks, which doesn’t stretch the hamstrings at all and made it more difficult to develop flexibility where I so desperately needed it.

Yet, although I started with this goal of hamstring flexibility in my mind, as I practiced throughout the semester I began to move away from striving for the results (flexibility) and started finding contentment in the poses and the practice itself. After at least three different yoga classes before this, I began to realize a connection with my body free of results that was very powerful and enjoyable. After a while I didn’t even think about measuring how much I had improved or how much closer to my goal I was getting. I took delight in the journey.

And then one day I reached down and put my whole hand on the sole of my foot without bending my leg. The exhilaration and surprise I felt was so much more meaningful to me because I had reached my goal through joyful work rather than frustrating tedium. I “shook hands with my feet” and greeted them as friends. It’s a strange way to learn the lesson of “A watched pot never boils,” but I’m glad my yoga practice has given me this wonderful lesson and experience.

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