I've spent much of my yoga-doing time engaged in a battle of self-accomplishment. It's not surprising, on balance. I'm a competitive self-improver. Sure, I only lock horns with myself, but you'd be surprised by how far you can descend into that paradigm.
One of my most entrenched obsessive loops is about surpassing. Today, I can do X. Tomorrow, I will be able to do X+1. Tick the box. Move on. And the thing is, most of the time I do achieve because I apply steely logic and effort and the truest, best intentions. Also there's some good fortune involved. And then there's the fact that I torture myself if I don't meet my expectations. I'll go to any extreme to avoid that outcome...
You might wonder how it is that I ever managed to instruct anyone effectively. I assure you that the human mind is adaptive enough to apply insanity to oneself and good sense to others. Not to mention that we attract those who can learn, one way or another, from what we show them. Furthermore, I'm a pretty fun teacher.
But never mind how light-heartedly I apply myself to others, in my own mind and body I've been relentless. Which is why, over the past few years, as they have changed in all the ways, I have become increasingly confused. Strength turned to weakness, as I saw it. Lively courage came to cower. Energy became lethargy. Lightness sank. I have always been steady - mentally and physically - but as I've observed flexibility (and to a lesser extent, strength) taper, I've been beside myself. Not to mention that there's always a certain tension in my fascia. It's not that I seem stiffer but I have to work actively to stay agile. When I go from stillness to motion, everything teeters to find its keel. I know this is what age feels like - though how, I can't tell you because I'm not old, much less old enough to be feeling this way. How does one spend close to 30 years practicing a skill with dedication only to decline? Don't answer that.
Because even that question is rhetorical at this point. What the last couple of years have shown me is that yoga is about proprioception at the micro level. It's never been helpful to judge the look of the pose - and, oh, how I regret the upsurge of yoga as lifestyle if only because, back in the day, we were all taught that yoga is how it feels and then there were no pretzely, sexy creatures, gracing the cover of magazines, convincing us that this is how awareness feels. It's not even helpful, particularly, to judge how the moving parts intersect in a given pose (how the bones abut, how the muscles pull at their end points) because often the data is flawed.
In the end, it really is about withdrawal of the senses (that 5th limb I never really understood - it always seemed so vague). It's only when you can become every part of yourself, at every level, that you can see the macro in the micro. And damn, that's a worthy goal. Alas, too bad you can only find it when you stop turning everything into a goal. (It would appear I have my work cut out for me.)
So, under these circumstances, how do I continue to achieve? Well, aside from the fact that I really should get the compulsion under control, I think that achievement is in the life-long maintenance - in doing what allows me to align at the most discrete level, which I hope will enable me to eschew physical pain (after all, it's just one of millions of chemical strings) and to feel the grace of ease. My very mobility is fostered and improved by all of the work I do. Achievement for me is now is a lightness of being that I find, occasionally, when I allow my body to become my mind. Achievement is about abandoning my preset expectations. It's about feeling a tremendous gratitude for how I exist.
These are the things that Yoga Journal doesn't tell you.
*FYI, I'm very happy I was not a credible case - and I'm not suggesting that his call was incorrect, just that it seemed reflexive and based on a base-line that didn't necessarily take me into account.