Back to Basics

Erica Rodefer Winters confronts her ego and finds that focusing on the basics of yoga to be the best teacher of all.

I’d be lying if I said I don’t aspire to master challenging poses such as balancing in Scorpion Pose. There’s a certain kind of high that comes from accomplishing a pose that once seemed impossible, which is why my home practice has been focused on complicated inversions, arm balances, and backbends for, well, as long as I’ve had a home practice.

But no matter how much I tell myself that I want to nail that pose because it’s empowering, my desire is also driven, in part, by an overzealous ego and a Type A personality. I know, I know. This completely misses the point of yoga. But awareness is the first step toward change, right?

So I’ve begun taking a new approach to my home practice. I’m simplifying, deconstructing, and scaling back on the difficulty level of the poses I practice every day. I’m telling my ego to take a hike, and I’m focusing more on the way I FEEL in each pose, instead of the way I look or whether I’m getting closer to reaching a goal. While I haven’t completely given up my quest for party trick poses (because they are a lot of fun!), I’m becoming a lot more interested in finding the subtle nuances of the most basic yoga poses. What have I noticed? There’s always so much more to learn. The “simple” poses aren’t simple at all. There’s enough in each of them to keep me interested for years.

While it’s nearly impossible to think about other things as I practice balancing in Scorpion Pose, when I practice holding more basic poses, such as Triangle, sometimes my mind wanders. So I have to really set an intention to stay focused on the breath, press my feet into the floor, and find more length in my spine. By backing off and taking a less physically intense version of poses, I notice more where my body is uneven and can begin to see the times I tend to create more tension in my body by pushing myself deeper instead of finding ease and space. Even more important, knowing that I don’t have anywhere to be, or any goal to reach, I can just be content to feel the sensations that I’m feeling and be in the moment. And isn’t that really the whole point?

It’s been a practice of self-restraint, but it’s also a practice of more active listening to my body’s cues and intuition. And there’s nothing more beautiful and awe-inspiring than that—not even a graceful Scorpion Pose.