Last week, I happened upon the blog of Lauren Lipton, a journalist and novelist based in New York. (Blogger’s fate: you waste time reading other people’s blogs.) In her post “a whole lot of nothing,” she mentions, “I can now remain in the plank pose for three and a half torturous minutes.”
That caught my eye. Three and a half minutes! And, being who I am, I wondered how long I can hold the pose.
During my next home practice, with no ado, I checked the time and launched into plank. I couldn’t see my wristwatch. Argh! I dropped to my knees at a disappointing two (well, almost two) minutes.
The next morning, I vowed to do three minutes. Do or die. Heck, if this non-yogi New York writer can do it, so can I! My attitude was more “boot camp” than yogic, I admit. This time I checked the clock every so often and, with grit and gritted teeth, made it through.
Since then, I’ve included a three-minute plank in my daily practice. I’m self-correcting the whole time: Belly up. Tailbone down. Legs straight. Collarbones wide. Shoulder blades in and down. Back of neck long.
The last 30 seconds? Rather tortuous. But strangely satisfying. And it has grown remarkably easier with repetition (and with the aid of time checks). I plan to continue plank holds till my form is rock solid throughout. Maybe four or five minutes are in the offing.
Why am I doing this? Are such challenges positive or negative? Am I developing my resolve and strength—or just my ego?
Is maintenance enough?
A student I’ll call Annie once told me, “I’m not interested in fancy poses or being perfect. I just want to be healthy and stay healthy for the rest of my life.” She added, with some emphasis, her age. “I’m 52,” she said. “At my age, I just want to maintain. That’s not bad, is it?”
To me, there is a fine balance between ambition and complacency. While it’s counterproductive (and unbecoming) for yogis to be strivers, it’s also misguided to become set in our ways or to settle for less than what’s possible.
To ward off stagnation, we sometimes must inject a challenge into our practice, whether that be sitting in meditation, curbing a fiery temper, or doing a backbend dropover. When we try something new and difficult, we are taking a risk. We might fall. We might fail.
During a challenge, we can’t be lazy. Ideally, we are always so engaged. I know I’m not. I must occasionally shake up the status quo to wake up. This week, anyway, adding a three-minute plank pose to my practice has done just that.
Image: Yoga Journal
Oh, Yoga Spy,
Such a lot to comment on here. Leaving aside all the rest – endurance, challenges, ambition, plank pose, the hazards of blogging – I’d just like to say how interesting it is the way we define ourselves by our ages.
Someone very wise once told me that whenever you’re tempted to think you’re too old for something, or that your age somehow lets you off the hook when it comes to putting out effort, or taking a risk, you should pretend you’re 80, and look back at yourself from that vantage point.
We are impressed by our own age because no matter how old we are, it’s always the oldest we’ve ever been. Try looking back from further down the line, and it’s remarkable how your perspective can shift.
LOVE THIS! Keeping it real…
For me personally, my yoga practice often becomes a celebration of my strength. Yoga has made me a strong person, and I’m *gasp* proud of that. It has been a lot of hard work and I’m strong physically and mentally. Sometimes it is fun to challenge that.
I agree with you about the fine balance between striving for something our ego is craving and keeping ourselves engaged and challenged. By facing poses that are challenging we uncover some pretty important things about ourselves, like bad habits(samskaras), attitude, and (un)willingness to change. These are all important parts of the practice and often one of the greatest gifts of this practice. We shouldn’t shy away from learning new things about ourselves. It’s almost always rewarding in one way or another.
We always need new challenges and to find that balance between our effort and ease, where do we let ego come in and where do we just BE in the moment. Oh, and I hold plank often when teaching kids… they think it is so easy and then discover that there can be effort where it seems there is none… and vice versa!
Should we not challenge ourselves to work through the courses in Light on Yoga and Light on Pranayama. B K S Iyengar took the trouble to write these manuals of instruction, should we not attempt to use them and fulfill our potential. Do you know anyone who has done so and what changes they have noticed in themself. Thanks, Arthur.