Yesterday, I touched ducklings. A mama duck was leading her flock across the street and jumped up on a median that was too high for her babies to follow. Eight ducklings hopped at the edge of the curb, cheeping and flapping useless little triangle wings. They looked like popcorn. Mama quacked and paced, but couldn’t figure out how to help them.
I know you’re not supposed to interfere with nature, but I couldn’t help myself. I parked my car and, along with another girl, lifted the terrified ducklings, one by one, over the median. Mama duck took it from there, and the whole family made it to the woods across the street.
Hours later, I couldn’t stop thinking about the sweet little fluffballs.
Those ducklings were flapping wings that were nowhere near being ready for flight. They must have a flapping instinct, or learned how to flap from watching Mama and other older ducks. Flapping their wings will be a really useful skill at some point in their life, but it wasn’t serving them yesterday. If anything, it was hurting, because they were tiring themselves out. It made me wonder what instinctive or learned behaviors that aren’t serving me do I try to use in my practice? How about in my life?
I found out this morning. My alarm trilled at 5:15, and my first instinct was to shut it the hell off. I had nowhere to be today. I didn’t need to practice, at least not in the same way people need to work. I was tired. It was early. Crawling out of my comfortable bed only to subject myself to the agony of dropbacks seemed not only cruel, but stupid.
It was an instinct, but it wasn’t in my best interests. If anything, I need practice even more when I have unscheduled days. If I don’t practice, I end up sleeping until 9:00, organizing my nail polish until 11:00, checking Facebook until 12:00, and watching YouTube until 2:00. When I do practice, I come home and get to it. Today, I was writing, sending out query letters, and submitting articles within an hour of getting home from 6:00 AM practice. I don’t have a job to go to right now, but I do have a job to do. I can’t afford to dick around until mid-afternoon.
During practice today, I caught myself doing what I do best on the yoga mat: forcing my body into poses with resistance and strain. I don’t even realize I’m doing it until I release from the posture and vinyasa into the next one. Maybe I’ve internalized my mom’s message “fake it till you make it.”
She was talking about emotions when she first said that to me at age nine. I told her that I didn’t want to go run errands with her because I wasn’t in a good mood. She explained that sometimes, you have to do things you don’t want to do, and advised that I fake a good mood until it actually happened. I tried it that day and it worked. I used it again in school when I had to stand up to a girl who was picking on me. I faked bravery until I felt brave enough to talk to her.
Fake it till you make it is useful advice for some situations, but not all. It definitely doesn’t work for practice. I can’t fake my way into Parsvakonasana B by cranking my elbow over my knee until my ribcage hits my thigh and expect the pose to be steady and comfortable. I can’t throw myself into Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana and expect to stick the roll-up instead of ending up in a heap on the floor.
Poses can’t be faked or forced. They must be allowed. When I want to grip or clench, what I need to do is relax and find ease. As Maia said, “If you need to hold on, hold on here,” pointing at her bandhas.
I’m glad those ducklings reminded me that my instincts aren’t always right, and that advice doesn’t always apply to every situation. Thanks, little guys. I hope you get to use your wings soon.