If somebody said you were a donkey, I don't think you'd take it as a compliment. I, however, would like to be a bit more like a donkey. It's not the stubborn part of the donkey that interests me. Lord knows I've been working on softening my desire to dig in my heels and hold my position. So, the donkey quality that I'm fascinated by is the steadiness of doing the same work day after day.
This connection came to me after a great lesson from Certified Iyengar teacher, Betty Larsen. During one of her technique demonstrations, I commented on her phenomenal virasana. She told me, "You are just praising the donkey." I asked her what she meant. And she said, "If you do the work every day, this is just the fruit of the practice." "Alright," I said, "I am complimenting your ability to be the donkey and show up every day and do the work." "Fair enough," she remarked.
I'll tell you, it's hard to show up and do the fundamental work. We all want to express our movement in the biggest form possible. We're thinking, "Super size me!" and "I want to look like the women on the cover of the magazine!" The only way, I think, to safely move in that direction is to build a solid foundation focusing on fundamentals. Baby movements - sometimes micro - connected to breath with total awareness - feeling the difference - is how the shape shift occurs.
It takes a long time to plow a field. The donkey does not know this. It just keeps moving forward across the field of its existence. The donkey also does not know what seed is planted and if weeds or wheat will grow. The donkey doesn't wonder about rain or sunshine. It just steadily plods across the terrain. And when the donkey eats the wheat - the fruit of its labor - it does not make the connection to its dedicated work in the field.
As humans, we can make the connection. What we often lack is the patience to just keep walking in the same direction.
Working privately with students, I often get to witness their amazement of the power of the fundamental work. This week, a very athletic gentlemen couldn't stop laughing from feeling his body in a new way - marveling at the contrast after only doing Supta Padanghustasana on one side - and then pausing to feel the difference before continuing on with his second side.
These moments of witnessing the light come on helps remind me to stay steady with the work in my personal practice. And as my leg swelled to two times its normal size earlier this week - thanks to my joint disease - I offered gratitude to the donkey work that has returned me to my full potential within 2 days.
What we teach as movement therapists is powerful. I am a living testimony to the work - even if it is donkey work.