Before the 1950s, it was believed that nobody could run a mile in under 4 minutes. It was understood that the best anyone could do would never be less than that mark. Then came Roger Bannister who, in 1954, ran a mile in under 4 minutes. Soon, others would follow suit and, in the decades since, we’ve all seen men and women who have broken this impossible to break milestone.
This week I broke my “4 minute” limitation. At the beginning of the month, I established a challenge for myself, something that would test and build my physical limitations. I decided to do one surya namaskar (Sun Salutation) for every day of the month. Part of my choice was rooted in my commitment to explore acceptance. Anyone who has done yoga knows that it is not unusual to find one side of your body is more flexible than the other. In strength training, I find there are times when one arm can do more curls than the other or lift a heavier weight even.
I wanted to do this repetitious morning practice to really live with the difference of how I move through the sequence of asanas. I have always, or for as long as I can remember, had a disparate experience when doing the series on my right side as opposed to my left. When moving from Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downard-Facing Dog) into a Lunge, my right foot would land close to if not between my hands soon to be followed by my left foot. But when my left foot was leading, it would falter, somewhere around my hip or upper thigh, and I would have to sort of hiccup step it to where it would eventually land between my hands. Sometimes I would even have to help it by taking my left hand and pulling my foot up to fall where I needed it to be. Then I would easily lift my right foot to fall beside my left.
This has been true for decades. I didn’t think anything of it, assuming it had something to do with my left hip being slightly inverted. I accepted this as a part of my anatomical experience, knowing that my July Challenge would really push me to confront it more deeply.
Day after day, as I added one more repetition to my morning practice, my left foot would falter. I even nearly stubbed my toe one time! Not fun. But this was why I was here, on my mat, allowing myself to live with the different sides of myself.
Then came 26 July. I had done six surya namaskar when my left foot did something unexpected. It landed so that my toes were in line with the heel of my palm.
I kid you not—I literally stopped everything I was doing and just looked at my foot for a breath or two and then continued with my practice. I confess, I thought it was a fluke. I must have perfectly aligned every part of my body, placed my hands at the perfect distance from one another and planted my feet and the crucial pivotal point so that the miraculous could happen. In other words, I did not expect it to happen again. In fact, I would have accepted it’s not happening again.
It happened again. And again. And again. The next 20 Sun Salutations my left foot landed near my hands, even falling between them once or twice. I was stunned/thrilled/amazed/awed/etc. And then next morning I approached my mat wondering what would happen. Would my left foot falter or fall in place? Would I be able to accept it if it did? Or didn’t? Had I really met my “4 Minute Mile”?
I am not fond of the fitness messages I see that emphasize how we limit ourselves, that the only thing keeping us down is our beliefs, that we can do more if we only push ourselves a little harder. Frankly, I feel that this kind of thinking leads to injury. I tend to push myself too much and I need to remind myself to be gentle, to progress slowly, carefully, mindfully. I honestly didn’t expect that my adding a Surya Namaskar a day would result in anything different. Maybe some of it would feel easier over time but, after decades of having to assist my left foot forward, I did not expect there to be any changes in my physical ability. I wasn’t thinking in a limited manner. I was accepting myself and my body with compassion and awareness.
And yes, on the 27th, I did all 27 Sun Salutations without having to help my left side. This morning, I accomplished all 28 sequences, dripping sweat, surprising myself. I have met my 4 Minute Mile and maybe in a month or a year or two years my body will lose some strength or flexibility and I will find myself stuttering on the mat again. That’s okay. I love that I faced a limitation with acceptance rather than a determination to make a change. As a result, the change came and I feel limitless.
What is your 4 Minute Mile? Have you faced it with acceptance? Have you tried to push through it only to find yourself hitting a wall?