Stepping out of the pocket.
When I was a much younger man, I loved playing rugby. You may be aware that there are two codes in the sport of rugby: rugby union (the code that I played) and rugby league. I friend of mine played for a local rugby league team, and he invited me to come and have a game. I had not played for a few years, and had been thinking about getting back into the sport, so I decided to take him up on the offer of a game in the other code.
Rugby is a sport that offers opportunities for players of all shapes and sizes, but it a very structured game and so players usually find a position in the team that suits their physical attributes. I was not a big man, but was quite quick so my natural position was in the backs. The coach of my friend’s team was obviously aware of this, so selected me to play on the wing – hopefully with the space to make breaks.
Not long into the game I was to be made brutally aware of one of the key differences between the two rugby codes. A huge man from the opposing team was given the ball “on the crash” and headed straight for me. Never one to shy away from the physical demands of the game I threw myself into tackling a man who was almost twice my body weight.
This is when it got messy.
In rugby league the team have six tackles to score; if they don’t succeed, they hand over possession to the other side. My tackle was the first of six, and what I should have done at that point was to get back out onto the wing and leave the next tackle to a suitably massive man from our team. However, I stayed in the pocket to face the next 18 stone man, and the next and the next.
At this point my ego had taken over. There was no way I was moving back out to my wing, and I was going to stay in the pocket and tackle everything that the opposing team could throw at me. I had lost all sense of my role in the game, I was ignoring my natural strengths, I was throwing myself into actions with precious little regard for the consequences (indeed I couldn’t even see the implications of what I was doing).
Thankfully, I made it through the six tackles relatively unscathed, but was told in no uncertain terms by the coach to get out on my wing and stay there. Good advice as it turns out - I scored twice and we won the game. I still had to make a few more big tackles, but it wasn’t my entire game. I made the most of my natural abilities, I saw the big picture of the game plan, and I contributed to the victory. I was calm, in control, and focussed.
Many of us spend too much time ‘in the pocket’; battered on all sides, feeling overwhelmed and out of our depth, and facing new challenges before the last ones have passed. When this happens it is easy to lose sight of the things that are important to us, the things that make us who were uniquely are, and the direction we should be taking.
It is practically impossible to avoid the pocket altogether. So we need to find ways to live with it. The 16th Century church reformer Martin Luther said,
“You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair”.
Yoga and Mindfulness classes give us time and space to re-calibrate, to stop spinning and just be. Over time (and it does take time), we can train our minds to take the calmness and stillness of a yoga class and drop it into different areas of our lives. Mindful exercises can help us at different points in our day to literally take a breath, refresh, and re-focus – then we can go back into our lives with a new sense of clarity and vitality. I see this in every yoga class I teach. People allow just one thing to occupy their minds for an hour or so, and the impact is dramatic and immediate.
Like any form of training, yoga and mindfulness are not an instant fix; there are up and downs – and it is definitely a “journey”. I continue to work on this in my own life, and I hope that you can join me.