A peek inside my brain as a student during a group yoga class:
“I wonder how I would look with colored extensions in my hair?” “Seriously, you could never pull that off!”
“That is a cute pair of yoga pants…I wonder where she got them.” “Are you kidding? You could never wear those with those hips.”
“Oh my gosh, did everyone in class just hear my stomach growl?” “At least you’re just hungry…a release of gas during a spinal twist would have been WAY worse!”
“Oh wait…I need to be present…breathe.”
Does any of that sound familiar to you? It was the exact internal conversation I had with myself during a class at Lifetime Fitness in New York City a couple of years ago. I was vacationing, and thought that treating myself to a yoga class and massage would be a lovely way to spend the morning. Turns out that it was a life-changing class for me…not because I let myself focus on any of those thoughts (“pause for the flaws”, so to speak), but because I listened to what Maria (the instructor) had to say.
We were flowing through a sequence that included typical sun salutations, with some variations that focused on balance…the nemesis of my practice! Sure enough, because I was focusing more on my thoughts than simply being present, tree pose was challenging, standing big toe was nearly impossible, and I fell out of headstand more than once. Apparently I was not the only one struggling, as Maria gently turned her comments to forgiveness…”if you fall, give yourself a smile, and come back into the pose.”
I loved that comment, and it helped me turn inward from those previously wandering thoughts. I let go of the petty thoughts, the self-depricating thoughts, and the thoughts that do my practice harm instead of good. At that moment, when I felt my “inward smile”, Maria made a comment that has rarely left my mind since: “We don’t practice yoga to show our strengths to others…we practice yoga to show our weaknesses to ourselves.” At that moment, I had to take a break from the flow to “absorb” that statement; there I remained in child pose for several breaths and to let a few tears escape.
Suddenly it occurred to me: is THIS the reason I have been so reluctant to get on my yoga mat lately? Because I felt weak enough without having it “right in my face”, so to speak? At that time, I had my share of loss, anger, and bitterness since a divorce 4 years prior, cancer, including treatments and surgeries, a custody battle and move out of state, and relationship loss/change (friends who were less present during cancer, a boyfriend who turned out to be more “friend” material, etc.). Sure, it hadn’t ALL been bad…after all, the state I moved to is amazingly beautiful, I had made wonderful friends, and my son was happy and healthy. But there are times when I felt like a stranger in my own body…and the 50 pounds that I put on (as a result of going into surgical menopause post-cancer) made me feel like some yoga poses may be forever unattainable.
(Yeah…let’s just call it what it is.
Even after nearly 30 years of practice…NEVER gonna happen!)
Let’s face it, none of us like to recognize our weaknesses…we prefer to think, “Oh yeah, there are a few inside of me, but right now I’m going to just think about the good stuff…”. So when I was faced with the prospect of observing my weaknesses EVERY TIME I practiced yoga, my initial thought was “well, no thank you!”
However, did Maria mean that whatever I notice has to be dealt with, accepted, or even understood? No, I don’t believe so. I think that she was trying to say that it’s okay to recognize weakness, no matter how big or small…and to be able to let it go.
It was the most challenging “homework” ever! But it also taught me so much…especially that what happens on my mat transfers to the everyday stuff. Being impatient in class shines a light on the impatience that has been one of my weaknesses for as long as I can remember. Do I like it? No, of course not. Do I need to change it? Well, it certainly would make my life easier, but I can’t beat myself up over it…I need to have patience with working on my impatience!
When I returned to Colorado, I woke up and greeted my yoga mat with enthusiasm rather than disdain…what weaknesses might I find in practice? Not only did I expect them, I welcomed them! And a funny thing happened…my practice felt lighter, I was strong in my standing poses, had great focus in my balance poses, and I even challenged myself a little with some arm balances I hadn’t done in a while (which was a pleasant surprise given that I also had 2 hand surgeries in the previous 4 months).
As soon as I gave myself permission to open up to whatever weakness might present itself, it seemed to disappear! Does that mean all those areas of weakness went away? Of course not…but I think that “inviting myself to be imperfect” made a huge difference in my perceptions.
So why don’t you try letting go? Not taking a “pause for the flaws” just might have the same effect on you that it did on me…or you might discover something altogether more wonderful! Let me know what happens when you’re doing your practice this week (and especially how those experiences translate off the mat). Comment below, or contact me HERE.
This post is part of the FYB “31 Days to Quiet the Voices in Your Head” series.
Read more about it HERE.