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I see it everyday: beautiful people, strong people, intelligent people who get frustrated by their inability to achieve a certain pose, usually an arm balance or an inversion. I understand. I remember being in that place.
About a decade ago, I wanted to float from downward dog to seated with straight legs so badly I could taste it. I attended every workshop I could find on the matter. I practiced, I practiced, and I practiced some more. One time, a teacher showed me how to do this with blocks. Hark! I could do it! Happy dance, happy dance, happy dance.
This mollified me for a while, a short while actually. And then, my ego came knocking. Psst. You know, you’re not really “doing it” properly if you’re “cheating” with blocks, right? And so, I chucked the blocks to the side, determined to get it on my own.
I attended a workshop by the master of floating, David Swenson himself. I remember his asking the class, "What if I told you you’d never be able to float in your entire life? Would you quit yoga?"
I snorted. Of course not. (Soul reaction) And then, a few short seconds later... But I will get this floating thing, by golly! (Ego reaction)
I never did get the float. At least, I never did get it without the blocks — not yet anyway and truthfully, I don’t even care now. And I have not given up yoga. I did, however, acquire a lovely deltoid injury in my dogged-determined approach. Now, years later, as a teacher, I see things a little differently.
I work with my students daily to approach their practice from a vantage point of compassion, not achievement and I beg of them to please stop slaving to their ego on their mats and instead, listen to their soul. Let their soul dictate what their body needs, not the other way around. If you tend to find yourself in a never-ending quest to achieve something on your mat, here are 5 pearls of wisdom that just might help you see the beauty of letting go...
1. Please don’t use your mat as another place to beat yourself silly.
Your mat is your refuge. It’s a place where you can get calm, be introspective and tap into the love that resides within. When we start to make it a space where we are trying to prove something, to ourselves or to anyone else, we are missing the beauty of our asana practice. Allow your mat to be a safe zone. That way you will crave your practice and be on your mat often. And with frequency, you create magic.
2. Get still, tap into breath, soften and listen.
Recognize when your inner dialogue is taking over. If you hate a pose, and usually, we hate the most basic poses for one reason or another, then likely that is a pose you need the most. Instead of trying to change your thoughts or tune them out, get curious about them. Befriend them. Are you fighting your own breath when the pose or poses get intense? Instead, when you catch yourself struggling, don’t quit; soften. Cultivating the position of the observer and asking these questions, staying in the poses and going deep will give you a rich foundation for growth in all areas of your practice and your life.
3. You are worthy of love simply because you exist — handstand or no handstand.
In my spiritual growth since losing my mother, this is a credo I have wholeheartedly adopted. I discovered it first in Anita Moorjani’s book, Dying to Be Me. We are worthy of love simply because we exist. Poses do not define our worthiness. Piking into handstand does not make anyone a better person. And we do not need to be “better.” All we need to do is be ourselves. Being yourself fearlessly is far more courageous and strong then any achieving or holding any pose.
4. Remember, yoga is a healing art form.
Yoga has been misconstrued as a sport. It is not a sport. Yes, if you practice with great frequency and with mindfulness, you can achieve a gorgeous level of health. But at it’s essence, yoga is a healing art form. We can heal ourselves from emotional trauma and physical pain on our mat. We can use the wisdom revealed here to to heal other areas of our lives as well.
Slaving to achieve a certain pose before we are ready often can result in injury, not healing. This is a perfect reason to release the need to “achieve” and allow ourselves to work compassionately and inquisitively instead. Engage your asana practice to heal and allow yourself to be amazed by the process.
5. Yoga is like life — the trick is to enjoy the journey.
As I have cultivated a deeper understanding of my body and my soul, I have progressed in my practice. I am always amazed that there is always more to learn, both physically and philosophically. The truly amazing thing is, the more I learn, the more I realize don’t know! Let your practice be a lifelong journey. Let it be a place where great wonders are revealed to you. Do not force things to happen to quickly.
You've likely seen in your life what happens when we try and force things. Typically, it does not go well. The sweetness is in the delicious unfolding of the journey. Your practice, like life, is meant to be savored in this way. Step by step, moment by moment, breath by breath, pose by pose... No rushing, no forcing, no muscling.
Just love, joy, peace, kindness.
Truly, there is no other way.