Remember, it doesn’t matter how deep into a posture you go.
What does matter is who you are when you get there.
The teacher’s voice was so soothing. Her instructions sounded nice. You were listening, though your mind could not translate for your body the places your arms and legs were supposed to be. You took a look to the right. Then a look to the left.
Suddenly you realized the shape of your body looked nothing like the person on either side of you. Yes, your arms and legs were basically in the right places, but how could she look so at ease and graceful and how in the world was her arm all the way around there? Wait a second…you wonder if you are doing ANY of the poses correctly. “If only I had her bone structure” or “I wish I had calves like his!” Frustration moves like a fast-moving flood.
The unintentional habit begins—comparing and holding every unique and beautiful aspect of yourself to that of another’s. Perhaps it did not begin in yoga, it may have seeped in from doing this in life. All of life is a river, habits flow from one pool we frequent to the others.
We live in a culture focused on the externals, how things look and it cultivates the need for recognition and praise as the declaration of our value. You are not alone if this feels familiar.
Recognizing a self-defeating habit does not feel good. But seeing it is the radical first step in knowing what to do next.
Self-care is another radical act. As we’ve been exploring, it’s a choice you make to do the work of loving yourself….right where you are. Not waiting to love yourself until you achieve xyz, but loving your form with all its aches, pains, asymmetries and every other way that you think you are less than perfect.
I want to share one of the gifts that my years of yoga and many amazing teachers have imparted to me. Your body (yes, yours!) is unique and beautiful in its own way. You may never touch your toes, balance on your hands or even sit cross-legged comfortably….and it means nothing about who you are as a person. It simply means something about the geography of your body and your structure.
The revolutionary Yin yoga teacher, Paul Grilley is one of the experts in looking deeper into the body, beyond muscles and to our skeletal structure. He teaches that the different structures of each person’s skeleton will inform what they’re able to do and how they’ll be able to do it. It’s almost like seeing how some areas have mountains and rivers and some places have beaches along the ocean. Geography matters and so does the way your body is structured.
Your best friend may easily sit in bound angle pose with their knees and thighs touching the earth. Your knees in that pose might be popping up towards the sky. It would be easy to say, “I have such tight hips. I need to work on this more to open up into this shape.” And the battle begins to force our bodies into places they may not yet be, or ever be able to go. Body battles never result in a win in the land of self-care.
Sure with practice, we all can soften into or find more strength in a pose. However more often, how your body appears in bound angle, or any pose, has everything to do with the shape and length of your bones and how they fit together.
I remember when I first learned this, I felt such a sense of freedom. That is also when I discovered the real use of yoga props. “OHHHH, so if I need yoga blocks in a pose, it doesn’t mean I’m weak or tight. It just means my arms aren’t as long as my torso and that extra height a block will offer to me can make that pose possible for me!”
Every moment on the mat we practice being with ourselves to support a deeper journey within. Yoga is the path that guides our bodies, breath and minds along that journey. The work you do inside slowly seeps outward into every other pool of your life. When you’re more compassionate and kind to yourself, you’ll bring more of that compassion to others. It all starts within and ripples out.
Don’t be confused here. Goals in your yoga practice are fine if that’s something that is a motivator for you, by all means, keep them in your sights. Desiring increased flexibility or more strength is fantastic. AND balance that with knowing that the path to any destination is first meeting (and loving!) yourself right where you are. In every moment, coming back to yourself and then moving in the direction of where you’d like to be going.
My invitation to you is this. At the beginning of your next yoga practice, take a few moments to notice how you feel. Check in with your body. Take some deep breaths to help you drop into awareness and look for the spaces that feel tense, open, unsettled, tired, everything that you find and just acknowledge them. No judgment. You already received a gold star for making it to your mat!
Practice this awareness in every posture….noticing how you feel with full acceptance. If your inner critic starts to chime in, don’t judge that either, just notice and keep breathing. Over time this way of thinking becomes second nature, your way of being and approaching your practice.
I’ve never known someone to become more at home in his or her own body, in all of its flaws and its grace, without becoming more compassionate to all of life.
~Matthew W. Sanford
Photo by Mariusz Prusaczyk on Unsplash