Let me begin by saying that as a yoga teacher and long time yoga practitioner, I firmly believe that a person cannot be “bad” at yoga. If you have dedicated any amount of time to yourself, to breath and to move mindfully, that is a wonderful thing regardless of how close your toes come to your nose! However, as a human, I absolutely understand the desire to feel that you are “good” at whatever it is you may be doing. We all appreciate the sensation of success and fear the feeling of failure. Myself included.
So why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to perform at a certain level, when, as we have all heard before, that isn’t the point of yoga?!
We live in a world of expected perfection, sometimes from others, but even more commonly from ourselves. So no matter how often we are told that we should focus on how it feels not how it looks, many of us give up the yoga journey as soon as the first three legged dog is called out. If we begin the journey at all! Our need to only “succeed”, never stumble, circumvents our drive to learn about ourselves through both wins and losses. It denies us the chance to shift how we think, feel and move about the world. And whether we ever get to the bottom of what makes us tick or not, on the journey to that discovery, we can unearth some pretty remarkable things through that thing we call failure.
1. Information about our physical selves – In a perfect world, our bodies are balanced from left to right, from top to bottom and from front to back. Equal parts strength and flexibility- sounds magical, doesn’t it? In reality however, that is very seldom the case. It most certainly is not for me and this is rarely more evident than in a yoga class. Postures illuminate which shoulder is more open, which thigh is stronger and more able to support body weight and in which direction our spine prefers to move. Now, there are various reasons for this. Perhaps there was an injury on one side, or maybe you sit at a desk all day. Do you favor one hip while standing, or do you always carry your kids/purse/troubles on one side? Acute situations as well as habitual actions influence our physical alignment. They teach our bodies patterns that can make certain positions and movements more challenging, or even impossible, on one-side vs. the other. Is this a “bad” thing? No way! That is why we do yoga- to find balance where it is lacking.
I often speak in classes about “gathering information” about your current state. What do you feel, and where?
Try to take that information in without judgment, as you are not going to change the entire status of your shoulder joint in the next 2 minutes (it took years to get to it’s current state). So why not take in those cues, work with them to shift the ratio of energy and comfort in both sides of the body. A decrease of tension, or an increase in range of motion of as little as five percent can be a big win! Do not let the quirks of your body keep you from trying yoga, I assure you, we all have them (we are all “imbalanced”!). I may never be able to clasp hands in both directions in cow-face pose, but since I have stopped worrying about it so much, I have become attuned to the more slight adjustments I can make with greater results. I have started to notice when I carry myself in an asymmetrical way off the mat. Thus, allowing me to integrate more awareness to my physical self into the rest of my life. We can guide ourselves with respect for our perspective boundaries and quirks, toward a more energetically balanced state. That is the point, more balance not perfect balance, whatever that means to you.
2. Our sense of humor – With a tradition as deep and enriching as yoga, the pull towards the more profound sides of the practice is strong. Many of us participate in our yogic immersion with a great longing for intensity in physical, emotional and spiritual shifts. That’s heavy stuff; there is no doubt about it! But what about levity? Must we take our time and ourselves on the mat so seriously, that we lose our sense of humor?
Truth, life and in turn yoga, can be funny sometimes. That is part of the beauty of our experience. Some of my favorite teachers have the ability to creatively engineer a practice with depth, challenge and humor, rolling with the punches as the class progresses and seeing opportunities to address a yogi’s trials with kindness filled levity. What if we could all approach yoga with an understanding that getting the cuing wrong, accidentally tapping a neighbors ear with your toe, falling out of a posture, or even farting in class (it happens, even to teachers, trust me), is just another opportunity to be human, to laugh and to try again? It can, and likely will happen to all of us at some point, so we may as well embrace the lighter moments (aka mistakes) and have fun with it! Say yes to falling out of a posture, and no to a practice so rigid that we cannot have a chuckle in the process. You may just find that lightness of spirit spreading into the rest of your day as well.
Yoga is a powerful tool. It has the ability to change a person’s life in innumerable ways- better physical health, mental clarity, social understanding, shifting of priorities, broadening of consciousness etc. But in the end, it is just yoga. The person on the mat next to you is more focused on his or her own postures than yours, I promise. There was a time when not being able to perfect the day’s peak pose, whatever arm-balance, bind or other challenging posture my teacher had decided to lovingly assign to us for that session, would deflate my entire experience in the class. Chances are, most of us will be lucky enough to have another day, to play and discover and try again, on and of the mat. If you don’t get “it” today, so what. Be patient and kind to yourself and go for it again tomorrow, little by little you will find and feel change. Yep, that’s me, fumbling and fabulous below!
Getting something wrong can teach us so much. Those opportunities allow us to ponder what we could do differently next time, to be human and to come back again the next day with a better understanding of ourselves. It is our mistakes that allow us to grow. So forget about whether you can touch your nose to your knees. Go to a class. Stumble. Feel silly. Then take that intelligence back to the mat a second time, a third time. I promise you will learn more, laugh harder and get more out of you in the process. And that is ALWAYS a good thing.