Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Don’t Pause for the Flaws

“I wonder how I would look with pink extensions in my hair? That is a really cute pair of yoga pants…I wonder where she got them.  I could never wear those with these hips.  Oh my gosh, did everyone in class just hear my stomach growl? I could really go for a smoothie after this. Dang, will I EVER be able to do up-dog again? Oh wait…I need to be present…breathe.”

Does any of that sound familiar to you? For me, it’s a typical internal conversation when I’m on my yoga mat (however, the color of hair extensions may vary…).  And it was the exact one I had during last Saturday’s class at Lifetime Fitness in Long Island. I was vacationing in New York, 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 pause to focus on any of those thoughts, but because I listened to what Maria (the instructor, and incidentally, as I would find out after class, the director) had to say.

We were flowing through a sequence that included typical sun salutations, with some variations that focused on balance…the group of asanas that tends to be the nemesis for most of us!  Sure enough, because I was focusing more on my thoughts than simply being present, tree pose was challenging, and standing big toe was impossible.  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 off our strengths…we practice yoga to show ourselves our weaknesses.”  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 practice lately? Because I feel weak enough without having it “right in my face”, so to speak? I have had my share of pain since a divorce in 2008, including major health issues / surgeries, a custody battle and move out of state, and relationship loss/change (friends who were less present, a boyfriend who turned out to be more “friend” material, etc.). Sure, it hasn’t ALL been bad…after all, I married the love of my life last year and the state I moved to is amazingly beautiful. But there are times when I feel like a stranger in my own body…and the 40 pounds that I have put on (as a result of said health issues) make me feel like some yoga poses are unattainable.

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 practice 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.

This has been the most challenging “homework” ever! But it has 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!

Yesterday morning 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 have had 2 hand surgeries in the past 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 perception.

person high on a mountain with open arms to the skySo 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).

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