As a Type-A mom of three close-in-age kids, I push myself. A lot. With that mindset, I began my yoga journey with limited self-patience, clear goals, and an aspirational Pinterest board full of bendy yoga poses. I gave myself no room for leniency… I had to hit each pose as deeply as possible every time. I had to have a straight-line progression. I had to become pliable like one of the seasoned, limber veteran yogis… but on my own timeline.
I was rigid yet striving for flexibility. I had it all wrong. I’m still learning.
1) Force vs. Push. “Feel the burn!” “Pain is weakness leaving the body!” You know the pain-centric power mantras. I brought them with me into my yoga practices, forcing myself on myself. However, I learned quickly that yoga isn’t about forcing, it isn’t a “pain is gain” endeavor. It’s simply about pushing myself purposefully but relenting when the body indicates its limit. (And the body’s limits are not always what I’d like them to be.) I learned that forcing my body could — and did — cause injury which only distances me from my goals. Pushing, though, would get me closer to my goals, albeit at a potentially slower pace than I might like. I had to accept the length of the journey and push, not force, myself along my path.
2) Listen. With a chattering mind and a constantly whirring mental to-do list, as well as three vocal children, life demands I do a lot of listening. But am I always really listening? Yoga is about listening to my body, my thoughts — even when I’m striving for meditative mental silence –, my surroundings. Yoga is about piecing all of the noise together and honoring it all.
3) It’s OK to Fall. Falling. What an ego bruise, right? It’d be great to hit a perfect tree pose with unending balance every time, just like it’d be wonderful to go a whole day parenting perfectly. That’s not reality. We’re human. We fall, and that’s ok. It’s not a sign of inferiority or failure. It’s simply reality. When we fall we just laugh and get back up. We don’t lament the tumble. We don’t seek to blame others. We don’t quit and curse the practice. We just own it and try again, our self-worth still beautifully in tact.
4) Ability is Fluid. My ability today is not the same as yesterday or tomorrow. I may have bent into a wheel yesterday but I can’t hit anything beyond a bridge pose today. Similarly, perhaps I was a fountain of glowing maternal love yesterday but today I am a grumbling mass of exhaustion. Tomorrow I might be limber and patient yet again… or not. Our bodies, our minds, our lives are constantly changing. Variables shift. We can’t expect to be able to achieve the same accomplishments each day. We can only try our best with the ability we have today.
5) Inspiration not Competition. That mom with the perfect hair or the enviable physique or the tidy home or the well-behaved kids or the ideal seeming life. Instead of looking to her with a lens of competition, look to her as inspiration. The same goes for yoga. In yoga, we don’t look towards one another to judge or compare but for inspiration. Someone hits a pose deeper than you, someone can’t quite bend just as thoroughly as you. So what? Our circumstances, bodies, experiences, and lives are entirely different. We are here to serve as inspiration only.
6) Release and let go. With a mind that can’t hold onto names but has a knack for clinging to guilt, yoga has wonderfully taught me the beauty of letting go. Welcome in the positive and release what no longer serves me. Release… it feels so good. So why is it so hard to do?
7) Thank yourself. We thank friends, colleagues, waitstaff, family, troops, deities even, but so rarely ourselves. But we should thank ourselves. If we do something good for ourselves, we should thank ourselves. We deserve the same kindness we extend to others. We’re worth it.