For years I rejected yoga.
It would help me, enthusiasts insisted.
I would sleep better. It would make me less anxious.
My response? Please. No. No to chanting and no to being still and no to being cooped up in a room when I could be outside.
Then, my life started behaving unpredictably. I found myself sitting cross-legged in a yoga class, then another, because I craved peace in the struggle my days had become. Over the past three years I have witnessed this practice seep into every area of my life. Not because I strived to achieve it; but because I discovered I just needed to get out of the way.
To which you might rightfully say, “What on Earth are you talking about?” Who you are shows up everywhere.
Often, I come to a pose I can’t do. I see others do it. I know, I know. You’re supposed to focus on your own practice, but I always look at people around me in awe, and think, “I will never stand on my head. It defies gravity.”
About a year later, there I was, holding a headstand in the center of the room. I realized that anything that seems impossible—anything—would become easy, because that is what happens when you practice. Practice, and all will come. Once your brain has grasped that, it extrapolates it to other areas (without you telling it to). “I don’t think I can ever do that” becomes you surprising yourself with all you can do.
Let go of what doesn’t serve you.
What you’re thinking is “Of course! But, how?” And the answer is, “I don’t know.” But if you focus on your breath instead of your thoughts, and you want to stop holding on to something that hurts, one day it will loosen its grip on you. Breathing in and out through your nose doesn’t just calm you, it changes you.
You want a better explanation, but that would be intellectual, and you are not your thoughts. You are their creator, and sometimes, for a glorious, lucid instant, their observer. Yoga works not with you the thinker, but with you the witness.
With your thoughts out of the way, things have space to get sorted out. You don’t need to know how. You are not making it happen. It happens on its own.
Thoughts are meant to be your servant. If you let them be the master, they will lead you astray. They will betray you. They will make you suffer. If you, like Descartes, are convinced that is why you exist, this practice reminds you that everything you could need—even the cure to loneliness—is already inside you. It’s just that it doesn’t reside where you think.
How can this be easier?
There you are, locked in a bind. And the teacher asks, “How can it be easier?” What if I told you to relax when you felt you needed to struggle? You don’t have the stamina to muscle your way into every pose. That’s when the energy you’re expending that you don’t need to be expending, reveals itself. Why is your jaw clenched? Why are you putting all the weight on the tips of your toes? Look at yourself. Look at your job. Look at your relationships. How can it be easier?
How can you work harder?
Certainly not clenching your jaw. But once your jaw is relaxed you have more energy to put into where it matters. In lifting from the upper back. Or, anywhere.
How can you be comfortable within uncomfortable situations?
Have you ever held plank for more than a couple of minutes? When the teacher says you can, “drop to your knees” you want to flop on your stomach. You learn that while it hurts, that’s okay. While it’s hard, that’s okay. Soon you stop desperately trying to escape other uncomfortable situations. Less flailing (which is in itself exhausting), more acceptance.
Whatever you push pushes you back.
I used to believe pushing was the only way to get things to work out the way I wanted them to (Okay. I still do. I have to re-learn anything I think I’ve already understood.) And there I was, trying to touch my toes, frustrated with myself for not “doing it right”.
“Don’t push”, said my teacher. “Whatever you push will push you back.” (Whoa.)
This concept is counter-intuitive to anyone who believes you have to fight for what you want. Surrendering and trusting—having faith—that whatever is happening is happening in your best interest, and that things will unfold as they should without the need for you to interfere. Surrender is always my last resort and I feel awash with gratitude when, despite my tendency to refuse its solace, I always find it there waiting for me.
Meet people where they are at.
And on a related note, don’t try to change the other person’s mind, opinion or outlook. In fact, don’t try to change the other person. Stop trying. It doesn’t work. It never will. It never has. (There. That should free up more energy to put into other things.)
Multitasking—don’t do it.
I often go into a class dragging work (or whatever it is I’m dragging) in with me. The teacher says, “Whatever you have to do won’t get done while you are here. Focus on breathing and moving through the poses.” It hits me that I can take time off from whatever weighs on me any time I want. Let me say it in another way, because it’s amazing: if you do one thing at a time, you can take a break from everything else.
Get off the roller coaster.
There isn’t room for your ego on the mat (you’ll get injured fast by doing something everyone is doing if you aren’t ready for it.) In yoga, you are strong one day and you suck the next. You eventually learn to feel equal regard towards the powerful you and the sucky you. (You might not believe me, but I assure you both of you are already perfect.)
Being better requires minuscule steps.
One of my teachers asks, “Can you go a bit lower? Can your back be a little straighter? Can you breathe just a bit deeper? Stretch!”
It’s such an incredible concept. Think about it: Depression makes you want to curl up. Darkness makes you shrink. Fear makes you wither. Stubbornness makes you narrow. Hate makes you lessen. Guilt makes you contract. Regret makes you shrivel. Negative feelings constrict. They diminish you. Stretching opens up your heart. It fills you with strength. It makes you more flexible. And it doesn’t take much.
You don’t need time to learn how to get everything just right.
There already is beauty and power inherent in you, because it is inherent in everything.
You just take who you already are, beautiful, radiant, and stretch.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Amani Omejer / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Cristobal Garciaferro Rubio