March 2, 2016

How I Learned to Hear my Own Wisdom.

yoga sun valley sit practice

I learned to hear my own wisdom.

All I had to do was listen to my shoulder.

And after almost 15 years of diligently practicing yoga, including six years of teaching, I realized:

My shoulder doesn’t want to move that way.

The problem isn’t that I don’t have the knowledge, nor is it that I didn’t hear the teachings, or that anyone was telling me to move my shoulder in the wrong way. I have an undergraduate degree in biology, and studied with some of the most experienced, most famous, most beloved teachers in the country (Patricia Walden, Rod Stryker, Tias Little and Sarah Powers to name a few). I was taking a lot in, and there is only so much we can take in at once!

I heard “flatten your shoulder blade onto your back” and latched onto it as the right way to do yoga. If you’ve ever taken a yoga class that had any alignment cues at all, you’ve probably heard this before—hell, maybe from me—and it’s not a bad cue. The trouble is that it doesn’t work for every pose. Especially if you are trying to lift your arms, like say, in a headstand.

And one day, in a little studio with a not at all famous teacher, I realized — for nearly 15 years, I had been telling my shoulder how to move, rather than listening to how my shoulder wanted to move.

And finally, I heard it: “Meghann, stop pulling down while you are trying to reach up… please!”

The relief was unreal. The embarrassment, however, stung a little.

I had been telling people to feel their body for years. And my right shoulder had been hurting, since, well, since I can remember— probably since that first Downward Dog in 2002.

When I was seven, my mom’s friend told me that I was going to be either a nun, or a comedian. Turns out, she wasn’t far off. My great grandmother used to say, if we ever swore, we would be permanently disqualified from the Ms. America pageant. I was 12 when I realized, what the f*ck? I don’t even want to be Ms. America!

But we hear these things and they get stuck in our little brains, and we try. I want to honor my effort, and yours.

It’s a beautiful thing, a source of inspiration — to hear a teaching and follow it.

And we have to start somewhere.

It’s good to follow teachings from wise teachers, but   the great risk is, if we only follow this advice, it could lead to a lifetime of flattening your poor little shoulder blade onto your back. And even worse, never feeling the freedom of reaching for the heavens.

I was married by the time I was 30. I owned my own home and I was making a six-figure salary. And nothing about my life felt right.

Eventually, we have to follow our own wisdom.

What I learned from the wisdom of my poor and long suffering little shoulder   is that it’s really hard to stop and feel, and harder still, to trust it . And sometimes, when you do feel, the world you live in might not support you in that endeavor.

We are trying really hard to do the right thing. We are using the best advice and the best teachings. We are sitting. We are reading. We are practicing. Diligently. Fastidiously.

But what if your shoulder doesn’t want to move that way?

The real answer is in there, in the reaction you get from how it feels   in your body—to feel a lot of empathy for how hard it is to stop doing what you think you should be doing, and start following what feels right.

At 38 I am divorced and living in a rental apartment. Technically, according the federal guidelines, I’m poor. Last year the federal government gave me all of my taxes back. And I’m happy. Everything about my life feels right.

Right now, in this moment — my wisdom is saying, “Yes. Keep going. This is the right way.” And that is all I get.

I wish it were more. I wish there were a manual with more clear instructions.

The truth is, I can’t tell you how to listen. I can only point.

What I can tell you with 100 percent certainty is: if you dedicate yourself to listening, one day, you will hear it. You will hear it, and you will recognize it.

That voice will probably encourage you to do something that scares you. And I really hope you do it.

I want us to cheer each other on, for diligently walking,  for trying to be more awake and alive in the world. For walking past the point where our teachers can teach us and into the land where we create from the source that is already, and always was, egging you on —from that whisper, that only you can hear.


Author: Meghann McNiff

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: With permission from Cecille Photography

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