Sometimes when I’m teaching I’ll see people try to push beyond their flexibility, even at the expense of breathing deeply. They’ll turn purple and grimace, but they won’t back off. If you’re holding on for dear life, there’s no way you can simultaneously relax and release tension, and there’s no way you can feed a loving voice.
There are so many things that can drive people to override the messages their bodies are sending them. Culturally we’re trained to do that very thing, “No pain, no gain.” It’s suggested to us that we’re in some kind of fight with our bodies, that we have to dominate in order to win, and it’s sad because you live in your body. That’s your home. You really don’t want to be at war inside your own house, but a lot of people live that way, disconnected from the greatest source of wisdom they have.
If you grew up in a family where there were no boundaries, where you felt powerless or scared or like your feelings had no impact on the people and the world around you, you might have a very difficult time recognizing a sign to back off. What would that even look like or feel like? If you’ve been living your whole life having your feelings trampled upon, would you even recognize it if your body was asking you to stop? Or would it seem like second nature to ignore the way you feel? I mean, maybe you’re just totally used to this wrestling match between your intuition and your personality. Your body is saying no, and this “you” you identify with is saying, “hell, yes”. Maybe you don’t know how to honor your feelings, maybe that idea never occurred to you.
If you grew up thinking love was conditional, that it had to be earned, that you could lose it on a dime if you screwed up, you’re going to carry that into every aspect of your life. Sometimes people come up to me after class and apologize for being tired. “I’m sorry I couldn’t bring it today. I’m exhausted.” What? This is your practice. This is your time to nurture yourself. To listen deeply and respond with honesty and compassion. You don’t owe me anything, I’m here for you. You don’t owe me a “strong” class or a lot of energy or nine hundred chaturangas. It has nothing to do with me. You certainly don’t owe me an apology. I’ll take a hug if you want to give me one, but that’s it. We’re square. You showed up and listened to your body? I’m thrilled. Job well done. Go home and get a good night’s sleep. Let’s do it again tomorrow.
Having said all that, I understand the inclination to want to please, to earn, to push yourself so you’re worthy of love. Of course you are worthy of love, you’re made of love, I really believe that; worthiness isn’t even an issue, but you might not know that yet. I lived like that for many years. I played that out with countless teachers, in school, in ballet studios, and in yoga studios, too. I may have apologized for being tired once or twice before I understood what I was doing, before I realized I was bringing all my stuff onto my mat and turning my practice into another place where I beat myself up. It took me years to see that.
The beauty of a consistent yoga practice is that your mat becomes a mirror. It reflects back to you all the places where you still have healing to do, all the tendencies that aren’t serving you. It gives you quiet time to observe the world within you without categorizing or labeling, just some time to look around and take it in and notice the quality of the relationship you’re having with yourself. To listen to your internal dialogue from a distance, and to starve any voice within you that is unkind, that’s screaming, “Yes you will!”, when your body is saying, “Please, not yet.” Whatever you feed will grow and strengthen, and your practice is a place where you can devote yourself to feeding love, to filling your tank with patience, awareness, honesty and compassion so that you spread those things wherever you go. The beauty is that it’s a gift you give to yourself, your healing process, but it’s also a gift to everyone you encounter, which is why I believe it’s really our work to heal. It’s our responsibility to get right with ourselves so we can offer up the love. The world needs as much love as we can bring to it. It doesn’t need more aggression, denial, or repression, but if you think the world around you could be more peaceful, there’s only one place I know of to start–the world within you.
Sending you love,