…I am just too busy;
…I need to lose some weight before I come to class;
…I am really unfit so I need to get a bit fitter;
…My body is too stiff, I can’t even touch my toes anymore;
…I can’t relax;
…The class is at the wrong time;
…I may as well wait until the next term/New Year;
…Everyone else knows what they are doing and I don’t;
…Everyone else is really good;
…I don’t really like my body at the moment;
…I am really tired and lacking in energy;
Sound familiar? I have met a number of people recently who have told me that they would like to get back to yoga but just can't quite make it happen. They don't even need me to remind them of the benefits as they know these for themselves and they tell me how much better they feel when they practice yoga regularly.
I am biased I know but there is also no doubt in my mind (or indeed my body and spirit) that a regular yoga practice helps to reduce the impact of stress, calm the mind, provide clarity, release tension, restore and increase strength and stamina in the body, stabilise the emotions and reduce the incidence of depression and anxiety.
So too that yoga helps to tone the ligaments, muscles and joints, correct posture, improve the flexibility of the spine, increase energy levels, balance the endocrine system, strengthen the immune system, heal the body, mind and spirit, liberate the heart, improve balance both on and off the mat, support the digestive system (and let us not forget that the ancient yogis believed that disease (dis-ease) begins in the digestive organs), wake us up (spiritually) and make us more conscious, help us to accept ourselves just as we are, realise our true potential, enable us to feel more connected to each other and to the greater whole so that we come to realise that we are all one, and improve our outlook on life and overall sense of wellbeing.
The trouble is the students who would like to return to class (the inner voice is telling them to in any event) have found a reason, an obstacle then, to challenge this return. This is not unusual, we encounter many obstacles on the spiritual path. But the funny things is that we tend to associate such obstacles as being placed in our way by someone or something else, we don’t necessarily consider that we are indeed our own obstacle, that we put our “stuff”, our story then, in the way. And the even funnier thing is the fact that this “stuff” is generally the reason we have been drawn to yoga in the first place.
The other trouble is we spend so much of our time dwelling on the past and living in the future, that we are always recalling how things were when we were a certain way (“how could I possibly come back to yoga when I am so unfit now compared to how I used to be”) and imagining how things will be when we are a certain way (“when I lose weight and am much slimmer then I will feel so much better about myself and willstart coming to class again”) and not just accepting how we are in this moment and getting on with it. But then there is always tomorrow.
And perhaps this is the problem, for there is always tomorrow, or next week, or next term, or next year, but aren’t we kidding ourselves to believe that playing for time will change things. Because isn’t it the yoga that helps to change things? By its very nature, yoga is transforming, it helps us to realise a little more of our potential by aligning our outer life with our inner calling, if we can only find the space and stillness to hear the inner calling that is…and that is often another problem, another sticking point, for yoga can become a little too confrontational at times.
You see yoga can make us naked to ourselves in the way it sheds light on our shadow side and encourages us to strip away the rubbish and all the stories (“this happened blah blah blah”) that prevents us accepting ourselves just as we are in this moment and taking responsibility for who we are, rather than blaming others (so and so did this to me, the “poor me” victim mentality) or berating ourselves for all our perceived inadequacies (because don’t we always want to be fitter or slimmer or more of this and more of that, or even less of this or less of that). Aren’t we often our own worst enemies with our self-judging and self-criticism, and our inability to forgive, let go and move on, that little inner voice berating us or bitter with blame for others.
So that sometimes yoga becomes a little too much for us to bear, not the yoga per se, although that can be very challenging too sometimes, the physicality of it, especially if we struggle to accept our limitations, but the healing that yoga can create. Not that we all come to yoga for healing of course, well not consciously perhaps, but yoga does offer much healing, and with that a healing crisis when things get worse before they get better so that frequently we are forced to really look very honestly at ourselves.
But this is where yoga is fantastic because it gives us the strength to make changes, to come face to face with our denial, to look at our life honestly and realise the bits that are making us unhappy, those bits that are out of balance or stuck, the toxic relationships, the unfulfilling careers, the lifestyles which no longer serve us, and sometimes it helps us to transform without having to make changes too, because sometimes change just happens, we blossom as we invite more light into our life, let go and allow the old to drop away (a little like butterflies coming out of their chrysalis and finding their wings). But sometimes it is just too much and we begin to walk away.
So what to do. Well acknowledging where we are it, being truthful then, is a good starting point. And then getting (back) to our mat. Just like that. This moment, now, just as we are, right now. And begin again. And when we are challenged, when the obstacles appear, well just breathe your way through it. Keep practicing. Keep the energy high. And when we fall down, we pick up and we get going again. That is life isn’t it. Our yoga practice is simply a reflection of our life. What happens on our mat, happens in our lives. Thinking too much, life out of balance? Well the balancing poses could be a struggle that day. Try thinking and balancing. Not easy!
So let’s just get back on our mats. If we have the intention, if we know it will be good for us, and heck we may even enjoy the experience, then just get going. However if we struggle to get going, if we cannot show up to our mat, just as we are, right now, warts and all, well perhaps we are not showing up in our lives, just as we are, either. If we are sabotaging our practice before it has even begun, what other aspects of our life are we sabotaging too? What prevents us taking that first step, making that first move, what encourages us to give up before we have even tried to get going?
In this regard I am reminded of a beautiful poem by Marianne Williamson called our “Our Deepest Fear”, which puts this all far more eloquently than me. I am quite sure this is a poem to which we can all relate at times in our lives:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
And this to me is the true joy of a regular yoga practice, of taking the time to truly be with yourself, present in this moment with all the “stuff”, with all the inner dialogue, all the insecurities, all the depressions and anxieties, all the stories and challenges, all the fears and dramas and questions and emotions that you are feeling, Just showing up is enough. Just lying on your mat is enough. Just being present is enough. The rest will come, you just need to take that first step. For yoga really is magic. You just have to begin.