"Limitation is a creation of the mind", was my mantra during my intense yoga teacher training in Australia all those years ago now.
I found those words on a yoga card, above a photo of an Indian yogi contorting his body into an incredibly challenging balanced position so that limitation could only be perceived as a limitation of the mind certainly not his body!!
My yoga teacher, Lance Schuler, who led the teacher training course was an inspiration in embodying the concept that limitation is indeed a creation of the mind and this concept underpinned his teachings so that students were encouraged to challenge their limitations throughout their yoga practice, because it really is incredible what shows up...if you are curious enough to be interested in the workings of your own mind...and courageous enough to acknowledge how you limit yourself both on and off your mat.
This has showed up for me a few times in the last few months. The first time was at a yoga class with the legendary Stewart Gilchrist who reminds me of Lance, they both have a full on approach to the practice and personally I love this for it challenges me on many levels.
This class was certainly challenging and I noticed the narrative, you know, that often relentless background chatter of judgements and analysis and all that stuff that can show up during a class. We were practicing in Dog Eared studios near Kings Cross, a fab authentic yoga space then, and I'd say that the majority of students had, or were in the process of, training with Stew and there was certainly a sense that these students were very dedicated in their practice, and rather fit too. So my narrative went a little like this:
"This is ridiculous, far too strong, its all about the body, look at that girl there, she's so flexible, must be a dancer, look at her pushing herself into that pose, what does it matter if you can do the pose or not do the pose. Good grief Stew, give it a break, this is all far too masculine and strong for me today, not sure this practice is doing me any favours, there is far too much ego in this room, look at Stew adjusting that guy, wow, incredible that his body does that, my body doesn't do that...
...I'm so much older than the other students, I'm so tired, these days, I bet these other students weren't woken by their 2 year olds 3 times last night, and I'm still breastfeeding and I need to conserve my energy so there is no point trying to get into those poses, what does it matter, far too much ego, I'm not good enough to be here anymore, this is far too strong, I need a gentler class these days, more meditative perhaps, for students of my age"...and on and on it went. Until. It dawned. On. Me. That...
I had started limiting myself.
It was like a light bulb going off in my head.
Turning 40 had made me feel a little old and with that I felt a little stuck in my comfort zone, like this is it, how it's always going to be. Little did I realise it was me, my very own mind, creating all this. It's just a number and this is just another phase...and deep down I know there is a lot more ahead...one just has to learn to step into, and beyond, the fear ("limitation is a creation of the mind").
With that awareness, in that moment in that class, I surrendered. You'll know what I mean if you've ever been there. The tears came up, the frustration was there, I terribly sorry for myself and uncomfortable, but I stuck with it, the realisation came, and I resolved then and there that I was done with limiting myself. The narrative dissipated, my attitude changed, my mood picked up, I started enjoying the practice and challenging myself to go that bit further again, and inevitably I left the class on a massive yoga high...everything felt possible again...and this is the reason I love yoga, it takes you beyond your own limitations if you allow it...
I was reminded of this concept of moving beyond limitations when I watched the film about Stephen Hawkins' life. He is a truly inspiring man, so too his first wife and the manner in which they embraced all of a life, and didn't limit themselves despite the potential limitations imposed on them by Stephen's health and prognosis.
It really is an interesting one for me. The mind is so powerful in shaping and creating our reality.
This showed up again for me more recently on our skiing trip. I have terrifying memories of skiing completely out of control in the day or so I have skied with one of my best friend's in Canada without any formal lessons. So going back to the mountains, in the French Alps this time, was a terrifying concept in my mind.
And despite the one-to-one lessons with my sister-in-law who happens to be a ski instructor, I noticed that my mind kept clinging on to what had happened I the past so I would see a steep section of the piste ahead of me and the fear would kick in and I would limit myself accordingly.
So I worked a lot with this and kept reminding myself that fear is simply a creation of the mind - False Evidence Appearing Real - and that if I focused on the present, there was no place for it to take a hold.
It wasn't easy. But this awareness did make a difference.
And what I also noticed is that when you start thinking, in skiing as with yoga, you are more likely to lose your balance and equanimity and fall over into the snow, or off your mat!
So for me, skiing became a meditative present moment, mindful activity. When I could get in the zone, there was nothing other than me and the mountain and this beautiful cold fresh air I was breathing in.
And then I'd start thinking and I would probably have to make a speedy recovery from the bad turn, or fall over and land in the snow! [I have a cracked rib to prove this...now there's a lesson all in itself, not least to keep one's poles well out of the way!!]
So it really fascinates me how much we limit ourselves in our yoga practice and in our lives generally. And it fascinates me even more how we try to overlook the limitations we have created, or the excuses we make for it, or the extent to which we deny it. And there is such a correlation between our self-imposed limitations and our fears (remember - false evidence appearing real) and the choices we make in how we live our lives and therefore the way our lives unfold.
Here's a lovely extract from Dawna Markova's book, "Reclaiming Purpose and Passion" which touches a little on this:
"What would it be like to open our hearts to our fear, to befriend it with wonder, as one would a deer in the forest? What if you could bring it right into the hearth of your awareness instead of ignoring it and thus allowing it to become an undifferentiated mass of demon that gang up on you in the murk? Stuffed behind walls, fear becomes a horde - the Demons of Doubt who will trample you under stories of what others think, of your endless failures, impending humiliation, and lost control. Together and ignored, they will drive you out of your own life. But when you invite them into the layered light of your awareness, they can't join together and rule you from the shadows".
So happy stepping beyond the self-imposed limitations and fear. It's all very exciting. And if you fall down, then just remember to get back up again. I certainly had to do that to get myself back down the mountain!!!
With gratitude to Lance, Stew and Kate for teaching me a little more to step beyond the limitations.