Why you should stop pushing yourself to fit your preconceived notions of what “good yoga” looks like.
I was teaching a yoga class recently when I asked the students to move from a standing position to a seated position. As I moved myself to the floor, I lost my balance a little and dropped with a hard thump, leg cocked out at an odd angle.
“You don’t have to be graceful as you move,” I told the class as I laughed at myself. “But try to be mindful.”
There’s a concept in yoga philosophy called “Satya” or “truthfulness”. Satya is more than just what we usually think about as truthfulness. It also encourages us to speak, act, and think with integrity. It’s about seeing things as they actually are right now, not as we wish they were. It’s about seeing things as they actually are right now, not as we wish they were.
The truth is, I’m not particularly graceful. I say that not to insult myself, but to recognize the truth that we are all, at times, not particularly graceful. We have all had times where we lose our balance or get distracted. We have our clumsy moments, no matter how much we might wish we were all as graceful as we imagine we should be.
Bringing this concept of truthfulness, or seeing things as they are right now, feels very important to me as a yoga teacher. Instead of a fitness mindset where we are striving to look at a certain way or move a certain way, yoga is, for me, about striving to be truthful about where I am right now, today, and what works for my own body.
I often teach tree pose in my Strength and Balance class. Some days I feel completely balanced and strong. I can brace the sole of one foot against the inseam of the opposite leg and stretch my arms up to the sky. Other days I have my hand braced on a chair and my toes on the ground like a kickstand.
Both days I’m listening to the truth of my body.
I could force myself to lift my leg up higher and try to force myself into something that doesn’t feel comfortable for me that day. Or I could feel like I’m “less than” because I’m taking an alternative version of the pose. Instead, I believe my body when it tells me what version of tree pose is going to work for it that day.
For years I beat myself up in yoga classes. I couldn’t bend the same way others bend. I didn’t look as graceful and balanced as other people. I held onto this belief that if I pushed myself hard enough I could look like everyone else. Then I realized that I would have a better experience if I was truthful with myself about my body and what it could do. The truth is that my body is different. I have a fused spine. I’m in my 50s. I’m living in a larger body.
My body is unique, and so is yours.
Next time you catch yourself forcing your body into a way it doesn’t comfortably move, or the next time you compare yourself to another student, I invite you to take a breath and ask yourself what is your truth? How does your body move? What does your body need today? How can you be mindful instead of graceful? Then do that instead.