“Meeting yourself where you are is a dance between complacency and perfectionism,
coupled with trusting that you are stronger than you think you are.” ~Sarah Plummer Taylor
I am a yoga skeptic, turned yoga student, turned yoga teacher. It’s been quite the evolution from my “it’s not worth exercising unless it kicks my butt” days to where I am now,15 years later.
I’m still both a student and a teacher at all times, though. I am a recovering perfectionist; I was raised by a career military father, strict mother, have been a competitive athlete my whole life, and became a United States Marine. I’ve got plenty of interesting baggage to work with. We all do. Realizing that I’m not special in that regard – that we’ve all got baggage, insecurities, and (mental and physical) injuries – has helped me immensely.
I’ve been injured – a lot. Sometimes I think I really shouldn’t even be alive. (No really, I’ve been hit by a car and struck by lightning, just to give you a couple of examples). I can get mired down in that story sometimes, though, believing I’m the only one who’s been through what I’ve been through. This is a total lie and is one that breeds separation from others.
Yoga, for all its feel good niceties, bendiness, and fit bodies, isn’t all sunshine and butterflies all the time. Yoga brings your shit up, too. It’s sort of supposed to but it doesn’t always mean that it will be a pleasant experience.
Yoga can be the refining fires that we need to walk through, but don’t want to.
The question is, how do meet the challenge of the fire without getting burned up?
Admittedly, I usually turn to yoga to make me feel better. When it doesn’t, I sometimes get mad. I think, “There’s no way anyone else in this room has sustained the injuries I have” or “no one’s been through what I’ve been through; my body is housing more trauma than yours.” I become defensive against the inaudible – yet very real – arguments and naysayers in my own head.
Honestly, I don’t look around a lot during yoga class – usually. But last month, I caught myself getting frustrated with my body and doing just that: looking and judging (myself). It was awful. Talk about a slippery slope! It took a millisecond to leap from “I am present, I am peaceful” to moving into a posture I couldn’t do (yet everyone else in the class seemed to be able to
do with aplomb) and thoughts of “wow, I am still so f-ed up and I’ll never be ‘good’ at yoga” to flood my brain.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and I’d have to agree. You don’t know what anyone else has or hasn’t been through. You don’t know if they were abused or loved, a dancer or a footballer, a newbie to the practice or an experienced guru. They could look like they’re doing the posture with ease, but be miserable on the inside. Or you could pity
someone for not being able to touch their toes, yet they could be thrilled with themselves that they’re even in a yoga class at all.
You have to meet yourself where you are and accept that in that moment, that’s what your mind and body is making accessible to you. “Meeting yourself where you are” is a dance between complacency and perfectionism, coupled with trusting that you are stronger than you think you are. It’s not even about finding balance, it’s about being comfortable with the rhythm of your authentic ebb and flow. Learning to find your intelligent edge that fosters growth, versus pushing yourself to further injury, can take a lifetime to master.
Striving for growth is very different than striving for perfection. “Perfect” is an outwardly focused standard based on others; growth is fueled by healthy introspection. Omni-present comparison isn’t a sustainable attitude. That’s what helps me let go of it. It’s tempting and seductively destructive to self-bash. But it’s not sustainable.
Accepting that comparison will kill you, along with these three simple yet powerful reminders, helps me work through painful and frustrating yoga classes. I hope they help you, too:
1.Good thing it’s all about the breath. Yes, it’s that simple. Thank God it is. I usually laugh when I catch myself self-destructing about something ridiculous (she is so much bendier than I am), and then I breathe. I take heart in knowing even if I just sit there without touching my nose to my toes, if I am breathing mindfully, then I am doing something good for myself.
2. Modifying doesn’t equal cheating. There are lot of yoga theories out there, some of which think that props are crutches. I strongly disagree. If I need to modify a posture by throwing a block under my booty or a strap ‘round my foot so I can enjoy the intended opening and keep my breath smooth at the same time, great, I’m gonna do it. Modifying without props by utilizing the diversity of our own body is another way to tangibly meet ourselves where we are.
3. This is your karma. Injuries are not your “karma” as in “what goes around comes around” or “you deserve this,” but as in “your healing is your karmic action.” As you heal, you make space for others to heal. Doing yoga for you is the action you can take to heal yourself, previous generations, and future generations.
We must change within before we can expect to change the world. Look, I can’t do forearm stand. I can’t do sundial. I cant do cow face pose. I most certainly cannot sit in full lotus. But I can move. I can breathe. And most days, I can meet myself where I am. When I do, I remember to allow for surprise. Sometimes, I can do full wheel without crushing pain in my low back. I have seven herniated discs in my back, a few of which are in my lumbar spine, and I had been convinced for years that urdhvadanurasana was one of those “pushing yourself to the point of pain” postures for me. That is, until I had a gifted teacher guide me and tell me to think of the opposite of fear as I am about to lift up into the pose. For me, that word is “courage.”
I silently say, “Courage, courage, courage” and every once in awhile, it gives me wings.
This is my yoga.
(image by EladeManu
Sarah Plummer Taylor is a motivational speaker, holistic health counselor, and yoga teacher who travels North America and the UK teaching resilience-building and integrative health and wellness. She is the co-owner of a wellness LLC that provides unique, somatic-based stress management workshops both domestically and internationally. From Capitol Hill to mainstream media to corporate, academic, and military communities, Sarah’s unique message of resilience has been changing lives since 2012. Sarah can be reached via her website www.SemperSarah.com or via @SemperSarah on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Also check out her newly published book! Just Roll With It: 7 Battle Tested Truths for Building a Resilient Life.
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