About 20 years ago I did a lot of yoga. I spent a month at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health doing a Holistic Health Teacher Training where we did three hours of yoga a day. My body was open and flexible.
Then I came home and I just stopped. I don’t know if it was because I was living in a different area and there wasn’t a yoga center that I particularly liked, or that I was just depressed to get back to my life at the time. It doesn’t matter really—I just stopped.
Occasionally over the years I would try a class with a friend, where I would quickly find that my body could not do what it did 10, 15, or 20 years ago when I was doing tons of yoga each day—go figure? And in light of that discovery I did the smart thing … I didn’t go back.
OK, as you can well imagine, this was actually dumb on several levels. First and foremost, yoga is a spiritual practice. In Sanskrit yoga means union or connection; bringing together our physically manifested selves with our eternal divine nature. I see it as the art of grounding in my body while also expanding into my spiritual essence. So the first dumb thing–I was robbing myself of this practice because of my feelings of not good enough.
The second dumb thing—how did I expect my body to perform as it once did the first time back? It was out of practice with the practice.
And the third dumb thing—how was anything going to change (in this case for my body to become more flexible and open) if I didn’t do anything different? I had the feeling of not good enough, and then I compounded that by beating myself up about it, rather than doing something that would make me feel better (like yoga).
I’m sure there are more dumb things I could list but I’ll stop there.
A while back I bit the bullet and went on a retreat with the center where I first learned yoga, and I got back in touch with the beauty of this spiritual practice. But what I also found profoundly beautiful was being able to accept my body exactly where it was, and do what I could without judgment.
I trusted my body and allowed myself to try things I didn’t know if I could do, feeling OK if I “failed” (which was mostly just me falling over). I trusted my body to try poses that felt scary, with assistance, while also trusting that my teacher would not let me fall from a more precarious position. Furthermore, I accepted that I needed help. I relaxed into my body and enjoyed it, rather than judging and loathing it.
So, let’s see. What do you think sounds better—being critical of and hateful towards our bodies because they aren’t exactly where we think and believe they should be, or being accepting of our bodies and enjoying what they can do, while experimenting with the possibilities of what they might?
Many of us hold our bodies to such high standards of what they should look like and be able to do, making getting there a seemingly insurmountable task. And in the meantime we spend our days berating and hating ourselves for not meeting this impossible standard.
Science now shows us that our beliefs, thoughts, and words do create the physical reality we live in. Knowing that, imagine the effect of all that negative focus on our bodies.
I would never treat another person that way. Why did I think it was OK to treat myself so harshly? On top of that, it feels terrible. And that’s where I was creating my next moment from.
It is now well over a year later and I am still going to yoga. I have enjoyed the transformation as my body opens up. Poses that used to scare me are easier now, and slowly I have made small attempts at poses I once deemed impossible for this body. Inversions, for some reason, still seem to scare the bejesus out of me.
Today I made the yeah, I’ll get right on that face at my teacher when he suggested a headstand. I watched everybody else do it, giving accolades all around. Then I thought, don’t be dumb—you can just try it.
I did a headstand. I did a HEADSTAND!
With assistance of course, so I didn’t go flying off the face of the earth. But I did a headstand because I accepted my body and whatever it was able to do in the moment, I trusted my teacher, and I trusted myself.
To me, this feels like a much better way to be in the world. How about you?
And the moral of this story: as a very wise friend said when talking about the philosophy of living a more awake and peaceful life, his suggestion was, “Don’t do dumb things”. I think it’s a mantra to live by.
Gwen is a Reiki Master and Emotional Balance Practitioner, Certified Holistic Health Educator, author, blogger, and green juice connoisseur who is passionate about supporting others to lead more peaceful and joyful lives, with a special focus on helping women release the cycle of chronic dieting and make peace with food and body. Gwen lives in Newburyport, MA where she writes about how everyday events can lead to transformation if we only pay attention.