Throughout my 10+ years of yoga practice, my body has changed dramatically. I’ve gone down then up again around 100 pounds and I like to think that I’ve done my best to practice and more importantly to celebrate my body through all of its iterations. However, I can’t lie to you and say that my practice has been the same throughout – there are certain things that I can do now that I couldn’t do five years ago, and there are a lot of things that I used to be able to do during what I jokingly call my “yoga rock star” days that I can’t do now. And some poses that I was sure I’d never do again.
But “can’t” is a funny word, right? It’s so decisive, final even, and doesn’t leave a lot of room for change. When I say to myself, “I can’t”, it’s really loaded with, “I won’t try”, “I won’t risk”, “circumstances won’t ever be different”, “there’s nothing I can do” etc…
Yoga is an amazing and fascinating practice for many reasons, but what I find brings me back again and again is that often the lessons are anything but subtle. Sometimes, breakthroughs come to me softly, in a moment of zen – but a lot more often I find myself getting smacked in the face (not literally – mostly) with an answer or understanding or proof that my own perception is just that – a perception. A self-imposed limitation that has nothing to do with satya (“truth” in sanskrit).
This past weekend I did a workshop on the lymphatic system and yoga for immunity with my teacher, Tias Little. Tias is a remarkable teacher for many reasons, but first and foremost in my view is that he knows bodies. I find that his instincts and instructions are always spot on and he can look at me for 2 seconds, suggest the most minor of adjustments and then, bam, it all makes sense. Despite that, even throughout my year of intensive study during teacher training, kicking up to inversions was my nemesis. So when I heard that we were going to work on headstand and forearm stand during the workshop I groaned (out loud – yes I can be that student).
Here’s the thing. I LOVE inversions – the energy, the strength and the fun! You’ve seen me use chairs to do a headstand but for a long time, that was the only inversion I could kick up to unassisted. Five years ago, however, I was the inversion queen. Handstands? Yes please! I used to kick up to handstands constantly – even in other people’s houses. When I was studying for finals in grad school, I practiced headstands and handstands to give myself energy to push through one more hour of review. Until one day, I couldn’t do it anymore. I tried, and tried again and tried again until I got so frustrated, so angry – devastated that my inversion practice had abandoned me. After a while I gave up, because it was too painful to keep failing at something I loved so much.
So I haven’t really tried to kick up in years – a few half-hearted attempts in teacher training were enough for me to confirm the “I can’t” I assigned to the practice. And then there was this weekend. I’ve been working on my upper body strength lately in my practice so I thought I might be brave enough to give the variation of forearm stand Tias proposed a whirl. Not surprisingly, I didn’t kick up on the first try. Then Tias suddenly appeared and moved my block a few inches further away from the wall. I looked at him a little perplexed and skeptical but I tried it again. Bam – I kicked up successfully. What?! I was so shocked I almost fell on my head. So I came down, thinking that I might have imagined it. But I did it again, and again and then when I got home from the workshop, I did it again in my hallway.
I can’t tell you how surprised I was – I did the only thing I could think of – posted it all over facebook! I needed to record this shattering of what I thought was truth somehow and share the real truth – that I really have no idea what is possible. Yoga isn’t really about the poses, of course, but it is about what the poses can show us about ourselves. The possibilities really are endless, but I have to allow yourself the opportunity to find them.
Done anything lately that you didn’t think was possible? Anything you have been holding back from trying because you don’t think you can do it? Let us know in the comments!