Before I began my teacher training, I had a lot of expectations. I thought that in six months I was going to be doing handstands, Chaturangas, and sticking my leg over my head because that’s what this yoga stuff is all about, right? Well my training came and went, and I quickly realized that not only was I not going to be doing a headstand anytime soon, but that this yoga stuff was about so much more. It isn’t really about performing a pose at all.
I started my training with a pretty low level of physical fitness. Exercise was always a means to lose weight for me, and definitely not a lifestyle or a way of living. So, like my constant on and off relationship with dieting, I was on and off with moving my body. I usually would work unrealistically hard for a bit until I injured myself, and then I would give up until I felt I was unbearably too fat. This cycle repeated for years. My teacher training really showed me how much I had abused my body. Most poses were painful. I couldn’t even lay flat on my back in corpse pose without being in discomfort. My shoulders ached, and my low back would throb. My hands would go numb.
That internal dialogue would start about how I should be able to be without pain, but there I was experiencing pain. I had to make the choice (a choice I have to consciously still make everyday) to check my ego at the door, and simply do what was in my ability to do in that moment. I had many fears about making this choice. I was afraid everyone would think I was lazy. I feared not being able to do these poses well enough to teach them. The simple body position isn’t what yoga practice is about, the confrontation of the fears that the position brings about is where the practice of yoga truly begins.
Today, Kino MacGregor said this on her Instagram about advanced asanas:
“…asanas are tools to gaze within your inner self not the goal in and of themselves…I believe we need to experience ourselves at the edge of our comfort zone in order to access the limitless self within.”
Challenge reveals our own nature to ourselves. It’s easy to be positive when things are going smoothly, but when we are uncomfortable, tired, or in pain, all those limiting beliefs rear their ugly heads. I’m not saying we should seek physical pain or discomfort. For many of us, sitting still for just a few seconds is all that is required for all those destructive thoughts to come up. I was uncomfortable just laying down. The discomfort forced me to examine my behavior (constantly trying to push through pain), and choose a kinder behavior for myself (modifying a pose). Then, I had fears about modifying poses which caused discomfort of the mental kind, and the process repeated itself. Physical sensation was the gateway into discovering my mental limitations. Working through these mental limitations is like peeling an onion layer by layer. There are times when you may think, “Oh, I’ve totally dealt with that event/thought/fear/relationship.” Then you are sitting in Pigeon pose, and it all comes flooding back again. It’s just another layer to peel away, and with breath and stillness it is possible.
Yoga is not just physical postures. It’s a tool in the toolbox. Through challenging oneself, all of our baggage bubbles to the surface, and yoga shows us with breath and focus how to examine and sit with our deepest beliefs about ourselves and the world. It is the catalyst, yet it is also the way through our fears to finally meet ourselves.