This weekend I had the honor of participating in a Yoga Mala benefiting SATYA – Seacoast Area Teachers of Yoga in Action. I was a little nervous at the beginning just at the thought of doing 108 Sun Salutations. Doing 108 of anything is a pretty daunting task.
At the beginning, I was surprised at how well I was doing. Then around Sun Salutation #40, things started to go south. My back ached, and my spine became stiff. My shoulders and neck started to throb. I opted to take Child’s pose instead of Downward Facing Dog, and I carried on. Then, at about #80 my wrists began to burn and throb. I felt this urge to fight through it. I was so close to the end. Every time I extended and put weight on my wrists, I could feel the burning tension in the joint.
I could not go on.
I started to feel a wave of shame come over me. Other people can do it, why can’t you? In the past, this shame would be enough to make me Chaturanga until I was leaning on bloody stumps. I had to be honest with myself. I have a history of wrist and shoulder injury. The fact that I am able to hold a plank at all is something to be grateful for. Re-injuring myself so I could finish some a certain number of poses is not only foolish, but quite egotistical.
I opted to do simple Cakravakasanas (on my fists so my wrists would be straight) instead of planks. The next day, my back, wrists, and shoulders felt fine, and I wonder if the outcome would have been the same if I had chosen to push through more planks.
Later that night, I was reading more about the ethical practice of yoga in Deborah Adele’s Yamas and Niyamas. In the chapter on Satya (or truthfulness), I had one sentence underlined, a quote by Carl Jung: “What is so dangerous in the moment about the truth that you are choosing to lie?”
For much of my life, I have lied. I needed to be good at everything. I needed everyone to like me. This takes a LOT of dishonesty (with others and myself) to live this way. I never had a malicious intent. I just wanted to be accepted. There’s an old saying, “If everyone likes you, you are lying about something.” Unfortunately, I was lying about a lot of things. In my yoga practice, I wanted to do it all. I wanted to do things that weren’t possible in the moment, and I attempted those things to great harm to myself.
So, what was dangerous about the truth at the Yoga Mala? There’s still that place inside that feels like self care is a sign of weakness. Taking a break or doing something different than everyone else would put a target on me, draw criticism from others, show people that I am an imperfect human being. Simply stated, being honest does not feel safe. People feel these things all the time, and we explain them away with, “Who care’s what other people think?” Well, I cared. That’s honesty. I want to be accepted. I want admiration. That is truthfulness in this moment.
Now that I know this truth about myself, it does not mean that I should go around demanding that everyone loves me because that’s what is honest. The very next yama is Asteya or nonstealing. I cannot take from you what I cannot give myself. I cannot steal compassion, admiration, and care from you. I have to grow it on my own and accept it for myself. While I’ve never shoplifted in my life, I’ve spent years stealing from others in this way. I didn’t have a compliment to give myself, so I demanded that you give me one. At the Yoga Mala, I decided to stop. I gave myself a break. I gave myself care, compassion, and admiration.
Change doesn’t happen by violently pushing through negativity. We have to be honest and take responsibility for our own well-being. It doesn’t matter if you are weak, a liar, or a thief. When you acknowledge all of these parts of yourself, compassionately sit with and own their place within you, they will stand aside.