I often hear people say, “I can’t try yoga. I’m not flexible” (or, “I can’t sit still,” “I’m not strong enough,” “I can’t balance”). What I hear them saying is, “I don’t know how to do something counter to the way I normally do,” and often, this is exactly what yoga asks of us.
Think of yoga as a kind of counterbalance to the stories we create about our self. Coming to the mat, we are not necessarily trying to bring some level of goodness to the mat, or to enhance the story we already live–the one that reinforces the hurried, stressful, unbalanced, and frenetic lifestyle many of us rush around in. Rather, we are discovering a new story, one that unfolds slowly if we are present to observe the possibilities.
What if for the time that we’re on the mat, we allow ourselves to explore flexibility, strength, and presence? The power to explore is one that leaves us open to possibility, curious about what may be. And what if this time we take for exploration leaves us more calm, able to sit still a bit longer, without running wild in our thoughts? Then perhaps this is a new story we get to learn of our self.
Yoga does ask us to live in a way that is counter to the normal weight of our life. And this is how it brings us into balance even when we’ve come to the mat with preconceived ideas of our self, looking as we so often do, to be “good” at something. In our exploration, we can learn instead to be real, and to discover that being real is a whole lot more interesting than being good, or being a boxed in entity that is always one thing or another, flexible or inflexible, calm or crazy. It’s doubtful that we’ll fall into an abyss if we allow our boundaries to be pushed to the edge. Rather, coming to the edge, our boundaries expand; we expand and become better able to accept and appreciate all the layers we possess. Yoga is this expansion.
Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese,” reminds us of this:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.