This is an excerpt from my book, “Alchemy of Yoga: Living yoga off the mat.”
It’s hard to trust — the Universe, other people, even ourselves — when we’re fearful. When the mind constantly tries to protect us from repeating painful experiences of the past, we struggle to trust the intuitive urge to explore, go deeper, surrender into authenticity. Easier to stay on the edges, playing it safe.
When a fear is triggered and the need arises to control the outcome of a situation, the low back will tense. I have spent entire classes working on various forward folds to open the hamstrings and low back. The intention was to expand flexibility, build self-trust, and explore safety and security. With both feet firmly rooted onto the mat in uttinasana, standing forward fold, you can discover a place of support and safety.
Start the uttinasana by bending the knees and practicing compassion by supporting the hamstrings, not overly stretching them. Slowly and mindfully, try to straighten the legs. Each time you bend your knees and gently straighten them, you practice self-trust and honor the body by asking your body, “Where do you want to open in this moment and do you feel supported enough to do that?”
I ask the class to honor what they feel, adding supports as needed, removing them as they feel comfortable. The more flexible their legs became, the more length their spine achieved, making the pose both flexibleandstrong. They found more space and less resistance in their own body.
I started to notice something interesting in both myself and the students. As we continue to practice self-trust and self-compassion on the mat, our bodies becoming more flexible, it correlates off the mat. We become more gentle and patient with ourselves and others, willing to trust our intuition, and to take more risks in being vulnerable.
An exploration on the mat of “what else is there?” led me to a journey of infinite possibilities off the mat. I no longer approached life rigidly; black or white, good or bad, dark or light, right or wrong. Within each experience, I saw the complexity of people, places, and things.
I discovered that I could hold a space for love even with people I neither liked, nor agreed with in our world views. With the people I was closer to who traditionally triggered me, I started setting healthy boundaries. They had the right to their own beliefs and rigidity, but I didn’t have to play on that playground with them anymore. I started playing different games, more loving and joyful. As my energy elevated, I noticed they either tried to pull me down or avoided me all together. When they couldn’t pull me down, they walked away. Misery loves company and I was no longer good company.
What was interesting was I started attracting new people into my life who vibrated at a similar or higher energy, fueling my momentum. As I continued to explore and soften my outer (formerly hardened) edges, I opened into possibilities. Curiosity and playfulness overtook the space where fear had driven my thoughts and beliefs.
Every shoulder stretch, forward fold, and backbend opened my heart and mind a little more. The more I listened to my body’s needs, the more self-trust I established. That translated off the mat, too. I began to notice I wasn’t taking things so personally, either. I started dropping the stories I made up about my experience and started searching for factual data.
Begin to challenge yourself by asking “I wonder if that’s really true?” every time you find a difficult asana that scares you or you think you can’t do. Take the question off the mat for anything you think impossible or unlikely. Most of the time, it will only partially true, if at all. Your world on and off the mat will expand vastly with each challenge.
As I became more “bendy,” I weathered the storms that came and went in my life with greater ease. I would ask with curiosity, “I wonder what the lesson is here? Why would I choosethisexperience, consciously or subconsciously?” Just like when I would lean into my inflexible places on the mat, I would simply deepen my breath and listen, exploring what was there in that moment, in that space. Sometimes I could find more space to explore and sometimes I would hit my resistance and back off.
In those later moments, I always knew that if I was willing to return at some point things would likely be different. They usually were. Just because you hit the wall in one moment, doesn’t mean you’ll always hit the wall. It’s just a moment and that moment changes quickly. We simply need to return to the breath and be willing to listen. The flexibility will be there when it’s time. The question is, will you?
Flexibility starts by being willing to show up and explore. It takes strength to show up, again and again. If you’re willing to show up, we can start exploring how to develop the strength needed to keep showing up.