I’ve been practicing yoga on and off for about five years now, and I’m finally doing it regularly thanks to treating myself to a Unisport membership. Eventually I’d like to get ultra crunchy with it and go to an actual studio, but for the moment I appreciate the opportunity to practice with several different teachers and figure out what I want and need from both the teacher and myself.
It’s been a little different than when I’ve been doing it before, and I think the language definitely has something to do with that. It’s harder to get into the meditative state of mind when you constantly have this cognitive burden of trying to understand. But luckily the teachers I’ve been practicing with regularly all have their own style and rhythm and I’ve gotten accustomed to them. At the same time my Finnish is getting much better–if not speaking it, definitely in understanding it–and I’ve acquired enough yoga-related vocabulary to tune out my translating brain and just understand within the language during class.
I’ve just recently started feeling strong again, which is a big deal for me because I’ve spent most of my life thinking that if I present myself as timid and unthreatening, not too much would be expected of me so I wouldn’t be able to fail. I haven’t always expected much of myself either; or rather, I haven’t really pushed myself. I haven’t taken myself seriously, although it’s ironic because one of the things that I’m most afraid of is not being taken seriously by people I respect. But I don’t think that you can really succeed, living like that. Taking risks is not always the same thing as being irresponsible, and confidence is not the same as arrogance.
Nevertheless, the past few weeks have been difficult. I’m finally getting into a rhythm, I think, but of course all the regular stresses of my life are still there. I’ve caught myself in the just world fallacy more often than I’d like to admit, and it’s tough to find a balance between putting in effort to improve myself, and finding peace with things as they are when life is not so easy. Once you’ve gotten into the attitude of being mindful, it becomes extra-painful to see all of the things you’re doing wrong. I tend to blame myself for even the littlest things, and putting a lot of effort into things like keeping organized, regular yoga practice, getting up at 6:30 every day (I am NOT a morning person), and feeling like I have to prove myself in work–putting effort and investing emotion into these things increases the chances of little things going less than perfectly. It’s so hard to balance the idea of being humble (but not self-deprecating) and at the same time content with yourself (but with awareness of how you can improve). I think the balance will come with time, and practice.
I’ve been feeling like I need a mantra lately, something positive for the voice in my head to say when I need to tune out its usual egoistic criticisms. The Monday morning yoga instructor likes to do a lot of poses that open the chest, which has a lot of emotional significance for me. I especially love the combination of Parsvottanasana and deep back bends. I feel like a tall, graceful animal bowing to a master with humility and then opening up in ultimate vulnerability. And for some reason this morning the mantra came to me. Something that is both a challenge and a gift for me: you have to let go before you can receive.
I have so much trouble with both of these ideas. I’ve never liked to get gifts really, especially expensive gifts. It’s always just felt awkward unless it’s something I really needed. I’ve always been very sensitive to sins of greed and gluttony: I think someone made a comment to me once as a child that I had eaten the last cookie and they had wanted it, and to this day I have trouble taking the last of anything in case someone else might want it. Even in my own house, where I’m the only one who might want it later. I don’t put much store in material things, and I’ve never wanted more than I needed; I don’t see the point. I feel that if I work hard, I deserve as much as I need to survive, and the rest might as well go to someone else.
But letting go is hard too; I think now that there’s a difference between forcing yourself to push everything away–willful deprivation, in a sense–and letting go of control, of expectations, of all the negative things. It’s okay to let go of the negative. There is no reason to punish yourself with negative thoughts and feelings, with blame, with regret. There’s no reason to hold on to unproductive negativity. And yet, the idea of having deserved punishment is always there, isn’t it? It’s so easy to arm yourself with blame and self-destructive feelings. If you’re the one hurting yourself the most, what can anyone else do to you? It hurts, but at least it’s a familiar hurt. If you think that you don’t deserve anything, how can you be open to accepting good things? You have to let go of that spiky shell of negativity and expose your squishy little hopeful insides in order to be able to receive good things.
And that’s what I like best about yoga, I think. We know from psychology that posture is a powerful thing; it can change our moods, change our attitudes, change our minds. It can change what happens to us. The body and the mind are intimately connected, so putting your body through a sequence of physical poses forces you to work through the mental and emotional correlates. Balance poses and inversions require you to trust yourself to hold your own weight, to look at the world from (literally) a different perspective. Binds teach you that even though you may stretch and twist in ways you never thought were possible, you’ll survive–you won’t break. Resting poses teach you to quiet the internal flurry of thoughts and feelings that too many of us (me included) tend to shove deep down and trap there, like dirty laundry festering at the bottom of the hamper.
I love the flexibility–physical and mental–and the allowance for individuality, and the ability to really focus on what you need at the moment to work through your life, to make things better. I’m realizing as the years go by that the future is even more unpredictable than we would think. When I was 15, I had my whole life planned out already. It was a good plan, but it took one thing for granted: that I would not change. I don’t think my 15-year-old self would even recognize me, and there’s no way she could have predicted that nearly 10 years later, she would be living in Finland, doing yoga, working on a PhD, having all of the experiences that I’ve had since then and the experiences that current me can’t even imagine yet. Even just a few years ago I’ve fallen into the same trap of thinking that because things aren’t going to plan, I’ve failed. And still, even now, I get anxious about issues that can affect my plans for my future. But the funny thing about time is that it keeps moving forward, and as I like to say, something will happen. It may not be good, it may not be what you expected, but things will continue to happen and eventually you’ll find a way to work it out.