As a yoga instructor, I often provide modifications for people that need them because of physical ailments or limitations. I am now the one in need of those modifications. As a result of a freak accident, I am now the proud owner of a fractured foot and sacrum (AKA butt).
What this means as a teacher…a mega dose of humility. I have always tried to be empathetic, but this is my first-hand experience with pain, limitations, and frustration with my own abilities. This has been a real eye opener. A few weeks ago, I was working on an arm balance called Astavakrasana (eight-angle pose), today, Uttanasana (standing forward bend) is my challenge.
This experience made me call to mind a quote from yoga and meditation teacher, Anne Cushman: "These days, my practice is teaching me to embrace imperfection: to have compassion for all the ways things haven't turned out as I planned, in my body and in my life - for the ways things keep falling apart, and failing, and breaking down. It's less about fixing things, and more about learning to be present for exactly what is." Wow, that’s a lot to process, right? Sometimes, we can ‘fix’ things, but more often than not, it’s about living with our reality and being kind to our self, despite our situations.
Western culture often presents us this idea that it’s all about mind over matter. That we can power through anything with enough boorish strength, grit and determination. Sometimes that idea can serve us, other times, it can harm the psyche, body, or both of a person. In yoga many of us ascribe to the Eight Limbs of Yoga, set forth In Patanjali's Yoga Sutra. I immediately think of the first limb, Yamas, and the limb of Ahimsa (non-violence). Part of non-violence includes ‘do no harm,’ entreating us to live in such a way that we cause no harm in thought, speech, or action to any living being, including ourselves. Negative self-talk, pushing too hard, comparing oneself to others. These are all examples of how we can harm our self. I talk about this, because I really did struggle with this in the first few days after I got injured. I became aware of it, dialed it back, and 3 weeks out, think I have a sort of handle on it.
The other big takeaway from Anne’s thought is “to be present.” I constantly remind students to leave the world and its burdens at the door of the yoga studio, and to set their intentions at the beginning of a practice and to guard against a wandering mind. Do we manage to carry that idea of being present into the world once we leave the studio? I will acknowledge, I thought I was doing a better job at being present than I really was. This little hurdle that life has presented me with gave me lots of time to realize that being present, free of distractions, wandering thoughts, and having a general awareness for the moment was not happening as often in my life as I would have hoped. Instead of thinking about what I could be doing, I focused on what was going on around me. Having friends and family visit, seeing their love and kindness and embracing it in the moment. Watching my children play, engaging them more, and not thinking about another task that needed completion. Listening. Not just to the words others spoke, but the sounds around me, the moments of silence, and my body.
How does this translate to our practice? Be kind to yourself. Don’t get stuck in the “I wish I could,” or the “when I was 20, I could…” or “Look at her/him, I’ve been working on ______ forever, and they make it look effortless.” By showing ourselves more compassion, it will translate into how we treat others. When we don’t feel hen pecked by the critic-in-chief (our own mind) we are free to see the world, others, and our yoga practice for what it really is – a beautiful gift we can learn and grow from.