“Step your right foot forward,” called our teacher from the front of the studio.
He’s got to be f***ing kidding me!
It was the morning of Day 10 of my 21-day yoga teacher training. I struggled to move my foot to the front of my mat for what felt like the 100th time so far. Every muscle in my body was screaming. My head was spinning. My heart was racing. I was miserable.
There are many different reasons why I personally practice yoga and was drawn to a training program. One of those reasons was to create a better understanding of and a deeper connection to my own body. On this particular morning, nothing could have felt further from the truth.
I arrived for my training full of hope and promise. A 3-week adventure living in a magical jungle, surrounded by an amazing group of people where I could spend my days doing one of my favorite activities, seemed exactly like what I needed.
(Having this guy as a neighbor was an added bonus!)
However, the rigorous daily schedule that included 4 hours of yoga classes on top of full days of lectures and practice teaching caught up with me quickly. Not only was my body being challenged in ways it never had been before, my ego was taking a bit of a beating as well.
Instead of feeling stronger and more comfortable in my own skin, I was constantly confronted with my own physical limitations. My heel spurs make it difficult to flex my feet on the floor. The deformed bone in my foot presents a problem in rolling over my toes. Being bow-legged means I can’t bring my knees to touch in certain poses. Old wrist and elbow injuries flare up if I overuse my upper body. My tight muscles keep my body from going very far when I stretch. I’ve never been able to balance on my hands, my head or my arms. Hell, sometimes I can barely balance standing on two feet!
On the morning of Day 10 I was exhausted. I was frustrated. From the back row I saw the rest of the class moving easily and gracefully from one position to the next. They were perfectly in sync with our teacher’s instructions creating beautiful shapes with their strong, flexible, coordinated bodies. I was stumbling on my mat. My muscles were aching. I couldn’t keep up. Tears were stinging my eyes. I couldn’t catch my breath.
“Step your right foot forward,” I heard again.
I dropped to my knees. I curled myself into child’s pose and started to cry.
What’s wrong with you? Why is this so hard for you? You’re such a mess. You’re broken. You can’t do anything. Why did you even bother to come here? Who are you kidding? You can’t do this!
I stopped myself before my thoughts continued to spiral away from me. Through my sobs I managed to take a deep breath.
Would you say that to a child?
This is a question I ask often. We are so used to speaking harshly with ourselves without ever giving it a second thought. I say things to myself that I would never dream of saying to someone I loved. My inner monologue is usually so cruel that I wouldn’t dare say some of those things to someone I didn’t even like! Sometimes I need to remind myself that if it’s too hurtful to say to someone else, it’s too hurtful to say to myself as well.
Would you say that to a child?
I thought of sweet 6-year old Katie. I thought of her finally being invited to play a game of “jail” with her brothers and neighbors around the cul-de-sac. I saw her pumping her little legs as fast as she could. Her heart about to burst from her chest, she was trying her very best, but she was still too slow. She got tagged within moments and was exiled to sit on a rock while the others laughed and played without her. I saw her on the playground at recess. The other girls were spinning cartwheels but she didn’t know how. She tried to kick her legs over her head, but landed on her face. I saw her at the monkey bars. Her grip always slipped off the second rung while all the other kids could swing the entire way across.
What would I say to that child?
I understand you are upset. It looks like your friends are having a lot of fun and you feel left out. You can keep trying and keep practicing. Just because you’re still learning doesn’t mean you can’t play too.
I thought of 12-year old Katie. I saw her sitting on the bench during a basketball game. She was the only one on the team who hadn’t scored a single point all season.
What would I tell her?
I know you did your best and that is more than enough. It’s easy to get discouraged and give up, but you didn’t quit. You kept showing up and trying even when it felt hard. I’m really proud of you
I thought of 18- year old Katie. I saw her feeling self-conscious around her friends who were all much smaller than she was. She refused most invitations to the beach because she was embarrassed to be seen next to them in a bathing suit. If she did go, she tried to cover as much of her skin as possible. She was jealous that she was too big to share their cute clothes and felt invisible when they would go out to parties together.
How would I speak to this young woman?
Your body is a little different. Not better. Not worse. Just different. You’re absolutely perfect exactly as you are.
I came back to 34-year old Katie, crying face-first into her yoga mat. Where was the compassion for this girl whose body was being asked to do things it’s never done before? Where was the patience for this girl whose brain was being overloaded and overwhelmed with philosophy, history, anatomy and Sanskrit? Where was the kindness for this girl who was still nursing a freshly broken heart? Where was the love for this girl who was secretly dreading her return home because it meant putting her life back into boxes, moving to a new home and starting all over again when she just wanted things to stay the same?
What could I say to her?
I know you are exhausted. I know you are sad. I know you are frustrated. You can keep trying and keep practicing. Just because you’re still learning doesn’t mean you can’t play too. Your body is a little different. Not better. Not worse. Just different. You’re absolutely perfect exactly as you are. You are doing your best and that is more than enough. It’s easy to get discouraged but you aren’t quitting. You keep showing up and trying even when it feels hard. I’m really proud of you and I love you.
I wiped the tears from my eyes, pushed myself up and stepped my right foot forward.
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