Yoga is for everyone!
And not the experience you think you should have. I have heard it once too many times in class, a Yoga student saying: "I can never do that!" Even if this thought is not expressed out loud, certainly every one of us has had it at some point or another, myself included.
What strikes me when I hear this, either in my own head or coming from someone else, is how our society conditions us, constantly, to have certain expectations and the lengths we are willing to go to have these expectations met, but also how we mourn when things are not the way they "should be".
Everything in our culture is super-sized, from the portions we are served at restaurants, to the houses and cars we own, right down to the expectations we have. But when you expect too much, be that of yourself or of someone else, then you are setting yourself up for a disappointment.
To have the experience you are having means to completely remove any kind of expectation and simply be there for whatever manifests.
In the spirit of Liberated Yoga, let's examine what an experience is and see if we can actually have an authentic, unadulterated one. Think of it! Each one of us is unique - an inimitable form inhabited by an awareness that is just as distinctive. And since with every new experience our awareness changes, and as our form changes, as we are shaped in every way by our experiences, each time we are doing the same thing, the experience is still unique. It absolutely boggles my mind, and yet, it is true, and one of the reasons why I have been practicing Yoga for so many years - it does feel different every time, even though the poses may be the same.
If you think of it this way, there is cause to celebrate! I can never know what a certain pose feels like for you, just as you can never know what it feels like for me, so let's turn inwards, both of us, and enjoy. Because as soon as we let go of the desire to be someone we are not, we are actually then able to enjoy who we are and appreciate our own worth.
It is a sad fact, but our lives are filled with daily bombardment by advertising, selling us things. And let's be honest - Yoga is a big business in a society that is fraught with health problems, stress, and anxiety. Yoga is being sold to us every day on the front pages of magazines while we wait in line at the grocery store, Yoga is sold to us when we see someone wearing Yoga clothes out and about running errands, as well as when we come to a studio, seeking refuge from the grind of our daily lives. We covet our teacher's lithe body and seemingly cheerful disposition.
As a big proponent of authenticity, I have always hailed the virtues of having a home Yoga practice - free from most of the distractions, we are more likely to surrender to the experience without judging it. At home or in a group class, however, let's examine what an experience really is, so that we know what it is we are looking for.
For one thing, our memory of an experience is never the same as the actual experience. What we remember the most is the peak and the end of an experience. What does it mean? It means that if you feel great at the end of a Yoga class, you will attribute the entire experience of the class as having been "great", whereas there may have been parts when you found yourself confused, uncomfortable, irritated, anxious, etc. What it means, though, is that what you think as your experience is a rather distorted memory of it, rather than the thing itself. We also have an intense need to label everything as good or bad. There is seldom any shades of gray.
Instead, let's slow down. Each experience begins with an expectation, and it is at this stage that we have the power to shape our perception. As the teacher announces the next pose or as you yourself decide - I am going to do a Down Dog now, fully give yourself to this anticipation and relish it. Rather than expecting yourself to fail at performing perfectly, expect yourself to simply be with whatever happens.
Then, as you transition to the pose itself, take a long exhale and settle into it, into the very bones of your body, and wait for a slight pause at the end of the exhale. This pause can feel infinite, with practice, and in that pause you can be completely engrossed in the sensations of the experience - the hamstrings stretching, the belly pulling in, the jaw relaxing, the eyes closing, the back of the neck lengthening, the knuckles of your hands rooting down into the ground, Prana pulsating through your being. Delicious!
When you come out (and pay attention during those transitions - they are an experience in and of themselves, very much worth your attention), rest for a breath and enjoy the aftertaste the pose leaves in your body/mind/spirit. Savor it, like you would the most delectable treat.
Approached this way, anything you do has the potential to be a delight, whether you can straighten your legs or not. So, next time the old familiar demon of insecurity is raising its ugly head, let's all take a breath and be still, allowing the effects of the pose unfold before us in all its nuance and beauty. Instead of focusing on what didn't happen, focus on what did. You may be surprised that whatever did happen, was enough. What a liberating experience that can be! When we scale our expectations appropriately, we suddenly feel satisfied with what the universe has provided to us, and there lies wonderful freedom.
Let's make our Yoga practice a refuge from bondage of our conditioning, from the self-imposed and limiting expectations, from the disappointments and anxieties!