We’ve all been there. You’re sitting on your yoga mat, beads of sweat dripping down your temples, when the teacher gives a direction that seems impossible to you. She might tell you stack your shins, one on top of the other, and to fold over your legs in a hip stretch. Or maybe she says to lie back, hug a knee into your chest, and extend your leg up to the sky in a hamstring stretch. Whatever it is, it’s too far for you that day. You can’t even dream of folding over your legs, because your top knee is up by your armpit. And extend your foot to the sky? Is she kidding?
And then comes the kicker. You glance sideways, where the girl next to you is folded over her shins, forehead on the floor, as though it’s the easiest thing she’s ever been asked to do in her life. Maybe she’s wearing a sports bra, without an ounce of fat on her body. Or she hasn’t even broken a sweat. And you think to yourself: wow, what her life must be like. Here you are, struggling to complete a simple task in a yoga class, and this vision of perfection next to you proves just how far away you are. You might as well give up and leave right now.
That moment—where giving up seems the only choice—is the crucial test, and the reason why yoga is a reflection of the rest of your life. It’s not about placing your forehead on the floor. Or looking cute in your sports bra. It’s about taking an opportunity in your day to let everything go. Maybe it’s the emails you have to write, or the fight you had with a friend. Maybe it’s a looming deadline, or the grocery list you committed to memory for the trip home. Or, even if you manage to clear all of those cobwebs, maybe it’s the perfect girl next to you, or the fact that you can’t manage to fold over your own legs.
Perfection is a funny thing. The moment you think you’ve conquered your demons, some thought of inadequacy will rear its ugly head. You can go to fifty yoga classes, and something you never expected could trigger you to want to throw in the towel. Because, guess what: it’s not about the girl next to you, or about your own perceived inadequacies. It’s about showing up, and accepting that no matter what your hip stretch looks like, it is what it is.
The process can certainly be humbling. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve kicked into a handstand, vowing not to flip over into a bridge this time, only to have my feet come crashing down behind my head in that bridge yet again. It’s definitely a struggle to be okay with repeated failure. And you can give your all, sure. Being compassionate with yourself doesn’t always mean taking it easy. It’s giving your all without being attached to the result that’s the trick. Because you showed up. And now you’re doing a hip stretch. And maybe someday, if you keep at it long enough, you’ll fold over those shins. Maybe not, too. And that’s okay.
Eventually, it will become easier to let the external go. The girl next to you won’t matter as much. And you won’t be as concerned with how far your stretch can go. You’ll stop trying to impress the teacher. You might even stop trying to improve s pose each time you do it. Your focus will move to the internal, where your breath is flowing in and out of your body, your mind is clear, and your feet are secure on the floor. And who knows—when you’re detached from the outcome, you might just surprise yourself at what you can achieve.
About the author- Lucy Van Cleef
Lucy is an American who works as a professional dancer in the United States and Europe.
She enjoys exploring ways to share movement as a universal language
through performance, teaching, yoga, choreography, writing, and more.
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