Avoiding Your Yoga Mat? Read This: The Real Reason We Practice
Do you avoid getting on your mat because you’re worried about all things your body can't do (yet) or because you're not "flexible"?
Do you pass by a mirror or a big window and habitually turn your gaze to analyze your walk, your curves, your whole body? You aren't alone.
We have an amazing tool to cultivate peace, happiness and empowerment, but instead, many of us fall into the trap of discouraged aversion. That amazing tool is your body and yoga is a bridge waiting to hold you as you cross over towards loving it.
But we choose to walk around silently picking our bodies apart, keeping it at a distance as this “thing” that’s all wrong and the bane of our existence. When you take a step back and look at what we do to ourselves, it’s madness!
Instead of getting hung up on what your body looks like, what if you focused on what your body can do?
Have you seen rock climbers scale cliffs? Or surfers ride mavericks? Have you seen the Olympics?? The only difference between you and those people is intimacy and commitment. Knowing your body, loving and caring for it and doing the work to help it shine. There is a way for everyone to connect with their bodies this radically.
For me, it’s yoga.
I was born with scoliosis, and after both a car accident and white water rafting accident in my teens, my back was nothing short of a mess. I was in serious pain every day for years, sometimes unable to get out of bed for days at a time. Suffice it to say, I was not friends with my body. and I had no idea how much struggle was manifesting in every other area of my life because of my detachment and judgment of my body.
Then, I met yoga.
I moved to Costa Rica, seeking freedom in more ways than I realized at the time. Living in a tiny surf town, I slowly started practicing yoga. But it was not about the asana. It was about healing my back pain with restorative poses surrounded by blankets and bolsters. It was about exploring that infinite space in between the breath. It was about learning how to begin to let go.
I fell in love with the space you can create on the mat with breath work, with meditation, with stillness. I would meditate for hours every day, sunrise and sunset. And a funny thing started to happen… I wanted to know my body more, spend time with it, help it feel really, really good. I wanted to reconnect with this beautiful thing I never even realized I had been pushing away.
It wasn’t until 2010 or so (3 years after I discovered yoga) that I got serious about the physical aspect of yoga, as well. Everything was painful at first, but I was committed to helping my body feel better. And as I started pushing my edge in asana, I quickly saw how capable my body actually was! When I trusted my body, spent time stretching it and strengthening it every day so it could feel its best, the shapes my body was capable of doing blew me away!
If you think that some people just happen to be blessed with a strong practice and that it’s not for you…think again. I had such a crippling fear of backbending that even the thought of Wheel pose made me shiver. And I had never done a handstand in my life until I was 23 years old. Ever!
The strength I have on the mat and the space I’ve created in my body is a result of a lot of hard work, but mostly it’s the result of a lot of letting go.
We hold so much emotion in the body. Practicing yoga is a practice of releasing. That’s why it’s so difficult! Not because we move in different ways, inhale to lift this and exhale to lower that, or balance on one foot.
Practicing yoga is a blessed opportunity to scratch at the surface of what you don’t want to see; it’s unveiling all the fears and judgments you have about yourself buried deep inside. It’s connecting to what’s really true.
And yes, along the way we might pick up some strength, flexibility, handstands, backbends and arm balances…this is a bonus. It’s not why we keep returning to the mat, every damn day. It’s not the purpose of this practice.
The poses unlock the door to new life.
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.” - Tao Te Ching
As I move deeper and deeper into backbends, I move deeper and deeper into self love. As I build strength to balance steadily on my hands, I build strength to face whatever the world throws at me. As I release tension from the hips, shoulders, hamstrings, I release fear, frustration, sadness. Little by little…I release the need to control.
As I learn to surrender on the mat, I learn to surrender to the present moment.
It starts with you. Love and show up for yourself so you can love and show up for the world. This is the practice.
It’s accessible to you, to everyone, right here, right now — but you have to do the work. No one is going to do it for you.
So don’t hold back. Roll out your mat and move the way your body asks you to move. Breathe acceptance into the areas that hold resentment. Breathe trust into the areas that hold fear. Breathe gratitude into every living cell for all that it does for you every blessed day.
And the next time you walk past a mirror or window, give yourself a high-five, or a hug, or a wink - something that says, I see you and I love you!
The perfect day for a new beginning is today. Are you with me?
PS: What brought you to yoga? What pulls you to your mat now? Share your story and inspire our community in the comments below!