Learning to be More Flexible

I went to yoga last night. I don’t “practice” yoga regularly but I would like to some day. I did hear that Russell Simmons yelled out in a yoga class…”you are the age you start doing yoga.” It may be an urban (nyc) myth but there is something motivating about it.

But last night I was thinking how it’s only now that I can enjoy yoga every now and then without feeling so much pressure to do it “right”. It also got me thinking that yoga is truly a metaphor for getting older. As you age you stop caring what other people think. You just do. It happens. Similarly, I have learned over my sporadic yoga history that yoga is also about not comparing yourself to others. It’s being completely present with where you are and realizing that it’s not always a linear path. The minute you start thinking about how you aren’t doing the tree stand as well as the model like figure next to you …you have lost the plot.


At one point I decided that I was going to do yoga everyday for a month in order to become more flexible.  I have never been more frustrated. One day I would be more flexible and then the next day I would be back to square one, or even worse. How could that be? And then there was my warrior poses. Why couldn’t I do them the same way as the instructor? No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get my foot to turn one way and my hips to turn another.


Then there was the fact that I felt like a fraud. I hated the “oms”. I felt stupid doing them, as if somehow I hadn’t earned the right to say “om” because I had no clue what it meant. I thought I should understand the deeper meaning rather than just revel in letting sound out of my mouth and being a part of a collective something without worrying about how it made it me look (e.g. stupid. Am I using the right tone?, Is this the right sound?).


Then…headstands. They gave me a fright. How is my head going to take all of that weight? What if I was the one that finally did get up only to tumble loudly to the ground?  And finally…Savasana. The last 5-10 minutes of class where you rest in “corpse pose” and don’t think about anything. Time and time again my mind wandered to selfish pursuits. What would I have for dinner? What about that work issue? Where was my boyfriend? (I didn’t have one at the time).


I gave up that yoga experiment before the month came to a close.  Everyday became an opportunity to beat myself up. Now, I can see how very much I did not get the point. Now I can appreciate every yoga class as a chance to treat myself. It’s my way to give myself a massage. Whereas before I felt it was a waste of time if every workout wasn’t a calorie burning intensive adventure (which meant 90 minute, sweat-inducing, 100 pose competition or nothing). Now I can simply accept that I can go at my own pace and that of course my body isn’t the same as anyone else’s body — and that is not a bad thing. It’s more of a practice with yourself. A pose is not about posing.


Someday I will do it more regularly and challenge myself to mastering that headstand. For now I can enjoy the breathing and stretching my body and its limits without beating it, or myself, up. I imagine if I had realized some of this earlier I might have worried a little less about where I was going and more about where I was. I would have paid more attention to what felt good in my life and where there was tension. Maybe I would have stopped forcing myself into an uncomfortable position because that is what I thought life should look like, and found my own center of gravity.


We never stop comparing ourselves completely, but one thing many 40-somethings find is that they wish they spent more time in their 20s and 30s celebrating what they had rather than obsessing over what they didn’t have. A good thing to start working on earlier through yoga or your own practice.  It’s amazing how much more flexible you can be when you stop comparing yourself to others. You can truly stretch yourself.

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