By Kelsey Hertel
When we begin to become conformed by our culture, we begin to lose our freedom. Freedom to be who we are. So many of us are just tense little blocks of stress. We walk around with our shoulders up to our ears and our fists clenched. Our work-hard-never-relax American culture tells us that we must achieve, achieve, achieve. We know what is expected of us. And we’re not allowed to relax. When we hit the yoga mat, we’re still a conformed block of stress. A conformed block of ‘what are people thinking of me?’ If we see the teacher or people around us doing an intense pose, we think we have to achieve, achieve, achieve. Achieve what? Achieve THAT. And that, and that, and that. And what if we don’t? “I’m just not good at yoga,” we say.
But being ‘good’ at yoga is not what yoga is about. Yoga is about exploring. Yoga is about allowing your body to find freedom. Yoga is about laying down your pride and allowing yourself to accept your own body, just how it is. Yoga is allowing yourself to fall and not being embarrassed. Yoga is about releasing the tension and stress in your muscles. Yoga is giving your body the gift of freedom.
Have you ever just watched a baby? As they learn to touch their toes while laying on their back, they’re so enthralled by how they can move their legs. They can kick. They can stretch. They’re legs are strong. Once they learn to roll, they just keep rolling. It’s fun. The more they grow and the more they learn about their own body and what it can do, the more confidence they have in trying new things. Toddlers know it’s okay to fall. They climb. They run. And sometimes they fall. And they know that even if they fall, they will still be loved and accepted. They do not yet know that something such as ‘judgment’ exists in the world.
As we grow older, society begins to tell us that we can no longer fall. As adults, we begin to cage ourselves. There is no freedom to make mistakes. We live in a world of expectation and pressure to be a certain way. There is no more freedom to fall. If we fall, there will be judgment. So we resist trying new things, for the fear of falling overpowers. The freedom to fall has disappeared.
So, Fall. Just let yourself fall. Physically, just fall down. Do it. What does it feel like? Falling doesn’t mean you failed. It means you humbled yourself enough to try something out of your comfort zone. Falling also doesn’t mean you won’t ever be able to achieve what you tried. Just keep doing it and keep falling. Who cares? When children are learning to walk, how many times do you think they fall? And although they continue to fall, they know that if they are going to WALK, they have to get back up and try again. Sometimes it may hurt and sometimes there are a lot of tears, but they always get back up. When you are on that yoga mat, don’t allow others to care about what you do and what you don’t do. What gets in the way of finding freedom? Ultimately, it’s not others. It’s the fear judgment we hold inside ourselves.
Yoga brings us back to infancy. It brings us to freedom. What would it feel like to fall? What would it feel like to fall over in front of other people, to totally just crash onto the floor? At what age did we start feeling ashamed and embarrassed to fall? Was it when you tripped in 6th grade and the school bully made fun of you? And let me guess, from then on you did everything you could to stand up straight and fit in with everyone else.
Your body can do a lot more than you think. And your body wants to do a lot more than you think. Your muscles want to stretch. Your back wants to bend. Your legs want to be strong. Your body wants you to utilize it in the way it was created to move. Just because a pose may be difficult at first, does not mean your body is telling you to never do it again. In fact, stretching and releasing is EXACTLY what your body wants to do. It wants to move in this way and the reason it may hurt or feel uncomfortable at first is because you have never allowed it to move like this, since you were a child.
So let go. Next time you go to a yoga class, explore in the way your body wants to move and doesn’t want to move, with freedom. Free yourself from your own expectations. Free yourself from the expectations other people have for you, or that you THINK they have for you.
Everyone’s bodies are different. Everyone’s bones are placed differently in the body. Some people are just more flexible because of their bone structure. Accept that. You may not be able to do what your teacher is doing. But that’s okay! What feels good for you in that pose? You are the only one who knows your body. You are the only one that FEELS your body. And that’s a privilege. I promise you, that if you listen to your body, and allow it to stretch and strengthen and move in ways your brain thought impossible, your body is going to thank you. Your body is going to bless you. When you live in a way that pleases your body, your mind and body will begin to live in peace. You’ll begin to feel BETTER.
Allow yoga to take you back to infancy. Allow yourself to dispose of self-judgment. Find the freedom inside you. Let your body move in the ways that feel good to your body. Let yourself release, relax, and restore.