Truth Byte #56
“It’s better to bend than to break.”
I have been learning the last few weeks about flexibility. I get moving in a certain direction, and then I have to pivot, to quickly and effortlessly turn on the spot as Life throws me an unexpected, better opportunity.
I know, it’s a good problem to have.
And I learned this same lesson many years ago, in a much more painful way: yoga.
So let me take you back there, to the halls of my graduate program where we were learning about all things spiritual. One of the graduation requirements was that we adopt a body discipline. First year, it was mandatory Aikido. Amazing, loved it, but I wanted to try something new by second year.
Enter Course 234: Yoga.
Now, as an Indo-Canadian, I thought “how hard could it really be?” Mind you, my only context for yoga was from this one Bollywood film where men and women practiced yoga for hours to prepare for a cricket match that would determine the fate of their village. It looked a lot less intimidating than what Rocky Balboa had to go through in the Hollywood rendition of small fry against big fish. Basically, they were just standing around in weird poses, and bowing down to the sun (to the background of inspiring drumbeats and a catchy “let’s go get ‘em!” Hindi tune about how it’s our land and colonizers be damned.)
There wasn’t even any sweat involved.
How hard could it really be?
It was part of my cultural heritage, right? I could do this. I just had to awaken that dormant Indian yogi inside me and I would be warrior-posing my head off in no time.
My friend presented me with a brand new yoga mat and we were off, into the land of stretches and Sanskrit.
What a fail.
The first thing I realized was that my Indian ancestry gave me no advantage.
None. At. All.
It sounds funny now when I think about it, but back then, it was a shock. While I had picked up all these other “back home things” through osmosis (head wobble, accent on demand, gyrating dance moves), yoga had just not made the cut somehow.
Maybe it was partly because I never saw an Indian person ever roll out a yoga mat.
In my life.
And I knew a hell of a lot of Indian people.
Yoga seemed to be this new and trendy thing that white people were doing in clothing that my mother and her friends would blush about.
So there I was, struggling to stand on one foot and breathe while the people around me had serene and knowing looks on their closed-eye, big-smile faces.
I hated them all.
Just for a moment.
Then I had to embody the yogi and forgive them all. And forgive myself. This yoga thing involved a lot of forgiving.
I remember near the end of the class when the teacher called “child’s pose” a resting pose. My legs were on fire with pins and needles as the searing pain in my thighs and knees screamed at me to get the hell out of there. Pain. Everywhere. And everyone else was so peaceful. Resting.
What I learned as I dove headfirst into my body’s rigidity that first yoga class was that I had never asked myself to be flexible before. Not metaphorically, not emotionally, and definitely not physically. I was the one who studied the rules, stuck to them, and got results. I was the one who did what she was told, and paved her way to academic success. I was the one who was uptight, anal, controlling, but it always got me the A++.
That was not going to work here. Not in this class.
In this class, I had to learn to let go. I had to ease into things instead of figuring out a roadmap and diving in full force. I had to allow my body to slowly, very slowly, learn about itself again. I had to get my head out of the way.
My current Vietnamese yoga teacher at the gym starts every class with this line: “Yoga is not for perfect. It’s for practice”.
I used to do everything “for perfect”. I used to be the high achiever, the one who would be called up six times in a row for the six top honor roll medals or whatever. And that was my identity. I was a winner, and I never let up. I always moved forward. But yoga forced me to stay still. To feel the discomfort of never-used muscles and understand that I was indeed off-balance, no matter how many mantel-trophies I collected.
Yoga taught me that if I wasn’t willing to bend, the only other option was to break.
Life has broken me four times throughout my years. The first time was when my parents’ marriage failed and I was left fatherless at 10 years old. The second was when my cousin died in a tragic car accident and I was 16. The third was my first young-love heartbreak at 20.
I have never healed fully from those first three breaks. The scars are still there, and the muscles still hurt when I think about those times. Despite dozens of personal development workshops and therapy sessions over the years, those three breaks caused a shattering that made me into a different person, more calloused, more wary, more protected, more rigid.
The first three breaks happened before I learned about yoga, and the fourth one after. I actually went to prenatal yoga in the months leading up to that fourth break, the one that taught me how to bend.
So here’s the story. After a very difficult pregnancy, my son was born by emergency caesarean. I felt ripped off because of an old wive’s tale I was holding on to about “a difficult pregnancy means and easy delivery”, and everything about the labour and delivery was awful. Why do people say these things to pregnant women??
After the surgery, I had undiagnosed post-partum depression, and couldn’t bond with my baby for months. It was when I looked into those little eyes that needed me so desperately that I had to find the resolve in the deepest part of my self to get out of bed and pick him up. It was the first time in my adult life that I actually let people help me without micro-managing them, and realized that there were other “ways” that were just as valid (and maybe even more effective!) than mine.
The bending into motherhood saved me from losing myself and helped me to find my love for my baby. Bending prevented a break, that this time would have not only impacted me, but my son and my marriage as well.
I don’t think I will break again.
Because now I know how to bend.
And you can’t unlearn a downward dog.
This week is a chance to reflect on where in our lives we need to just bend. What is it that you are being too rigid about? What are you so invested in that a change would devastate you? Where are you just not willing to accept help or another point of view? When Life throws a challenge at you, will you stand until the wind is knocked out of you, or will you roll out your mat and just breathe?
For personalized help in learning how to bend, visit me at www.talktosaira.com