“Be open to different viewpoints, and do not be afraid to change your mind if you see new truth in a situation. This is wisdom, not fickleness.” (From Happiness is living in the moment – Inspiration Cards by Barbara Ann Kipfer)
Yoga is all about flexibility … But I’m not talking about the ability to wrap your ankles around your head!
It’s about finding the flexibility to be open enough to allow yourself to move your body in a way which perhaps you didn’t think you could do; opening your heart to experiencing emotions such as compassion and gentleness which may have been shut away for years for fear of exposing vulnerability; and broadening your mind to be open to new ideas and ways of looking at the world.
What do I know?!
When I first started yoga, I “knew for certain” that I couldn’t touch my toes, that if I showed people the real me they wouldn’t like me, and that chakras were a load of hippy rubbish. (A lot’s changed since then!)
However, something inside me let me take that first step to turn up at a first yoga class.
Something inside me wanted to change, to evolve, to broaden my mind and experience, even though another part resisted!
So many times I sat or stood in the yoga class telling myself “I can’t do Sitting Forward Bend properly because I can’t touch my toes”, or, “I’m not going to hold this Triangle because it feels uncomfortable” or “I’m coming out of Shoulder Stand now because I don’t like the way it feels”, and felt annoyed with myself and with the teacher for trying to make me do these silly things!
Releasing the hold
Yet slowly, with persistence and over the years, I became more flexible.
Physically I was releasing the long-held tensions in my muscles and joints and gradually learned to let my body relax. I began to allow the bonds in my mind to loosen and the power of the thoughts which told me what I could or couldn’t achieve began to fade.
I allowed myself to feel, to experience the thoughts and emotions which came up in my yoga practice. I stopped resisting tears which welled up in Triangle and let them out – and felt a whole lot better for it. And in the process loosened some of the thought patterns which went along with them…
So now, after practising yoga since 2000, I feel I “know for certain” a lot less. And I’m absolutely fine with that!
Because in losing that certainty about what I am capable of and what others think of me, I have gained a whole new perspective on myself, other people and my relations with them, and the world around me.
Gaining a new perspective
Our yoga practice, whether in class or at home, can help us to challenge what we think we’re capable of physically as we try new postures, allowing ourselves to stretch more deeply or allowing ourselves to try that scary inversion for the first time after resisting it for so long.
(My next challenge: working towards the Wheel (Chakrasana) – tipping my head back scares me! So I’ve been practising my lying on the edge of my bed and extending my arms back and allowing my head to tip back over the edge of the bed…)
Our yoga practice can encourage can enable us to feel honestly and without judgment. As we practice our postures our bodies may release emotions which had been buried deep in our bodies. Triangle can release stuck energy from the sides of the torso – you could feel like a weight’s been lifted or you may feel like crying. Allowing ourselves just to be with whatever arises is one of the many gifts of yoga.
(I have a very busy mind: sometimes I get annoyed with myself for that. My yoga practice (on and off the mat) allows me to slow down, observe and accept that busyness as part of me and stop judging it…)
Our yoga practice can enable us to learn that what we think is right is not the only way. As we release stuck energies, thoughts and emotions, we can open up to new possibilities. It brings us the freedom to listen to the openness, compassion and wisdom which is in all of our hearts.
Strength in flexibility
There’s something in our culture which seems to celebrate bloody-mindedness. To celebrate and reward the person who has the most fixed opinions; who shouts the loudest; who tries to dominate others with their point of view. Our politicians and media portray complex issues in simple, black and white, right or wrong, ways. And conversely, the person who is willing to listen to both sides, not jump to conclusions or changes their mind is condemned as weak.
But surely there is more strength in not clinging on to fixed opinions and not being afraid to change your mind?
This allows us to grow.
I love the concept of “Neti neti”. It’s a Sanskrit expression which means “not this, not this”, or “neither this, nor that”.
It teaches us not to attach ourselves to particular outcomes in life, or thoughts and experiences – whether we perceive them as good or bad.
Whether we’re experiencing highs or lows, it encourages a sense of mental and emotional flexibility not to attach our sense of self or self-worth to changeable things.
So yes, after 12 years and counting of yoga practice, I am much more flexible! I can touch my toes. I’m so much more relaxed with who I am. I even love a nice chakra meditation 😉
But more than that: in finding the flexibility to know less, I actually understand a lot more…
Stella Tomlinson teaches Dru yoga in Southampton, UK. Dru yoga is a flowing and therapeutic style of yoga, characterised by graceful movements, directed breathing, relaxation techniques and working with affirmations and visualisations. Connect with Stella via Facebook and Twitter.