Edit: This blog post was re-published on Elephant Journal in a slightly edited form, which can be read here.
I once posted the photo above to my Facebook page (although I find the all-caps bits weird and unnecessary). I stand behind it. It brings to mind another popular and bold slogan in the same vein, which goes ‘Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity’. The two slogans reprimand a wonky, illogical way of thinking about things. I’ve heard many times, especially from men, ‘I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.’ The ironic thing is that for centuries yoga was something that only men were permitted to do. What a turn around.
Naturally when I hear this, I’m disappointed. I think it’s a shame someone won’t try something because it looks hard because he or she thinks there will be high expectations forced on them about how they should perform at something they’re new and inexperienced at. I’m not disappointed in the person as a person. I don’t think they’re less courageous or lazy or stupid. I think they’re doing what most people do: the thing that comes easiest, the path of least resistance. If you think you’re exempt from this, think a little more and a little harder about the things you love doing and why you do them.
People like being good at things, even if they’re only marginally good at them. Even if they’ve thought they would like to, for example, play fiddle in a blue-grass band, something I dreamt of doing for a bit. Then I found that I couldn’t listen to the sound of myself playing violin very badly while learning new songs with very simple notes that seemed difficult to manage, never mind the unfamiliar movements of the arm while playing. I didn’t like violin because I didn’t have any natural talent at it, at least to my ears. This correlation also strongly relates to my struggles with marketing in my freelancing work, as I’ve written about. Meanwhile, I found a few months ago that I could keep a beat on a set of drums with a certain amount of focus and the sound I was able to make was pleasing, so I’ve been slowly working my way into drumming and enjoying it, just as a hobby.
As these ideas relate to yoga, I took dance lessons from the age of ten to about nineteen. At twenty, I started doing yoga. While I was never the most talented or flexible dancer, moving from dance to yoga doesn’t require much effort at all. Flexibility is the first thing most people think of when they’re new to yoga and I already had that. I could move fluently and follow directions on how to move my body. I had an awareness of how my body moved. Balancing out your sides, doing the same action on one side as on the other, is even important in ballet, at least barre work, as it is in yoga. Moving from dance to yoga was an easy decision.
So, what can be learned from this idea that people, including you, like to do what comes easiest to them and avoid that which is very difficult for them?
First, it’s not wrong to do things you like doing because you’re good at them. It makes life sweet, enjoyable, and gives you things to feel confident about. You should never do things if the way in which you’re doing them diminishes your quality of life, making you miserable. As with my violin/drumming example, I changed my perspective on what I wanted. I wasn’t put off of music, I just found the thing that made me happier and came more naturally. As with my resistance toward marketing, I’ve changed my perspective on it and changed my approaches to make it more manageable and something that I feel good about, something that feels genuine for me. Doesn’t mean it’s easy for me but I know the importance of doing it will improve my quality of life.
This makes me think of priorities and delayed gratification. Changing your perspective on your priorities so that your health and wellness are placed higher. These are things that will allow you to do all other things well in your life, never mind as you get older. Delaying the gratification of feeling healthy and well for a little while of feeling challenged and having your ego take a few hits, as you learn the movements of yoga poses. A lot of getting ‘good’ at a physical activity, even marginally so, is largely about muscle memory. Getting the imprint of the movement in your body, so that the action itself isn’t strange and complicated anymore.
Making these changes could be the most important thing you do, whether it relates to yoga or whatever. It could be hard to do or maybe you’ll find it’s not as bad as you thought. It really depends on your priorities and your perspective. In any case, you will have tried. You’ll have made the necessary attempt toward change and that counts for so much. As a teacher, I’ve learned that more importantly than getting your nose to your knees is having a healthy spine and back, having strong, long muscles, waking up in the morning without pain, and having a few moments one day a week to focus on your breath, letting your mind calm down, even for a breath or two. I’m in awe of my students who struggle with both flexibility and strength and still come to class every week because they make the necessary attempt to change, no matter the results. From them, I learn about doing something that’s difficult and possibly not much fun because it is important and necessary to their lives. So if you think you aren’t flexible enough for yoga but you want to do it, think about the inspiration you could be giving other people by doing that thing that’s difficult because you wanted to do it and thought it was important to the quality of your life.