Halfway through a 90-minute class quivering in Extended Side Angle pose, mats inches apart from other sweaty yogis in a room pushing triple-temperature digits, I wanted out.
I reached for my already soaked yoga towel and contemplated leaving. Which for me, is something. I NEVER leave class. I’ve practiced for 15 years. Taught for four. Tested physical and mental boundaries (I once ran the last 8 miles of a marathon with a torn calf muscle).
But that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally contemplate quitting. We all do. Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with a number of extraordinary teachers who’ve said just the right words, at the right time, to keep me from tossing in the yoga towel. Next time you face the stay vs. bolt dilemma in your head, consider these phrases and see if they work for you too:
1. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
As my heart was racing, front thigh throbbing, sweat messing with my contact lenses, I immediately came up with a list of everything that was wrong with me in that moment: I’m old. Unable to handle the heat. Wore the wrong freaking headband. Time to bail. Until my compassionate teacher shared, “there’s nothing wrong with you.”
Put this way, I recognized that I was using shitty self-judgment as an opportunity to quit. Coming from a place of you are absolutely fine ‘as is’ opens up new doors, both on the mat and off. In this case, I simply knelt down for a restorative Child’s pose, regrouped, got back up, and kept going all the way through sweet Savasana.
2. “Do YOU.”
A well-known teacher in NYC that led a portion of an advance teacher training I attended last year taught me the power of being myself, in class and beyond. Whether it’s modifying a lunge to accommodate a tricky knee or wearing that vintage jacket because you feel amazing in it, do YOU.
This was an especially important lesson in my first few forays into teaching. I got so caught up scribbling down favorite phrases, sequences and theme ideas from teachers who inspired me that in my own classes I sounded something akin to the recording you get dialing up your local cable service. I was trying to be someone else. By all means, be inspired by others. Take notes. Listen closely. But find a way to make it yours, through your words, your heart, your intention.
3. “Yoga isn’t static.”
This tip, from a Hatha teacher I practiced with years ago, made a huge difference in my practice. I think it’s the word, ‘pose,’ that throws a lot of us. When someone tells me to strike a pose, I freeze. Not exactly what I want to be doing in my yoga practice!
His words come to me each time I hold my breath in handstand, lock my knee in Tree pose, or paste on a fake smile in front of a camera. Remembering that yoga isn’t static keeps the practice interesting, and allows me to tap into a source of creativity I find so exciting.
No pose will feel stale if you explore it fully by playing with the transition into and out of it, try on a different variation, or set a new Dristi (focal point) within it. So leave the posing to the statues and move around a bit. It will add a whole new dimension to your practice.
4. “Don’t run to your grave.”
Sobering, I know. But when the anxious, over-caffeinated, distracted by the strand of hair in her face version of me comes out in a pose I can’t wait to get out of, I consider it. Getting totally present to the discomfort, emotions, frustrations, and self-judgment within a pose and dealing with it as opposed to running toward the exit door is the work I need to do to stretch out my time on earth.
Slowing down my practice, my thoughts, and tendency to rush has helped me cultivate patience, gratitude, and grace. All qualities that help me feel totally alive.
5. “There’s no prize.”
Clearly the biggest let-down in my early yoga days. I’m always digging for the prize – the toy in the box of Cracker Jacks, if you will. So this phrase was tough to take. Like many people, I grew up told to set, meet, and exceed goals. Do this and you’ll get that. Why should yoga be any different? A lot of reasons, I eventually discovered.
It took me a long while to realize that no one really gave a shit if I could stick a hand stand in the middle of the room. Nor did they care if I fell out of it. Once I got my head around the fact that no gold stars were coming my way through yoga, I developed an awesome sense of freedom I never expected.
The hidden prize, I discovered, is in the process that never, ever has to end. Keep practicing. Keep falling. Keep getting up. And never worry about measuring up. That’s the prize yoga delivers.