I signed up for Yoga classes a couple of months ago. It’s not the first time I’ve tried doing Yoga, but it has been a few years since I’ve worked it into my schedule.
I took my first class a very long time ago (maybe in the early 90’s), when I visited my oldest brother out in California. I don’t remember a lot about the specifics of the class, but I remember how it seemed to help me release a lot of tension I had been carrying around with me. Stretching out and then relaxing that way was not something I had ever done before. The music was kind of weird, but it was also weird how my neck and shoulders felt completely different after class. I suppose we never realize how tense we are until after something relaxes us so deeply. Anyway…. after that class, probably 10 years passed until I went to another one.
About 3 or 4 years ago, after I had been running quite a bit and focusing more on my health in general, I signed up for a few more yoga classes. This time I signed up for a class called "Yoga Stretch" that was taught by a fellow runner. Overall, I liked the class and I learned a few new stretching techniques, but when my 12 week pass expired, I didn’t feel the need to sign up for more. At the time, yoga just seemed like a good thing to do occasionally, when I felt like I needed to stretch out and take a few deep breaths. And for the most part, this is still how I think of yoga… with one exception.
After signing up for a few classes again this fall, I have started to think more about the psychological aspects of yoga. Since I’ve always been interested in philosophy, I’ve started thinking about some of the bigger questions. For example, I’ve been thinking a lot about self-acceptance. I’ve been thinking about why it’s hard for me to relax sometimes? Or why I feel so self-conscious doing something that I’m not very good at? Or why it’s weird being the only guy in the class sometimes? Or why I feel bad that I get cramps occasionally? Or why my body protests if I try to do too much?
One thing that I have certainly learned this time around is that yoga helps develop a healthy sense of humility. It makes me think about what it means to be confident. I may be a good runner, a decent athlete, and a fairly smart guy, but I’m definitely not very flexible. My back is usually stiff. My muscles are usually tight. I get cramps in my feet and hamstrings. The foot I broke a few years ago isn’t the same as my other foot. My chest and arms are sometimes sore from lifting weights.
I know that I’m not supposed to compare myself to the people around me who can all touch their toes with no problem, but sometimes I can’t help it. Lately, I’ve started closing my eyes occasionally to think less about everything. I think maybe I’m just not too jazzed about being not very good at things. After all, being not very good isn’t usually an impressive trait. Nobody wants to be the last kid picked in gym class or the last person asked to dance. Nobody wants to get the lowest grade in the class, and nobody wants to date the person with the most boring job. After all, there are reasons why people are impressed with each other, and those reasons usually revolve around excellence. We might all give lip service to the notion that we are beyond this, but are we really? When I ask myself who I am most impressed with… I do tend to think of people who are successful at something. Luckily, over the last few years my values have slowly evolved away from being impressed with superficially successful people and toward being impressed with more spiritually successful people. And lately, I've even become more impressed by people who keep doing things even though they might never be really good at them.
I went to watch the finish of a half marathon race this past weekend. And, while I was definitely impressed with and inspired by the fast runners up front, I was equally impressed with the slower runners who finished toward the back. And, I was especially impressed with the close friends and couples who made it a point to cross the finish line together.
I wonder if all this competition is really mostly about love? Maybe we all tend to compete with each other in an attempt to be more lovable? And maybe if we knew we are already loved and accepted, then it would be easier for us to put our desire for excellence into perspective?
In the end …. maybe I'm just slowly learning that I don't have to be good at everything. While I will always like pushing myself in a 10k race and placing high in my age group, I think I’m also learning how to be cool with being the least flexible guy in my yoga class. Hell.... Maybe it’s even OK to be inflexible sometimes. And maybe for me, yoga shouldn’t be about getting better at anything anyway. Maybe it should just be mostly about accepting my current inflexible self and embracing where I am right now - stiff muscles and all.
At least that’s what I tell myself when my eyes are closed.