Recently my 1 year-old daughter caught a stomach bug. After 48 hours of warm baths, cuddling, and pacifying, I caught my reflection while reading to her. The woman I saw had her spine rounded forward, low back unsupported, and shoulders scrunched up. Honestly, my first thought was “Wow, a yoga teacher should really have better posture.” My second thought was much kinder: “That’s the shape of a body taking care of a child. I’m grateful I can make that shape.”
The next day, I practiced yoga while she napped. I got reacquainted with my body, breathing and moving awareness back into it. I was reminded that every experience makes an imprint on us. Shoulders tired with the weight of holding a child, legs stiff from sitting to read to her, and my left side cinched up from popping out a hip to rest her on as I move around the house. I come by all of these things honestly. They are a direct mirror of what I have been pouring my energy into.
Sometimes in a yoga asana practice, this compassion for where our bodies have been can get lost in an effort to make progress, to “balance out” the sides of our bodies, and feel good. I’m guilty of trying to get my left side to act like my right side and wondering “what’s wrong with me?” when they continue to be very different.
Yes, yoga has tools that can give bodies and minds more ease and those are worthy goals. But to wish these things away, or to only see an end goal of being completely free of them, is to miss the bigger picture. There are yogic models stating that none of these labels we apply to ourselves or stuff that we experience is really who we are. They are just the dust that sticks to us as we walk down a country road (to paraphrase Yoganand Michael Carroll).
We practice yoga to come back to our True Selves. As householders though, we will always be balancing finding our True Selves with the demands of the world we live in. It’s a constant dance, a never ending push and pull. Because of this, it’s important to find compassion for every ache, pain, and stiffness (in both body and mind).
Most likely they are the result of well-intentioned living, of pouring energy into the world around us. They will always be there in some form or another, just as the wholeness we seek in yoga will always be there. And each of our discomforts are worthy of a kind nod before we let them go because, without them, the bliss we can find in Yoga would not feel so very sweet in comparison.
Catherine currently teaches at Victory Power Yoga in Clayton, NC. You can find out more about her practice and teaching at www.catherinestriegel.com.