The path of hatha (physical asana) yoga teaches that the physical body is the gateway to the heart and spirit. But it is also the obstacle. – David Life and Sharon Gannon
In the world of yoga, we hear a lot about this being a practice of self-acceptance. And yet our experience on the mat seems to do nothing but bring up frustrations with our bodies as our limitations confront us! Rather than slip on headphones and ‘check out’ on a treadmill or stairmaster, we are forced to be fully present with whatever sensations arise in our bodies. We move into side angle pose envisioning grace and strength and instead all we can feel are the rolls of fat on the sides of our waist. We try our mightiest to link our fingers together in a bind but no matter how much we exhale or how red-faced we get, we can’t get the tips of our fingers to touch. Boat pose mocks us as we struggle to keep our legs up and our spine long. As we are guided into pigeon pose, (or heaven forbid double pigeon!), we feel the pent up tension in our hips and the layers of anxiety and anger that reside beneath. We want to experience self-love on the mat but we feel like we are fighting with ourselves and that sometimes the practice is pure struggle, moment to moment.
After 23 years of consistent yoga practice, I can promise you, it does get better! As the body gains strength and mobility, you will find yourself facing less and less resistance in every pose. As life ebbs and flows, weight fluctuates, and injuries or pregnancy affect what you are able to do on the mat, you learn to let go of pushing and striving and simply enjoy the experience of moving mindfully and breathing deeply. I remember, about a decade ago, a wise teacher saying in class, the ‘secret to yoga is don’t try so hard’. I have been rolling around that simple phrase in my mind ever since and it has helped free up my practice immensely!
There are many ways to decipher and translate those words but one way to look at it is to acknowledge that the practice already requires a tremendous amount of physical work so stop trying so hard mentally. Let your body be in the pose and your muscles do the work, but soften the outer shell of your body and the let go of the gripping in your mind. Let the sweat drip off your face but don’t add to the struggle by resisting the work or shunning your body and where it happens to be in that moment, which we must remind ourselves, is a moment in time and in our life that will never come around again, so what a tragedy it would be to deny or reject any part of it! A huge part of learning to love oneself comes when you learn to approach yourself lightly and with humour.