Six years ago, when I went to my first yoga class, I would have looked at the above pose (also known as mermaid) and thought: uhh, no. I've always had super tight hips, hamstrings and quads, so this pose seemed like it was only for crazy flexible people. Since then, every time it came up in class, or I saw someone else doing it in real life or online, I thought the same thing: nope. Occasionally I would try it again to discover that ... yep, still couldn't do it.
Then I just stopped trying altogether.
But on Tuesday night, after an incredible heart-opening practice, we transitioned to half-pigeon and my instructor offered the variation of mermaid. I didn't think about it, I just ... started to move into it with my mind offering casual commentary.
Bending my knee ... that actually feels like a good stretch, for once ... leg lifts, reach back ... oh, here's my foot? weird okay other arm is lifting ... I'll just reach back and ... hello, hand.
Then of course my ego was like F*CK YEAH! and I completely lost my focus and breath and came out of it. But for a few moments, it was like the puzzle pieces of this one pose I never thought I would ever do gently snapped into place, and all of a sudden I was doing the impossible.
It felt great to accomplish something like that, but more importantly, I noticed how surprised I was. I had no intention, before class or during, to try that pose. I guarantee if I had been stressing about getting into the posture, it wouldn't have happened. Chances are, if I had started stressing about exactly how my body should move or what it should look like or how can I force my way into it, I probably wouldn't have even tried.
We do this a lot in life -- try something new, and if we're not amazing awesome perfect at it the very first time, we call it quits. Somewhere along the way, we internalized this idea of excellence and action: that we should only do the things we're great at, and stop doing anything we're immediately not great at. Or we take it a step further. We try something new, experience a challenge or feeling of frustration, and that often feels icky, so then we assume all new things equal that negative feeling. And we stop trying, unconsciously or not. We don't like feeling vulnerable or less than for even a SECOND, not at our jobs, not with the people we love, not at our hobbies, not with our goals. Not ever, really.
Tara at Tea and Cookies tells a story about this: once she heard about a fantastic writing fellowship, and she really wanted it. But she didn't apply, because she was scared of not getting it and she didn't think she was good enough. Since her fear prevented her from applying for it, that meant she absolutely didn't get it, because she didn't even throw her hat in the ring for the chance.
After that, she decided she would apply for anything and everything she wanted. She would always give herself the opportunity to be selected. Tara said,
"Because, at the end of the day, they can still say no. The powers that be can tell me I’m not a good fit—but I shouldn’t be doing that job myself. Who knows if I would have been picked for the fellowship, but I made sure that I wasn’t. I rejected myself [let me repeat that: I rejected myself]."
How often have you rejected yourself before anyone else gets the chance? It happens when you tell yourself something you want won't work out, that you're not good enough, that you shouldn't even attempt it. We want to be open to love and change and growth and newness, because we know that's what makes life worth living, but we get in our own way all the time.
There's a running joke in my family about my mom and her sunglasses. She always has a pair on her head, sometimes even two pairs, but once in a while, she'll be running around the house frantically looking for her shades. And then one of us tells her, "Mom, they're right on your head!" And she reaches up, laughs, and discovers that, oh, yes, they are, because that's where she put them and that's where they always are. What helps her see, what she thought, was right on top of her head the whole time.
That moment of panic, of searching -- in yoga, it's when we start to lose our breath. It's that feeling of, I'm going to fall, I'm going to collapse, I'm going to look stupid, I can't do this. It's overwhelming, like when you dive into a deep swimming pool and on your way back up, you realize you don't have enough breath for a few seconds before breaking through to the surface.
In life, the feeling is called vulnerability. Its the times where you try something new, tell the truth, change up your routine, fully connect with someone, offer up your heart or your vision. It kind of sucks, in an exhilarating sort of way, but there's something beautiful on the other side of the uncertainty if you simply stay to see. Every time we are vulnerable, we take a risk, and the risks we take are in direct proportion to the fullness of our lives.
Part of being vulnerable means trusting that the things you want -- the things you are desperately seeking -- are already within you. Or they were right in front of your face; you were just too busy pushing and pulling your gaze elsewhere. It means allowing yourself to enjoy something whether or not you're any "good" at it, and it means taking chances on the things that really move your heart, mind, soul and spirit, just to see what happens.