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Meet Where You Are
When I walked into my first yoga class after my divorce, I had no idea what I was about to encounter. I signed up simply looking for some relief for my tense muscles and maybe some balm for my anxious mind. I had hopes of the class providing structure for my unraveling life and maybe even a dash of eye candy thrown in as a bonus. What I found instead was wisdom that really had nothing to do with yoga.
Upon signing in, I warned the instructor that I was a runner and about as supple as a lead pipe. I didn’t mention the recent divorce, but the fact that my shoulders had taken up permanent residence by my ears hinted to some sort of life stress. The teacher laughed, and said, “You’ll need these then,” as she handed me two dense foam blocks. “In yoga, you meet the body where it is.”
I smiled politely back at her after uttering a “Thanks,” having no idea what she meant by her declaration; it sounded more like new age mumbo jumbo than anything that would actually help. After all, even those this was my first bona fide class, I had been down dogging from DVDs (or even VHS) for years and, as far as I knew, I had never “met” my body.
I was fine through the first few poses; none of them placed any demands on my perpetually shortened hamstrings. As I stood strong in warrior, I started to gain confidence in my body and my strength. That confidence quickly faded as we were instructed to straighten our front leg and fold over towards the floor. I was engaged in a battle of wills with my hamstring and I was determined to win.
I strained my body down as I forced the leg back. Beads of sweat flowed down my face mixed with tears born of frustration. I was accustomed to using my strength to see me through, to lowering my head and fighting through the pain.
Just as I re-intensified my efforts, I felt a gentle hand on my lower back. “In yoga, we meet the body where it is,” the instructor reminded, placing two blocks under my hands. Immediately, my brain stopped sending its panic signals. My hamstrings relaxed and opened as the gripping faded in both mind and body. I started to tease the boundary of discomfort, finding that there was a place where I could push without panic. As my breath flowed back into my body, I realized that I had been holding it.
Not just during the class.
But during the last few months.
I had been approaching my divorce much like I started that yoga class – head strong and patience weak. I hardened in the face of the pain, the situations that caused me to stretch beyond my current abilities. I gripped in both mind and breath and tensed for the next wave of suffering.
In life, we can meet ourselves where we are.
We can accept help.
We can make adjustments.
We can approach change as we’re able, slowly stretching into the discomfort.
We can limit suffering, not by pretending it doesn’t exist, but by letting the breath cushion its impact.
When I walked out of that yoga class that day, my hamstrings were more pliable. But even more importantly, my mind had softened.