*Warning: Adult Language Ahead!*
There I was, standing in the face of challenge, dripping with sweat—and for the first time in my life, I did nothing.
I didn’t quit. I didn’t get angry, although my mind tried to create anger. I didn’t run away. I didn’t sabotage myself.
In other words, I didn’t react.
I simply took another breath in and another breath out, and sunk deeper into my Warrior Two. In that brief moment of space between inhale and exhale, I came to the most profound realization about myself:
I hate to be challenged. I want everything to come naturally easily. I don’t want to sweat over it.
Yet there I was, in the midst of my favorite teacher’s yoga class one Saturday morning, dripping with sweat and observing my mental chatter, when I found myself having an ardent response to what was occurring. My mind whispered things like:
“Fuck this. Why are we in another Warrior? Can we do something else?”
“Damn that girl who piped up at the start of class saying, “let’s focus on abs and core.” Now she’s back there in Child’s Pose.”
“Does this guy need to be so close to my mat, his sweat is dripping over here.”
“Ugh, really Theresa? Since when is your class Hatha? Why the fuck am I still in this pose.”
My mind was trying to start some shit. Because that’s what it does.
The thoughts were flowing, as they do, but for once I wasn’t engaging with them. I was merely an observer of the steady stream of chatter that arises in my mind when I am being challenged. When I’m pushed, my defenses go up, and I can fall back into outdated belief systems and patterns that no longer serve me. My old way of acting would have been something like this:
Listen to the thoughts. Respond to the thoughts. Fuel them with fire and hate so that by the end of the class I am in full “fuck it” mode. Then spend an hour after class blaming the teacher, the girl behind me, the guy next to me and anyone else around for ruining my practice and getting in my space. It would’ve been a sneaky hate spiral with no end in sight.
This time though, I saw it playing out. There was zero engagement with my monkey mind. In fact, I laughed even deeper into my pose when I saw just how much I dislike being challenged. In realizing my perfect flaw and approaching it with love and humor, I saw my own growth. I even regarded this new flaw with affection, like I would a wayward child.
In that moment, I was able to embrace myself with loving-kindness, acceptance, humor and appreciation.
I felt like I was channeling Pema Chödrön, when she talks of opening to ourselves in the very moment we would usually turn away.
I found myself in this miraculous place of non-judgement. There was no negative chatter following the realization of my flaw. This is a huge deal for someone like me, as I spent 34 years playing judge, jury and executioner in my head, while expecting nothing short of perfection from myself.
I never could have reached this place without yoga.
I used to approach yoga like a competition sport. I would constantly compare myself to everyone else in class—never as equals, always as less than or better than. I spent so much time focusing on holding my poses for longer and in better form than “you,” I was completely missing what yoga was all about.
It took some years before I started to get it.
I re-approached yoga two years ago, and somewhere in the journey I started allowing myself to fall out of poses without berating myself as a failure.
Next thing I knew, I was no longer comparing myself to anyone else in class. I was within, and within was becoming more and more beautiful.
Then I started noticing how my mind constantly tried to tell me I couldn’t do things. What used to be an automatic voice controlling my actions now became a voice in the passenger seat, and I began to take the power away from it. As I breathed into more and more poses for just one more inhale, I created more and more space between my thoughts and my actions.
And there was freedom there.
I realized my mind would have me quit long before my body was ready. I realized my mind is lazy; it seeks the easier, softer way for everything. It wants everything handed to me with minimal effort. I’m aware this is not reality. I am aware I must work for my own successes, and I do just that on a daily basis.
Without yoga, I would have talked myself out of success before I even lifted a finger.
I might work hard when I’m in my comfort zone and go above and beyond when it’s going my way, but the bottom line is this: For 34 years of life I quit in the face of all adversity. When challenged, I got pissed and stopped trying.
In identifying the thoughts and patterns our minds create, we find power over them. Once we shine light on what they are and examine them, we can then choose to either continue the pattern, or we can forge a new one.
Yoga will help us do this, but we must commit to practice. Yoga brings us choice and freedom.
I choose to form new patterns these days.
For the last two years, every breath I have taken has been devoted to freeing myself from the entrapment of my mind. Two weeks ago, the empty space of observation of my mind and self showed me just how much freedom from enslavement yoga has given me.
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” ~ Bhagavad Gita
We must go through the self to find the freedom.
Author: Lindsay Carricarte
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Lena Bell/Unsplash