So many yoga practitioners are focused on gaining the flexibility and strength and coordination to be able to master the postures
of yoga. And while this might be a rewarding endeavor for the ego, it misses the point regarding some of the most important aspects
of your yoga practice.
You see, while there is indeed value in achievement--it can help us feel empowered
and capable contributors in the world,
for example--there is also much value to be had from encountering our limitations, from coming face to face with what we cannot do.
And that's especially true when it's done consciously and with the right understanding.
As we've already seen in Secret #1, the optional misery in our lives is largely caused not by circumstances, but by our less than helpful relationship with circumstances; with Secret #2, we saw how our yoga practice can help us to find relatively more ease and satisfaction, even when things aren't going our way.
Now here, in Secret #3 we are invited to stop and consider how our limitations may not be limitations at all, but rather opportunities.
More specifically, to contemplate how the limitations that we've been fighting against our entire lives are the very opportunities that we need in order to increase our mental and emotional capacity for peaceful and relaxed living.
Let me explain.
We all know people who remain relatively unruffled no matter what life brings. Whether they're facing an argument with a spouse, a work conflict, or a five-mile long traffic jam, they seem undisturbed.
It's a peculiar trait that makes us want to know what these people have that we don't. And here it is, in a word: capacity.
These are people who possess an expanded capacity for life's challenges. Some are born with it, others have developed it, but in either case, it's something that allows them to remain relatively peaceful and at ease--even when things might be very far from how they want them to be.
Pretty cool trick, if you can pull it off.
And that's where the good news comes in. We all can pull it off with just a little work and perhaps not surprisingly, your yoga practice is just the kind of "work" we need to make it happen.
It works like this: Think of how you build physical capacity in the gym. You do so by encountering physical challenge; for example, by lifting weight. When we challenge the body to do just a little more than it can comfortably do, over time the body adapts to be able to meet the challenge. By lifting weight consciously and regularly, we deliberately expand the body's capacity to lift weight.
The same process works with our mental and emotional capacity. And to a large degree, this is what your yoga postures are designed to do. Think about it. A well-crafted yoga practice asks us to do all manner of things we can't do (at least not perfectly): we are asked to bend in difficult ways, stand in uncomfortable positions, balance in impossible shapes, but--and this is the important insight--we do so not to master such things, but to expand our mental and emotional capacity.
In the same way that you need physical challenge to make your physical self stronger, you need mental and emotional challenge to make your mental and emotional self stronger. And when we encounter what we can't do in a yoga posture, the mental and emotional weight of frustration, disappointment, and irritation arise. And it's here, lifting this mental and emotional weight, where we can make our money with our practice.
So how do you lift emotional weight? Simple, you relax with it.
Once our yoga practice has created the mental and emotional weight (the so-called negative emotions), our job is to relax with them. We face our disappointment with our lack of balance, we meet our frustration with our inflexibility, we stand toe-to-toe with our irritation about our clunky coordination while making space for each and every one. We give them permission to be.
It's through this process that the mental and emotional weight is lifted; it's through this process that we rewire the nervous system to relate to life's circumstances in a new and more healthy way; it's through this that we grow our mental and emotional capacity for life.
With this key insight, we can see how a pose done perfectly offers no mental or emotional weight. We do the pose, pat ourselves on the back and move on. And while this may be the ideal scenario for the insecure ego, from the stand point of growing our ability to remain at ease with life's difficulties, it's not particularly valuable. Like lifting three pounds in the gym, it makes you feel strong, but it's not really making you stronger.
So it's here that the invitation becomes to recognize the opportunity inherent in what you can't do--and perhaps most importantly to notice your tendency to waste the opportunity by believing the limitation to be a problem or obstacle.
When faced with wobbly balance, continue to do your best, but relax with the fact that balance is wobbly.
When you find you're the only on in class who can't perform the full version of the yoga posture, continue to do your best, and relax with the fact that limitations are present
When you find yourself bored because the posture is too easy, continue to stay engaged, and relax with the fact that you aren't being physically challenged.
Again and again, we do our best and relax with what is happening. It's the formula to growth that come from seeing our limitations as the obstacles they truly are.
Eric Walrabenstein is a nationally-recognized speaker, teacher, and best-selling author of Waging Inner Peace. As one of the most sought-after authorities on the application of yogic technology for self healing and empowerment in the nation, Eric is the founder of one of Arizona’s largest yoga centers, and Arizona's first 500-hour Master-Level Yoga Teacher Training Program. At the core of all his work is the effort to make yoga's ancient wisdom and techniques practical and relevant for people from all walks of life.
In addition to his work in his wellness center in Phoenix, Arizona, he is the creator of BOOTSTRAP, a yoga-based program to help troops and veterans heal from post traumatic stress, is an ordained Yogacharya (preceptor of yoga), and is currently finishing a book on the Science of Happiness.