“I’m not good at yoga….”

Okay, confession time.  It bums me out when people say they “aren’t good at yoga.”  It makes me feel weird and sad — but at the same time, I get it.  Can you relate to this at all?  Or, are you the person who says this?

I know it’s trite to say “yoga is not about ‘being good’” but for me, that’s the truth.  I grew up in an amazingly competitive environment – academics, sports, SAT scores, roles in school plays – you name it, there was cutthroat competition to achieve at the highest possible level.  And it was exhausting.  If you were raised in a similar environment, you know that it’s hard to completely leave that mindset behind.  When I first started going to yoga classes, yes, I did look around and compare myself to other people.  Was I as deep in the pose?  How come she could do that movement better than I could?  Shouldn’t I be stronger than that person?  Etc., etc., etc….every yogi has been there at one time or another.

Gradually with more time on the mat, I became less and less concerned with what was happening on other mats and more concerned with what was happening on my own mat.  I was more curious about what I felt or thought in different poses.  If I did any comparing, it was more often between how a pose felt on this day versus how the same pose felt in my body on another day.  I looked more at my own patterns of thought and movement, my tendencies and default settings.  When I looked around at other people, it was more often to admire other people’s poses or just marvel at the fact that there were 4 or 19 or 150 other people in the room all going for it.

Then I started teaching, and saying out loud to groups of people that what mattered in my class was that everyone felt free, created space for new thoughts and ideas, and moved their bodies in ways that were fun and creative.  And I found myself saying repeatedly that what the pose looked like doesn’t really matter that much.  “Getting into” something hard is not the objective, the path of getting there is.  And I started realizing that my most advanced students and colleagues were those that knew their strengths, their limits, and their areas for growth.  They were the ones who showed up and stuck it out regardless of the weather or the busy-ness of their lives.  They became the definition of “good at yoga.”

I guess what makes me sad is that the most of the people who tell me that they aren’t good at yoga aren’t working with that definition.  They mean “I can’t touch my toes.”  Or “I can’t move my shoulder blades down my back.”  And what are these but invitations to open new space in the body and mind?  Tightness creates an opportunity for learning and exploration, and we can all be good at that.  And if you can release your competitive nature on the mat, you may finally find an oasis of non-competition and supportiveness in an otherwise dog-eat-dog world.

But sadly, this is hard to explain.  Especially to the acquaintance you meet on the chairlift who came to one or two classes and then never came back because she “isn’t good at yoga.”  And that makes me sad, because there’s so much exploration to be had when you stick it out past the first tight forward bend.  And because I was there once too, and for some reason stuck it out.

I’m always curious about other people’s experiences with this.  Do you hear the “I’m not good at yoga” phrase a lot?  Or do you yourself say it??  What’s your reaction to it?  How do we move through this thought pattern?  Let me know…this is a conversation I’d love to engage in. Leave me a note here or grab me in the studio!

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~ by bridgetannlyons on April 15, 2011.

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