Remember your first yoga class? Just holding downward facing dog, supposedly a resting pose, sapped all your strength in the first breath and resisting the urge to just collapse on the floor and cry suddenly became your only focus. Yoga requires physical strength, lots of it, but the real strength that this practice builds in all of us who stick around long enough to notice is the strength to stay open, soft and receptive, no matter what’s happening in the body, in the mind or in the world. This openness and gentleness guides us to feel without believing the mental commentary about what we’re feeling and why we’re feeling it.
Because human life is difficult, and it is so by design, we mistakenly conclude that being hit by any kind of calamity implies that we are not strong enough. If we were, the thinking goes, we could just somehow ward off any kind of trauma, pain or discomfort before it trespasses into our space. And so we buy into all kinds of build-a-better-me strategies, which may temporarily succeed in making us more agreeable according to society’s terms. But if I need to build a better version of myself, that means that the way I am now is not good enough and not worthy enough to be loved now, whether by myself or by others. Look within yourself, and then look around yourself, and notice how prevalent this messed up logic is.
I often remind my students (and myself) that this practice of yoga, on and especially off the mat, is not a self-improvement course, but a course in radical acceptance of who and how we are now. It’s a profound softening toward one’s inherent and inescapable human flaws. It’s a merciless openness to all of life’s happenings, and an incessant curiosity about what those happenings are teaching us and how they’re propelling us toward the ultimate and the only goal, which is self love. To practice yoga and life in this way is to embody the real kind of strong.
When you think you need more strength, ask yourself whether softening a little would get you even closer to whatever you’re aiming for. More often than you think, staying open, soft and receptive in times of turmoil will prove to be the tail wind you need.
And don’t expect the world to pat you on the back and validate you. In other words, prepare to often feel alone on this path of the real kind of strong. We humans are conditioned from early on to manhandle everything, including ourselves and our humanness. We work really hard to weed out any appearance of softness and vulnerability, not realizing that, as A. D. Posey beautiful put: “Vulnerability is the portal to feeling, and feeling is the portal to strength.”
In today’s yoga practice, I led my students through a flow that concluded with kapinjalasana, or partridge pose. As if side plank were not intense enough, we challenged ourselves to balance on one arm and one leg, while creating a bow shaped backbend on the other side of the body. It’s possible to hold side plank using your strength only, but to expand into partridge pose, openness, gentleness and softness are key. Which is why I chose this pose for today, Mother’s Day, as we all had a chance to recalibrate ourselves to reflect more of this archetypal feminine energy of caring, nurturing, gentleness and the untiring expression of love, which is in all of us, regardless of whether we’re a man or a woman.
Let’s practice the real kind of strong by staying soft, open and vulnerable. It’s time to take the silly hard armor because it doesn’t work anyway. It won’t protect you, but it will obstruct your path toward self love, which is what all of us are looking for, whether we’re aware of it or not.
I also shared this beautifully heart-felt writing by Vironika Tugaleva (http://www.vironika.org) with my yogis today. Thank you, Vironika, my yogis and all of us warriors of the real kind of strong for being each others’ inspiration on this path of the one appearing as many.
“These times are hard, but I won’t walk away jaded, darker, different. I feel. I cry to heal. If you saw me in those moments, maybe you’d think I was a mess. But I don’t call it a mess. I call it strength.
Real strength isn’t about building walls. Real strength is about staying open, no matter what. It’s about taking life—with all the pleasures that fade and all the pain that sticks around for too long—and not shutting down, not closing down, not building up those walls.
Resilience isn’t hard, impenetrable, iron. Resilience is flexible, soft, warm.
Stay strong. The real kind of strong. Don’t let your automatic mind reflexes make you jump away from pain and towards pleasure. Make choices. See clearly. And never, ever, stop feeling.
Don’t go numb. The world, even with all its horror, is too beautiful to miss.”