Tag Archives: there is nothing wrong with you

The Yoga of Self-Expression

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.” -Martha Graham, as quoted in The Life and Work of Martha Graham (1991) by Agnes de Mille

When I was a little kid, I loved to draw. I could draw lots of kind of funny-looking things: people, flowers, animals. Often there was a joy in the simple expression of putting pencil to paper. As I grew older, however, and began to compare my artistic attempts to others’, I would get frustrated. I could see that what I was doing wasn’t the same, but I didn’t know how to make it “right.”

One particularly upsetting day, I was struggling to draw a person. I tried again and again to draw a nose that made sense- that looked like what I thought a drawing of a nose on a face should look like- but it just wasn’t happening. I was overwhelmed with frustration and maybe even the beginning of a sense of grief that I wasn’t able to live up to what I thought I should be able to do. This is when my mother intervened with a little bit of absolutely brilliant parenting.

She opened one of the many magazines that we had around the house and flipped to a cartoon of some little kids that was part of a frequent column. “Look,” she said. I looked: the children had been drawn with no noses at all. And yet they were still clearly children. They were a different expression of an idea of children, but they were people, and the nose was assumed, or it wasn’t, but it didn’t matter, because suddenly it became clear to me that there were many different ways to draw, to visualize, to convey the idea of something.

My lovely mom in that moment, took on the role of a teacher. Teachers can cultivate our individuality  or (perhaps with the best of intentions) impose someone else’s idea on us. My mother had given me a gift that is still carrying me 30 years later: the knowledge that self-expression is individual, unique, and not better or worse than anyone else’s expression.

Perhaps you can remember a time when you felt stifled by a teacher. Last week, for some reason, I recalled with stunning clarity a picture of a potato that I drew in high school. Well, let me be clear– I had started drawing this potato in my art class, but it wasn’t going very well. My attempts to capture the essence of potato in colored pencil form were failing pretty spectacularly. Our art teacher was a demanding and troubled guy, and the best you could sort of hope for in that class was to be left alone. Sadly, his eye fell on me and the potato art that day. He sat down beside me, took the drawing, and completed it for me. It was a masterpiece. Subtle shading, deep-set eyes and utterly potato-like curves. It could have been promo material for the Idaho Potato Board.

I remember watching him draw my potato, explaining where I’d gone wrong; I remember taking it home and somehow it even ended up framed over my dresser for a time! But every time I looked at it, I felt sad, a little shamed- it wasn’t really mine, and in fact it was a reminder of how I had failed as an artist according to the teacher’s standards.

This memory came to me during a class I was teaching last week, actually. I was watching a group of my students in Warrior 1. Each of them looked different. Their feet were in different places, their knees were more or less bent, their arms were doing slightly different things, and their hips were in varying degrees of proverbial Warrior 1 “square”-ness. And I thought of how, in previous years, I would ask them to place their feet in particular ways, and move their hips into a certain position, and place their arms just so, in an attempt to “get them into the pose.” I’ve attended classes recently that asked the same thing of me. And knowing now what I do about my body, and my students’ bodies, I wouldn’t confine them to exacting specifications. The cues I give to the class at large are much broader and likely to ask them to explore their own range of motion and comfort. My assists or adjustments are becoming more rare- while I love the idea of communicating through touch, I’m more cognizant now of how I may be inadvertently indicating “wrongness” on their part- that I might be sort of metaphorically taking their pen and drawing their potato.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe that we are always trying to do the best we can as teachers. I certainly was. It’s simply that with time, I’ve gotten more information- injuries in my body, observation of my students, research from teachers that I respect, and communication with my students.  While I have no interest in taking on the role of a guru, there is an element of power inherent in the word teacher. I believe that entails moral responsibility. For me, it means that I want to empower my students to recognize their own power, grace, and strength within their yoga practice. I want them to learn the value of their own unique expression of creativity in their body.

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How could I do better than to emulate the instinctive wisdom of a mother? To demonstrate to my students that however their creativity presents itself- as artists, as yogis, as human beings- is not only okay, it’s an expression of their luminous, radiant nature and an opportunity to celebrate their singular essential goodness. To me, if a yoga practice is making me feel like I am wrong in any way, I’m happy to hand the pencil back to the teacher and move on.

(Gratitude and love to my wonderful mother, whose love of me and celebration of my life is so complete that she would be proud of me if I lived in a cardboard box down by the river). 

 

 

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There’s Nothing Wrong With You: or, How To Overcome Self-Limiting Thought Patterns

Robert Sturman's beautiful portrait of Tao Porchon-Lynch. At 93 years old, she is still practicing and teaching yoga.

Robert Sturman’s beautiful portrait of Tao Porchon-Lynch. At 93 years old, she is still practicing and teaching yoga. See more of Master Tao here: http://www.taoporchon-lynch.com or more of the amazing Robert Sturman here: http://robertsturmanstudio.com/home.html

Dear Friend, Student, Fellow Human:

There’s Nothing Wrong With You.

I mean it.

At the end of class, when I sit in the darkened room, looking out across the rows of paper-doll bodies, outwardly still and peaceful in their Savasana, I feel so much love for my fellow humans. I think:  I wish this person loved themselves as much as they deserve. I wish they didn’t feel a lack in their lives. I wish they knew how wonderful they really are.

I believe it so much that I don’t even care how hokey it sounds, or how cheesy or corny or new-age hippie you think I am. It’s true.

Why is it so hard for you to believe it? Why is it so hard for me to believe it about myself?

It’s not much of a mystery: we’re conditioned to believe that there is something wrong with us. That we need to change something in order to be good, or happy. It starts at childhood (“Don’t pick your nose”) and continues through adolescence (“You weigh 115 pounds? OMG that’s a lot”) and by the time we’re in our twenties we’re well established in the patterns of self-beratement that will follow us through our lives. Entire media empires are built on selling us products and services that will complete us, “fix” us, make us better: Tooth-whitening, breast implants, liposuction, seaweed wraps, self-help books.

Our parents, our loved ones, who started us down this path, didn’t mean to do us any harm- after all, in many cases, they love us more unconditionally than we love ourselves!- but they simply followed the formula that’s pre-programmed in the human brain:

“If I could change my circumstances, then I would be happy.”

Maybe this programming started as a survival instinct- certain things make us feel good so we want to do them. Caveman: Sex feels good, have sex, propagate species! (look, it’s my first R-rated post!). What this means to our chemical brains is that we’re always out shopping around for a better experience. Our species has internalized this so much that we’re not even happy with the body, mind, or life that we have- we think that there’s something better available, and if we could just get that something better, then we’d be happy.

Maybe you’re okay with this. You might enjoy shopping, dieting, working hard to change yourself so that you can become “better.” After all, Laura, you may be thinking, why do people do yoga? So they can become more flexible. Or more peaceful. Or happier. Isn’t this a contradiction?

Here’s the thing: yoga, and other meditative practices, can cut through the “bettering” and get down to this fact: essentially, you’re already okay. There is nothing wrong with you. You’re whole and perfect, just as you are. After a while, you can even begin to make friends with your silly mind and the little tricks it plays on you. ‘Really, mind? I’d be happier if I bought a new pair of yoga pants?’

And while there is a fun aspect to shopping, comparing, and even “self-improvement,” there’s also a whole lot of misery and drama, isn’t there? If we could break free of this cycle, how much more energy and time would we have to devote to things that really matter? Imagine that Martin Luther King Jr. thought he was too fat, or not articulate enough, to share his message with others. If he let these thoughts limit him- if he stayed home because he was having a bad hair day on August 28, 1963– what would the world have missed?

You can begin to move past your self-imposed “I’m not good enough” boundary by beginning first to gently notice:

  • Tune in to your internal dialogue. Listen for the words “should,” “if you…” and “I need to”. Don’t try to change it! Just notice.
  • When you do hear the voice of self-judgment, ask yourself two questions:
  • What is the truth behind this statement?
  • If I let go of this belief, what would that free up for me?

Be cautious, and compassionate with yourself. It’s important that as you begin to notice your “something is wrong with me” self-talk, that you not judge yourself for having these thoughts. If you do find this happening, see if you can bring a sense of humor to the situation-smile at your silly mind and its habitual tricks.

After a while of practicing “just noticing” in this way, without any conscious effort to change it, the dialogue will start to shift. You will see these thoughts as they arise, and know them as just a habit of your mind. You will find yourself more confident, happy, and radiant. You will have more to give to the people in your life- who never understood why you were limiting yourself anyway.

Because, really: there is nothing wrong with you. I know you don’t believe me today.  Someday, maybe we can make it true for ourselves.

Until then, we practice together.

With affection,

Laura