This Part 2 in a two-part series on what practicing yoga has taught me. If you missed it, catch Part 1 here.
6. Let go. Being present on the mat requires letting go of anything outside of your mat for that hour. Your posture is not one of control and striving, but rather openness and malleability.
So often, I find myself having a breakthrough during class. My mind relaxes, and I receive an answer to a question I’ve been pondering or a conflict I’ve been working through.
Isn’t this so often how God works? When we let go of our preconceived notions of what He can do – or what we can do with Him – we allow Him to enter the spaces where we feel most weak and strengthen us. He always surprises me with His goodness.
But this first requires opening up to Him.
7. Open up to fear. One of the scariest poses for me is the backbend – or “wheel pose.” In yoga, you’re encouraged to think through the connection of body, mind, and heart. And this pose, as you open yourself up physically, you may feel a bit of emotional vulnerability as well.
In a backbend, you have to be both fearless and vulnerable. Pushing up with the strength of your shoulders and arching your belly toward the sky, you expose the most vulnerable parts of yourself – your heart.
In the words of yogi Colleen Saidman Yee, “Backbends open the door to the heart; they are life-affirming. We elicit fear in yoga so that we can walk courageously through it.”
A backbend helps you confront fear by piercing through the protective shell you think keeps you safe. Whenever I enter into a backbend, there’s often a moment where I’m not sure whether my arms can hold me. But the great thing is that I find strength when I actually try.
The openness of backbends remind me so much of the practice and silence and solitude where I’m forced to confront my fears – to see if there are any anxious thoughts within me. When I sit in silence and stillness, opening my heart up to God’s loving gaze, he reveals the places that are still hard, that need to be softened, that require his compassionate touch.
I love this reflection from Saidman Yee:
Sit down and notice where you hold fear in your body. Notice where it feels hard, and sit with it. In the middle of hardness is anger; sit with the anger. Go to the center of anger, and you’ll usually come to sadness. Stay with the sadness until it turns to vulnerability. Keep sitting with what comes up; the deeper you dig, the more tender you become. Raw fear can open into the wide expanse of genuineness, compassion, gratitude, and acceptance in the present moment. A tender heart appears naturally when you are able to stay present. From your heart, you can see the true pigment of the sky. You can see the vibrant yellow of a sunflower and the deep blue of your daughter’s eyes. A tender heart doesn’t block out rain clouds, or tears, or dying sunflowers. Allow beauty and sadness to touch you. This is love, not fear.
By getting honest about our fears and bringing them into the light of day, God can do something about them. In the words of John, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
This perfect – complete, whole, lacking nothing – kind of love from God is the only love I’ve known that’s capable of driving away my fear. And when I encounter it, when I truly let myself rest in it, I can experience life more fully – I don’t have to put up defensives or self-protect with perfectionism. In fact, I can fall and know it will be okay.
8. Get okay with falling. In yoga, you’re actually encouraged to fall. Just yesterday, my instructor talked for several minutes about how we should fall in yoga. Practicing in the grove next to the Tulip Garden at the far west end of Golden Gate Park, 30 or so of us amateur yogis gathered to practice together. Our teacher reminded us, “What is below you if you fall? Just the earth. The grass. Fall. Lean in. You’re in a beautiful place. This is a safe space to fall.”
We need these safe spaces to fall in life – whether in a yoga class or in the warm community of friends. We need to be able to make mistakes and grow and know that we’re going to fall on soft grass or in the arms of our friends and our loving Father. We may fall, but we won’t fail.
I still struggle to differentiate between falling and failing. It’s easy to have an all-or-nothing mentality – where if it’s not perfect or it’s not complete, then it’s bad, and I should have never tried in the first place.
But that’s definitely not true. Mistakes act as a rudder, guiding us along the oceans of our lives. When we view falling as a necessary part of learning and growing, then mistakes are no longer obstacles toward our goal. In fact, the goal has changed completely.
We’re no longer aiming for perfection. We’re aiming for growth and presence. Presence with ourselves and with others. Grace for our mistakes. Grace for others. Rather than allowing our minds to be consumed with the pursuit of perfection, the pursuit of presence allows us to fully enjoy each moment. Even the hard ones. They are teachers. They are friends. Each moment, each person, each failure, each success…it’s all there to guide us and shape us.
9. Lean in and focus. While falling is key to growth, we don’t benefit much from haphazard movement or careless flailing about. We’re still supposed to focus. To lean into the movement, to concentrate on our breathing, and to focus our eyes on a spot that steadies us.
This is especially important in balance poses like half moon, where you have one foot planted on the floor and the other shoots back behind you – perpendicular to your mat. Your top arm reaches up to the ceiling, and your body is angled to the wall. The goal is to be perfectly aligned from top arm to bottom arm, like a single pane of glass, and to eventually lift your hand off the floor as a way of challenging your balance even more.
The only way to maintain this posture is to lean into the movement, to keep breathing, and to focus your eyes on a spot in front of you. By focusing on a single place on the floor, your mind and your body have less opportunity to move about, fearful of falling. Instead you can stay centered and know that if you do fall, you don’t have far to go.
The challenge of these balance postures reminds me so much of how God calls us to focus on Him and His goodness amidst the tumult of life. “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:18, NLT)
When we focus on Him and lean into His love, we find we’re much safer and steadier than we’d realized.
10. Be still. Be silent. During a typical yoga class, you’ll alternate between moments of stillness and periods of movement. Yoga is not a loud, amped-up workout class – like spin or boot camp. It’s quiet. It’s just the sound of your own breath and perhaps some music in the background.
I so often encounter this peace after I’ve moved my body through vinyasas and finally come to rest in shavasana at the end of class. Anytime we still ourselves in silence with God, confront our fears, and allow both beauty and sadness to touch us, we find His perfect love.
His rest restores us. And He’s with us in the process, singing over us, staying present with us, and reminding us that he gives us the strength we need for the journey.
“Shepherd” by Bethel Music
In the process
In the waiting
You’re making melodies over me
And your presence
is the promise
For I am a pilgrim on a journey
You will lift my head above the mighty waves
You are able to keep me from stumbling
And in my weakness
you are the strength that comes from within
Good shepherd of my soul
Take my hand and lead me on
You make my footsteps and my path secure
So walking on water is just the beginning
Cause my faith to arise, stand at attention
For You are calling me to greater things
how I love You
how I love You
You have not forsaken me
How I love You
how I love You
With you is where I want to be