I used to run. A lot. I also used to experience anxiety. A lot. A little voice inside my head would say “Do something” or “Be productive” or “You’re fat.” I tried to run from this voice, to appease this voice, to reason with this voice. I would turn up the volume on my music or podcast until emphatic words or guitar solos caused me to wince, but the intermittent pain was far more bearable than that authoritarian voice inside my head. And so the abusive relationship with myself persevered; and I either avoided it or did what it told me to.
Then, without warning, my body stood up to the voice. My muscles banded together—protesters chaining me to an air-cast, in order to heal what my Physiotherapist told me was “the worst case of crepitus [he’d] ever seen from an overuse injury.” His prescription? Ultrasound, Electrotherapy, Intramuscular Stimulation, Naproxen, and…yoga.
Yoga? I had tried yoga a couple times in the past. Yoga was boring. Yoga was inefficient. Yoga didn’t make me sweat like a 15km run. Yoga was stretching. But it was either yoga or nothing, and once I was able to hobble around without my air cast, I begrudgingly attempted a hatha class.
I did the poses. I pretended to meditate. I even sweat in Warrior II (bonus!). Check. One hour closer to getting back into my Asics and clocking kilometers. This continued for several classes. Just get through it. Come on. They say it’s for every body. If you can’t do it, it means you’re mediocre. It means you suck. Look! That lady's doing Bird of Paradise like a champ, and you can't even get your foot off the ground without teetering over! Weak.
One day during class, I was particularly “off.” I couldn’t balance in Warrior III; my hamstring cramped during Bridge; I had to come out of Triangle early; exasperated, I gave in and took Child’s Pose when my classmates took Downward Dog. I gave in. I beat myself up for it. Pathetic. Frustration, shame, and powerlessness dripped from tear ducts, beating me like hot, salty fists. As I lay there, exhausted from years of self-criticism, it dawned on me: The only person ridiculing me over “quitting” was me. And the last times I had forced myself to fight through the pain, I had ended up at the doctor, chiropractor, masseuse, and finally the Physio. My unrealistic expectations for perfection, my tendency to compare myself to and compete with others, my impatience, my inability to sit in uncomfortable emotions… those were what contributed to my anxiety, my shame, my feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness.
So perhaps it wasn’t about running from or avoiding that critical voice; perhaps it was about transforming it. And so I tried something. I told myself it was OK to not be the best. Why? Because I’m pretty new at this, and being “the best” at everything is statistically impossible, and only doing things that I’m good at will make for a rather limited existence. I told myself it was OK to have imperfections. Why? Because the unifying quality all humans shares is our common imperfection. Imperfection is being. Just being is perfection.
I echoed what the teachers had told me—that every day is different, every pose is different, just observe without judgment. It felt foreign. It felt forced. It felt inauthentic and untrustworthy. But amidst those defensive feelings, there was a dull sense of comfort, and the space to acknowledge what I was thinking and feeling without the shame and anxiety that had caused me to previously avoid it. And so my yoga practice became about more than the asana: it became a classroom for learning self-compassion, for developing patience, non-judgment, tolerance, and self-awareness. In my case, “giving in” and taking Child’s Pose in a room full of Downward Doggers was, in fact, the more courageous choice.
I took these lessons I had learned in the yoga classroom into my daily life, my inner-dialogue, my relationships, and my counselling practice. I’m still learning, and I will continue to do so, as long as I keep turning inwards and paying attention to my inner voice. The next time you practice, take it as an opportunity to listen to how you treat yourself—how you respond if you have trouble with a posture, or how you react if you experience boredom, impatience, defeat or frustration. Your relationship with yourself will be the most sustaining relationship you will experience in your lifetime, and fortunately, you have the beautiful ability to make that relationship how you want it to be. So tune into that relationship, and make the asana simply a welcome byproduct of your practice starting today.
"You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection" -Buddha.
Megan Bruneau is a BCACC Registered Clinical Counsellor in Vancouver, B.C. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Counselling Psychology from Simon Fraser University, Supplemented by a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Family Studies from the University of British Columbia. As a former personal trainer and yoga and nutrition advisor, Megan combines her personal and professional knowledge and experience in the health and wellness industries to bring you strategies for creating a more constructive and fulfilling way of life.
Website: One Shrink Perspective