I recently chatted with someone I just met about how she didn’t feel mentally strong enough to return to yoga class. It was a first for me; usually, people use the “I’m not flexible” or “I’m not in shape” excuse.
But here was a former dedicated yogi now afraid that her mind — rather than her body — would turn to jelly on the mat.
At the time, I smiled it off and said, “Well, you’ll know when you’re ready,” but inside my mental script was telling her something entirely different.
“You don’t have to be ready. The beauty of yoga is you come as you are: broken, fixed, strong or jelly — and you come to find that maybe that ‘thing’ you thought you were? You’re not that.”
But I had just met her and didn’t know her life situation, so I kept that dialogue to myself. Although I haven’t seen her since, the conversation stuck with me.
Is it possible to not be mentally ready for yoga?
The illusion of control
We put enormous pressure on ourselves to know what lies ahead before it’s even here — to be “ready” for whatever comes. The silly part is: We can never know. Yet you’d think that we could, with the amount of time we spend planning and worrying.
Most of us avoid situations where we’re not in control. Heck, some of us build our entire lives around this illusion. But there’s the jelly — that “oh my gosh, I think I’m going to lose it” feeling — that often happens when things aren’t going to plan.
A fear of the jelly is, basically, a fear of “losing our minds.”
Ironically, that’s the greatest gift yoga can give us.
I’m not talking about mental illness here — I’m referring to letting go of what you think you are and coming back to who you really are. To loosening your death grip on life and everything in it, for a more compassionate, kind view where you don’t always have to be right or know all the answers.
Really, you don’t. You know that, don’t you?
Judith Hanson Lasater, yoga teacher and physical therapist, explains how yoga helps bring us back to the present (not the plans) in this quote from Prevention magazine:
“Yoga is like a speed bump that slows you down so you pay attention to the body.”
It’s miserable (and exhausting) work trying to control all life’s variables. As a result, you’re probably all mind and no body.
If there’s anything yoga has taught me it’s to value the connection. And in so doing, you’ll discover that yoga’s physical practice has an uncanny “speed bump” like effect on easing the worries and plans of the mind.
It’s okay to let go — and go with the flow
There’s another part of the control equation: feeling like if you don’t take charge, no one will. So you pile on a lot of excuses for why you should be planning and worrying, because who else will do it if not you?
This is easy enough to maintain when we’re feeling relatively good, but every lit fuse burns out eventually.
Take, for example, opening a particularly stubborn pickle jar. We twist and grunt and rub our palms red, then hand the jar over to someone else and pop! it opens.
And what’s the first thing out of our mouth when that happens? “Well, I loosened it up for you!”
Secretly, we think that we did all the work, and if we had kept at it a little bit longer (or, cool trick, tapped the jar lid on the counter a few times), it would have opened for us.
But would it?
Sometimes, you need a fresh perspective or someone who hasn’t been slogging away at the pickle-jar-opening for as long as you have.
What I’m getting at here is this: You don’t have to be strong or in control all the time. It’s okay to ask for help. After all, that’s what all of us are here for.
What you can control
This letting go business is tough, as tough as it is to sit with yourself for one whole breath without the mind wandering. Go ahead, close your eyes and try it. Breathe in, breathe out and stay in every. single. moment.
Guess what? You get another breath to try. And another. And another!
If you think you’re not physically or mentally ready for yoga, that’s precisely the reason why you should practice.
Rather than feed yourself the same excuses, it’s time for a new kind of food — one that’s tastier than pickle and jelly analogies.
Yoga is soul food. By rediscovering your physical self and accepting it just as it is, you’re unknowingly training your mind to focus on what you can control: your reaction.
Try this: Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana, Standing Splits Variation
Balancing poses are a great way to practice the give-and-take of flow and control. Start with this variation of standing splits where your hands leave the mat and encircle your ankle.
Note that this pose is infinitely easier when you don’t have a tiny papillon named Willow dancing around your lifted foot.
- Stand in Tadasana, Mountain Pose. Charge up your legs by lifting the knee caps and rooting into the bottom of each foot. Inhale your arms overhead, then swan dive into a forward fold, bending your knees gently as you need.
- Keep your legs active as you plant your palms or fingers on the mat. On an inhale, sweep your right leg straight up behind you until it’s comfortably extended (which may mean very high, or relatively low to the ground). Keep your hips squared and extend through your right heel. Flex the toes toward your face.
- Reengage your left femur up into your hip socket, rooting strongly through the left foot. Keep your gaze on one point of focus below you for balance.
- Staying in your forward fold, walk your fingers toward your left ankle. Begin to take the weight off your hands, firming up into your core and through your right lifted leg.
- Take hold of your ankle with one of your hands, and, if you feel steady, bring your other hand to your ankle. Breathe smoothly for four to six breaths. Don’t judge if you can’t balance today; that’s why we practice!
- On an exhale, release your right leg back to the mat. Inhale and rise into Tadasana before moving to the other side.
Your turn: How do you let go and live in the flow? Share below!