I slowed the car and looked again at the acrylic sign outside the gas station. What the hell is a position5? It took a second to realize that they had run out of the letter S and used a number 5 instead. Oh, I thought. Speedway is hiring. I wondered if the inverted exclamation mark was intentional or accidental. Either way, it was pretty charming for a gas station sign.
All positions, inquire within. A perfect metaphor for a yoga practice. As a yoga therapist, I don’t actually teach people to touch their toes. I teach them to feel their toes and notice the experience of reaching for them. The difference is crucial.
It’s frustrating when people say that they aren’t flexible enough to do yoga. That’s like saying they’re too dirty to take a bath. Or that they can’t do enough push-ups to join a gym. You needn’t attain a goal to start working towards one. Flexibility definitely improves with commitment and patience, but even that isn’t the point. Yoga isn’t just some grown-up version of Simon Says. It’s self-study. After all, the word inquire comes from the Latin inquirere, meaning to seek, or search for.
It’s called a yoga practice for a reason. No one masters it. Ever. It’s a practice of moving and then becoming quietly receptive. An interplay of mobility and stability as an interoceptive means of understanding where our physical forms start and end. We make shapes and breathe. We notice when our world is spinning off its axis and come back to feeling solid ground beneath our feet. No matter the position, the answers lie within.
I have a friend who has been at war with her body for as long as I’ve known her. I’ve never heard her speak about her body with gratitude or love. She looks in the mirror and only sees flaws. She’s too fat. She has too many wrinkles. Too many freckles. Her nose is the wrong shape. She’s constantly on one diet or another, shells out thousands of dollars for facial fillers, and recently started saving for a nose job. Last time I saw her, she mentioned that she was thinking of having her eyes done at the same time. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” she trilled, as she dramatically pulled the skin around her eyes taut to show me what she was going for.
We live in a culture that tells women we cannot be young enough, thin enough, or beautiful enough. We’ve been conditioned to hate our bodies and to avoid aging at every cost, as if there is any alternative. I’m certainly not immune to it. I’m fairly at peace with my body, but if I told you I didn’t grieve my pre-menopausal neck, I’d be lying.
Of course we care about our appearance. If plastic surgery, strict diets, and punishing exercise regimens are your thing, I won’t argue with your right to do you.
Here’s what I’m saying. Most women are at war with their bodies. That is an unwinnable war until we make peace with what lies on the inside. We put off wearing the bikini until we’ve lost weight. We don’t sing loudly enough nor dance wildly enough because we don’t yet want to call attention to ourselves. We say we’re not young enough to wear that skirt, not pretty enough to post the picture without editing it first. Unless we get quiet and start listening to what our minds and bodies really need, we will never feel enough. We can diet and inject until we look like a catfish filter, but as long as our sense of value is directly tied to our reflection, as long as we ignore the whispers of our innate animal intelligence, we’re not living a fully experienced life.
The practice helps us pay attention in gratitude and with joy, skews us away from judgment and comparison. I grew really tired of living an arrival fantasy, putting off those moments of spontaneous, unguarded joy until I was closer to the wholly unattainable version of perfection I had set for myself. Now I live a more embodied life, one that has more room for loud belly laughs and purple eyeshadow and embracing the complete chaos of my sometimes wavy, sometimes curly, always frizzy mane. I wear the bikini and order the pasta, focused more on how things feel and (mostly) disregarding how it all looks. And this radical acceptance arose directly from the practice of noticing, of searching inside.
And the more we love and accept ourselves, the more love and acceptance we have to bring to the world.
All positions, inquire within.