Strong Enough To Be Soft
“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”
— Chinese Proverb
Admittedly, I was once a master goal driver. One May, I ran my first five-mile course ever, and just a few months later, I ran a full marathon. I've always enjoyed proving myself. But soon after I began practicing yoga, I began to question if I was using my own strength to 'overpower' myself.
“Feel your strength. You can do anything you really want to.”
When I started taking yoga classes and was encouraged to 'do' a pose, it would feel like a challenge to me. I would excitedly take it as an opportunity to accomplish something; to have the chance to succeed. I remember one (well meaning) teacher, who would say something like, "Feel your strength. You can do anything you really want to." But to me that meant, "I am strong, so I need to do everything."
After an initial year or two of brining a lot of power and goal-orientation to my practice, I began to reflect in my meditation and final relaxation if my abilities to be strong and efficient were actual dampening quieter yearnings that I also housed. Was my 'get-it-done' style preventing me from listening inward and really hearing myself?
The more I softened in to listening, the less I craved accomplishment. What I began to hear was my deeper longing for self-acceptance, self-appreciation, self-love. I deeply desired the freedom to relax with myself; to relax into myself.
Don't get me wrong, I like being strong. But what I discovered is I needed to be strong enough to be soft; powerful enough to be open; steadfast enough to slow down; and relaxed enough to appreciate my self and life - just as it is.
Today, even though I do teach and practice 'poses', I approach them from a totally different place than when I first discovered yoga. My mat is where I practice freedom from being goal-driven. Freedom from 'achieving'. I practice yoga slowly, mindfully, and compassionately. I use my strength to support myself in staying present and relax more, and to encourage myself to be kind as I guide myself back to this state - over and over again.
I practice every morning to attune myself in this way. Sometimes I am on my mat for over an hour, and sometimes for 10 minutes. But no matter how long I am on my mat, my approach is always the same. And trust me.... doing even a 10 minute morning practice, just a couple of poses with awareness and presence (as opposed to quickly rushing through a 10 minute practice to get a bunch of poses done), helps me cultivate a more compassionate attention towards myself and others for the rest of the day. In turn, this allows me to relax and connect more with others even while attending to my list-of-things-to-do! This has been yoga's generous and transformative gift to me!
In an effort to share this gift with you (particularly during this busy season of being on the go, gathering and giving) I am dedicating this newsletter and each blog this month to ideas and practices that can help us all return to this slower, more purposeful, relaxed presence.
May we each find the freedom to loosen our grip on getting it all done and, instead, find the freedom of opening more fully moment by moment.
To read more of Jillian's work, click here.