By Dana Gornall
“How is it that I have been practicing yoga this long and still suck at it?”
These were the words I typed out into my phone to my yoga instructor. I was frustrated (and I still am). I’m a busy mom. I work, I run places, I drive my kids around like a taxi driver, and for about the last seven or eight years I have tried to wedge a small amount of time in my schedule for yoga. I’ll be the first one to tell anyone that my practice is not as regular as it could be. I make it to class about twice a month (on average) and I do a very short, half-assed practice before bed (some nights).
So, I understand why I suck at yoga.
In class that day, my feet were planted on the ground, I pressed my palms down on the mat as my teacher instructed us to put one foot and then the other onto the wall, allowing the body to form a right angle (or at least attempt a right angle). I watched as she demonstrated at first, easily holding the pose as though she could float one hand off the ground and drink a cup of water at the same time.
With one foot against the wall, I lifted my other and pressed hard. Slightly triumphant and excited that I did it, the sensation didn’t last long as my shoulders twitched and my elbows bowed and my feet slid down quickly, toes hitting the floor with a thump!
I was defeated.
Fuck, I cursed under my breath. A sideways glance told me that the woman next to me was holding the pose with ease.
Moving onto the next pose, and then the next, my mind would not let go of that image of my feet sliding down the wall. My shoulders ached. My hamstrings pinched and shook.
Preparing for headstand, we placed our elbows on the mat and edged in closer with our toes, forming upside down V’s and letting our heads hover our wrists. “Walk in,” she instructed. “Walk in.” I inched my toes forward even though my entire body felt weak, and at any minute I might collapse. Allowing the tip of my head to rest slightly on my fingers, it occurred to me that I was “cheating.”
This is why you suck at this, I told myself.
Like grains of rice filling up a pot, each negative comment followed the next until my head was swimming with them. When I finally pressed my head onto the floor and let my legs swing up I was convinced I didn’t belong in this class.
It’s funny how easy it can be to let our minds see all that is wrong and gloss over the things that are right. In fact, our brains are even wired to do this.
As Dr. Rick Hanson writes in Buddha’s Brain, The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom:
“The brain typically detects negative information faster than positive information. When an event is flagged as negative, the hippocampus makes sure it is stored carefully for future reference. Once burned, twice shy. Your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones—even though most of your experiences are probably neutral or positive.”
And the statement that hit home the most:
“It’s easy to acquire feelings of learned helplessness from a few failures, but hard to undo those feelings, even with many successes. People do more to avoid a loss than to acquire a comparable gain.”
Did I tend to focus on all the slips off the wall and the muscles that shake and quiver, and not on the improvements I have made over the years? Yes, probably.
And I talk about all the times I don’t do yoga instead of the times I successfully make time for it, just like I beat myself up over the days I make grilled cheese for dinner instead of a fully cooked meal or for missing something on the school calendar. But it’s easy to see this because I can never seem to reach the bar of what I am supposed to be. I can’t even come close to grazing it with my fingers.
It’s difficult not to focus on all that I am not doing when it seems like so many around me are walking through it all with so much more ease, as though they could float one hand off the floor and drink from a cup of water at the same time.
“Given the negativity bias of the brain, it takes an active effort to internalize positive experiences and heal negative ones. When you tilt toward the positive, you’re actually righting a neurological imbalance,” states Hanson.
I return to my phone and text my teacher back, I’ll stop whining. She suggests waking up earlier to get in a practice in the morning and I feel all of my defenses raise up in response.
I already get up early! I have to get the kids up for school! I need coffee! I can’t get up any earlier! I have too much to do! The dog will want out and fed!
Okay, maybe I’m whining again.
“Do all that you can, with all that you have, in the time that you have, in the place where you are.” ~ Nkosi Johnson
Editor: Ty H. Phillips