Did you know that you will never again have the exact same body that you have today? Most people get out of bed in the morning and just assume that they will pick up where they left off yesterday, physically speaking, with no discernable differences. But the things that we do on one day can dramatically affect our bodies the following day and on into the future.
Add in all the things we go through in our lifetimes (injuries, accidents, childbirth, illnesses, divorce, abuse, and addictions, just to name a few) and it’s easy to understand that our physical bodies are in constant flux just to keep us up and running. Sometimes, after a period of consistent exercise, we notice that we are getting stronger and improving our physical selves, and we feel great when these changes are of a positive nature. But we are also faced with times of decline, either from external or internal forces, or the from choices we have made along the way. This is where our physical and emotional selves can take a beating.
In an earlier article, “The Comparison Coin,” I touched on how we tend to compare ourselves to others and how doing that can be detrimental to our psyche both on and off the mat. What do you do, though, when your biggest competitor is a younger, stronger, and better put-together you?
I hear it all the time: I could do a split when I was a child, I could touch my toes before I injured my back, I didn’t have this problem before I had children, etc. We all have “good” days and “bad” days, feeling absolutely fine one morning, only to wake up the next morning with that old high school football injury flaring up, or an infection setting in where we cut our finger chopping onions last weekend.
Our present selves
Not recognizing our present selves as different from the earlier model of ourselves is something that we all struggle with at some point in our lives, whether or not we practice yoga. I used to think that my body would always do what I wanted it to do, would always be the same, but that was before a car accident in college busted my left knee to pieces and left me with chronic hip problems. I have heard similar stories from my students over the years.
Yoga has helped me personally address the daily differences and changes in my own life because every time I step on the mat I am presented with a slightly different version of myself. I didn’t understand this at all when I first began studying yoga. As a result, I would do the same postures the same way every time, assuming that my body would respond exactly the same way it did the last time I practiced. I didn’t take into account the time of day I was practicing (morning time is peaceful for the mind but the body tends to be less flexible) or the fact that I had just hiked five miles the day before (meaning that my legs were tired!).
But gradually, the longer I practiced the more I learned to respect just how different my body can be from one day to the next. I learned not to assume anything about my body because when I did I ended up pushing my body past its limit, sometimes to the point of injury. Just because I did a backbend yesterday is no guarantee that I will be able to do one today. And just because I was able to sit calmly in Virasana (the Hero) a week ago does not ensure that my knees will like it today. Through the years I have gained postures and lost postures, and, as a result, I have learned to hold on to them very loosely.
Our emotional selves
This practice has directly influenced how I interpret and live my life off the mat because it is not only our physical selves that change every day. Our emotional selves undergo changes on a daily basis, too.
I have learned that it is not always true that we emotionally step in a forward direction. There are days when I feel totally in control and strong, but if I see or experience something that reminds me of a difficult time in my life I often become like a child again, struggling to hold onto the lessons I have learned and thought I had already mastered. My work on the mat has proven to me that I can’t “fix” something one time and call it done. I am constantly in “tune up” mode, which is how I now approach my emotional self as well.
The truth is that our lives are diverse and multi-faceted. No two people have had the same experiences, therefore we are all unique. And because we continue to acquire new information and have varied experiences and challenges throughout life, we are also unique one day to the next from the previous versions of ourselves.
One of my goals as a teacher in the studio is to help my students work with and respect the body they have today, not the one they had yesterday or ten years ago. Once we accept the fact that we are ever changing beings and decide to courageously meet ourselves honestly each day, the pressure and expectation to remain constant is revealed as the oppressor it has always been.
K. Kris Loomis is the author of the humorous travel memoir, Thirty Days In Quito: Two Gringos and a Three-Legged Cat Move to Ecuador. She also writes adult parables and short stories as well as books about yoga and meditation. Kris is a determined chess player, an origami enthusiast, a classically trained pianist, and a playwright. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and two cats.
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