There I stood, my legs in a wide triangle. With my knees locked, I draped my torso to the inside of my front leg and beyond. The instructor walked around, offering adjustments. Sweat ran up my face now and into my eyes. With each breath, each extension I believed I ventured a step closer to some sacred spot that I was certain I would find with just a little more reach. I simply fell into the ease of my flexibility.
An uninvited voice beside my ear suddenly pierced my smug-bubble. "Don't give so much to the stretch. Hold back and meet it with your strength; you'll get more out of it." With that advice, a firm but gentle hand nudged my hyper-extended, locked knee forward an inch or two, forcing muscles from my toes to my forehead to engage subtly. Instantly, my breathing required more focus and my pose more intention. Whoa! I'd thought I had it down! I mean, wasn't the whole idea here to be Cirque-du-Soleil flexible?
But then a flash tingled through my body, and I'm sure my eyes widened with wonder. I could feel what I was doing from the inside out. The instructor moved on, and the class flowed into another pose, but I just lingered in this new and curious feeling.
Don't give so much...your strength...you'll get more... Those words rang through my head again and again. It sounds dramatic, but we've all heard people describe experiences in which their entire lives have flashed before them. Well, I won't say that that was the case for me, but in the instant when that flash zipped through me, moments and scenarios and relationships danced their dances--the good, the bad, and the ugly--before my mind's eye. And I knew without question that my over-extended stretch was a metaphor for the way I'd lived my life just as the instructor's advice for my pose was a metaphor for the way I needed to live it. Our bodies, minds, and spirits reflect one another. Everything we do and the ways in which we do them speak volumes about us when we're willing to listen.
As the consummate oldest child in a family that was tearing apart at the seams and unraveling everywhere in between, I'd been groomed well to be the caretaker, fixer-upper, image-maintainer for just about everyone in most situations. I had been the 17-year old high school honor student and newspaper editor with a bleeding ulcer and an eating disorder. But I was on a mission to be always prepared, always up for the challenge, always saying yes, always in control--or at least to try to make it look that way because I thought it was the only way I'd have any credibility in my quest to change the world. And I was always over extended. In the case of yoga, literally.
I guess we really do learn our lessons when we're ready for them. That day in yoga class, I was 35-years old. I was a single mom. And I was spreading myself so thin, I wasn't truly engaged in/with the things and people that mattered most to me.
Don't give so much...meet it with your strength...you'll get more out of it. I realized at that moment and continue to realize how much energy I had spent simply expending myself at every turn because it gave me an odd sense of control. And, naturally, I found myself in situations and relationships with people who were more than happy to accommodate. I racked up quite a collection of Pyrrhic victories.
I choose differently now. Consciously. Or at least I try, because if we simply bend and stretch without the strength to hold ourselves and each other, we eventually break. And only an intact vessel can carry enough light to shine from the inside out and be a source of change and inspiration.