Flexibility and Inner Strength

photo by  zeevveez

photo by zeevveez

“I bend so that I do not break.” —Unknown


At the beginning of this new year, I like many have assessed my previous year with the hope that it will help me to navigate in the new. By doing so, I have come to realize the importance of flexibility by way of my own inflexibility that was rampant throughout my last year's dance with cancer.  Managing that, and the lingering effects as well as the emotional and psychological side effects of treatment, the entire experience has forged a stronger and flexible me.

Becoming more flexible is NOT about putting your foot behind your head or folding yourself into a pretzel. Flexibility is a lesson learned through the building of strength that is discovered by many of us through the practice of life in general and/or yoga. When new yoga students express to me how UN-flexible they are, I get excited because I get to tell them, that is precisely one of the main reasons anyone should consider beginning or deepening a yoga practice...to become more flexible. Though one can indeed become more flexible by developing a yoga practice, flexibility is not only pursued in the body— flexibility in the mind as well as in the heart are equal parts of the equation. This is also true for the rest of us who may have been practicing yoga for many years and may be super flexible from a physical standpoint, but less so in the heart or mind. As humans, we can become rigid and can therefore benefit from becoming more flexible with our selves, our families, our neighbors, strangers and with all circumstances.  

Much like the 5 year old who does not like her impulses to be met with a “No”, I am usually able to find a way around whatever it is, to work towards my purpose of what I think should be. I am reasonable, resourceful, creative and solution oriented and therefore able to find a way. However, I’ve recently learned that if you live long enough as yourself, there are lessons that come tucked away inside events that are tailor made for our individual personalities and tendencies. They are specifically meant to refine, challenge and deepen our life experience. And no matter how reasonable, resourceful, creative and solution oriented —some situations are quite less malleable. There's no way around or over them. The only way is through. Often quite rigid in our own visions of who we are, our brains and our preconceived notions, opinions or prejudices are all less than flexible entities that keep us away from our full potential. The only way we learn the true depths and specifics of our resilience and strength is when we're faced with a crisis or life changing event. All of the things we think we are not, cannot do, will not accomplish, be, or handle are examples of our inflexibility. We struggle to stretch our imaginations, decisions and our lives to accept that we ALREADY ARE MORE —and enough, as is.

While we generally tend NOT to believe ourselves to be powerful, capable, worthy, wise or adaptable—(I know I mostly did not), that is when we are at our prime to learn the most, especially if we are faced with and forced to work with something with which we do not want to deal. When faced with the undesirable 'IT', there is a rigidity or limpness that happens in our spirit. For this concept, my visual and emotional go to is that of the kid in the grocery store who just can’t hold it together any longer and goes limp. You've witnessed how the poor parent is left holding the entire weight of their screaming or completely silent and defiant little one by a single arm as the legs go out underneath the child in full tantrum. Another example that I find my inner self vicariously living through is that of the other sweet child who has laid down on the floor and is completely rigid, digging their heels into the ground and wailing uncontrollably. Sadly, we adults can’t really behave like that, (in public anyways), but last year I had many moments when that was my instinct. And honestly, as a human I'm likely to have that instinct again— to freak out, lay down, check out and scream until someone else figures it out. I REALLY didn’t want to be ‘THAT/Cancer' person, to be seen as ‘THAT/Cancer' or associated with ‘THAT/Cancer' either. I also didn’t want to do the work to heal. And, I was sure that I wouldn’t be capable of handling what was being placed in front of me. I was scared and more so, annoyingly inconvenienced by it all. I did become more rigid and defiant, but that eventually began to soften. Somehow, in the face of what I was being forced to learn, experience and discover about life and myself, I got calm. I began to listen. This was to be a growth step.

At some point, I began to really understand that I had dodged a lot of bullets and was actually incredibly lucky. (Things could, and can always be worse.) I was humbled and became more flexible with regard to taking a more complete look at who I already was and what I could become—more MYSELF. When I stopped fighting my situation and began leaning into my feelings and then further in to see what I could do for myself, there was less stress.

Life is constantly throwing us off of center and it changes all of us. For me, yoga is a practice that offers tools for balanced living. I still struggle with how much, how often, how consistently and how well I practice, but we can all get there by learning to become more flexible and less habitual. When I was unable to physically move as I would have liked, my meditation practice helped me to become more grounded which prepared me to re-enter my asana practice in a wise and more practical way. Focusing on my breathing with simple Pranayama, I was more occupied, calm, clear and ready. My mind, which helped me to approach all of what was happening with me physically, emotionally and spiritually, was able to find some peace that ultimately made me more focused in my ability to return to my physical practice— how ever I could. Rebuilding my yoga practice and working through the recovery from three separate surgeries over the year was, and is still humbling. It was daunting to be feeling accomplished and strong just before the next surgery. Then having to rest and work to rebound by starting over each time was both disheartening and encouraging, but yoga is amazing. It put me in a great place prior to each surgery that helped me to bounce back and heal quickly thereafter. I am grateful for my practice in any and all of its stages.

The yoga tree is broken down into eight limbs (or aspects). The first, and most important is the Yamas, which refers to how we treat others. The second is the Niyamas, which is about how we treat ourselves. The third limb is Asana, (notice that it is not #1), the physical practice of moving from one pose to the next as a meditation. And the fourth is Pranayama, the utilization of the breath to support all. Limbs five through eight (Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana & Samadhi) are all related to moving deeper towards each level of meditation, centeredness and a higher understanding. These eight practices combined are to help us to become more of who we already are: strong, powerful, resourceful, worthy, compassionate, understanding, loving—and ‘flexible’. As we all grow, stretch and bend into challenges, new experiences and realities, we can become stronger to expand and support ourselves, as well as to possibly inspire others towards the idea that they too will not break.


Teri Gandy-Richardson