I was visiting my sister for the Thanksgiving holiday and her 4-year old daughter, Layla Rose, is a blossoming gymnastics superstar. She also takes yoga and she and I like to do yoga together when we are visiting. As soon as I arrived she pulled me to her gymnastics mat because, unlike her 4 year old friends, I am happy to do gymnastics and yoga for hours on end! She immediately told me that her teacher announced in class last week that they were going to do “grown up” yoga, and when I asked what that meant she got down on the floor and pushed herself up into tittibhasana (see below for the visual - not the best photo but you get the idea!). It was totally amazing! Then she asked me to do it…so I said, well, maybe in a half hour after I do some grown up warm ups.
Then she got up on her gymnastics bar and proceeded to do about 100 pull-ups and other incredible feats of strength. I watched and admired her…and then I got jealous. Of my 4-year- old niece. Seriously.
The Mahabharata says “Than the strong. There is always one stronger.” And richer, and funnier, and happier, and more peaceful, and…the list goes on. And on the other hand, there will always be one less strong, less happy, less peaceful, etc. Although I know all this I guess I just didn’t expect it to be a 4-year-old! We all compare ourselves to others, it’s human nature, but it is a slippery slope (whether it puffs us up or pushes us down), because either way we are using an external marker to measure our happiness and self-worth. Most often we compare ourselves to qualities in others that already exist within ourselves so we are more aware of them. So we can use that awareness to be inspired by someone else's prowess…or we can choose to shrink and feel small. The bottom line is whichever one we choose to focus our energy on, how we choose to respond to our innate reaction when we witness a display of great skill, is what we grow inside ourselves. When we can focus our energy on our own unique and individual strengths they grow and become even stronger. When we focus our energy on our shortcomings they grow too.
There are many paths to the Divine, but the paths of jealousy and envy aren’t one of them. It’s like taking a wrong turn on the way to the Wizard of Oz – one path finds you stuck and hiding in the forest without courage, or skill or strength. The other gets you to the end and you realize all was within your power to get there all along. Like all things, it’s about perspective.
I often tell the story in my yoga classes of watching an interview with Mohammed Ali a few years ago where the interviewer asked him how did he get through the day being so limited in what he could do due to his Parkinson’s disease, especially after being such an amazing athlete his whole life. He said (in captions at the bottom of the page because his speech was so slurred) “I do the same thing I’ve done every day of my life: I focus on the things I can do rather than the things I can’t.” Our yoga practice should help us to embrace and celebrate our unique and individual strengths and gifts. It can be the opportunity to see what we CAN do. Because really, most days I am pretty happy with the fact that I can do tittibhasana at all, let alone at 38 years old after having 3 kids! It may not look like Layla's pose and I may need to warm up first, but I've worked hard to be able to do it and I am proud that I can. And when I align myself with that feeling of fullness and happiness for my own body and my own practice I immediately feel stronger and more joyful and that's what I bring forth into the world.
To help cultivate these qualities in your own life, try this off the mat practice this week: Notice how often you compare yourself to others, either putting yourself in the positive light or the negative. Notice if it's more of one or the other. When you notice yourself doing it, see if you can be aware that you’re judging and actively choose not to. Become the witness and see what there is to be learned from witnessing without judgment of the other or yourself.
On the mat try this:
Open to Grace: as you breathe feel yourself fill up with pride for your gifts and abilities
Open to the place that you hold in the universe, your unique and individual thread of the tapestry
Muscular Energy: Embrace fully & completely your strengths
Imagine the midline like a giant magnet for strength and worthiness and feel it pull all of yours into it, concentrating your power
Kidney Loop: (In Eastern medicine, the kidneys represent longevity, and long-term energy storage – think of them as a cosmic battery pack at your back)
Plug your floating ribs back into the positive vision of yourself that the universe holds of you already
Activate your cosmic battery pack and feel it strengthen your core
Organic Energy: Let your unique gifts shine
Let your strengths grow by extending them from the inside out