The story of how I went from being that person in the yoga studio who couldn’t touch his toes, to being the yoga teacher in the yoga studio who still can’t touch his toes.
Something happens when you tell people that you are a yoga teacher.
People tell you one of two things: 1) what they can’t do and/or 2) the person they are not. You may have heard (or even said) some of the following classic lines:
“I can’t touch my toes; I’m not meant for yoga.”
“I’m not flexible.”
“I can’t meditate.”
“I’m not good at yoga; I can’t sit still.”
“I can’t even do a push-up, let alone yoga; I’m never doing the poses right.”
It is such an odd experience to have people tell you what they are not. When we meet new people, we never ask them to tell us what they can’t do – we usually ask them what they do for a living or where they are from, seeking an affirmative response. I have never answered those two questions with negative responses.
Maybe I’ll try it for fun: I’m not a biomechanical engineer and I’m not from Vancouver.
Feels odd, eh? It seems far more interesting to learn what people are, rather than what they are not.
However, I’m going to steal a page from that book and confess something to you, in the hopes of speaking to those who feel burdened by the thought of doing yoga:
I am a yoga teacher, but I am not flexible.
Seriously. You ask me to sit on my bum with my legs stretched out in front of me, and you’ll notice I’m only just capable of sitting upright. Splits? Heck no. However, if you mean a banana split, then I’m your guy. I’m a yoga ice cream master. But, bend over and touch my toes? My hands seem to prefer my shins. Well, not that I blame them… my shins are pretty awesome.
Yes, my friends, it’s true. Since we seem so interested in telling people what we can’t do, let me remind you of this: I can’t turn myself into a pretzel; I’m not able to hold a handstand for more than 10 seconds; and I can’t do downward dog with my legs perfectly straight.
Ta da! I’m flawed!
Why do I share this with you? I share this with you because if there is one only thing I want everyone to know about yoga, it’s that nothing on the outside should ever limit the power you have on the inside. Here’s the thing: I’m a lot closer to touching my toes than I was a year ago. And this has nothing to do with the simple idea of touching my toes. It’s because my physical practice only evolves as my mind evolves. By tapping into my willingness to explore limitless possibilities, my mind and my nervous system become more and more at peace each time I take to the mat. As this happens, my physical practice grows as a beautiful bi-product of this open heart and deep breath.
(Oh, the other thing I want everyone to know is that you have to: be a shirtless Instagram star, hold a headstand for 5 minutes, have a six-pack, wear Lululemon, and be a vegan.)
So, the next time you think you aren’t flexible enough for yoga, come to my class. I’ll show you inflexible. I’ll be right in the same boat as you, my sisters and brothers. Let’s go on this journey together, and it will be my honour to show you how I overcame my ego and my self-imposed limitations in order to go places I never knew I could go. Do things I never knew I could do. Be the person I always knew was inside.
Who you are and what you can do are not defined by your ability to put your leg over your head. Your beautiful soul is no less beautiful because of how you look in a pose like downward dog or pigeon. You have so much to offer the world, and yoga is simply an extension of your willingness to soften, to breathe, and to fall humbly into the limitlessness of what our hearts and minds can do.
I can’t wait to see you on the mat.
(P.S. If you want to go get ice cream after class, that would be awesome. You don’t have to touch your toes to eat ice cream!)
A lesson in attachment
2015 brought a very important word into my life...
I had certainly used the word before, but mostly in the context of the proper attachment to a tool in the workshop or a document enclosed in an e-mail.
Then, it hit me: I was learning about a whole different kind of attachment, the kind that affects our emotions, our identities, and our joy as living creatures.
Back in 2014, I penned a tell-all article about bullying. In short, I spoke of my need to re-assess my desire to be a performance artist, as the performing arts had originally served as a way to save me from the bullying I was going through in my youth. Reading that article once again with the lens of another year's life experience, I realize that the entire missive was talking about attachment.
There is nothing wrong with the performing arts. In fact, the world is better off with the likes of Judy Kuhn, Anne Sofie von Otter, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, Meryl Streep, Misty Copeland, Diana Krall, and Joni Mitchell in it. I truly believe this. I am entirely lucky to hear Judy Kuhn every time she shares that golden soprano voice with us, and what would the world be without Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell? Ultimately, my journey in and out of the performing arts had nothing to do with the métier itself.
It had to do with the extent to which my entire identity was entirely defined by being a "performer" or an "actor" or a "singer" to those around me. Who was I without those labels? Could I shed the labels and be at peace?
Thankfully and happily, the answer was (and still is) yes.
When you come to such a place about existential attachment, you learn another important word:
This beautiful word is a part of my everyday life, and it is the most joyously freeing word I have ever come to know. When you enjoy life without attachment, you always know who you are at that given moment.
Who are we when we shed our attachment to our day jobs? Who are we when we let go of the attachment to possessions? Have you noticed that when someone asks us to tell them about ourselves, we always start with what we do for a living?
And so, my dear friends, I want to share with you who I am:
I am love.
I am joy.
I am kindness.
I am peace.
I am vulnerability.
I am gratitude.
Who are you, my friends? I would love to know.
I wish you a beautiful 2016. May you connect with your truest, attachment-free self.
Our Last Words: Nos derniers mots
Inspiration can hit at any moment. We plan for and anticipate the big moments in our lives and, yet, it's those moments in between that can leave the deepest impression. The breaks... the silences... the rests in the music...
"The notes I handle no better than any pianist. But the pauses between the notes -- ah, that is where the art resides." -Artur Schnabel, 1958
In yet another proverbial case of life imitating art, it was in a moment of silence that my inspiration to return to blogging was born. Throughout my time as a public speaker, upon reflection, a common theme has always come up: the sheer power of realizing that everything we say could possibly be the last thing we ever say.
And so, my dear friends, this blog will be my love letter to you... a place where we can share what very well could be our last words.
I can't wait to talk with you about the things that truly make life what it is.
Mark Wilkinson teaches yoga, talks to youth about bullying, speaks French, eats lots of food, sings Mozart, and is usually smiling and helping others do the same.